Monday, August 27, 2012

I Saw London, I Saw France

l'expression du jour: phrase of the day



Well, UT internet, at least. This has been one of the most hectic, panicky, stressful, adulty weeks of my life. Chock full of foreclosure, new leases, vet bills, bank accounts, moving trucks, column writing, and laundry. I'm about sick of it. Stupid adulthood. Bein' all present.

In addition to the stress, this is also one of the saddest moments of my life.

Here I am. Sittin' in the library. Doin' the "Pooh think."

Think, think, think...

To say I have Writer's Block would be doing my Writer's Man-Crushing Boulder an injustice.

I don't know where to start. I don't know how to finish. I don't know how to start to finish or how to finish what I start. (And other more confusing variations of that.)

So to that I say "Oh bother" and move forward with Part 2 of my "goodbye" series with something I'm sure you were probably expecting.

I now present to you the second in a series of two, ladies and gentlemen:




(in a similarly particular order)

#10. Trust me, this is a shortcut.

Famous last words, right?

But, despite what pop culture would lead you to believe, every once in a while this statement garners some truth.

As you may well know (and if you don't I sincerely question your literacy), toward the end of my stay in France, I breached the northern US border and found myself some super awesome Canadians. 

The only thing Dudley Do-Wrong with this situation was that, though we went to the same university, we did not live in the same residence. While I lived up in the somewhat sketchy student housing behind the faculté de lettres, my Canadians lived in an EXTRA nice apartment building down by the Promenade. About a 30 minute trek. (Or so I thought . . . )

So my first "thank you" goes out to Alan, a very friendly Irishman with wit to spare, for showing me the shortcut through some condo-y neighborhood, cutting about 10 minutes off the journey if you walk fast.

In fact, because of you, Alan, I even made it to the bus stop after I got a text message saying the bus to go zip-lining was leaving in 20 minutes, an unwelcome shock to a pajama-wearing co-ed, flopped haphazardly across her bed. Couldn't've done it without ya, buddy.

#9. 42 across: father --> D_DDY

Okay, so "super-confession-time." This is something I was jokingly embarrassed to reveal pretty much up til right now.

Whenever my dad and I get bored, we like to have Sudoku battles.

No, it's exactly what you're thinking.

We print off sheets that we made ourselves in Microsoft Word, replicate the puzzle, and spar.

(They're double-sided for maximum paper efficiency.)

It was hilarious how easily I found these in my house.

While I was in France, he would mail me cards every month or so with folded up Sudokus and NY Times crosswords in them. Eventually the cards stopped, but the puzzles kept coming, oftentimes attached to a post-it with some variation of competitive trash talk because he knows how much better I am at Sudoku and tries to lift himself up by bringing others down.

My dad and I have a funny relationship. Oh wait, I misspelled awesome.

#8. Misery loves company.

The weary traveler is often faced with a variety obstacles that he or she must hurdle to emerge unscathed and unbankrupt.

In my case, this involved spending a not-so-luxurious night or two in the all too purgatorious Geneva airport.

Now I could go on and on about how miserably miserable those nights were. I could tell you that the heat went out sometime around 2am, leaving us frozen to our places. I could tell you that I semiconsciously resolved that sleeping with my legs in the air was somehow most comfortable. I could tell you that a tile floor is, contrary to popular belief, not an adequate substitute for a Tempur-Pedic.

But if I told you all these things, I imagine it would encourage feelings similar to pity or pathetic sympathy. And that's not what I want you to feel.

Though I'm pretty sure the sandman stopped by and beat me with an ugly stick, that night really helped bond me and my Canadians together. Very almost literally. (You know, body heat and all.)

Don't get me wrong. I had a really bad case of sleep anger when
I woke up. You know when you're so sleepy that your anger is
magnified by like a thousand. It goes away. But it's real dramatic.

#7. Erasmus

When I made the decision to study abroad, I didn't really do a whole lot of shopping around for different programs. I discovered pretty early on there was a program called ISEP that would give me the full immersion experience while still allowing me to keep my university scholarships. Being the Frugal Franny that I am, my initial and maintained response was "THAT. I WANT TO DO THAT."

