Sunday, January 26, 2014

Dancing in the Streets, Facebook Envy, CSI Miami, French Fluency, and My New Joke.

Dancing.  Hiphop.  Tap.  House.  In the middle of Place Jean Jaures.  A huge square in the middle of town.  In the rain.  By myself.  With my iPhone providing the tunes.  People walking by.  Smiling at me.  Some dancing a bit too.  And the joy just surging through my veins.  Before I started dancing, I felt a bit low.  But as soon as I began dancing--wow--I just felt joy!  Real joy!  And it lasted for a long time afterwards too.  This is something I need to remember: when sad, dance.  And in a public place if possible!  I remember doing the same in Grand Central Terminal on so many occasions and the very same effect came over me: joy.  And people smiling.  Dancing along with me.  I sure don't have the solution to sadness, but I do know now how to bring a little bit of joy into my life.  Truly, I don’t think anything leaves me feeling such joy and happiness as dancing.  I started dancing in low spirits; when I was done an hour later, I was on top of the world.  I’m not sure what it is.  Dancing in open spaces?  The songs?  The rhythms?  The people who see me dancing and smile, or even come and dance a little with me?  All of it together, it’s bliss.  And I need to remember that as a way to get me out of my moods.  DANCE!

Which is good, because my internal mood swings are an ever present troubling parasite eating away at whatever consistent contentedness I might ever feel! Ha!  It’s so weird that after sharing with my actor friend V how terrible I seem to always feel, he wrote something like, “Wow, you would never know it, given how productive you are and how much you are able to get done.”  Looks are clearly deceiving.  And I know that keeping busy is a way to keep my mind from thinking too much.  And it thinks WAY too much as it is.

Anyway, that was Wednesday.  That afternoon, in town, I also did a 1-minute full sprint and then a 12-minute jog, with no pain whatsoever, which really pleases me.  I'm really hoping that my hamstring is on its way to recovery.  I'm still concerned about China, and jogging/biking there, with all the smog...

On Wednesday, I also studied Swedish, German, and Turkish, as well as Norwegian, Russian, and Arabic.  And of course, French. 

After each day of school, I’m super tired when I get home.  Busy long days.  Every day.  I’m always exhausted at night.  Maybe it’s the damn cat: it scratches on my door at about 3am every morning.  It is SO annoying.  It wakes me EVERY night.  If I leave the door open, it comes in and starts jumping on EVERYTHING, knocking everything over and making an even more disruptive racket.  A catch-22.  I could kill the cat I suppose...  But then I might not have a place to sleep.   See, catch 22! :) 

I’m realizing too now that maybe two months here is just enough time.  I’m totally comfortable here by now, and yet I still have 5 ½ weeks to go.  And I’m really starting to understand the tv shows.  The shows like CSI Miami, and Castle, etc.  There are more American tv shows here than there are French tv shows.  Dramas like that.  NCIS.  Elementary.  I sorta feel like I'm home.  I think by the time I leave my French will be double what it is right now, and I will be able to continue my refinement simply by continuing to read French books, watching 7Jours and Yabla videos, and watching movies with French dubs.  For the first time in my life, I KNOW that I am going to become fully fluent in another language, and wow, it makes me feel awesome.

I'm happy also to report that the China Visa is coming along.  I have to send them a rescan of the first page of the China work contract and voila, they will take care of the rest.  I have to choose which Embassy to visit to pick it up.  Barcelona?  Paris?  Rome?  I'm frankly not sure.  Gotta think about this.

I studied a bunch of Babbel languages yesterday: Dutch, German, French, Danish, and Spanish.  I also practiced the Arabic alphabet in my workbook, studied German and French from my books, and I read a lot in Du Bonheur.  Again, it makes me smile a bit to know how many ancient philosophers from Aristotle, Plato, and Diogenes to Kierkegard, Rousseau, and Freud all had questions and theories on happiness too.  I’m not the only one… with mixed emotions.  I'm not the only one who hasn't quite figured out this thing called: "Life".

People keep asking me WHY?  Re: the languages?  I have no definitive reason for studying them so intently; it’s just fun, and occupies my time.  Gives me something to do to get my mind off myself.  To help me stop thinking so much about myself and my life.  And I enjoy doing so.  And I enjoy the smiles it brings when I speak to someone in their native tongue.  All this travel?  I have no definitive reason for any of this either.  To get away from all that plagued me at home?  To broaden my horizons?  Again, because it’s fun?  I guess the answers are all yes.

I think about *her* constantly.  And when I’m not thinking of her, I’m thinking about how disappointed I am that I can’t find anyone who wants to take her place.  Going on two years, and nada.  I’m reminded of the line from the tv show “Scandal”.  Horace says “Some people are meant to be happy; others are meant to be great.”  It pains me to think that I am in the latter category.  But I strain to believe that it’s possible to be both great and happy.  "Strain" meaning that I am trying my hardest to do so but it seems difficult.  My readings in my happiness books must clearly continue. 

On a similar note: In Joel Osteen’s book, “Breakout” he writes, “Some people ask the question ‘What if it never happens?’ I like to ask, ‘What if it does?’”  Something like that.  And it’s an inspiring truthful way of looking at things.  Everything is based on perspective.  The difficulty is in changing that perspective for any considerable length of time.  I know the truth: that any day—even today—I could find the girl of my dreams; find a wonderful new opportunity; learn to once again smile like I did; be happy with where my life has taken me; etc.  And yet, ‘any day’ also seems like an eternity; like a really long time.  My friend Max wrote to me, “You may find her tomorrow, or in two years!”  Oh lovely.  The tomorrow part is fine; the two years part is the killer.  And it’s not the two years that is such a drag; it’s the ‘meanwhile’.  One of my new Monroe Mann quotes is, “Time is a healer, but waiting’s a bitch.”  And that’s the issue: the waiting.  The waiting.  The waiting.  Patience patience patience.  I’m just sick of it.  I know that patience does not mean waiting; it means being steadfast despite opposition, but the opposition just never ceases.  And it seems every day I am reminded of what I lost in Louisa: she was absolutely amazing.  And now she’s gone.  And I am off now vagabonding the world.

Back to the day to day: School has been fine.  This past week I taught most of the classes the lyrics to my song, “The Sun is Always Shining Somewhere”.  Gonna bring my guitar in tomorrow and we’re gonna have a few mini concerts this week.  That should be fun.  Gonna hand out some of my CDs too.

