Monday, December 21, 2015

Ça Fera

According to Google Translate, the title of this post means "It will do" in French. I like that. As we head into the thick of the holiday season, I realized that it's been nearly six weeks since I've updated the blog - I didn't mean to let so much time slip by, but things happen, especially at the end of the year. And what a year it's been! Just before Christmas last year, I underwent a lumpectomy to treat "Stage Zero" breast cancer - another name for "ductal carcinoma in situ." (Christmas on painkillers - that ought to be a country song.) Stage Zero. Nothing to worry about. Whatever. Cancer. That's about all I heard.

I came through things with flying colors and the subsequent six weeks of five-days-a-week radiation treatment, while not a whirligig of fun, were all right. I had an amazing medical team, support from family, friends, co-workers, and strangers. People looked after FryDaddy so he could look after me. Still, I was stubborn and fell into old thinking, which included acting mule-headed and ignoring that I wasn't exactly 100%, which meant that I resisted having people take care of me. No, no, that's okay - I don't need help; I'm just fine.

Nonsense and I regret that.

So around late June, following a HUGE health scare with my dad (everything's okay on that score, but my family is quite ready to be done with this year), I started the "French journey" I've been writing about here for the last six months. A year-end wrap-up seems to be in order.

While I can still be as crazy as a rat in a coffee can (see picture and imagine a far more crazed, Edgar Allan Poe sort of rat), I'm better that I used to be (most days, anyway). Choosing the French to emulate was a good choice for me - it's a society that celebrates women, style, and intellectual ability (philosophy is a standard high school subject. Seriously). Yes, I've made changes in how I eat (most days). Yes, I've pared down my wardrobe and I've found amazing high-quality clothes and accessories. Yes, I now have a chaise longue (and I now know that it's not spelled "lounge") that I want to spend entire days on. Yes, I'm better at leaving work worries and aggravation at work (most days). Yes, I know about eight ways to twist and pin my now-shoulder-length hair into an updo. Yes, I can tie a scarf about five different ways. Yes, I have a Pandora station devoted to French music.

As one of my beloved friends tells her composition students when they present her with a paper that's long on facts but short on reason, "So what?"

It's an excellent question. The "so what?" in this case is an internal shift. It's not about perfume, or glitzy hairpins, or a silk blouse (although I found one for eight dollars the other day. I swear, it's like hunting). Those are merely outside trappings - certainly pretty, but not essential. The "French shift" for me has been a change in attitude. That includes taking the extra few minutes in the day to do things that make me feel good, whether that's adding a scarf to an outfit or making sure to have fresh fruit in the house. This change in internal attitude also means noticing things as they cross your path. The Bible tells us "Seek and ye shall find" and this is true. Yesterday, I noticed that "Angels We Have Heard on High" is a traditional French carol. My dad brought home croissants (which he never does), so I have those for a day or two leading up to Christmas. People know that I'm working on these things, and send me encouraging notes - including about a chaise longue! My project has taken on a wider reach than I ever would have imagined. Then again, I think we all could do with being a little gentler in our attitudes towards ourselves and one another.

A huge part of that has been learning to say "no" and mean it. "No" is a complete sentence and, while I still deal with twinges of guilt when I say "no," I an bone-deep sure that I am better able to serve my community, my students, my family, my friends - and yes, myself - when I'm not flailing about trying to complete too many tasks in too short a time. (Let me tell you a secret. Lean in here, so no one overhears us. Ready? The way to make saying "no" work is to look the other person square in the eyes and simply say "no." Don't attempt to explain, or add conditions, or (heavens above!) say something like, "If only . . ." Just say no, then smile. Perhaps shrug a little to indicate that, really, you would, but with the state of things as they are, it simply isn't possible. [Yes, you can communicate all of that with a shrug. Practice.] My French cousins might add "C'est la vie," but I am not French, so I'm sticking just with the "no" and the shrug. It's simple and it works, provided you keep your trap shut after saying "no." The other person will begin to talk. Let them. Smile sadly a little. Add nothing to the conversation. Say "no" again if you must, but nothing more than that.)

Also - I'm learning that, at my age, no one gives out gold stars. Remember those? Very popular with teachers, especially those who work with young students. Well, after a certain age, nobody gives those out, so it's imperative that you find your own value. This is echoed in the marvelously over-the-top Sweet Potato Queens who didn't wait around for someone else to give them a sash and a tiara. Very clever women, and their recipe for "Chocolate Stuff" is one treat everyone should try this holiday season.

Anyway, I bought my own box of stars (I really did - the local dollar store stocks them. I also write myself gift notes when I order things for myself off of Amazon. Why not? It's free and I like saying nice things to myself) and I give them to myself as I decide I deserve them. Some days it's because I completed grading an entire stack of papers or because I finished writing a chapter. Other days, it's because I didn't stab anyone with a fork - it's a flexible scale. I really do suggest trying this. Is it a little whimsical? Sure it is, and the world needs all the whimsy it can get these days.

Whether 2016 has you "going French" or not, I wish you the very best in the coming trip around the sun! Just try to be a little kinder when you don't want to be. If enough of us do that often enough, we'll see a change that will make the world sit up and take notice! Your best is good enough. Put forth that effort, then allow things to simply be - at least as much as you can.

Joyeux Noël, mes amis!*

* Yes, I do not speak French. Maybe I'll learn.