Someone wrote to me a while ago and asked about all the bad stuff in my life. Frankly, I cannot tell you that life here sucks. Things function at a high level compared to the US, I feel safe, and life is affordable. My basic needs are easily met and I don’t have to worry about them as much as in the US. But I can feel terrible, grumpy, insecure and enraged here in France. Oh yes I can. Here are some tips.
#1. Watching TV. Okay, Netflix or Hulu or whatever. I grew up with no television and only once did I live with a TV. It was a tiny black and white tv in the chambre de bonne that I lived in for free in the 7th arrondissement many years ago. Sometimes I would lie in my tiny bed up there under the eaves and watch the French talking heads on the little thing but it was never very engaging. Over the years I have wondered if maybe I have no tv resistance. I was not inoculated. Whenever my son and I go to a hotel in the US we turn on the tv and start flipping through channels. It’s so exotic and then, it’s so boring. I have no problem with documentary type shows like Queer Eye or Great British Baking or David Chang’s conversations about fried rice. But when I watch emotionally engaging series (what they call bingeable) I get really grumpy, I can’t sleep and I start to think about all the things I don’t have. The escapism is so tempting and engaging in a weirdly numbing way but then I really feel like utter crap. It’s so interesting. I suspect people’s motivations, I don’t do my Spanish homework, I toss and turn, and I yearn for what I do not have.
I’m not sure how other people’s psyches do watching all of those shows. Maybe if I had grown up with TV I would have more resistance. The person I was in love with rewatched all of the episodes of the Sopranos before he left me. Was that a silent cry for help?
#2 Reading about politics from the US makes me despair. People! Things do not have to be like this. I am living in a functioning democracy where people strike incessantly and don’t threaten each other with guns. I get a lot of emails asking me to sign petitions and give money, and I do both, but every single one is like reading about the end of civilization. Repealing all water safety laws, no more meat inspections for pork, fracking off-gassing accidents that pollute the environment more than some small countries in a year, Democrats bickering. Then I can’t sleep and I start to see my homeland as just a bubbling pit of the end of the world which is not a good perspective.
#3 Wherever you go in the world, you will still worry about parenting. Should you be doing extra school work with your child? Are enough vegetables being eaten? Are you allowed to intervene in their social life? It’s funny here because French people are very concerned about some things (social integration, learning to write well, and manners) and American parents about others (safety, self-esteem, and THE FUCKING FUTURE). So now I get a double checklist to run through my head during those sleepless moments (see #1 and #2).
#4. Two bad French things. Dog turds on the sidewalk (so many and all shapes sizes and textures, it’s like the encyclopedia of canine output) and cigarette smoke. Both can be avoided but it’s irksome.
And to conclude, here are some more poetic snippets about misery from my notebooks:
A hallway where I did my parenting with cats and debris. I remember sweeping it all up into the smaller spaces and not even being able to write a poem.
The place of not knowing is a spot that I wake up to each morning like a helipad painted on top of a hospital building.
At college a met a man who ate a pint of Ben and Jerry’s every night during his divorce. He microwaved the pint so that it was just the right spoonable consistency.
I do not feel thankful for the black and white cat who lives at my house and politely taps me with one curved claw sticking out of one pink pad when she wants more food, more water, some combing to get rid of her winter coat. I want to do some decision-making asanas and drive her to the pound. (Don’t worry, I found her a temporary home where she remains a boring cat.)
We loved our cupcakes so much but even we couldn’t eat them with the sand glittering on the tops.
The way the pepper grinder doesn’t really turn because it’s almost empty.
Sue Grafton is dead.
Two men in my life have sent me the same poem, about being poor but wanting to lay golden cloths at my feet. I remember the lovely curve of our asphalt driveway, all of the wildflowers I planted with the help of a local farmer, the astonishingly rocky soil of Western New York, the mile deep glacial stones. The house was sold in the divorce. The best dinner party I threw where we went on a walk in the dark woods and Bronwen, wearing white, fell carrying her baby but only the baby’s foot got muddy.