I took myself to this beautiful and empty hotel in the Pyrenees. My grandmother loved staying in Logis de France hotels. During this Covid summer they were so empty and so I stayed in one all alone, opened the windows to hear the summer rain and laughed with delight at my solo luxuries.
Today’s self-care challenge: give and receive a compliment. I know it’s Covid but perk up your ears and listen to what people are saying. Open your heart and receive the compliment. Let it land. Enjoy it. Someone somewhere has been trying to tell you a nice thing. Let it in. Ahhhh. Remember summer rains and cool sheets and surprises. As I type this I hear a happy child babbling outside in the dark.
You are so beautiful. Tu es une mère formidable. Your dance is coziness to my body.
Some random compliments if you can’t find one! mwah!
I scratched this little green Meyer lemon so I could get a whiff. Today is a day for the most sensual of Covid tests. Smell everything and smell it deeply. What do your hands smell like? And your forearms? Smell is the deepest sense in a way, it jumps right over language into the unbidden. A little lemon blossom, like baby jasmine, and I remember spring coming during confinement, somebody’s wedding, waiting so long in a California garden, a fancy shop in Paris when I was 19 and never felt fancy. Inhale deeply. Give yourself a moment to smell the world and travel down those strange and foggy memory paths.
I went to visit my brother in California when the smoke was terrible up here. I loved seeing these shoes and no people in sight. A reminder of trust, of being carefree of some gentle abandon that was so hard to remember during tragedy.
So today’s self-care suggestion, a terribly difficult one for me, is to be a bit of a slacker. Skip out early from a Zoom meeting where no one really needs you. Sleep through yoga class. Cancel a commitment that you can do another day. I am not recommending abandoning your responsibilities but for some of us the screens and the schedules become a hook, an urgent hook, and we need to step away. Remember pre-Covid when one could get stuck in traffic, have a bike flat tire, not be able to leave the house because of a vomiting child? Take a tiny break. Be late. Let yourself off that particular hook just as an exercise in remembering your own needs.
On Thursday morning I did NOT go to my 6:30 am yoga class on Zoom but reset my alarm to 8:00 am and slept and slept. It felt so naughty and I sent an apology email but sometimes we just need to step away, step back, leave our shoes on the sand.
I just received the most delightful present in my mailbox. A little memoir written in French by a former student. I taught him French and now he writes poignant stories, all the more touching for their occasional grammatical hiccups. I’m humbled and awed by what writing can render. Writing to ourselves can stop time or throw it into a vast black universe where ancestral voices groan and vibrate.
I write in my notebooks several times a week with people close to me and far away. I write in French and in English and occasionally, very slowly, in Spanish. My dream, sort of like the solipsistic fantasy of leading myself in a tango so I could really feel what kind of follow I am, my dream is something like this…. when my students, even in French 1, write little stories they are incredible. So direct, inadvertently poetic, often funny and just stripped bare of all the extra language dross in which we adults coat ourselves. But by the time their French is good enough to understand how delightful their baby French was then they aren’t writing the simple sentences any more.
I would love to inhabit those two sides: the hard work of getting out what I really want to say in a foreign language I do not master and the deep knowledge of the language to appreciate how great the simple sentences are.
So I encourage you, in the interest of self care, to set a timer, grab any old paper and a pen you like and finish this sentence. What I really want to say is… and when you run out of steam just write it again, what I REALLY want to say is…
And if you have a bored or lonely or tolerant friend, call them up and ask them if you can read your rant, your meanderings or your nonsense. It’s surely more intriguing than Netflix.
And can someone please rewrite Sartre’s No Exit in a Zoom breakout room? Thank you.
Take good care of yourselves and your stories. Merci Elias!!
My favorite joke to tell is somewhat offensive to people who believe in Jesus. It’s a childish joke and just recently I realized that what I love best about it is a chance to act the fool. Did you ever wonder why they chose crucifixion instead of stoning, which was quite popular back in the day? Answer: Because the poor Catholics would have to do this and then I writhe around and hit myself with my fists. I love pounding on my chest and on my arms and legs. Zoom is turning me in to a flat headless body and so today, as an antidote, thump yourself. It’s very simple, make small fists and hit the tough parts of yourself! Chest thumping is awesome, quad thumping is like a massage, arm and shoulder thumping is exhilarating. Try your ribs but go lightly.
Be gentle with your head and don’t hit your belly but try today to just thump a little life into yourself. Feel free to sound and to writhe. When you are done, shake it out and enjoy the tingle. Welcome back to your three-dimensional self! It’s so much more satisfying to beat yourself up with your actual fists than with your inner critic.
