Half French.

(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.

But.
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.

Right?

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.

15974984_10155526237790021_4272283857907362368_o


SeLoFest17 Challenge

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.

Advertisements

Somewhere I’ve never been before

“At the end of the day, it isn’t where I came from. Maybe home is somewhere I’m going and never have been before.”
Warsan Shire

Morgan had been trying to get me to go to Minnesota for a while, but I never could because I didn’t have the money. In the meantime however, he kept talking about me moving there one day. Me? Live in a state I kept confusing for its city name? Me, live somewhere where winter is literally the Artic? Me, live in a state that I (so incorrectly) thought could not be more boring and unimportant, since “everyone knows” there’s nothing interesting in the middle area of the USA, except for maybe Chicago. God was I wrong. Either way, Minnesota was just so not me. I was meant to live somewhere exotic and foreign, somewhere where I could wake up and look around and say to myself, “Yep. This is where I should be living.” France satisfies that probably better than any other place in the world.

So when I first went to Minneapolis, I was 3479309% sure that I was not going there to live, thankyouverymuch, but just to visit. By day 3, however, I was saying “what if”, and by day 7, I was saying “when I live here”. But it terrified me. I felt a doubt. I’d get choked up. “Wait, Maëlle” the voice inside me would ask by grabbing a hold of my throat, “what about winter?”. Like in the all too well-known show Game of Thrones, winter in Minneapolis is not something you’re going to mess with. As anyone who doesn’t come from MN but knows someone from there knows, Minnesotans are kind of obnoxious about their pride in dealing with cold weather, snow, and winter in general. (On my Facebook, my MN friends have monopolized winter. If ever I make a statement about it being cold, someone will be bound to chirp up and talk about how no, it isn’t REALLY cold where you are, because you aren’t in MN.) but once you’re there, you understand. Winter is a part of life, even when it isn’t winter yet. They’re just equipped for it. So equipped, in fact, that they’ve even learned to enjoy it and take part in it. There’s activities to do in it, like sledding, ice skating, and snowshoeing, festivals and fairs still happen during winter, and if you need tips and tricks on how to survive the sunless days, you will immediately learn that there’s such a thing as a sun lamp, and they’re actually kind of amazing.

Still…just because people had learned how to fare the winter, didn’t necessarily mean that I would. Sunlight is so unbelievably important to me. I get cold very easily, and become practically inoperable when I get too cold. I have very real and good reasons to certainly NOT live there.

 

ctyp_winter
Winter in the Twin Cities. Photo by Cory Zurowski

But then when I was recently asked, why I was living in France, it got me wondering about how anyone chooses where they live, ever. It made me think about why I was here to begin with, what I had wanted from this trip to France, and had I actually achieved it.

The reasons for deciding to live in France were fairly simple, and very few. Three, in fact.

First, I wanted to be close to my father so I could experience him more, spend more time with the man who I had essentially come from, and understand who he was, as well as giving him an idea of who I was, now as a full-grown adult, and not the kid he had last seen.

Secondly, I wanted to be in France because I was half French, and maybe I thought that being in a country that I half “belonged” to I would feel less foreign, or be less foreign. (I was completely wrong.)

And finally, because France is gorgeous, and the energy of the land feels like I live in a story book.

saint-emilion-vue-aerienne-bandeau_01
How many people DREAM of living in a town like this? Well, I get to DO that. That ain’t nuthin’. 

And while the third reason is still very much in tact, the other two are no longer standing.

In fact, it was in coming here that I truly realized how foreign I will always be, but that if I ever felt at home anywhere, it was in the American continent. Like I previously mentioned, I am nothing if not Latinx American. I was hesitant in being American, rejected it even, as if by being placed under that identity my Colombian and French heritage would be drowned out, like being American is the ultimate goal. I do not want to be called American any more than I want to be called Mexican, because I am neither, and I want to fully represent mi bella Colombia and let people know that we’re here, and we’re good people. I love Mexico, and it’s partially my home, but I’m Colombian.

Being in France has only made me feel foreign and alone. People here are so very cold and distant, always ready to complain and criticize, not ever as quick to want to help or appraise. It is unfair of me to say that while having unbelievably amazing friends that have been helpful beyond anything, generous, and selfless. There is a little bit of everything and I will only ever seek out the best. As a people, however, walking out into the street on any given day, I was not met with the welcoming warmth and open friendliness I had gotten used to living in Mexico and the USA. Me being so dependent of that warmth, France’s people have been slowly depleting me.