What I didn't know was that the ISEP program operates from a distance. It was the neglectful parent I never had, supporting me by simply existing. They'll help you with anything you need help with, except not.

This is my impression of the ISEP program: "Hello. Welcome to France. Please don't email me at this email address anymore."

And, like, that's totally fine. For people who like feeling like they don't belong anywhere.

So this is where I'd like to thank the Erasmus program.

Even though I made the decision to spend my 9 months without any sort of guidance because I hate comfort and happiness, most of my friends were studying with the inter-Europe program Erasmus. There were soirées and outings, trips and adventures. All planned by Erasmus. For Erasmus.

Erasmus was a coddler. And to my satisfaction, a mollycoddler.

I was able to attend some of these events and met a lot of other students from all over Europe who were feeling similarly lost and purposeless.

(ISEP: thank you for being inexpensive. I suppose you deserve some recognition.)

#6. Snaps for Elizabeth

Remember that poetry slam thing I went to what seems like eons ago? Well, there's a second part to that story I never finished. A wonderful second part to that story. The best part of that story, if I may be so bold.

But first, let me refresh your memory.

So the poetry slam was truly a gathering of Nice's finest member states, some more memorable than others.

There was the bejeweled and bespectacled lady who seemed to be the only soldier in a laughing war, whose hair had reached that precarious point just past "long and flowy" and straight into "oh dear god her hair is cat-lady long."

There was the mustachioed baritone, the failed actor who most likely moonlights as a guidance counselor and most definitely feels his work simply isn't appreciated in his own time.

And last, but certainly not least, there was the barkeep, a seemingly ancient crone of a human, equal parts skeletal and generous. A free dusty glass for every poet.

But alas, this lovable band of heroes is not why this activity rose to the #6 spot on my TOP TEN list.

Despite my best efforts to experience new experiences as frequently as possible, I managed to remain hermitly bound to my dorm room instead of attending my 3rd and final slam before departing at the end of May.

I was sad.

Then, one night, after my friend Kendra's birthday dinner, I was chatting with Elizabeth, and we realized that we were both really sad we'd missed le slam.

Welp, SURPRISE! We decided to host one of our own! Just a lil ole thang.

So, in the middle of the night, in the middle of a birthday party, in the middle of Adrien's living room, we semi-circled ourselves on the floor and sacrificed our words to the culture gods. Because we are truly so fancy.

Several recitations, an epic African tale, and many bared emotions later, the night evolved into a very emotional love-fest. Elizabeth, in particular, took it upon herself to reenact that sad part at the end of F*R*I*E*N*D*S when Rachel takes everybody one by one and tells them how much she loves them and how much she's gonna miss them.

It was such a memorable night. I'll never forget it. (Because that's what memorable means.)

#5. "Hello, My Name Is Grown Up"

Hello, my name is Grown Up.
It's so nice to meet you here
At this Grown Up world convention
After such a Grown Up year.

I can't even express to you
The Grown Up that's in store,
For today's Official-Grown-Up-Day
Three hundred fifty four.

I've had to do some Grown Up things
That I've heard Grown Ups do,
So here in my most Grown Up voice
I'll share a few with you.

I moved into a country
Where I didn't know a soul,
Brand new responsibilities,
A brand new Grown Up role.

I got a Grown Up bank account,
Not quite sure how that happened.
I signed a 2-year phone contract
That I was almost trapped in.

I planned some trips to foreign lands,
That part was pretty hard.
I even somehow got my hands on
A French Social Security card.

And in my very Grown Up way,
In perfect Grown up form,
I'm still unsure, but there's a chance
That I insured my dorm.

And now I'm back in Tennessee
After all this Grown Up change
To tell you I'm a Grown Up,
But it still feels really strange.

#4. Er Mer Gerd Blerg

If you're reading this, then you know that I kept a blog while I was in France. I started it somewhat half-heartedly, as any study abroad blogger would care to admit. I knew I wanted to keep it up, but I feared it would soon die, alongside countless other study abroad blogs who perished before it.

But I found the weekly, sometimes daily, detailed descriptioning of my life to be very cathartic. It helped me sort through my thoughts and . . . um . . . feelings . . . without being all sappy in a stupid pink journal.