Here we are, all locked up and alone again. Plus ça change. This time, however, we are in a cute small town in the US and the election has come and gone. France is shut down again except for schools. Thanksgiving is mostly cancelled and if I’m not careful I could Zoom my soul right out of my body. I miss writing my posts. I miss the discipline and the walks looking for images. We are back in the land of vast spaces, loud trucks and dry mountains.
In January I signed up for a new endeavor and have been hard at work learning many amazing things. It is almost time to launch. Starting December 1, I will be posting one delightful thing to do (off-screen) every day until the end of this 2020. Here in the US people complain about the year, as though an arbitrary date will end this epoch. I do not expect January 1, 2021 to bring any miracles but I still have stories to tell and it’s going to be a dark month for many. I am lonely here and miss my other languages terribly. It is cold and we are all masking up. So, in order to distract myself, I have concocted a new project: 31 days of self-care or self-ridicule or self-indulgence coming your way! So stay tuned for new and exciting posts. You can also follow me on IG @healeydelight if you are so inclined.
A cool wind is blowing through my big bedroom door/windows all the way across the apartment to the other big door/windows on the front side. I am inordinately fond of this white bedroom, my little balcony, our fourth floor views and a plain small kitchen straight out of every Truffaut movie. But now it is time to transition again from resident to traveler and I am finding it much harder than usual.
We have lived in this apartment since last fall but, because of confinement, I have lived or resided or been squeezed into this apartment like no other place I have lived. I walked hundreds of kilometers in my one kilometer radius and my son and I have sat on every corner of the floor, on all the various furnitures for probably more hours than an average year in our lives. We are go-outers normally. Not so domestic. Every since he was a tiny imp, I have ridden all around town with him rather than sit on a couch. But not this year.
Did you know that cocooning was a term invented by the futurist and marketer Faith Popcorn in 1987 and has been quite popular in France. Le cocooning was very in fashion this spring of 2020. When I came to Toulouse I was broken-hearted, bereft, and planning a year where more of my life would be spent doing the things I love. Here in this apartment I have filled many notebooks, cried online with my writing friends, taught and practiced yoga with people from all over the world and seen my son grow from child to young man. Our dynamic has shifted to a place where we both look out for each other. He wants me to have fun and he nags me a tiny bit when I say I’m going to go running and then I dither. When we first arrived here, I was the only nagger.
Here in this apartment I have had long meandering conversations with people I love dearly. I have listened to my mother’s stories about the war years in Germany, I have commiserated with some broken-hearted friends, and I have discovered a whole group of new and lovely Zoom colleagues/friends/peers/people I now love.
In March, I finally got my nerve up to come out of my social cocoon, to go meet strangers, to go dancing more, to try new things late at night. And then confinement and my physical cocoon became a government mandate. A few more months without really seeing new people. And now it is time to step out of this home, to step out of the fall/winter of my heart and soul, and to get back on the proverbial dance floor. But I am reluctant. I am procrastinating. I am dragging my feet.
I have packed up most of my things and gotten rid of the pants with holes and the socks that no longer fit my larger child. Tonight I am going to a different place and many adventures await. The future in the US scares me. Classrooms and masks and breathing and counting are not something I look forward to with much joy. My French cocoon has served me well but there is no room to dance in this apartment. I have scrubbed the little heel marks off of the wall where I did so many handstands and I have scrubbed the little wheel marks off of the wall where my son parked his skateboard. It is time to say goodbye and pull back into the larger stream.
And so, sitting here with one last pile of laundry to do and a few more notebooks to sort, I think of how hard it is for all of us to leave the spaces of safety and recommence our lives. The future is not pretty but it is also not homogenous nor small. I hope to step back into it like I step onto a crowded dance floor in Buenos Aires, with a supportive hand on my back, with a slight nod from the other dancers, with excitement and great, great patience, and a fullness of breath and listening to the music to remind me that the first step, even just the stillness of the first breath together, is the dance itself.
In February my son and I were in Paris for his birthday. Walking across the Place de la République, I stopped below the monument to the Republic, a seated woman. The sun shone on her massive female clothed form and I thought, we do need monuments to democracy. It’s an accomplishment. I explained to my son the military nature of Paris’ wide boulevards. They cannot be blocked by regular people with just cobblestones any more but he suggested an overturned bus might work. Every single day since March, I have been contemplating democracy here and in the United States. These two countries have a long shared history, from inspiring talks on liberty to abetting each other in the trade of enslaved bodies and so, so many contradictions abound. My US friends want to know what the difference really is. Why are people in the US doing terrible things to each other and not stopping a pandemic whereas life here is relatively peaceful and, at least for now, the worst of Covid seems to have passed? I wonder and wonder. I watch the women biking to work in skirts, I read the congratulatory signs from the government on being good citizens, I get nausea accidentally seeing footage of US bodies throwing other US bodies violently to the ground and worse and yet I don’t know what the answer truly is.
