Friday, December 12, 2008

I promise...

Dear readers, I promise not to make this once-a-week thing a habit. It's just that I've had a week of feeling pretty worthless and you know how I hate to share my tears. But, well, this is my one major outlet (other than calling you, Rachel) for my wah wah, so I guess I'll write it out anyway, huh?

It started on Sunday. I had actually had a pretty good weekend. Believe it or not, my usually scary/sometimes mean/very critical sister-in-law and her husband LOVED everything I cooked for them the whole weekend they were here. They LOVED the festival of lights. They LOVED the apartment. They LOVED the kids. They LOVED our Christmas tree. They LOVED sleeping in our ginormous Eurotop bed and said they hadn't slept that good in AGES. My brother-in-law, who has been harassing me and criticizing me and making fun of me for ten years now, scooted two seats down at the breakfast table to say, "You know I was thinking the other day. I was thinking to myself, 'Joelie is right.'"

My heart stopped for just a sec.

"I'm sorry. Did anyone else hear that?" Everyone laughed.

"No, I'm serious. You're right about all this eating locally, growing your own food and bartering with your neighbors," he said and then launched into a story about trading his homegrown honey for one of his clients' pumkins.

I couldn't believe it.

They had been perfect guests all weekend long and had topped it off with a ten-year-coming "you're right." I'm still shaking my head in awe.

So, anyway, minutes after they walk out the front door, my neighbor, who has been invited to lunch (at which I basically re-created Thanksgiving, complete with stuffing, taters and gravy, punkin pie and cran sauce... only major change was switching out free-range chicken for the turkey), says to her husband, "That man is anti-Semitic..." I didn't hear everything she was saying but I couldn't help but feel a sudden twinge of defensiveness. Kind of like when someone messes with your punk kid sister or brother. YOU'RE allowed to, but no one else is, right?

So, with diplomacy, I say, "Yeah, he's pretty much anti-everyone. But he doesn't really mean it."

Then, I tried to explain that a lot of people from little villages in the region where Sam is from, are a bit closed-minded. I said that he doesn't really FEEL that way but is instead a product of upbringing. That he has a big heart but makes the mistake of basically repeating everything his own closed-minded parents said in front of him. Just like his OWN kids used to do before they moved out and got some sense (there's still one of my nephews at home and you should hear some of the dumb ass shit this kid says... sounds like a parrot, too). I said that if brother in law had even the slightest exposure to another culture, he wouldn't be so quick to blather on about stuff of which he is ignorant. The proof is that since he has slowed down to retirement, he and his wife have traveled a lot more and to places they might not otherwise have gone. And in these travels they have been exposed to quite a few, ahem, "different" cultures and have come back spouting appreciation they might not otherwise have had.

She says, "No. I don't think so. That concept of 'people are products of their environment thing' and 'anyone can change' is an American thing. But it's not reality."

Whoa, whoa, whoa.... Now, up until now, I haven't been very vocal around this woman because she is a history/geography teacher and is very condescending and nearly downright belittling sometimes (remember the time I went to the movies with her?). I have kept my mouth shut and have just tried to maintain a civil neighborship based on humor and lightness. But I had had a couple of glasses of wine that day and my bullshit filters were a teensy bit blurry.

I don't remember EVERYTHING I said or in what order. I do remember that over the course of the next half hour as she, her husband and I stood in the kitchen brewing espresso, steaming milk and waiting for Sam to get back from the train station, I got mad, stamped my feet and tried to express myself.

First off, when you generally keep your opinions to yourself, but one day feel comfortable enough to share your thoughts with someone else, the last thing you want to hear is a "No. I don't think so." I mean, a "Huh. Well, I disagree," to me is better than an "I'm-right-you're-wrong-here-let-me-put-you-in-your-place-I-might-as-well-say-you're-an-imbecile, No. I don't think so." But I tried to move past what I have come to recognize in her as condescension and continue the discussion.

I said that the concept that "anyone can change" or in her re-phrasing, that "everyone has the potential to change" is not an American idea. It's a human one.