And, you know, the fact that other people wanted to read it too was simply an added bonus.

So thank you, blog. With the risk of sounding Norman Bates-y, you were my most reliable "friend" last year. I could write anything to you, no matter how depressing, and you would somehow find a way to make it funny. And I suppose that's a good thing.

#3. A Close Call

Dear Mme McAlpin,

Thank you. Thank you so much. Not only are you my advisor back at UT (undoubtedly helping me with advisor-y stuff), but you were the one who convinced me to study abroad for the whole year instead of just a semester. *Not that I needed a whole lot of convincing . . .

You told me I would've just started settling in in December, so going for the year made so much more sense. Being the youth that I am, I'm very well aware that I'm invincible. So I was pretty sure she was bluffing, or at least over-preparing me.

No. Not at all.

In fact, it took me about 2 months *more* than that to finally catch my breath and feel like I was actually, more or less, assimilating.

(Yeah, I move slowly. Back up off me.)

And I mean, I would've never even *met* my Canadians if I had left in December.

Which brings me to #2 . . .

#2. The Butterfly Effect

butterfly effect (n.): the phenomenon whereby a small change at one place in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere, e.g., a butterfly flapping its wings in Rio de Janeiro might change the weather in Chicago.

This is probably the scariest one when I think about it too much.

You know my Canadians that I've told you so much about? Well, I almost didn't even meet *any* of them. In fact, I owe all of those really awesome friendships and memories to my horrible sleep schedule.

Why? Well,

In my first semester, I was in a Phonetics class with 3 of my Canadians. Didn't know them. Didn't really sit with them. Sort of scared of them. Social anxiety. Blegh.

Anyway, one day I missed class. Because I didn't wake up to my alarm. Because my alarm has psychic powers and knew what was best for me.

Nevertheless, I missed class. So I asked one of my Canadians to borrow her notes.

And the rest is history.

(I don't like thinking about the alternate reality where I *did* wake up for class. Surely that is the worst reality.)

Forever one of my favorites.

#1. . . is the loneliest number . . .

Social norms are the worst.

They really are.

After living with myself pretty much my whole life, I've more or less figured me out. I am what you would call an extroverted introvert, ie. an introvert who works really hard to fool you into thinking she's extroverted.

Why does she do this? She's not duplicitous. She doesn't hate you.

She does this because society demonizes introversion. Consciously or unconsciously she knows that solitude is wrongitude. More friends equals more happiness.

Now, I love people. I really do. I love being around them. I love talking to them. Blah bler blah.


The time I spent by myself in Europe, what I may have previously referred to as "the Dark Ages," was by far the most important part of my study abroad experience. Sure, at the time it sucked more than a dehydrated monkey with a crazy straw.

Spending that much-needed and much-afforded time alone really helped me . . . uh . . . find myself? (Oh god, please pardon the cheese.)

Solitude lets you think. Solitude lets you figure out just how weird your mind really is. Solitude might even make you start narrating your life in your head. But that's okay.

There's definitely something to be said for the fact that a large portion of our greatest artists, writers, and musicians were more or less on the loopy side of introversion.

Creativity flows organically. Which made blogging easier than a Monday crossword.

I noticed things. I started seeing the "stuff" around me just a little bit differently.

Anyway. The point: isolation is good (to a certain degree). Loneliness is cathartic. And quality time with Molly is always fun.


And now it's time to end this. Whatever "this" is.

Maybe for you this was a way to keep up with me while I was gone.
Maybe it was a nice healthy dose of internet procrastination.
Maybe you're a little bit creepy and don't even really know me.
Maybe it gave you a good laugh or two.
Maybe you're secretly in love with me and want to stare at my face all the time.
Maybe you stumbled upon this accidentally and you're panicking cos you can't find the close button, and now you're worried cos I'm totally reading you're mind.

For me, it was all of these things. Yes, all of them.

So whatever it was you were looking for when you took that daily afternoon creep on my very public life, I hope you found it.

But for now I wish you well.

I love you all.

Surely this can't be the end.

Shirley: "Oh, but it is."

Amitiés :)
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I See London, I See France is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.