I’m also planning the trip to Barcelona.  I expect that I will head to Barcelona this next weekend.  Which means I need to finish my UofU assignments this week.  Preferably today if I can. 

My life here is becoming rather routine.  Go to the school during the week.  Walk around the city in the afternoon/evening.  Chill out at Subway while reading and having a snack.  Talk to the Turkish people at ParisIstanbul.  Dance/Run on Wednesdays.  And on the weekends, have the family meal at V's mom's house with Laura, Adrian, and hang out around the house and maybe go into town.  Nothing truly exciting going on anymore.  But I suppose that is the point of staying for a long while in another country: it starts to just feel ‘normal’ and ‘boring’.  Just like I felt in Iraq after a few months: normal and boring, with an occasional terrifying brush with incoming enemy fire!

Interesting side note: V's sister has down syndrome, and a very serious case, so she is not able to really interact with anyone.  She lives at the parents' house, and I see her every weekend when we go there for lunch.  We went yesterday (as per the norm) and also today we shall do the same because it's V's mom's bday (Marie).  Oh gosh, yesterday, I was STUFFED.  So much food.  It's killing me.  Truly.  I'm gonna become so fat or explode--one of the two.  And today, it's Marie's BIRTHDAY: can you imagine?  I don't want to imagine how much food there is going to be today.  Oh my.  Oh man.  Anyway, this is the first time I've ever really interacted with someone with down syndrome on a regular basis.  Usually she is quiet, but there is often a rumbling of noises she makes while eating.  Those with down syndrome have a larger tongue than others (so Marie has told me) and for this reason, this is why her tongue is often protruding from her mouth.  When eating, yes, there is a lot of drool, and the food gets all over her mouth, and at first, it was really disgusting to look at, but in time, I've come to just accept her as she is and realize that she's not doing it on purpose.  And the other day, when I came in and said "Bonjour, Fanny" (Short for Stephanie), she said in return, "Bonjour, Monroe".  The pronunciation was poor (but then again, even Americans have a hard time saying my name sometimes haha) but what touched me was that she remembered my name.  How did she do that?  And she smiled.  It really touched me.  And so we have a little bit of a relationship now, and I can see that despite the difficulties in raising her (she must be in her 30s or 40s now), I can also see how she is a loveable person too.  And in fact... enviable, for she, most certainly, is far happier than perhaps any of us.  Ignorance is bliss is it not?

Earlier today, I read more in my French ‘happiness workbook’ and also started another new book, “Je pense trop” (I think too much).  It’s amazing that I can read these French psychology books as easily as I can read them in English.  It’s amazing that my new hobby is reading books in French!  Without a dictionary!  Yes, there are words I don’t know and I underline them to look up later, but it’s only about five words per page, which is not much.  And watching television: I am finally starting to break through the cloud.  Each day it seems I understand more and more.  Whereas it used to be a chore to read and watch tv, now it’s actually fun, and enjoyable. 

One thing I really liked in the workbook is that positive visualizations are all fine and dandy, but in order for them to really take root, you need to do them at least five to ten times a day.  The same visualization.  They even recommend twenty times.  To think of the same positive visualization TWENTY times a day.  Pretty wild.  I never would have imagined to do that on my own, thinking it was overkill, but to hear it from an objective third party, it somehow seems to make sense.  Maybe that is the key to my feeling better: to make a deliberate attempt to visualize good things and positive futures MANY TIMES during the day.  They suggest starting with something you know is attainable, so I am starting with the positive visualization of my finished novel, in book stores.  Okay, that's twice now I have visualized it today. :)  haha.  Onward!  On that note, gonna be sure to write another 1000 words today.  And I guess I need to start visualizing myself as happy, with a girlfriend, and lots of friends, and lots of love...

And staying off Facebook.  Not looking at the posts of others.  THAT is a CERTAIN recipe for feeling better.  That damn "Facebook Envy".  It's real, and ever so powerful.  It makes me so sad and so envious and so angry and so bitter.  Facebook is a terrible terrible thing!  It really is!  I am glad I can message with people, but ugh, it's also a really easy way to get down on yourself.  So if any of you are sad and use Facebook a lot, consider that there is probably a connection, just as psychological studies have shown. 

Okay, time to get on with my day.  Gonna read "The Seeds of Success" again by Og Mandino from his amazing book, "Mission: Success" before heading off to lunch.  If you haven't yet read this book...  do so.  This week.

Au revoir!  Et je vous souhaite beaucoup de bonheur!!!

P.S. - What do the French do when they are not hungry?  EAT! 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Oh, public toilets!

I forgot: if there is one thing I HATE about France (and possibly Europe as a whole), it's the public toilet situation.  The lights are on timers, and motion detection.  When I walk into many of the toilets at restaurants, or at school, the lights go on. 

Well, imagine this.  Which happened last week.  Not for the first, or the last time: I walked into the bathroom in the cafĂ© at school.  Lights came on.  Walked into a stall.  Sat down.  Began to do what I needed to do.  And then... LIGHTS GO OUT! 

No big deal, right?  Just wave my hands? 

Let me assure you: no amount of hand waving will turn those lights on again.  So imagine me, sitting on the toilet, in pitch black, with my pants around my ankles, frantically waving my hands, and my torso back and forth.  After 60 seconds, and stretching in every possible direction, I realized I had no choice.  I had to wipe in the dark. 

At least in the Army when I had to do that, I had the light of the moon.  But not in Europe.  Europe won't even afford me the light of the moon!

Trop de livres; pas assez de temps... S'attacher top vite, c'est souffrir par la suite!

Saluts mes amis,

I received an email that my copy of "La Firme" by John Grisham arrived at the bookstore.  So yesterday, after having another delicious lunch with the family (this time at V's parents' house, like every Saturday--pork sausage, homemade mashed potatoes from real potatoes, homemade applesauce from real apples, etc.), V drove me to three places:

a) to three rental car places to compare the prices of rental cars.  She refused to speak to them in order to force me to practice my French, and voila, I did just fine.  Hertz is the best deal for 7 days and 30 days, and ADA is the best deal for 3.  I intend to drive to Barcelona if not next weekend, then the weekend after that. 

b) to the center of town.  I dropped off one pair of my dress pants at the dry cleaners, and then walked to the book store.  More on that in a moment.

c) to the post office.  Closed, but now I know where it is, and I need to start figuring out how much it will cost to ship things to China.

