Breakfast in bed on a weekday: A gloriously sloth gesture. Unabashed hedonism at its finest. Be it only a slice of toast and hot coffee, no matter. Simplicity is preferred. Makes the mundane seductive. Overindulgent.
No, no no…
My class was meant to start 2 minutes ago.
I’m upstairs, fumbling through my bag, ripping through the contents.
Where is it…
I’m aggressively breathing, forcing air through my constricting airway. I feel flushed, my heart is racing, and hot tears are starting to erupt.
I find my homeopathy tablets and shove some under my tongue. Breathe, take control.
I feel trapped. I’m deeply uncomfortable. I want 5 minutes to go outside and breathe. I want to walk and keep walking until I get home. I want to walk straight out of this reality, if it means I can get myself back. But for now, I have to swallow those needs and do my job. The only thing I can control right now is my breath.
I crunch through what’s left of the tablets, take a gulp of water, and paste on a smile. I descend to greet my student, who looks a bit annoyed at being kept waiting. I’m 5 minutes late.
A thickly sweet voice says, “Thanks for your patience. Shall we begin our class now?” A body goes into a classroom.
Me dissolves. Breath remains.
“I don’t get it.”
Hands up in the air, head shaking, breath hissing in exasperation, body leaning back as far as humanly possible from the table. Downturned haddock mouth, brow furrowed, head slouching into a temple massage, fingers tense and aggravated.
It never ceases to amaze me, that this behavior comes from grown-ass adults: parents, doctors, lawyers, accountants, managers, generally functioning members of society.
Sometimes, I stare blankly back in response. No follow-up question, no attempt at clarification. I see expectancy and hope looking back at me; these are eyes that just want the answer, dammit!
When I see my adult students react poorly to frustration, I think back to my childhood. When my father spoke to me in Spanish and I didn’t understand, or when I had a difficult homework assignment, he’d nod his head in exasperation and exclaim: “Aprende!” Learn!
If only those were the magic words. “I don’t get it,” and instantly, you’re exonerated from the responsibility of mental exertion.
In a perfect world, I just give the damn answer, and we can all move on!
In the world of language learning, that just doesn’t cut it.
The moments of frustration, mental blanks, forgetting what we’ve seen dozens of times before… Years of experience have taught me that that is where true language acquisition happens. Learning to navigate through those difficult moments, to roll with them, not allowing them to completely block us: these skills differentiate between those who will succeed, and those who will not.
Alleviating a short moment of frustration by giving the easy way out does a disservice to the student. They are freed from the obligation to try, and thereby cheated out of an opportunity to learn. I want to echo my dad’s simple, yet timeless nugget of truth: Aprende!
It’s my day today. I’m taking off, all alone, to have an adventure in another city.
I get on the train while the sky is still black. It slowly fades to blue, then pale yellow when I step off the train at my destination. The morning is spent poking around the quiet walkways, before shops even open.
It’s lunchtime. There’s an inviting café that serves tapas, and my stomach is starting to rumble. I sit in the back, surrounded by funky art: psychedelic cartoon faces wink at me while I consider the menu, which is written in chalk on a large piece of slate.
I choose a mild Catalan saucisson, with sardine rillettes, a creamy fish spread that I enjoy on crusty brown bread. Last, the server brings out hot spinach puffs in flaky pastry, served with lamb’s lettuce (mâche) and balsamic vinaigrette. I’ve got a glass of beautifully robust red wine to enjoy with it. The meal is deeply satisfying, and there is nothing to distract me from savoring each tasty morsel.
After, I continue walking through town, getting lost in small side streets, following no particular direction. I appreciate the care and attention each shopkeeper has put into their window display. Light, texture, color, and movement are all incorporated to attract and delight the passersby. I make my way to the central square, where the Christmas market is in full effect. Artisan truffle products stand next to gleaming handmade jewelry and leather-bound journals. Now this is a market.
I order myself a cup of vin chaud and rest it on a barrel to take out my notebook. The hot spiced red wine goes down smoothly and sweetly, and I’m absorbing the scene. Above my head are pine garlands, clusters of gold ornaments, and twinkling lights. The carousel with grinding pipe organ music is a fine backdrop to the squealing delight of children.
The sun is so brilliant, my eyes start to water as I make my way back to the train station. Stamp my ticket, step up from the platform onto the small local train that will bring me back home.