I mull and mull and get all mulloney and mullookey and think of all the vast generalizations I have heard over the years. This morning my 31 year old stepson wrote me from New York that he blames the current state of affairs on unbridled capitalism. I wrote back that the US is one huge embodiment of unintegrated trauma and we didn’t find an answer. Why, the French people ask, why did they vote for him? Why wouldn’t they wear masks? Why aren’t they taking care of sick people? Why? I don’t have a lot of answers but one little thing keeps pulling my attention.
Deserving. When a Black person gets accosted by the police, I often hear white people say something that begins with, well, he should or should not have ______ fill in the blank. Newspaper accounts of Black or Latinx people being arrested or worse almost always seem to include a little justifying paragraph at the end. He had a hammer in his pocket, he looked dangerous, he somehow someway deserved something. And this is the mindset that I don’t see as often here. Bad things happen in France but somehow, maybe Catholicism instead of Protestantism, I hear much, much less about deserving. In the US I feel like people are much too comfortable with the idea that people somehow should or do get what is coming to them. We can witness injustice and recast it in our minds so it is some kind of justified situation even in the most horrific circumstances. I have found myself doing this and I have heard close friends and family (all white) do the same. This is part of our culture. She shouldn’t have been walking there, they should have known better, he could have known that would happen, well, well, well… you know it was bound to happen. When we accept the most incongruous and devastating and tenuous relationships between cause and effect, we are not ready to build a new society, we find a way to escape our complicity. We are so used to this that we do not stop and say: the police should never kill people, rapists should never ever rape people, arrests should never ever take place like that.
The other side of the deserving coin that also bothers me is the positive and capitalistic part. How much do I deserve to earn? Don’t I deserve a car and a house and granite countertops? I am a good person and these are my just rewards. I get to have them if I want to because they are somehow my right. The mega church version of Christianity that preaches this in the US is so, so far removed from the Jesus of my childhood Sunday school who threw the money lenders out of the church and embraced poverty. In France if you make a lot of money you pay a lot more in taxes. You can work as hard as you would like but you still have to respect labor laws, tax laws, contract laws and you don’t necessarily deserve anything more than your neighbor. I asked a successful businessman here who had grown up poor and he bristled at the notion. No, he said, it is much more complicated than that. I don’t necessarily deserve anything he said, I didn’t work harder than other people, I have been lucky and I have been helped. Even with teenagers in my classroom in the US, I struggled with this notion of deserving. Somehow we believe that the rich deserve their big houses and the poor deserve their moldy trailer. I believe this at times, I can’t help myself. I don’t want to, but I forget to check because I get caught up in our cultural discourse. If someone here has a lot of money French people grouse about how their family probably had money and they should redistribute it, pay more taxes, not get to keep land from long ago, etc. How many of us are willing to say that openly and candidly about anyone who seems to have a lot of money? No one, but no one, DESERVES to be a billionaire. It should be a crime said my 14 year old son.
What does anyone really deserve? In French when you get a salary you « win » it rather than « earn » it. The French do talk about people meriting certain things, usually negative, but in my day to day interactions, I don’t see the constant competition for deserving either good or bad treatment. We all buy the same baguettes, walk the same sidewalks, take the same buses, pay the same prices for medical treatments, sign the exact same lease documents (the national government has a standard legal form), and wait the same amount of time for the very slow wheels of French bureaucracy to turn.
Maybe if we step out of the cycle of deserving, of personal identity as rationale for cause and effect which are often not cause and effect, maybe then we can critically analyze the country we in the US are trying to make and/or preserve. If we think the billionaires deserve their money and the young Black man deserves police violence then we are stuck, unable to actually see the real cause and effect, unable to question the history that led us to such a place. It is time to ask the much more critical questions of who profits? What systems started this? Where are the laws? Who wrote the laws?
If we think about loving each other simply as a practice and not because of any kind of deserving, maybe we can make progress and find our better connections. What do I deserve? Nothing. Everything. I think I would rather ask the question, what do I desire? What am I willing to fight for? Who can I help? How much discomfort can I tolerate?
What do you desire? Here’s a sexy apricot smashed on the sidewalk.
It looks like the European borders may well be shut to Americans and for a while. I have had such freedom to travel in my life that this announcement feels disheartening or frightening but it is absolutely not something I can control or even plan for. Perhaps we shall return next summer, perhaps not.