At the bookstore: I went in for one reason.  To pick up my copy of "The Firm" in French.  So I can begin analyzing the novel for form and structure.  I ended up leaving with over 200E of books, all in French.  Five books on happiness; two on relationships and love; a few history books; Alexis de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America"; Hugo's "Les Miserables"; and all that.  The other day, when I found myself on page 65 of "Du Bonheur", I realized for the first time that reading in French is no longer a chore like it was ten years ago.  Now... it's a pleasure!  Cause I understand 90% of the words!  I still underline the words I don't know, but it's only for me to look up later.  So I realized that wow, I can buy any book I want in a French book store and actually enjoy reading it!  So I'm curious to see what French psychologists and philosophers have to say on the subject of happiness.  I bought one too called, "Je pense trop" or "I think too much".  It is often said that the more intelligent you are, the more your brain works, and thus the less 'ignorant' you tend to be.  As we all know, ignorance is bliss.  I therefore, am the opposite: I know that I'm a smart guy, and it's so hard for me to turn off my brain sometimes.  Drives me crazy.  So I'm curious to see what they have to say. (I also bought books on how to read and write Japanese and Arabic characters).

Last night (Saturday), I worked for many hours on my homework for UofU (University of Utah) where I am getting my certificate in Positive Psychology.  Did a lot of reading and writing on self-forgiveness.  What really resonated with me is that when one does a wrong, it destroys ones self-respect.  I learned, therefore, that self-forgiveness is all about the process of regaining ones self-respect.  I also learned that self-forgiveness is often not a linear process.  As drug addict and felon turned attorney Richard Dyer wrote, "Relapse is a part of recovery".  Not only is his story amazing, but he helped me to realize that when you are overcoming some terrible life event or defeat, you can't expect to have a linear recovery process: you are going to fall back down again (possibly many times) on your journey towards redemption. 

The other night, another delicious dinner.  Pizza.  Friday night.  Just imagine, pizza in France with all of their amazing cheeses.  Wow, so so delicious.  It seems as if France has mastered every dish imaginable.  The other day, Veronique asked me what I liked to eat in terms of seafood.  I told her the only thing I like: les crevettes.  Shrimp.  Well, last night, guess what she made?  Shrimp.  O my, so delicious.  I am being spoiled here so much!  I can't go back to tv dinners and McDonald's back home! haha.  On that note, no, I haven't yet eaten at McDonald's (or McDo as they call it here) but I must.  I'm sure the burgers there are just as delicious as everything else in this country.

I spoke with my friend N. back in San Fran last night and today.  She and I used to date.  She told me she'd help me find my dream girl if I help her find her dream job, haha.  She wrote to me today, "I can say from personal experience that your accomplishments are alluring and sexy.  While at the same time freaking intimidating."  Oh great.  So that's why I don't have a girlfriend: I'm too cool.  Lovely.  I've heard this before from a lot of girls, and it's not something that makes me smile.  Cause it means the potential pool of girlfriends is even more narrow for me as I grow more accomplished and do more. 

I wrote on Facebook something that my friend Vic shared with me.  He wrote to me the other day: "Amazing is a too often used word but describes you to a T.  Sleeping on the ice?  Teaching in France?  You are the single most incredible, world-class person I have ever had the pleasure to meet.  You eclipse even the big stars I have met and chatted with.  It is just a matter of time till the world discovers you.  You are like an alien, like some hybrid pod person that is a dozen people in one.  What are you thinking of doing next?  Climb a skyscraper?  Perform in a drag show?  Winning the hot dog competition?  Building a rocket?  You probably know the secret to area 51!  Romp on bud!"

I actually do know the secret to area 51, but I can't tell you.  Sorry. :)  But truly, my life is such a paradox.  Everyone thinks I am so cool, and yet, I lead such a lonely life, filled with sadness, and unhappiness. 

I was going to take a train to Toulouse today, to visit, but it's raining and cloudy.  Instead I'm gonna read more in Du Bonheur, Americans in Paris, and also some of my new books.  I'm also going to finish my latest Japanese lesson at Living Language on telling time, and write another 1000 words MINIMUM in my novel, "Soul STASIS".  Probably gonna work on some other languages too, and watch some French tv as well.  And begin writing chapter 1 of my PhD dissertation.  And rest well too, cause tomorrow, classes start at 8am, and I have to teach about 7 of them.  Monday is my most grueling day here.  Phew.

Oh, one interesting quotation I read that I wanted to share.  It's in French.  "S'attacher trop vite, c'est souffrir par la suite" = If you attach youself too quickly, you end up suffering.  But in French, it rhymes.  I am thinking of writing a song using that as the chorus.  We shall see.  But it is the essence of Buddhism.  Nonattachment.  And I find that I get attached emotionally to girls way too easily, and then get my heart broken.  So this quotation resonated strongly with me.  Can't forget it!

Oh, one last thing: VPNs.  Through a friend of a friend who lives in China, I found some good recommendations for VPNs.  Virtual Proxy Networks.  So I can access google and facebook and youtube etc from Shanghai.  I thought it would be expensive, but it's only about $100 per year.  Not bad at all...

I feel like there is so much more I want to say, but I'm at a lost for words at the moment.  Besides, I have a million things to do today, and I don't want to waste the day.  Today is... all we've got.

A la prochaine!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

It's lonely being a rock star.

Been a busy few days.

I am pleased to report that on Sunday, I fully caught up on all my PhD work, and also my UofU work. 
Sent off my 2014 to-do list email to everyone.  And went to the party for all the homestay students and made a bunch of new friends.  I also sang my song, "The Sun Is Always Shining Somewhere" and played guitar.  We all had to do something representing our country.  Most of the German girls baked a yummy pie of some sort.  Gen, the student from Japan, talked about Kyoto, the city he's from, and sang a song.  The girl from Australia baked a traditional Australian cake.  What?  Who woulda known that Australians had a traditional cake to make! haha.  Me?  I sang the song that I sing to all the actors and artists who come see me speak at SAG/AFTRA/Equity in Manhattan.  It was SO awesome to be up on stage again, with a mic, and my guitar, and a captive audience, and singing and playing.  About 60 people.  A great audience.  And I rocked the house baby.  Felt so great.  I'm even smiling as I write this.  I was super proud of my performance and the way my voice sounded and everyone loved it.  In the middle, everyone started clapping to the rhythm.  How that happened, I know not, but literally, everyone started clapping at the same time, like it was preplanned.  It was so weird, and so wonderful.  I've never had an audience clap along to the rhythm while I played one of my songs.  Super cool!
That night, I had a 2 hour skype session with one my clients back home in NYC, and that went really well too.  The adrenaline pump I get from talking to one of my clients is indescribable.  It always leaves me feeling infused with energy and a readiness to take on the world.  Boom shakalaka! 