I ease into a seat next to the window. A group of teenage girls giggles into the car, bringing along a typhoon of pink sparkles and flowers. They speak unintelligibly fast about some incoherent, yet apparently highly important, subject. I am unmoving in the midst of this thick fog of unbridled youthful female naïveté. It’s almost painfully resonant and familiar.
In a flurry of hair flips, they disappear at the next station. In their place, a woman about my mother’s age gets on. She quietly sits in the seat facing me with a journal and a book about food, puts on some sunglasses, and gazes out the window.
This local train is pulling us through endless green fields, sensuously illuminated in the golden sun. The trees are bare, except for the clusters of mistletoe that are suspended in their spindly branches like Christmas ornaments. The sunlight is so warm and inviting, one could easily imagine it was spring or summer.
I’m brought back to a childhood memory: visiting a relative’s house in the summer, and running around the seemingly endless back yard. There were no obstructions, nothing between me, the grass, the hot sun, and boundless lightness within myself. That is the feeling I want to go back to. The source of life. Pure joy, safety, warmth, freedom, possibility.
I notice my reflection in the glass. I’m smiling to myself. The woman’s reflection is just next to it, facing mine like a time-lapse mirror.
Later that evening, F and I are around the fireplace at our friends’ house. The wind outside thumps at the windows, but we’re cozy and safe inside. We’re toasting with some bubbly, and just enjoying each other’s company.
It’s been a day of quiet fulfillment and loving kindness. My heart and soul are full to bursting, and I am overcome. I smile into my glass of bubbly, and my eyes well up. Where I’ve been, where I might be tomorrow, are not my concern.
I am living Now, which is just where I belong.
It’s time to head into town and put on my worker-bee hat. Work starts in just over an hour.
I duck under the rose trellis to cut through the neighbor’s yard. The dew darkens the leather on my boots, and I step around a few errant apples that have fallen from the tree.
Hitting pavement, I climb the hill that leads to vineyards, and to the train station beyond…
On the left bank of the hill, I greet my two buddies: Sweetie Pie and Surly Grump. Sweetie Pie looks up from her innocent grass nibbling, bats her eyelashes at me, and coos out her bleat. Surly Grump’s head pops up; wispy strands of grass stick to his chin like whiskers. He glares at me, digs his hooves into the ground, and aggressively croaks out a husky wheeze. He sounds like an old man who’s shouted himself hoarse by yelling at the neighbor kids to get the hell off his lawn.
Yeah, hello to you too.
I reach the sculptor’s house, and the familiar flapping circles around my head before coming to rest in front of me. He flutters in, lands on the pavement, and pat-pats alongside me as I continue my walk. He must be a homing pigeon; this isn’t the first time he’s followed me to the station. He’s got green and blue tags on his ankles, and I wonder where he lives, who owns him, and why he follows me.
I’m singing softly to myself, and my feet crunch the gravel in time. I’m on a one-lane country path, and large expanses of grapevines and untouched land yawn out on either side. I can see the whole valley from this vantage point, and I feel free. When I get too far ahead of my walking buddy, he takes flight, circles around, and falls back in step alongside me. When I reach the end of the one-lane country path, he flies up to the top of the first building, and watches me as I descend toward the sleepy train station.
I’m back in the “real world,” and work starts in 45 minutes.
It’s that time of the year again, and I’ve been looking forward to it. Silver lights suspended all around town from the beautiful Haussmanian balconies, and neat rows of red and blue cabins erected in the town center. The Christmas Market is the embodiment of the spirit of the season. I love the glow of the lights, the smell of cinnamon and mulled wine, and the glorious explosion of rich colors. The holiday season is a beautiful time to be alive.
With this lovely image in mind, I dance out of work, looking forward to strolling about the market on my way home. My spirit is light, and I’m surprised there aren’t twittering doves lifting my coattails on the way out.
I arrive at the market with a bounce in my step.
A young couple is swinging their bags as they stroll, and they’re unceremoniously perfect in converging into my path, cutting me right off. No matter, they must be so lost in their loving reverie that they didn’t see me.
Then my heart starts to sink as I pass by each little cabin.
Vendors are selling snake oil and toe socks, ugly overpriced jewelry and cured saucisson that smell like feet. Waffles and churros are made from boxed mixes and dredged with off-brand imitation Nutella. Sacrilege.
