blackberries, windfall apples, and coming full circle


Yesterday, I started my new job. I am quite literally a ‘pion,’ a word that transcends both English and French to become the universal mot juste for ‘person at the bottom of the food chain.’ This morning, at the café downstairs, the father-in-law’s crew of old men buddies laid into me. “PION!” they said, sucking down espressos and grinning with their remaining teeth. I’m hyperbolizing here, they’re actually all quite preserved and jovial about it, the most considerate gang I’ve ever been invited to hang with. “DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS, AMERICAN LADY?”

Or something like that. In short, none of them have any idea whatsoever why I left a perfectly nice job as a hotel receptionist (regular hours, good pay, health insurance, business attire) to become a child-chaser at a professional high school. My husband leapt in and told them that I am a Pedagogical Assistant (PA) and not an Educational Assistant (EDA, because education has two first letters…) which was very different because it meant that I was not a baby-sitter, I was a homework-explainer. The nuance is easy to miss.

And I was turning this idea over in my head this morning while making blackberry jam or confiture de mûres and suddenly, all at once, I realized that I had come full circle.

You know how they say that what you focus on is what you’ll get? I hardly ever believe in things like that because lord knows I’ve been focusing on being a millionaire for, like, ever, and that reality has not been gotten by me or anybody in my vicinity, for that matter. However, as I was making jam and thinking about how great it was to only work two days a week (freeeeedooooom!) but also how weird it was to go from a full-time English teacher to a part-time pion (I am a humble person, no work is below me, wait a minute, what do you mean I can’t use the coffee machine in the teacher’s lounge? And that everything a kid tells me I am legally not allowed to keep private? Are you f**king kidding me? What kind of system is this?) I realized that my life has transformed around me, and I was too busy to notice.

Once upon a time, when I had been out of high school for only a few short years, I discovered a blog called These Days In French Life. That day, my obsession began. The blog was written by an American woman who had moved to France, gotten married to a Frenchman, and decided to stop buying things for a year. This was the premise, but it wasn’t the substance.

The substance was foraging for food, connecting to the seasons, absorbing a new and intriguing culture, overcoming obstacles from all corners of life. Moon phases, recipes, having time to have time. Stepping away from consumerism, aligning your everyday life with your life moral.

I devoured that blog. DEVOURED IT. This was back in the day, back when blogs had just become a thing people did and nobody, I mean nobody, was doing gimmicks like no-buy years and anti-consumerist minimal mommy thingermerbobs. And certainly nobody was doing it in France!

The blog no longer exists. The woman who ran it, for very sensible and noble reasons, got rather terrified that over a million people were looking at her personal life every year and shut the whole thing down. It became invitation-only, and I was way too shy at the time to email her and ask to be put on the list.

But that blog was my lifeline to what I wanted to do. What I was, in fact, determined to do. I read it for hours and hours and days and months while I was still in the States, osmosing the lessons therein and dreaming of someday coming to France where I would wholesale rip off this woman’s life.

And this morning, in my little apartment in a small town in rural France, I realized, poof!, that I was there. I’d done it. I ripped off the dream life.

Now, I have time for time’s sake. For example, a couple of days ago I spent five hours in the late-summer sun, picking wild blackberries in my big old hiking boots, kicking those bad bushes into a corner and scraping the shit out of my arms and eating all the extra-good berries right away. I snapped off a likely-looking bunch of unfamiliar dusty-blue berries from a tree, took them home, and read about wild fruits until I realized that they were prunes or prunelles, only to be eaten after the first frost. (I tried one anyway, and let me tell you, those babies are aciiiiidic. Now I have to wait a month. It’s gonna be me vs. some early birds when ripe-time rolls around.)

And because you need pectin to make your blackberry confiture gel properly, I walked to my father-in-law’s house and got a bunch of windfall apples, which I boiled this morning, skins on, and mixed the resulting pink mush with a kilo or two of blackberries and now, here I am, writing a little, cooking a little, writing a little more. Eating lots of hot jam.

These Days In French Life. Except it’s my life. And then I realized that this blog idea I’d been tossing around is pretty much an homage to another blog. BLOGS, THEY’RE THE PROUSTS OF FUTURE PRESENT, all hail the blog! Which made me realize that, yeah, I do want to do this blog. Because there’s no more These Days, but there’s a spot where it used to be. A story about seasons, and France, and life on the sidelines. Or life like when my brother was little and played soccer, when he would just stand out in the middle of the field staring at the sky while the ball whizzed around him and people shouted for him to move. That life.

Not to say that it’s perfect or everyone should do it or anything like that because, hello, hubris and hello, there’s no better way to completely mess up your life than go around talking about how awesomely flawless it is. But it’s also like the Buddha says in all his chestnutty wisdom—telling yourself that you’re a good person isn’t pride—it’s a very effective way to make yourself a good person. The more you focus on the wonderful things in your life, the bigger they grow. The more you tell yourself you’re a good person who values kindness and wants everyone to be happy, the more you’ll shift in that direction.

Hopefully, anyhow. There’s still that little voice that tells me that I’m just a selfish cow because only selfish cows get to live the life of their dreams. It’s an easy tirade to fall into. Puritan guilt, begone!

So, in the name of homages and happiness, here’s to blackberries and windfall apples and coming full circle. And seasons! Holy moly, seasons! I love ’em! Let’s have more of them! You with me?


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