All of this makes me so happy.  How well everything is going here.  It also all makes me so sad. I’m leaving in 2 months.  AGAIN.  For China.  I’m getting so acclimated now to France, and making friends.  Yet, still lonely.  It's like it's an ingrained part of me now: loneliness.
The irony of it all is that in the school, I am a veritable rock star.  I turn a corner in the hall and--no joke--a group of girls see me and start shrieking, "Eek! It's him! It's him!" like I’m Justin Bieber or Tom Cruise.  In the dining hall, when I sit with one group, other groups ask why I sat with them and not us.  The girls stare.  They giggle.  They laugh.  They give me the eye and sweet smiles.  The guys too are really friendly.  Coming up to me to say, "Hello!  I speak English!  How are you?"  Without trying to sound too full of myself... they love me, and it’s so nice.  So nice to finally be recognized as being awesome!  I spoke to mom tonight and at first said, “It’s nice to be at a place where they think I am awesome.”  But then I realized, it’s more than that.  “It’s nice to be at a place where they KNOW I am awesome and have no problem telling me.”  Because I am, and I'm damn proud of myself and all I've managed to accomplish.  At my old job, I was looked down upon for being talented and multifaceted and having so many hats; here, they embrace that fact, so proud to rattle off my list of accomplishments: Avocat, Musicien, Acteur, Realisateur, Sauvateur, Draguer(e).  The last one is pretty funny.  It means, "Flirter; Chaser of girls".  I don't know how the girls here decided to put that tag on me, but apparently, it's as nice of a compliment as lawyer, musician, actor, film director, and lifeguard.  I'll take it! 
And yet, it sucks.  Cause like I said before: I'm the rock star.  Lots of groupies; not many friends.  I am literally rarely alone, but it doesn't mean I don't feel lonely. 

And yet, I’m feeling so comfortable here now.  I don’t want to move.  Again.  And to CHINA!  Sure, I’m looking forward to it.  And it’s gonna be great, I’m sure.  And once I get there, I’ll be fine.  But the thought of relocating, and trying to find new friends, and getting used to another new city, and culture, and language.  Ugh.  And double ugh: they are certainly not going to look up to me like a rock star like they do here.  Haha! 
I did wake up feeling very sad today. Upset that I’m not able to study my languages as much as I did before, because I am speaking French so much.  Ironic right?  I should be happy.  Upset that Louisa is gone. Upset that I don’t have anyone.  Upset that I’m heading to China soon.  I’m excited too, but I’m sad at the same time.  I did do some Russian language study before leaving for school, and that made me feel a little better.   But not a great deal.  But I knew that later in the day I would be dancing again with Gautier, and that it would probably make me feel better, and I was right!  Dancing always does.
I just feel like I have less time now than I did back home to do the things I want.  And that freaks me out too, because in Shanghai, I will have even less time.  Three days a week will be 9am – 9pm days.  Well, I guess that just means I will have to do more work on those two days I have free.  Either getting up early again on my free days and working until 11:30am, or staying up later on the nights before my free days.  I guess I will have to wait and see.

My friend Nora sent me a message on FB telling me how inspired she was to know I was back in France, and that as a result, she finally bought my book, “Time Zen”.  I replied, “If only good time management skills were the key to finding a girlfriend.”  Or something like that.  Everyone looks up to me so, and yet, I don’t have that one thing that I know would make me so much happier.  Blech.
All in all, today was a long day, but that’s good, because it got my mind off things.  I met the gym class in the gymnasium and did my pull ups, sit ups, and crunches.  Spoke with the students, and met Maeva, Florian’s older sister.  Florian is a middle schooler who talks to me every night for about an hour totally in English.  But in class, he can barely say or understand a word.  The explanation?  He plays video games online with players from the US.  So he knows how to read and write, but can’t speak or understand.  Very funny.

I met some students from the drama club from the gym class, and turns out there is a play on Monday, and I’m gonna go check it out.  Can't wait to see my first play in French!
I also received a very interesting email today.  It is one that may change my life, but enough on that for now. 

Anyway, after meeting the drama club students in the morning, I joined two of them for a walk into town and a hot chocolate at Hotel Europa, where we drank free of charge because one of the girls’ mother works there.  Cool!

Then I taught some classes at the middle school.

Then lunch at the high school, sitting with some students.
Then I went to the teacher’s room and printed out all the stuff I need for my PhD and my UofU class.  That took a while, but I'm glad it's done: I can start getting to work tomorrow.

Then, a haircut.  I walked around to five different shops before finding one for 10 Euro.  All the others wanted 15 or more, and nopers!  I refuse to pay 15 Euro (more than 18 dollars) for a ten minute men's haircut.  Puhleeazze!
Then, I danced in the dorm parking lot with Gautier and Alexi.  Guatier taught me some awesome new house moves, and Alexi some popping.  Gautier taught me to do a house dance circle, sort of like my legs are the hands of a clock, and I dance the hours on the clock.  Hard to explain, but it's really really cool.

Then, I ran for 19 minutes through town.  19 minutes before my leg started to hurt.  I think I was able to run for so long before the pain hit because my muscles were already warmed up from the dancing.  Possible?  Or just a coincidence?  Don’t know…  But while running, I passed this very old man with a cane taking but one step a minute it seemed, and we exchanged friendly smiles, and I realized then and there that despite my difficulty with my leg, I can still run, and I should be grateful for that, and I am. 
Then took the bus home.  Spoke to a 65 year old woman who lost her son a few years ago in a house fire, another son in another accident, and whose daughter is epileptic, and who is now single, living alone with just her daughter, whom she cares for.   Life is tough… for all of us… and for some tougher than others.  Talking with her made me sad for her situation, and made me again realize that life just really sucks sometimes; that you can do nothing to escape it.  She taught me MDR, which is LOL for Frenchies.  MDR = Meurt de rire, or dying of laughter.  Ha.  Funny.

