Getting Dirty in the Woods

This morning, I went on a walk. It’s been raining a lot in Val, so my attempt to walk around the lake (yep, there’s a lake) was thwarted by multiple impassable mud puddles. In one of my attempts to cross a more reasonable one, I looked at my shoes and had a series of thoughts.

Oh, my new shoes are already muddy.

I never see French girls with muddy shoes.

Why can’t I keep my shoes clean?

Between this morning and now, I haven’t solved the mystery of why French girls don’t have muddy shoes, or at least not the ones I see walking around the city. They have city shoes and woods shoes, maybe?

Sort of in conjunction with this, last weekend I saw the movie version of the book Wild.

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Lille was showing it in VO (Version Original, aka not dubbed in French), and a group of friends and I went as our Saturday afternoon activity. I left the theater feeling inexplicably gutted. It was one of my favorite books of the summer; I read it while on my uncle’s family’s ranch in Montana, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it even when I put it down. I think the movie had such a profound emotional impact on me because Cheryl, and the movie itself, are from my neck of the woods. Literally, I have hiked parts of the PCT on family camping trips and regularly visit Portland, her last stop and current home, to see some of my best friends. Reliving the story reminded me of family and nature and extreme emotional journeys and personal growth.

When we were on that trip in Montana, we went on a family hike that ended with pouring rain and pelting hail as we madly dashed to the cars, soaking wet and covered in mud.

When I looked at my shoes this morning, I thought: I miss getting dirty in the woods.

I’ve been feeling persistently homesick since I returned from winter break. Maybe it was the holidays, maybe it’s the January blues, maybe it’s because this is about the halfway point of my adventure, but I feel like I’m in the “confronting deeper issues” dip of the culture shock curve.

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I’ve never thought of myself as a nature girl, but everything is relative. Relative to the extreme outdoor enthusiasts of Whitman’s OP, where nature is a temple and/or second home, I maybe don’t qualify for the “Nature Girl” title. Relative to my students and a lot of the people I meet in Europe, I feel like a total tree-hugger. I love the smell of trees, and moss, and rotting things in old growth forests. I love how fresh the air is. I love seeing the occasional slug sliming across the trail. I love marveling at things that sprung out of the earth that are so beyond humans, that preceded and will outlive us. I love getting dirty, and sweaty, and sore, and wearing my REI boots and bright green LL Bean fleece and ratty blue jeans.

And, more abstractly, my self-concept has always included deep roots. I pull everything I do and think from a central, grounded, internal source which I take care to cultivate. I am Anne, the tree.

Sometimes I think coming here was me branching out, and other times I feel uprooted.**

Being planted — putting down roots — brings comfort, safety, certainty. I miss my earth, I miss my ground. I don’t feel entirely like I can plant myself here, or, for that matter, anywhere. I might be floating around for a while. It makes me afraid to make connections, afraid to really mentally plant myself because I know I’ll have to uproot once again. I try really hard to cling to my center, but sometimes it escapes me. Right now, it’s much easier to feel lost than it is to feel rooted. I’m more unsettled than grounded.

As a personal development nerd, I read a lot about growing up. I think it’s supposed to feel like this.

And I guess, whether I can feel my roots or not, they are inescapable. I must be nourished, watered, and cared for somehow…and growing up and out from somewhere.

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** Isn’t it interesting that so many emotional metaphors can come out of the image of a forest?? Language is cool.

Getting Dirty in the Woods

Anne Turns 22!

I don’t know ’bout you…but I’m feelin’ 22!

If you don’t know where that’s from, clearly you have not yet turned 22 in America. If you ask me, we really need a new anthem. Too bad I’ll never turn 22 again to enjoy one if it happens…

I LOVE birthdays because I get to say to my friends: “hey, thanks for being BORN!” It’s the most unconditional celebration of a human that I can think of. People didn’t have to do anything to deserve a birthday — they didn’t work for it ; they didn’t have to be pretty, or smart, or exceptional ; they didn’t have to “fit in” or live up to anyone’s expectations — nobody even knew how they would turn out on their day of birth. And we get to throw a party to thank them simply for being in the world. I think we forget that everyone was a baby miracle to someone, at some point, when we get bogged down in the expectations (/insecurities) of Life After Birth.

In foreign countries, birthdays are bittersweet. The ingredients of my perfect birthday in America are as follows: Baskin-Robbins ice cream cake, lots of friends and family love, maybe a present or two, a lot of nice cards, and some celebratory dancing + tunes + friends to dance to them with. I’ve had a lot of fantastic birthdays, thanks to some amazing loved ones.

But when you’re far from home, all expectations must be thrown out the window. Nothing will be as expected. Three weeks ago, I had no idea if I’d even have any friends to celebrate with!

But I do. GREAT ones!!