In 2023 Airbus plans to be more or less back to normal. No one in the US seems to be talking like this, with such a faraway date, but I believe French businessmen (I’ve only spoken with men), doubly conservative in their expectations. People are just going to have to hold on for a few years and I too shall need a longer plan. Or no plan. It might go like this: quit a job, move, shift things around, buy more yoga ropes. But it definitely doesn’t go like this: make a detailed plan, count on reality being what I have known before, or get my hopes up for some kind of ‘return’ to whatever life used to be. Masks on, housing prices down, terrible unemployment, almost no planes in the sky.
And the bigger picture, the longer view, the good spiritual training of always and incessantly being in liminality. Neither this nor that. My students and I will not sing together this fall, we will do something else. I have no idea what it will look like but I know I will show up to teach them everything I can in the way that feels like it could help them the most.
I have played the American game of life. Buy a house, have a child, save for retirement, find a steady job and you win! I remember being in my early thirties and going on retreat with a bunch of middle-aged women who had very complicated lives with many problems. I was slack jawed. I said to them, ‘but at your age, you have everything, life is simple and sweet and you can just enjoy it, how can your lives be so complicated?’ And they laughed and laughed and invited me to teach yoga at their gym.
My happy ending is over, smashed against the concrete pylons of bad government and newly robust white people narcissism, and I am not unhappy to steer through a sea of change. I’ve got litotes and tautologies and thanks to Wole Soyinka and Bayo Akomolafe and Henri Bergson and Lydia Davis, I’ve got some other ways to think about time and space. I do not know when I will do what. We are all flying through completely new concepts of time and I am thankful for all the poetry, the dancing, all the asanas and all the challenging people I have known. This is not my first bounce but surely it’s the most collective one.
Everyone asking me when I will be back, what I will do, where I will teach. Always, always with the future plan. When and where will be TBD and TBA from here on out. Fuck the agenda. I do not know. One day I will look back on these roller coaster years and laugh at what I thought I used to know.
The patriarchy made the women in my family nervous. Plan, plan, plan. Preserve the peaches and write up the calendar and ally with the power just in case and so my generation has drifted out to sea, looking for a new compass, one without a phallus at its center. I am looking forward to pulling that needle out of my arm, the dark vein of all of those survivors. What are you going to do? When are you going to decide? What’s your future plan? Moments after I walked off the dais after giving the graduation speech at my university, literally not yet off the ramp and onto the grass, I remember a male professor in regalia asking me what I was going to do with my life. It was my 25th birthday and it was a great day there in the California sun and although I didn’t have the courage to tell him to fuck off, I said the polite version. Life was golden in that very moment and why did I need to be grilled about the future? What are you going to do with that degree, young lady? No more future heroin, no more planning OxyContin, no more rolling on that fuel of future fear. I’ll never get there anyhow when the here and now is so enjoyable.
I think back to sitting in the dust with Pakeo in Tanzania. Will it rain? We need rain. The animals are looking for water. The sun was going down and a dark wall ambled across the horizon. It will rain, he said, or it won’t. From here on out I want to be like that, embody so many men I have known who could sit and watch the fire just waiting for the drops to actually fall, or not. I think of my son’s stalwart sixth grade teacher, backpacking, snow, we just go on, we can do this, our feet will be cold and our food unappetizing but we can do this. It will all work out, or it won’t. This constant talk of nervous planning, of forecasting all eventualities, of creating flow charts of the mind and destiny, is a massive and feeble illusion of power that we foist upon our girls most of all. If you do this and do that then you will get this and get that – is not true, maybe never was.
Abhijata said we simply cannot prepare for everything. We do not control the world. But what we can do is be ready. Fold your hands, sit very tall, prepare your center for the waves and the work to come. We can be strong and grounded and awake and take exquisite care of those around us and ourselves. This does not mean we have to spin into imaginings of this future, this black sauce that they were so sure would save me, the infinite calculations of the 3 am mind. Drawing up all eventualities does not bring succor. My grandmother was not ready for death. Some of the most ‘prepared’ people I know, go bags at the door, are not ready for their world to be shaken. Plans upon plans and lots of projecting math and what it it’s true that we as a culture have just made time up as a grid against which we can pile our coins?
What if the future is only there to give the illusion of something called growth. Tomorrow I shall have more than I had yesterday. Such a malady. A sickness of more and tomorrow. I am in it up to my neck and I want out. This is my chance.
Call me up in 2023 and I’ll tell you my plans. Until then it’s going to be all improvised, all the time.