Then, another big French dinner here at home.  I shared my day’s adventures with Veronique and Dominique, and we watched the news together. 
Loneliness.  It's a theme I keep returning to.  Despite being with so many people today, doing so many different things, and despite being a total rock star celebrity at work, and despite returning home every night to even more Facebook requests and Facebook messages from students… I feel alone.  And lacking.  And wishing I had a close connection to someone like I once did with Louisa.  Gosh I miss that girl.  So many people tell me I should keep that to myself, and not post things like that publicly, but whatever.  Who am I trying to impress?  Her?  She blocked me on Facebook and wants nothing to do with me.  Some girl I haven't met yet?  I'm just sharing my feelings, is all.  I shake my head when I think about what I had, and how it could really be over, and how it ever came to pass that she would block me, and keep me blocked, and never unblock me.  It hurts tremendously.  But like that woman on the bus, I guess I just have to realize that life truly does just suck sometimes, and sometimes, there’s just nothing you can do about it except, in her words, be strong and keep living.  Indeed. 

And keep living I shall, and I wonder if the key to my future lies in that email.  One day I shall find out.  In the meantime, I'm gonna get ready for bed.  Tomorrow, it's back to the high school where I am certain to find more shrieking girls clamoring for my attention.  Ha!  If I never become a true rock star in the traditional sense, I will always cherish this experience for letting me know what it REALLY feels like to be a rock star.  When I walk into one of the classrooms, you should see the eyes light up, and the bright smiles, and the cheers of joy.  It's truly amazing.  And wherever I go, people who I have never met already know who I am.  My question, "Have we met?"  The inevitable response, "No, but everyone has heard about you, so I know all about you.  You're Monroe.  I hear that you..." and so it goes.  Makes me smile.

Finally, I'm hoping to make plans to visit Barcelona this weekend for sometime late February/early March.  And one of these Saturdays I need to visit Toulouse, which is but an hour away by train.  I'm also scheduled to get a private tour of the Goya museum here by a French art historian.  I really look forward to that. 

Well ladies and gents, time for me to hit the hay.  It's about midnight here, and I have yet another day of French living tomorrow.  Allons-y!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Six course meals, boxes to Shangahi, Happiness, and roosters.

January 9, 2014
Had a great day.  Taught two classes of English.  Went well, just like the others, and all the other English classes are asking when I will be in their classes.  Makes me smile.  And… everyone I speak with in French tells me how well I speak French.  It’s truly amazing: my French is better than almost everyone’s English.  So awesome. 
At lunch, I ate with five of the students.  And in the afternoon, I sat in on two classes!  Geography and philosophy.  In the first, it was a lecture on the French speaking world, and the professor talked of France’s former colonies.  In the second, it was a lecture on Sophocle’s play, Antigone.  In the first class, I understood 100%.  In the second, about 60%.  And I had such a great time.  So awesome!  Sitting in a class, taking notes in French, listening and asking questions only in French, hearing and interacting with the other students… all in French.  And NOT a ‘french class’.  Just regular high school geography and philosophy classes here in France.  I love it. 

Afterwards, I walked to a restaurant called Paris Istanbul.  You can guess what type of restaurant it is.  Casual, and fun.  I spoke with the owner, who is from Istanbul.  In my broken Turkish.  I ended up speaking to him in just French.  But I’m excited to know there is someone so close to the school who speaks Turkish.  Very cool.  He gave me directions to the night club, Pop Art, which is just a few hundred meters from the restaurant.  I think I’m going to go there tomorrow night.  While there, I ate a hamburger. J
And then, I took the bus home, listening to another French lesson on my iPad. 

The TV works in my room.  I didn’t even realize.  So now it’s on, and I’m listening to a French talk show while typing away.  One of the teachers invited me to an Irish pub tonight, at 10:30.  I might see if Dom or Ver can drive me there.  Apparently there is a very good AC/DC cover band haha.  That will be worth checking out. 
I’m gonna change into casual clothes; unpack the stuff from my two boxes; respond to emails; do some more language study; and I guess consider heading over to this Irish pub later.  Le Quay.  I think that’s the name.  I’ll have to check. 

Overall, I’m assimilating quite well, and having a blast.  And having French conversations non-stop throughout the entire day. 
But still, once school is over, so is ‘the show’.  It’s like performing in a rock show, or in a play.  You feel so much adrenaline while the lights are on, and while the fans are clapping.  But then, suddenly, the show is over, and the lights go out, and the audience leaves, and you’re left alone backstage, feeling somehow lonely and it’s ever so anticlimactic.  That’s how I feel at the end of each day: I don’t want it to end.  But it does, and I get on the bus, and come back home.  Which is why it’s probably a good idea for me to go to this pub tonight.  To get out of the house.  I just wish I had a car, or wish the buses ran at least until midnight.  They stop at 7:30, and I don’t live in the center of town.  In fact, I’m about 6km from the center of town.  Could I walk it?  Yes.  Do I want to?  Not really.  But I might give it a try tonight, just to see how long it really takes.  Maybe it’s not as bad as it seems…

Friday, January 10, 2014
I’m stressed about the damn boxes in Shanghai.  They arrived, and now she’s telling me she doesn’t have any room to store them for me.  She wants me to pay for a self storage locker there.  Wonderful.  On top of that, I totally feel like I did bring too much stuff.  Just like I did when I came to Switzerland for the first time, in 1998.  All these language books which I fear I won’t have time to use.  So much more clothing than I think I need.  And I am going on this Eurail trip in two months, and I have no idea how I’m going to get all this stuff around with me, and sending it will again be expensive.  I’m hoping maybe that by the end of February, I will know at which Wall Street English location I will be teaching—maybe I could send some things there.  I’m also trying to see what things I can maybe throw out here.  Or send back home to NY.  Ugh, this is becoming a huge pain in the butt.  And I guess, c’est la vie. 
I’m just upset about the expense.  I don’t need all this stuff.  It was like a security blanket.  But now one that I don’t need.  I know I will figure this out, but it’s just annoying.  Really really annoying.
Okay, well, one solution: I’m going to read and finish as many of these books as I can from here, so I can send them back home.  And not to China.  That’s a good start I suppose…

Also, I am working with a new client starting this Sunday.  Via Skype.  So I’ll have some more money in the bank starting next week.  That will help defray these additional costs… 
Sunday, January 12, 2014
First Course: Raw almonds, radish, and baby tomatoes
Second Course: Clams, muscles, leek soup
Third Course: Pork, cous cous, roasted carrots, roasted zucchini, roasted sweet potato
Fourth Course: Four different cheeses, and French baguette
Fifth Course: Flan
Sixth Couse: Oriellettes (which I can only describe as delicious fried dough chips)
And then… tea.

