It’s official: I’ve made friends with the spinach lady. We both smile when we see each other (though she is only smiling because I buy a kilo of spinach from her every Saturday), we comment on the variety of dishes that can be made with an entire kilo of spinach, and she always rounds the price down to the nearest euro (perhaps just so I don’t waste her time counting my centimes). I know I am not really friends with the woman who sells me spinach, the most obvious sign being that I do not know her name, but it feels nice nonetheless to be able to establish a routine and know that someone out there, if I end said routine, will wonder where I have gone, or how in the world they will sell all their spinach. Those of you who know me know that I get rather cranky when I don’t exercise or eat large quantities of vegetables (hence, my friendship with the spinach lady.) I wonder if my body holds excess toxins?…Feel free to comment with your biological expertise. So, recently, I’ve been feeling a bit sluggish because I’ve given up running (you may or may not know the story about the stress fractures, but they’re back and throbbing—in my experience, they don’t fare well in the cold.) I’ve been trying to get into yoga and Pilates but, because my patience varies on a daily basis, I can only practice sporadically, and my relationship with my bike is at half-mast because of the wind (the rain is shockingly bearable for this Californian.) On Friday, after being low-energy all week, I broke through and created my own full-body at-home strength routine that requires only a resistance band and a semi-heavy chair. It was nice to work alone because I could pair my own music with it instead of that stupid elevator music that appears in workout videos, and I felt that, rather than slugging along to a woman on a screen, I was actually using my own creativity to put together a workout. I no longer feel dependent on the gym for a good sweat (I was considering forking up a fourth of my salary to join one), and I now know that I have three futures awaiting me if my current plans fall through: champagne tour interpreter, spinach co-grower and at-home life coach.
Greek philosophers used to preach the formation of the body, mind and spirit (don’t worry, I won’t get too cheesy), and I often find myself envious of their lives spent learning, training and teaching others while being funded by wealthy sponsors. Society today places little emphasis on this kind of well-rounded formation: teachers make very little money and, in the United States, gym classes are constantly being cut from school programs or, if they do exist, are not very rigorous. We focus too much on the present than on the future, often taking the “easy route” in many aspects of life while devoting ourselves to just one task. For students, this task is often “studying” or “writing”, because if we do not produce good work surely it will be the end of our lives! Professionals often spend little time with their families or even just outside in the fresh air due to the economic and social pressures of our society to “work hard and succeed”. What is success? Some of you know that I almost took a job that would have paid me, in my freshly graduated mindset, a ton of money, rather than moving to France to teach English and drink wine for very little. I’ve learned so much more from my students and from the task of reformulating my life (getting creative with workouts and finding fresh spinach, among more serious things) than I would have from plugging numbers into a computer and living in a familiar town. Though I’ve not loved all the cities I’ve lived in, I have always grown from them, and in Troyes I have the opportunity to say that I both love and learn from my city and my work.
What will I do when I return? Possibly sit at a desk staring at a computer in order to support myself, or work hard on a degree that takes up most of my time; but, when I think about what’s really important, it’s never money or “success”. Hopefully, I can escape without letting my job become who I am as a person. Emile Zola wrote a very short story about a house cat that escapes his stuffy apartment in order to have an adventure with the cats he always sees on the rooftops. Come nightfall, the cat gets hungry and does not like the look of the scraps that the other cats are eating, nor the way they have to forage for food. He returns to the old woman who feeds him and keeps him confined to her apartment, inviting another cat with him. The second cat tells him it would be impossible for him to live a closed-in life after the one he has known, but the first cat still concludes that his comfort is more important than his freedom. Though clearly a commentary on aristocratic values, the cat story comes to mind when thinking about our professional lives. Is there really a balance between comfort and freedom? Those who “do what they love” are quite lucky, I think, to have found such a balance. I’ll just have to keep plugging the champagne tour interpreter idea until I get hired, but the main lesson in all of this rambling is that I relate very closely to Emile Zola’s cats, both of them, and that my future remains undecided.