First, I made some food for them. I love cooking for people, and I’ve discovered that people really like eating. [Left: Tartiflette, Right: Falafel night!]

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I also discovered the loveliest Queen of Cakes there ever was, my friend Natalie. She surprised me with a beautiful strawberry tart in the morning, and a chocolate tart + marzipan penguin at night.

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And candles too. And a traditional birthday song! (You may have heard of it)

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I also got a card + candy and my own DVD copy of Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis! I can FINALLY become hip to the Ch’ti cultural lingo that everyone has said I must learn about. (THANK YOU FRIENDS!)

Then we went bowling! Yes, there is a bowling alley in Val! Complete with American diner. I’m going back for milkshakes someday. The selfie queen made an appearance.

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And tonight, it’s party time!! I am fortunate enough to share a birth month with a lovely British gentleman named Josh (pictured above), and we have joined celebration forces! It’ll be great. The bête de fête from Paris has returned.

To all who sent me bday messages, mail, FB posts, texts, etc…they really, actually mean a lot to me! Thank you!

Love & bisous,

Anne

Anne Turns 22!

On Growing Up in Communities and Stuff

Several things this summer have reminded me of stuff that is absolutely essential to my being.

#1. COMMUNITY

I’m not sure if there will be a #2 in this post, but I am clarifying that there are other things that are essential to my being. I’m working on discovering them. For now, I want to write about how much I love communities, via specific examples.

This summer, I returned to my true alma mater for a summer job. This phrase is Latin for “nurturing mother,” and most aptly describes what my elementary school is and was to me — both because my mother works there, and, perhaps more profoundly, because it was one of my first and most nourishing communities. Here are some things it gave me, because I’m into lists today:

A. A love of learning, and a commitment to the Whole Child. My school is a Montessori school, and for those of you who don’t know much about Montessori…do some research. It’s a beautiful educational philosophy. Among its key components is a commitment to nurturing the whole child. Montessori kids don’t just learn math and language and science, they learn how to set the table, how to pour juice, how to sew, how to collaborate and compromise with other kids, how to mentor and how to be mentored, how to make choices and take responsibility for them — essentially, how to function in a community. The importance of this foundation has gradually revealed itself to me as I’ve grown up and found new communities. Each new “habitat” requires the same humble curiosity as I learn how to be a part of it, and the process of shaping it and being shaped by it brings me the same joy and sense of security that I felt throughout my formative childhood years at Eton. I learned how to engage in communities with my Whole Self, and I know what it feels like when I am holistically engaged by a community in return.

B. An appreciation for “all God’s children,” as my friend (and also the father in the movie Easy A) would always say. My 8th grade class had a whopping 13 people in it, and they were people I’d known at least since fourth grade. Growing up in a small group can be stifling at times, but it can also provide a super-safe place for being one’s self, without fear of judgment or ostracism…hard to come by in middle school. I learned to appreciate even the people in the group that were most different from me, and how all of our unique strengths came together when we all participated in the community. The school play was a yearly example of that, when all of us transformed into characters — little did they know, we were all pretty out-there characters already. We even tried to write a novel as a class, which was a crazy undertaking, but inventing a story incorporating 13 different people who wrote their own characters and had totally different writing styles and dreams about where the story will go is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. (After a chaotic brainstorm session and DAYS of discussion rounded out with an unruly vote, we ended up calling it: “Troubled Waters”…..)

This idea is on the forefront of my brain because I’ve been so thoroughly reminded of it this summer, by working at my old school AND by my visit to my college town last weekend. I have a lot of friends who are still there for jobs or because they have another year to go, and engaging with them again reminded me why I love communities so much: to me, there is little that is more fulfilling than exchange. Exchange of ideas, exchange of wisdom, exchange of smiles, exchange of hugs, exchange of food and friendship and insights and laughter — and in a community like the ones I grew up in, exchanges are everywhere. Being there made me feel connected, and the interactions I had were so fulfilling that the feeling of connectedness that started forming when I was a little 7 year old playing Guinea Pigs and Unicorns with my best friends at recess remains deeply embedded.

It’s incredibly comforting to know Where I Came From, at the same moment that I prepare to jet off into Where I’m Going.

Where am I going? Geopgraphically, I know. Physically, my body will probably stick around. Emotionally, the forecast is a drizzly PNW morning: a little confusing and shrouded in mist. Linguistically, I’ll probs speak a little French. Ultimately, I hope that Where I’m Going is into a new and different community, maybe one that I get to create myself. But, regardless of what happens now, I am full of gratitude for my dearest formative communities, and what awesome tools they’ve given me to community-build in the terrifying REAL WORLD.

People keep asking if I’ll be coming back…who knows. 😉

(6 days!)

On Growing Up in Communities and Stuff