Duration of entire meal last night?  6 hours.  Oh mon dieu! J
I’m glad I went, even though I was ready to leave after about two hours.

Truly, my stomach can’t handle so much food!  That was just dinner, at V & D’s friends’ house.  I didn’t tell you about lunch at their parents’ house.  More of the same.  Truth be told, I’ve been eating so much, and am so unaccustomed to eating so much, and so many vegetables, and different types of food, and such huge portions that I suffer from Diarrhea.  Yes, the truth ain’t pretty, I know.  But one cannot run from reality!  Fortunately nothing has been running in my pants.  Phew!

Actually, in my self-esteem course, it talks about how repeating positive affirmations is actually often counterproductive, because it doesn’t embrace the reality of a situation.  It says that one shouldn’t applaud oneself if one doesn’t deserve applause because it tends to worsen one’s self esteem.  A study from 2008 or so confirms this.
I’m really glad I went to that dinner last night for another reason.  The woman of the house had this book.  She got it for Christmas.  As soon as I walked in, I saw it.  A white paperback entitled, “Du Bonheur – Un voyage philosophique” by Frederic Lenoir.  It is translated as “Happiness – a philosophical journey”.  I immediately knew I was going to like it.  I started reading it, and continued to do so on and off throughout my six-hour dinner (haha!  Six hour dinner!) and WOW, it is SO good, and so a propos given all I am studying, and going through, and writing about.  I’m already on page 40.

A few quotations from the book jumped out at me, and made me smile.  The first actually is just the theme itself: that happiness is such an elusive thing to grasp that there are so many books written on it, even here in French, by a French sociologist.  Fascinating. 

Next: “J’ai reconnu le bonheur au bruit qu’il a fait en partant.”  I laughed out loud when I read this.  Because it is how I feel in a nutshell.  It means: “I recognized happiness by the sound it made upon leaving.”  Ha!  By the French writer Jacque Prevert.  That made me smile a lot because it’s exactly how I have felt since losing Louisa.  I didn’t realize how wonderful I had it, and how much in love with her I was… until she was gone.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but happiness had indeed engulfed me, but I was completely oblivious to it.  And now, even though I am in France, living a wonderful dream, and improving my French tenfold every day, and broadening my intellectual, cultural, and gastronomical horizons on a daily basis, something elusive is missing, and it’s love.  The love I once felt for Louisa; the love she once felt for me.  I don’t know if in fact this is truly what is causing my ‘unhappiness’ per se, but it is certainly part of it and in some way connected.  But bottom line, I was so happy to read what Prevert wrote, because it helped me to realize, at the very least, that I’m not the only who feels this way; not the only one who questions some of his life’s decisions on a daily basis.

Next, a quote by Aristotle: “Il est difficile de savoir si le bonheur est une chose qui peut s’apprendre, ou s’il s’acquiert par l’habitude ou quelque autre exercice, ou si enfin il nous echoit en partage par une certain faveur divine ou meme par le hasard.”  (It is difficult to know if happiness is something that one can learn, or if it is acquired by habit or some other exercise, or if maybe it is something bestowed upon us by the favor of God, or even just by chance.--all translated by yours truly without Bing Translator, booyah!)  This struck me first simply because I realized that not only am I not ‘weird’ or ‘damaged’ or a psychological anomaly for feeling this way, but I in fact am in the company of one of the greatest philosophers of all time.  Second, people have been suffering on the quest for happiness FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS!  There is a quotation from Erich Fromm in my self esteem course that relates to this: “The psychic task which a person can and must set for himself is not to feel secure, but to be able to tolerate insecurity.”  This blows my mind!  It was such a relief to read this, realizing that maybe it’s OKAY for me to be going through all these emotions on a daily basis.  Every day, I’m totally insecure.  About so many things.  But I drive on nonetheless.  I have never let insecurity keep me from doing what I need to do in the long run.  This quotation just helped me to be a little more at peace with my constant neuroses.

There are so many more wonderful ideas shared in this book.  The woman of the house let me borrow the book, and I’m gonna have it finished by the end of my sojourn here.  My first real book in French, and a non-fiction philosophy/psychology book to boot!  And it’s so fun to read!  I’ll keep you posted on anything more I find intriguing.

As for what I’ve been doing the last few days in a general sense: I continued to teach on Thursday and Friday.  I sat in on a geography class and a philosophy class, and really enjoyed that.  I also found one of the Spanish teachers, and when I told her I speak a little Spanish, she stopped speaking French with me and told me she would—from this moment on—only speak to me in Spanish.  I surprised myself by holding a conversation with her for 20 minutes.  About France.  About why I am here.  About how much more I love the REAL Spanish accent, and how revolting the accent of the vast majority of Spanish speakers back in NY.  She invited me to join her Spanish class.  And so I shall.  Interesting note: the three Spanish teachers here are from Barcelona, Madrid, and El Salvador.  All native speakers.  How cool if back when I was in high school, I had native foreign language teachers.  I wonder if that would make a big difference…

On Friday night I did go out to see that rock band play at the Irish pub.  Was anyone Irish here, I asked?  No, haha!  But the band was surprisingly good.  A (French) American rock anthem / punk cover band.  Super sexy lead singer in plaid mini skirt.  Three guys backing her.  Incredibly tight musicianship.  And a little taste of home.  I met one of the English teachers there from the high school, and he drove me home afterwards.  He is the one who took that photo of me on the bridge—the one on my Facebook page.
Yesterday, was the day of the neverending feasts.  I also met four students (these four girls who are in the beauty and makeup program at the school) in the city and they showed me around.  We ran into one of their parents, and ended up joining them for hot chocolate at one of the cafes.  I love how in France, even though it’s the middle of winter and cold out, there are hundreds of people sitting outside on freezing chairs having a drink.  As were we.  Brrr…  Maeva’s father spoke pretty good English and he enjoyed the opportunity to speak with me.  He is retired from the French army.  Airborne.  Over 500 jumps, and one with… a search and rescue dog.  Oh my.  I asked if the dog was scared.  And it was.  Poor doggie.  But apparently once the chute opened, the dog’s tail began wagging and he began to enjoy the view. 