Warped speakers vomit out “Last Christmas,” and the tinny sound of George Michael narrates my walk through town. The song echoes and distorts off the storefronts, intercut with snippets of banal dialogue.
A vendor is displaying huge slabs of chocolate, filled with nuts and dried fruit. There is no plastic barrier, and I imagine passersby inadvertently touching the chocolate with their putrid hands, and germy children sneezing all over it. Merry Christmas, Grandma; here’s a taste of gastroenteritis.
A group of sour-smelling, salty-looking homeless dudes play patty cake while their dogs gnaw at their rope collars. One dog is spreading his own Christmas cheer all over the sidewalk; something tells me he hasn’t been eating enough kibbles.
All the while, George Michael’s buttery voice indulges the word “special,” and it’s following me at every turn. His sensual whispers are giving me douche chills. I try to keep my spirits up as he flirtatiously caresses each word, but it’s starting to wear on my soul.
Just ahead, a fat homeless guy shuffles along, muttering to himself. At once, like a backfiring jalopy, he fires out of both ends. He releases a massive wet fart, then coughs up onto the cobblestone.
A crescendo of wails starts up from the other side; a kid has just evacuated his churro all over the front of his jacket. Mom looks beyond exasperated, and she herself is fighting the urge to gag as she wipes up her kid with cheap disintegrating napkins.
I don’t have time to wish them a Merry Christmas because I’m dancing around the pavement now, swerving and side-stepping the well-trodden doggie piles. Like an unholy mandala, the traces of shit radiate outward from the foul nucleus. Animals.
This is no Christmas market. This is criminal. This is a farce.
On a human level, this is offensive. They’ve taken the spirit of Christmas, dolled it up with rouge and cheap perfume, and sold her off to the highest bidder. They’ve turned her out, and for what? As Seen On TV gimmicks and radio-controlled planes that the vendor insists on dive-bombing in front of you, expecting you to be impressed. Where are the homemade crepes with real fucking Nutella? Where’s the hippie selling handmade hemp bracelets and artisanal soap? This is sordid business.
Tim Curry is laughing diabolically somewhere, as “Time of My Life” starts to ooze out of the speakers. I gotta get outta here, man.
The holiday season is a beautiful time to be alive? Humbug.
About this time last year, I received a huge wake-up call.
Amid great joy at welcoming my mom to France, I got home, showed her around the house, and sighed when I saw the letter. The long-awaited letter from the French administration about my visa…
I had been denied. I was ordered to leave the country within 30 days.
In other words, I was being deported.
My chest and face felt hot, and my heart felt covered in sludge.
I felt humiliated at the rejection. I thought everything was fine, but the French administration deemed my ties to the country as insufficient. I thought I had finally found some stability in my life with my partner. But someone in an office took a cursory look at my life on paper, deemed it to be insufficient, and decided to turn me away. Whoever deemed my ties to France “insignificant” wasn’t there to see F and I, and the life we were building together. They couldn’t know that I had integrated into French life, and that I had a kick-ass community around me.
Needless to say, I was also scared shitless. This was one of my worst fears, and it had come to life.
The burning dread of deportation was softened by the steadfast support I got. I was touched and honored by the efforts of our friends, family, and community, who each contributed something to my appeal: messages, reassuring, contacting people who could help. French administration found out in short order exactly how much support I had.
In a whirlwind, the order of deportation arrived, I managed to enjoy my mother’s stay in France, we submitted my appeal, and I was finally granted my visa. In one month.
In the aftermath, I was walking on new legs. Post-rollercoaster jelly legs. I dodged a bullet and I knew it; I had begun phase two of my life in France: P.D.O. (Post-Deportation Order) And if I had learned anything, it was that my resolve to stay here was solid; I wasn’t about to go anywhere. I realized what I wanted because it had almost been taken away.
In a month, I will go back with F to submit my visa renewal application. Even if I’m confident in my case, there’s that sneaking twinge of doubt behind my ear. My chest burns again when I dare to think, “What if…?”
When dealing with someone who’s done you wrong before, you never see them the same way again. Once you get bitten by one dog, you eye all dogs with suspicion. It takes one letter to upend your life. But the road doesn’t end; you steel yourself and move forward, even if it’s one manageable baby step at a time.
Even if it’s not okay now, it will (one day) be okay again.