(SeLoFest17 Post: Day 13, click here for all prompts so far)
There are so many stories to tell about my life in France. There is my life in France: Volume 1, which was from the age of 18 to 20, and then there is my life in France: Volume 2, which began at the age of 30 and I am still living now at the age of 33.
I have entire soundtracks, feelings, perspectives that express different moments of my life and different stories. Many of them, as fables go, have some type of lesson to carry with them.
This story takes place everywhere in France, and the two main characters are me, and the French people as a whole. Like is the case with any population of any country, the French are multi-faceted and complex. So many of its major cities are incredibly cosmopolitan, being so surrounded by different cultures, it is an ocean where many different rivers meet. This provides for a richness in character within the French that is mosaic.
There is also the French system, which is the government, society, the bureaucracy, etc, that affects its people. And today’s story is about the expression of that system in regards to how it affects its people, and how in reaction, that affected my relationship with it.
I find it important to present it like that, because stereotypes and clichés and labels can be limiting, and hurtful. But understanding that there is something we all share, and accepting that, is important to the process of understanding how we view each other and ourselves.
The French word for unhappiness is “malheur“, however malheur more literally means “misfortune”, and I find that when I try to paint the image of how I see the feeling that weighs down on my fellow French, it can only be defined by a general sense of malheur.
It’s a mix of frustration, with a dash of hopelessness. And in some regions, there is even the slightest hint of fear, wrapped in stoicism. Despite the strong sense of coming from a land of fratérnité and solidarité, I often find people to come off solitary, alone, quite separate from The Other.
And should you be lucky enough to find your community, your circle, your family, you cannot deny that this malheur exists because Paris is polluted in it, and that’s just one well-known example.
I did not like coming face to face with the flaws that France had. I had come to France as the child of a foreigner and a patriot. My father had served his country, and he is, to this day, a classic French man (whatever that means to you). His relationship with France only slightly tainted mine but mostly I came with the complete awareness that I was privileged to be able to experience and live this country. I did not think France was perfect, but somehow I still expected it to be, as one does, I suppose, when one forgets that we are responsible for how we see things. Mostly my view was affected by having grown up in American culture, with movies of Romantic Par-ee, and my absolute adoration for the song La Boheme by Charles Aznavour, which to this day remains my absolute favorite song. I dreamed of La Belle Epoque, the Bohemian life, the movie Moulin Rouge (2001) only furthered my fantasy. I knew France was modern now, I didn’t expect to live under the Eiffel tower and live a life of cheese and wine, but I came for the art, the romance, the joie-de-vivre that lovely France is so famed for.
And, I did find it. I did.
I have stories to fill me from my toes to my fingers to the tips of my hair, it has been rich and beautiful and dreamy and magic and enough for many life times of beauty.
There was also the malheur. And isn’t completely unironic how just like only the French word for that can describe that sense of general unease among the French, there is also only the French word that can describe the freeing sense of joy that is the joie-de-vivre?
Recognizing that sense of unhappiness in me, due to it being so reflected so often in my every day relationships with those closest to me and also many of the people I crossed in the street, I got to a point in my life where if I did not acknowledge it, it was going to quite literally kill me, one way or another.
The thing about loving other people very much, is that it saves your life. And I loved my family, and so I acknowledged the unease within me, because it was also outside of me, I saw it in my father, my boyfriend, the baker, the cashier…
I tried to also find the solution. Because what’s the point of facing your demons if you don’t plan on doing something about it. Around that time there was another discovery that happened, which I will talk about in another story, (it’s about instagram, of all things) but I began to try to look for people that didn’t seem to live this malheur, and figure out what they were doing different. People that maybe looked like me or had grown up like me or were expressing the same ideas as me. And the one thing that I found was something about following your intuition, your gut, something within you that feeds your confidence, not your fear; but because you’ve been feeding your fear for so long, it’s bigger now and that voice is harder to listen to.
It’s also embarrassing to listen to. Because it pulls you away from things like science and credibility. It has to do with things like feelings and admitting weakness and being vulnerable and who the fuck wants to do that?
Turns out the answer is you do, if you want to be happy. We all know it feels good to cry and talk things out because when we truly are trying to help someone else out, that’s what we tell them to do. To listen to their intuition, to feel, to embrace the humanity within yourself, the softness. It’s a girl thing. And as society so blatantly has put it so many times, anything that’s a girl thing is bad.
What does that have to do with the French? Their inner little girl is repressed. There’s no crying in fromage. Yet we know that gene is there because it came out and continues to come out so much throughout its history and culture. That intuition and feelingness and the beauty of frivolity comes out in its weird movies and impeccable manipulation of grapes and taste in food combinations. We know there is value in being delicate because we value the arts, and romance, and we didn’t call it The French Kiss for nothing. The feeling of conviviality has never been more abundant than when practicing the art of apero, in which all kinds of drinks and snacks overflow, and if scarce in quantity, the quality of the moment remains a moment in time worth of pause. And yet despite it, when asked to touch upon the cell that causes that same joie, we shy away, refusing to admit an obvious vulnerability, one that only improves our quality of life, for fear of what others might do to us.
Perhaps the fear is valid.
The unfortunate side to that is the repression of our intuition. Of our gut. Of the side of us that maybe will let us see magic. Or at the very least, that will allow us mental freedom. This, is not unique to France. But France is a very good example of what happens when you are seemingly free but emotionally repressed. It is bound to come out anyway, except we will feel alien and disconnected from the very source that allows us to connect.
I have valued authenticity and courage in vulnerability for a long while now. But it was my lesson here, in this beautiful complicated country, that I understood why it was so important for me to go through the pain and on to the other side. As any zombie with a brain might tell you, listening to your gut will always be a bloody affair, but it’s what’s inside of you that will guide you to survival.
Don’t be a coward, be a little girl.
The Prompt: In what areas do you repress yourself? In what ways do you disconnect from your feelings or others because it’s cheesy or stupid or weak? If you feel like you are someone very connected to your own emotions, do you feel like you also allow others to do the same? In what places might you be lying to yourself? There’s a voice, listen to it!
Activity: Write out “if…then…” statements in regards to repressed beliefs you might have. For example, “if I cry, then that means I’m weak” or “if i get in touch with my emotions then i won’t know what to do”, then, follow that statement even deeper. For example: “If I cry, then that means I’m weak. If I’m weak, then that means I’m lame. If I’m lame, no one will like me. If no one likes me, it means I don’t deserve love.” Take statements that you believe, and follow them down the rabbit hole until it hits a nerve. Then, allow yourself to let go of that false belief, to forgive yourself for thinking that, for believing the lie.
In your journal: Write true statements going the other way. “If I cry then I am showing my emotions, if i show my emotions i am expressing myself, if i express myself i am speaking my truth, if i am speaking my truth i am being brave, if i am being brave it is because my voice has value, if my voice has value, it is because i am lovable.” If you disconnect from the truth that you are lovable, then you disconnect from the truth that will allow you freedom and happiness.