The girls showed me where the book store was before they left to catch their bus, and I browsed around.  I found the French version of the dummies books, and found a huge one on the history of France (in French), as well as the history of the world.  I also found Assimil language products!  I’m so happy to see them again!  The last time was in Paris in 1998!  I want to buy all of these things, but I’m so worried about weight.  And mailing costs.  I already have so much stuff, and I already have to mail some of this stuff to China, and I just don’t know if I have the money to be able to do so.  My constant question: can I afford to do so, or can I afford NOT to do so?  Where else am I going to find these books?  Amazon?  Maybe, but shipping costs will likely be the same, I imagine.  Is there a French bookstore in Shanghai?  That’s worth investigating…
The rooster crows its cock-a-doodle-do constantly here!  There it goes again.  Funny: the last time I head a rooster crow was also back in 1998… near Paris, when I lived in Boissy-Sous-St-Yyonne. 

I did order one book there: John Grisham’s “The Firm” in French.  For two reasons.  First, I want to read it in French.  It’s a story I know, and so I figure it will be easy for me to follow.  Second, it’s a story I LOVE, and I consider this book the perfect example of a perfect novel, and I want to deconstruct it.  If I can write a novel like the Firm, by adapting its format and style, then I will be able to write a bestseller.  So I’m gonna kill two birds with one stone: improve my French, and improve my story telling.  Parfait!
I also watched, “Jack Reacher”—the Tom Cruise film—in French yesterday morning.  I understood about 60%, and I’m going to try to watch at least one film a week.  Maybe two, if I have time.  The problem is that I am already finding myself starved for time.  It’s been a week and I have done nothing for my PhD; haven’t logged into my psych classes at UofU; haven’t practiced my guitar as I should; and haven’t worked on my novels or screenplays very much in the last week either.  Yes, I should give myself a break since I just got here, but at the same time, I haven’t accomplished what I’ve accomplished so far by giving myself a break.  I need to get off my ass and catch up.  Starting today.  Starting now.  Starting with… stopping my writing in this journal.      

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Just keeps getting better and better. Vive la France!

Castres, France
A great day.  Woke early and arrived at the gym at 8am, but it was locked.  No one there.  But I was already dressed and ready to go, so I decided to go on a run through Castres, and I did really well: 17 minutes before my leg started to hurt. 
I returned to the school only to find that one of the students was looking for me, to take me to the gym.  Apparently it started at 8:30. So I went to the gym and did pushups and situps and pull-ups while these groups of girls made these ‘formations’ with their bodies.  4 girls to a group.  And they had to choose from a book of possible forms.  For example: two girls on their knees holding another girl in a plank above their heads, and a fourth standing on the shoulders of the girls.  It was pretty interesting.  They have to practice and perfectly execute three forms to get credit for the class.  Very interesting.

Two of the girls looked dark skinned.  I spoke to them.  I thought they were from Spain; turns out one is from Algeria; the other from Morocco.  We spoke in Arabic together (my broken Arabic), but nonetheless, they were thrilled that I could speak anything at all.  I'll see them next Wednesday so I'm inspired to review my lessons.
Then I realized I left my dress shoes at home.  Someone from the school drove me back, and I took a shower, and changed.  And noticed that my packages that I sent from NY had arrived.  Two heavy boxes: what the heck did I send in this boxes?!  Yes, my language books, but that’s not everything.  Oh my.  Inevitably, I sent more than I need.  Oh well. J

I took the bus for the first time on my way back to school.  It’s a great system.  Smooth, easy, and free.  I just wish it ran past 7:30pm…  I don’t quite know how I’m gonna get home on the weekends, like this Friday night, when I go to the dance club…
Today, I was at the ‘college’, or middle school.  So if you say ‘college’ to someone from France, they will think you mean middle school, and not a university.  I met with the director, and she created my ‘emploi du temps’, or my schedule, for there.  On Mondays, I will be helping with seven English classes.  Busy day.  On Wednesday, one class in the morning; one in the afternoon.  And the same thing Friday.  And she too said that in my downtime, I could sit in and participate in other classes.  I have chosen a history class, and a Spanish class.  Pretty cool: I’m gonna learn Spanish… in French. J

I helped out with one English class today, and then the professor and I went to the high school for lunch.  She’s actually gorgeous.  And... married.  Ha.  Oh well.
I ate lunch actually with one of the sisters (it’s a catholic school of sorts) and Dominique, who is one of the school administrators.  And I was stared at by so many of the students.  With lots of giggles.  And shy looks.  I feel like an exotic animal at the zoo.  While walking towards the dance school later, I passed two girls.  One of them said to the other, "Look, it's the New Yorker!"  Really, this must be what it's like to be a rock star.  It's a totally wild feeling.
After lunch, I then made my way back to the gym to play Volleyball with some of the students and

the two gym teachers. Today there was a huge shopping sale in Castres.  50% off on almost everything.  Every year on the 8th apparently.  So none of the female members of the Volleyball club showed up, and only 3 male members.  So it was 3 on 3: Me, and two students; and the two gym teachers, and another student.  We played to 25, and we won the first two matches; the other team the last match.  And… all in French.  I know I keep repeating myself, but seriously, my entire day virtually is in French.  Everything in French.  And the best part: I can really speak and understand.  The gym teacher Nadine told me in French, “If I could speak English like you speak French, that would be amazing.”  What a nice compliment.  I’m so damn proud of myself!  And it’s only week 1!  

On leaving the gym about 4pm, I looked up, and WOW, I saw two guys dancing, house and hip hop!  And WELL!  Just as good as my teachers back at Broadway Dance Center.  I ended up joining them, and before I knew it, I was his student.  He taught so many cool new dance moves.  It was in the parking lot to the dorms---there are about 100 students from around France who dorm here.  It was a tad embarrassing because all these dorm students (guys and girls) were watching as we were dancing.  But it also forced me to concentrate and really try to follow his steps.  He said he’s there (his name is Gautier) every Wednesday and well, looks like I have a dance teacher.