She cut me off (and trust, me, it wouldn't be the first time) and said that yes, it was an American idea. That we Americans, based on our faith and our luxury to be whatever we want to be and to change what that is at the drop of a hat are not like the rest of the world. She said that it wasn't realistic to believe that someone born in one position could just up and change. That the idea that every human is in charge of his/her own destiny is just ridiculous.

I said I'm walking, breathing, farting proof of it.

She called me an exception.

I rattled off all kinds of examples. We argued on like this for the next half hour. Her spouting off stereotypes and derogatory expressions cloaked in politeness about what Americans are and aren't. Blah blah blah. Listen, this bitch hasn't even BEEN to America, y'all. NEITHER continent. She's basing this on the media she has seen and the few privileged Americans she has met. I'm trying to keep this in mind the whole time we're having this discussion so as not to take offense, but she keeps interupting me and waving me off and condescending to me, etc. etc.

Finally, I find myself screaming, "LET ME FINISH." But she doesn't. Then, I'm stamping my feet in pure frustration. When I finally get the chance to speak, I barely get a few words in and start to search my mental vocabulary for the right way to express what I want to say. She sees that pause as a foot in the door to interupt and yes, condescend, again and jumps on it.

I decide to explain to her that the commication has broken down because I can't express myself the way I need to. I move on in English out of my urgent wish to finally vent what I need to say. She nods like she understands, but I KNOW it's not true. She doesn't. Sam has been with me for the past ten years and has lived in the States for SEVEN years and he STILL doesn't understand everything.

ANYWAY, I can't go into the long and short of it because there are all kinds of nooks and crannies. Suffice it to say, I saw of her and showed of me, ugly, ugly sides. My civil balance with her was trampled to crumbs. She had to leave to go grade papers or whatever and when she left, I went to my office and collapsed into tears. I stayed there for three days. Barely moving, playing Spider Solitaire and wanting to go home.

It was an awakening. There'll be no "getting a life" here, y'all. I can live here, certainly. And I can mingle with the natives and appreciate them from afar. But I'll not put one more iota into trying to integrate. For one, I don't like France/French culture enough to put in all the work. For another, I know that it'll never work. It doesn't matter how much I try to metamorphosize, I'm always going to be American. Sure, there's half of me that is very definitely French. But I don't like her. And she's become pragmatic. She's there to talk to the cashier when I do my shopping and to order dinner when I'm in a restaurant. She's not there to make friends. In fact, when the whole thing was over (by that time, Sam was back from the station) I actually uttered the words, "I wanna go home." I wailed them. I said, "I wanna get my money for my farm and go home now. I don't want to be here anymore."

I know it's not possible. I don't even really mean it in a general overall sense. I did very much mean it right that instant. If I had the technology to beam home, scream at the top of my lungs, have a Starbucks with my friends and then come back to France, I would have. But I have to stay here. For the farm. BUT I DON'T HAVE TO GET A LIFE. That's for DAMN sure.

I still haven't run. I can't get rid of my cough. I've been attacked by a mucus monster that won't move out. And there is ICE on the sidewalks in the morning. How the hell am I supposed to train on that? A friend of mine told me that loud or not, I'm going to have to spend some time on my bike before I end up killing someone. It's true. I'm going to have to find a way to release this tension and to work my legs a little. The half is in only five weeks. Ugh.

I have to admit I spend a lot of time staring at my computer screen right now. I'm in a weird kind of limbo I can't seem to crawl out of. For some reason, I can't bring myself to write. I run to the door every day when Sam comes home for lunch to see if there is a letter from the Agent of My Dreams and there never is. I'm actually contemplating emailing him to see if he even GOT my manuscript. I can find no motivation to revise or start any projects.

I can't even find the force to cook much right now.

And then, I'm hormonally challenged again this week. Blah.

I guess the cooking part isn't true. I taught the neighbor's older daughter how to make chocolate chunk cookies. And she loved them so much she wanted to make them again tonight. So we did. AND we made no-bake cookies. Peanut butter and oatmeal are not really very common or popular here, but with my dark chocolate, my natural peanut butter and some organic oats, I made some kick ass cookies.

I also made some pate a sel (that dough that you make to make ornaments out of), rolled it out and used cookie cutters to make stars, bells and rocking horses for the kids to paint today. They came out pretty neat and the kids loved the distraction.

