28 December 2009

Looking back and ahead, at the same time

I was just reading Michael Wright’s essay about how he is glad he had an awakening one day in London and as a result moved his life to France six or seven years ago. He says:
“Eastern wisdom has it that human beings, left to our own devices, wake up once every seven years. For a few precious moments, like the flowering of some obscure cactus ... we have a chance to see our life clearly for what it is. We may admit to ourselves that the act we put on, about having all the answers, is just that: an act.”
And then we generally fall asleep again, Michael Wright says, for seven more years. Recently in a blog post I mentioned something about having the seven-year itch. I think that’s the same phenomenon.

So I sat here this morning, at my keyboard, wondering what in the world I would blog about, seven years after having bought a house in France and moved my life — lock, stock, and barrel — to the podunk town of Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher. A new year and a new decade are dawning.

Taking Michael Wright's essay seriously, I started thinking back on how my life has unfolded. Have you ever tried to divide your own adult life into seven-year segments? I just did it and it was very easy to do. Every seven years, there seems to be a natural transition point — at least in retrospect.

I left home to go to college. Over the next seven years, I came to France for the first time (Aix-en-Provence), and I graduated with a degree in French. I moved to Illinois for graduate school, started teaching, and then spent a year in Normandy (Rouen) as a teaching assistant. I got my masters degree in French literature exactly 7 years after left my home town to go off to college.

I moved back to France, this time to Paris for two years. It was my first long stay in Paris. I met a group of "local" people there, and they became the pivot point of my life until the early '8os. Several of them visited me in Illinois. I passed the written and oral exams for my Ph.D., and I went off to spend some time in Paris to “do research.” The seven-year cycle was ticking along.

I met Walt, in Paris. I decided I was not really interested in a teaching career or finishing my Ph.D. Walt and I both moved to Washington D.C. and stayed four years. Then we decided Washington was not the place for us and we moved to San Francisco. We got settled there. He was a grad student and I started work in the computer software business. Work, Washington, and San Francisco were the focus of those years, and France was becoming a memory.

I got a chance to come to France again, after a hiatus of 6 years. I jumped at it, of course. It was a professional gig in Grenoble, but Walt and I scraped together enough money for him to fly over and spend Thanksgiving weekend with me in Paris. A period of frequent trips to Paris and other parts of France began. The big 1989 earthquake showed us a side of life in California we could have done without. We took a driving trip around France that fall and passed through Saint-Aignan for the first time. Walt finished his studies and got a job in San Jose, so we moved to Silicon Valley, where we were both working.

We realized we didn’t really like living in the suburbia called Silicon Valley, so we bought a house in San Francisco and moved. At work I took over as the manager of my group, but I got laid off three years later when the parent company closed us down. I enjoyed a year off work — no commuting! — and traveled twice to France. Then, dispirited and discouraged, I had a couple of other jobs and commuted to Silicon Valley almost daily, in the traffic jams.

I chucked it all in. I quit my job and started looking on the Internet for a house to buy in France. Partly it was because I had time on my hands, and we didn’t know that we would actually move even if we did by a house here. In December 2002, we bought the house we live in now. Within 3 months our house in San Francisco was sold, and three months after that we were living in Saint-Aignan.

This has already been a pivotal year. We have pretty much finished fixing up this (not very) old house and we've made it comfortable. We have gotten into a routine with the gardening, we are securely enrolled in the French health care system (I hope), and we received our 10-year residency cards in September.

I’ve left out many important events that don’t fit neatly into my seven-year segments, of course. Relationships, deaths, long-lasting friendships, dogs, starting the blog ... well, you can't include absolutely everything.

So what comes next?


  1. I find such enjoyment to get up each morning, get my cup of coffee and see what you have written about that morning.

    Here is to 7+++++ more wonderful and happy years!!
    Ann Pickett - Richmond, VA

  2. This is an interesting post- we could have been calling you Doctor or Prof I guess. I think you would have been a great professor, but your path forked.

    You lived in California during an exciting time and we your blog fans benefit from the knowledge you have about computers and France.

    Perhaps we'll "itch" less now that we are in our sixties;-)

  3. What, indeed?
    Maybe you and Michael Wright could trade off column days-- one day it's about being an English ex-pat, and the next, it's about being an American ex-pat :))


  4. A seven-year-itch suggests a move away from Saint-Aignan. Somehow I expect not!

  5. I don't foresee leaving Saint-Aignan any time soon. As Evelyn says, maybe the itch has been soothed by the experience of living here.

  6. Ken, there is an old joke my father would recount about the wealthy dowager from Boston. When asked why she didn't travel around the world, she responded with a smile "... but why should I my dear when I'm already here?"

  7. Keir, I agree completely. I enjoy seeing other parts of France -- Normandy, the Auvergne, the Ile d'Oléron -- but in small doses. Otherwise, the Saint-Aignan area is just fine, and my world now.


What's on your mind? Qu'avez-vous à me dire ?