I then walked to the local dance school here, and turns out they have a hiphop class too, as well as Latin and ballroom.  The hiphip class is with 13 year olds, but hey, I don’t care.  Dancing is dancing, and I’m sure I’ll learn quite a bit.  Gonna start that next week I think.
Then I took the bus back home.  About a 25 minute ride.  Not bad.  I listened to another French lesson.  I only have 3 more Pimsleur French lessons and I’m done with them all.  I guess I will start up with my other languages again: Norwegian, Turkish, Arabic, German, etc.

And then, a delicious dinner with the family.  We ended up talking for about 2 ½ hours at the table.  About politics in France.  Politics in America.  Healthcare.  Taxes.  Flying Squirrels.  Geography.  All sorts of things.  And it reminded me of that time so many years ago in the suburbs of Paris when I was with another family, at the table, and I remember breaking down crying because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying, and it hurt me so much, because I had been studying French for so long and I wanted more than anything to become fluent in another language.  And now today, tonight, I was again sitting at a French dinner table, discussing at length very difficult subjects.  And understanding what they were saying in return.  It was and is amazing.  And I’m stoked about what these next seven weeks will bring me.
And tomorrow, I’m back at the high school.  Teaching again.  Really great stuff.  I’m having SUCH a great time.  This was such a great decision. 
Oh, Mel got back in touch, and I may end up spending a weekend in Hyeres, with my old host family.  Mel is about 27 now I think.  I met her when she was 18.  Wow, time flies.  It would be so nice to see her and her mom again. 

And I’m slowly planning my trip to Barcelona.  I don’t know if I am going to go by train, or by car, but at least I’m starting to think about it.  I hope I meet some people who might want to join me in the next couple of weeks, but if not, I’ll go by myself: can’t let anything get in the way of me finally visiting Spain.
And finally, I am TOTALLY inspired by the story of Samuel Morse.  I read more of it last night in "Americans in Paris".  Turns out his ambitions as a painter were destroyed.  And he was an AMAZING and ACCLAIMED painter for years.  But after his return to the US, it was six years of struggle, and then devastation when he was passed over for a cushy gig painting a panel at the Capital building that he was hoping and praying for on hands and knees.  When he got word that he wasn't chosen, his entire world fell apart.  As a result, he gave up painting completely.  When I read that, I was so sad for him.  But after a bit of time, he decided to return to his idea for a telegraph.  And wow... it worked.  Better and better with every day.  Soon, demonstrations in America.  Then in England.  And France.  And EVERYONE went gaga for it.  And finally, the ultimate demonstration, between DC and Baltimore, sharing the news that Polk had been chosen as President.  And ladies and gents: IT CHANGED THE WORLD.  HE changed the world.  The cell phone you have in your hand: you can thank Morse.  It was he who basically invented the first electronic communications device.  As a result, he finally ‘made it big’ by doing that--not through painting.  And he found his glory there--in science.  In something he really never expected or tried to be 'glorious' in.  He always thought his fame and success would result from painting.  But it didn't.  It DID come, but not in the way he expected.  The lesson: maybe what you’re chasing isn’t actually what you are meant to conquer.  Maybe we all need to be a little more flexible in what we're looking for, because otherwise, we not uncover the stone we were meant to use to change the world.  Maybe all of our struggles and heartbreaks and failures are for the ultimate best, and to lead us to the destiny that was always meant for us.  Maybe the mountain we THINK we are destined to conquer is completely wrong.  In fact, maybe it's not even a mountain we're meant to conquer; perhaps it's an ocean we are meant to traverse and walk upon. 

Super tired.  Off to bed.  Gnight!

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

First day of school!

Castres, France

Great first day at school.  I taught two classes of about 20 students all by myself, and I assisted in three other classes.  The school is paying for my lunch, which is great, and is going to save me about 10E per day, which is going to add up.
My schedule: I’ll be teaching at the high school on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  And at the middle school on Wednesdays and Fridays.  On Mondays, not sure.  I may actually just ‘be a student’ and tag along in some history classes at the high school.  All in French, and totally awesome.  Something I’ve always wanted to do: be in classes presented to a French audience.  Tomorrow morning, I’m going to join the ‘gym class’ at 8am and play volleyball with the students.  That should be fun, and then shower and get dressed and off to the middle school.

I got tons of compliments on how well dressed I am.  From the female students.  Thanks Zara!  And it was pretty funny: I saw Alice again and she told me that her mom spoke to her about me, saying, “He’s so nice!  Just like a regular American!  But SMART!”  Haha.  See: just by speaking to her in Italian, she assumes I’m smart.  I’m telling ya, learning foreign languages is such a good investment of my time and money. 

And in general, the students seem to like me a lot.  This whole ‘American’ thing gets lots of “ooohhhs”.  And then add in New York and it’s a bunch of “aaahhhhhs”.  Haha.  I had nothing to do with where I was born, but sure, okay, I’ll milk it for all it’s worth!
Dominique (Veronique’s husband) is going to drive me to the school tomorrow, but after that, I’ll probably be taking the bus.  Which is not a bad thing.  I will have time to listen to my Pimsleur language lessons. 
The movie continues to occupy a lot of my and Ronnie's time.  With our main investor.  With distributors.  With our agent.  With all the players.  So much work...  I return home from class and there are always many emails back and forth with Los Angeles, New York, etc. 
I’m feeling better too about everything.  Now that I’m at the school and all that, I feel a little more settled and at home. 

We also went to Alice’s new host family’s house.  To drop Alice off.  We were invited in and I met her new family.  Very nice older retired couple.  And two cats.  Alice has a very nice room there.  15 minutes from Castres.  And the most comfortable easy chair!  Right in her room.  I’m totally jealous.  I sat in it for five minutes and nearly fell asleep.  Ahhh…

Finally, s
uper stoked with my French.  I know I keep saying it over and over, but wow: I speak it really well.  And it’s only getting better and better.  Even my understanding: I understand the television more than ever.  So all is well.  I think my level of French will jump in these next 7 weeks.  Actually, I’m pretty certain of it.
I’m heading to bed early tonight.  Not only have to wake early, but I’m exhausted as it is already, and can barely keep my eyes open.  Later!

P.S. - I heard back from Shanghai.  No Facebook where I will be living and studying.  She told that the free enterprise zone is an hour east.  So in order to use Facebook while in China, I will have to go crosstown, an hour's journey.  Hmmm, maybe I'll check it like once a month or something.  Truly fascinating though.  No Facebook.  No Twitter.  I'm hoping that I will have access to Blogger.  Hmm...