OH, and WOOOO HOOOOOOO!!! I told Sam that if he didn't find organic, fair-trade coffee pods before January, we were going to sell his espresso maker and buy one that uses grounds instead. He is the dumb ass who didn't realize he was buying a machine that only takes pods. *eye roll* But today, we looked extra hard and FINALLY found it... and at HALF the price of the expensive Italian stuff!!!! WOO HOOOOOO. I'm REALLY excited about that.

I'm also excited that I found organic, fair-trade BAKING chocolate!!!! REALLY dark stuff, too!!!!

And THEN, I found some organic, free-trade sausages that didn't cost an arm and a leg!!!!

AND I found an organic baby second age baby formula for Lolo.

So, food-wise it's been a pretty good day/week.

We were invited this weekend to go to our nephew's "confirmation." Look, I'm SO not Catholic. There's supposed to be the mass in the evening and then they're going to have a family dinner that starts at EIGHT at NIGHT!!! My kids go to bed at nine, yo. Sam keeps saying, "We'll leave by nine at the latest." That's bullshit. I know we'll be up until midnight and then, we'll be so tired and probably tipsy that we won't be able to drive to the parent-in-laws' house. Blah. At first, I told him he should take the train with Ryan and leave the girls with me. Then, he started talking about how Ryan will LOVE to play in the snow. Then, I started thinking how that's just not fair. Lily would LOVE LOVE LOVE to play in snow. Not fair for Ryan to to without Lily. So, he said he'd take the two of them in the minivan and I could stay here with Lolo if I wanted to.

But... then... well, THEY came to OUR little American traditional thingy, didn't they? Why shouldn't I make an effort to go to their little French/Catholic thingy? I don't HAVE to go to the mass. I could just hang out with the kids and then show up for the dinner, right? But then, I got my hormonal challenge and though, nah. I'm gonna stay home and let him go with the girls. Then... Lily came down with a fever of 102.5. That means she won't be playing in the snow. That means she's gonna stay here. That probably means that I'm going to CATCH WHATEVER SHE HAS because, dude, I can't catch a damn break healthwise, now can I? So, do I want to stay here by myself with one baby and a sick toddler? Or should I just go anyway? I mean, wouldn't I rather be stuck watching this kids while I watch the snow fall in the Alps than to sit here and wrangle sick kids alone? Ugh. I'll decide tomorrow. I know that's crappy and inconsiderate, but I can't really help that right now. All my filters are on the fritz.

I hate when I go a whole week without blogging. I think of things to tell you guys all during the week and never write 'em down. And then, when I finally have the hour or so it takes to write, I can NEVER freakin' remember what I wanted to tell you.

Sorry for the funk... I promise to snap out of it. I promise to get some pix of Thanksgiving, the tree and the kids up on here soon. I promise to eating so much chocolate. I promise to start moving my ass again so I don't put on any weight. I promise I'll be nicer in my next entry... no, wait, I take that back. I never know how a visit at the in-laws' house is gonna go, so I'm gonna wait on that one.

Though I sound all funky and blunky, I promise, I'm very grateful for ALL I HAVE and all I am and all I am becoming and all I'm going to be. I promise.


Erica said...

There has GOT to be a non-condescending French person out there somewhere... or maybe not.

I think communication should be re-named non-incation or something. At least in my world, says the girl who seems to offend, scare or otherwise freak out someone with completely innocent comments every other day, since real communication doesn't seem to be happening. Or maybe it's just that so many people just assume the negative every time.

Anyway, good job on impressing the bro-in-law :)

Joelie said...

Oh Erica... You may very well be my long lost twin...

Erica said...

You want to be one of my cosmic twins? I think I have a few openings. I don't know that you really want that title though. I freaked out an airline stewardess the other day. SERIOUSLY. Think about how many weird people they must come across and I'm the one that scares her??!! Geez... Maybe I can claim that as a talent or something. Otherwise it's just depressing.

Anyway, really I came back to comment on bedtime. Why doesn't anyone else seem to get it? You can't be screwing with bedtime! Ug.