As far as my father is concerned…I’ve spent time with him and have had experiences that I will keep with me always. I have learned so much and he has provided me with tremendous growth opportunities. Basically, I got what I came for, and it’s enough.

The third reason, France being gorgeous, is still very much there, even more so than before because I LOVE my country, and have gotten to see her so much more. France is stunning.

But it isn’t reason enough for me to live here. Be here, yes. Enjoy being here, yes. But not enough reason to stay.

The only reason that maybe sneaks in is the fact that now my baby sister (and by baby I mean 20-year old) is living here, and that leaving France would mean going years without seeing her. That…would be hard.

I have enough of an interest and an idea in projects I’d like to fulfill to keep me in France for a little longer. However, ultimately, I don’t know that I can thrive here. I think I always traveled looking for adventure, and trying to find and lose myself. I came to France thinking I’d find stability, but had no idea what stability looked like, or how to go about acquiring it, so going to a completely unfamiliar place, without really a plan, or an idea of how to make it…looking back, I feel like it makes sense that I am where I am right now. I guess what I’m trying to say is, and this is hard to type…I’m ready to leave France.

bomb2
Boom. I said it. It’s out there. 

I’m not saying I’m leaving tomorrow, because I can’t. I’m also, actually, not saying that I’m going to Minneapolis.

What I’m saying is, I was totally willing to deal with the winter in Minneapolis because my priorities changed. I felt community and purpose were my new priorities, because Minneapolis made me feel like I had community and purpose. It made me seriously consider going there and start brainstorming solutions for upcoming obstacles, because of how bad I wanted not the place, but the people, and how the place would make me feel about myself.

I don’t know if home is Minneapolis, but I do know that home is not on this side of the world, and I don’t think it ever was. This has just felt like one very long trip. I still have things I’d like to do here, and moving is extremely expensive, so honestly it’s not like I’ll be leaving any time too soon. I’m not sure what the next steps will look like, because you have just witnessed me fully admitting this to myself now for the first time, without a ‘but’ after.

Things could change. I could meet the right people that might make me want to stay a little longer. However essentially, my entire family is on the other side of the planet, with the exception of my sister being here, everyone that I really need to be close to and want to see and be there for isn’t here, or even close to here. So why am I?

I’m not sure what to do now. Essentially, if I knew how, I’d just try to raise the money to get the eff out of here. Maybe that’s what I have to figure out. Moving is already hard. Moving across an entire ocean is another story, moving across an entire ocean with a cat, is a saga. Granted, my cat is not just any cat.

11809552_747333268727065_126261361_n
Pilo and I on our way to the beach. La Rochelle, summer of 2015.

 

Pilo is rightfully my son and has been on walks, in trains, to the beach, in a tent, on a scooter, hiking, and yes, on a 10 hour plane ride. While it exhausts him, he handles it like a champ and doesn’t get overly stressed. But it is still an expensive and complicated thing to do.

So I say this, but who knows, I may end up staying in France another couple of years. I’d like to not though, because at this point, I feel like it’ll be me barely making it by. As I found out the hard way, when you live somewhere, there has to be substance to your reasons. You cannot shallowly be somewhere just because it’s pretty. And even though initially it started off as something more than that, France and I have come to just that. I find my country beautiful, but its general personality unpleasant. I’d like for me to leave here while we can still remain on friendly terms. I’d like to start living a purposeful life where I am using my talents and qualities, and I can’t wait to be in a place where my sense of humor is fully understood and I don’t get social anxiety just from going to the supermarket. I want to live somewhere where I know how to make a difference and can. I also need to, for my own wellbeing and survival, be closer to family and friends. Dear America (no, not North America. The real America. The ENTIRE America…) I belong to you. You are my home.

It took me this long to realize it because I always thought home was a tiny place. But it isn’t. It’s a feeling. A community. A people.

And being away from home hurts. But finally understanding where it is, that is something that perphaps I may not have gotten had I not lived here in France first, and felt disoriented for a while.

Now, I’d like to orient myself. So I guess that’s what I’ll do.

 

 

 

cultural context

A post about context and culture that ends in roller derby.

I’m very VERY scatter brained, and that’s not the only thing that I have that could easily be seen as a flaw or an inconvenience, you could call it/blame it on being ADHD, the way I was raised, a family attribute, all of the above, something else, but the fact remains that i’s a deep part of my way of thinking. I’m clumsy, extremely forgetful, what’s common sense for a lot of people completely goes over my head, I lose/break extremely important things all the time…I’ve spent my life being like that, and trying to work with and around it, trying to establish routine and habits (two things that do NOT come naturally to me) to not be a nuisance or a danger to myself or others. I also sometimes, just like “normal” people, have really bad luck. Once I burned my kitchen down and it was something that could have happened to anyone. (Of course because it’s me, people like to pretend I’m just bad luck and continue to project on to me that I will “never” change. Thanks for that.)

I also have a tendency to guilt-trip and self-shame (I have really high expectations for myself y’all) which is not a good combination.

However I also have a masters inSpiritual Psychology which means I’m a black belt in Emotions and self discovery, in explaining and owning things. And my own interest in understanding myself and others made it so that I learned to surround myself with people that were constructively positive. People that curved behavior and would help me be better and accept how I was. “ok now that this has happened, what can you do it about it?”

I became flexible and adaptable, which were great qualities to have, and surrounded myself with people that knew how to handle the curve balls life threw at them, and didn’t find my way of being a huge inconvenience. Either because they too were the same, or just because, you know –that’s life: Unexpected. I was able to be gentle with myself, because people around me were gentle with me. I came to a point of self-love that I had never known before, and felt free.

And then I came to France.

Now, I will never tell you that you should take a tiny portion of the population anywhere and then assume that it’s how an entire land is because that’s ignorant and close minded. And even within a giant population of the same, I have found beautiful exceptions of the stereotype.

But as a general stereotype, that gentleness and adaptability and flexibility that I had found before, is pretty hard to find here. It’s taken constantly being vulnerable to show people that they can be vulnerable with me, then landing flat on my face when people walked away from that. It’s taken picking up the pieces and then doing it again…and again..and again. It’s taken relearning to not feel rejected. Being independent in a whole new way while still investing in friendship because, no, I will not close myself off from people and call it “healthy indepence” (it isn’t, and I will fight you on this.) It’s taken being treated and talked to like I’m not intelligent, like I’m not aware, like I don’t have amazing experience and knowlede worth listening to. And remembering that whether others see it or not? I do, I am.

I’ve had to go grazing in the fields of thistles to find the wildflowers. I have a friend or two that I can call when I am being knocked down by what I consider to be a natural hardness..Even harshness sometimes, in the way people respond. Having to relearn to accept myself when I know that I don’t, and never will, comply to the expectations that my family and some good friends have of me.

And you know what? I’m having a really really hard time doing it. These past few months have felt like one blow after the other. But I said that I rather have a hard time in France than anywhere else, and I meant it.

So I joined roller derby. And there are no soft landings in roller derby. There is no crying in roller derby.

It’s a girl sport, a TOUGH girl sport. And God are those girls tough. But they’re still GIRLS. They’re still warrior goddesses, it’s still femininty, and thus the best way to learn how to BE tough, despite being emotional. A great place to get kicked in the ass metaphorically and physically, yet extend your hand out and know that the same person to just knock you down, wasn’t actually trying to hurt you, and will help you up. A new perspective! It’s curving my strengths and discovering toughness within me. And I would’ve never told you that I was a tough girl before. I wear my heart on my sleeve and try as I may I can’t seem to hide how I feel unless I just hide completely. I get sad a lot, which I don’t like because I’m a happy person.

I gave myself a physical challenge to help me accept the emotional blows of living here. I might be a total cry-baby, but on that track, I’m going to learn to skate it out, and take the physical blows. Physical pain is nothing, compared to emotional pain. It’s a joke. So, while hard, and painful…I’m grateful for the culture here. it’s pushed me to find a new way to adapt, one that I love, one that I look forward to. A challenge that I KNOW I can handle because it depends completely on me and that I believe in myself.

Yeah…

Vulnerability is a strength. Hear me roar. In any goddamn language.