5 Lessons Learned from Perseverance at the Prefecture

I’ve been MIA, I know. But before I delve into the roller coaster of emotions/events of the past few months (BIG changes on the horizon), I figured I start with something concrete- life lessons I’ve learned from the prefecture.

‘What the heck is a prefecture?!’, some of you might ask. To which I would respond that it is the hellmouth, the keeper of your future, a cirque du soleilesque mental challenge of your emotional strength, or as some people like to call it ‘the administrative building for visas and other important documents’. And for those of you who know what it is, I’m sorry. Let’s take a minute to hold hands, sigh, and let go of what we cannot control. Life lesson number one.

photo (18)

For those who need a visual

Which brings me to: 

Five lessons learned from prefecture pain and perseverance:

#1- Learn when to let go of things you cannot control. I’ve learned this the hard way, but when dealing with administration, it’s important to check your desire for controlfreakyness at the door. Once you step through those big wooden frames, you are a mere puppet at the mercy of French hands. Building a bubbling rage over a desire for the line to be shorter, the weather to be less miserable, the French people to be less rude, or the process to be less inefficient, won’t change a thing. It only makes the time painfully slow and your mood increasingly less pleasant. Feel that rage for a moment if you need to, and then breathe it out. The line will move, and you will get to your destination.

#2- Expect the unexpected. Just because you have all the right documents, or you waited the allotted six weeks (or months), does not mean that you will leave with a smile of success. In order to release, or at least aid, that desire for control, you must expect the unexpected. Prepare for a multitude of possibilities so that your emotional armor is strongly in tact when you leave. Don’t assume anything. Because trust me, no one wants to see a frustrated sobbing mess crumpled in defeat just outside the gates. It’s awkward. On the flip side, when you do have that rare moment of prefecture success, it tastes all the more sweet…especially when you weren’t expecting it.

#3- Kindness Kills. Ok, so this is a strange expression, but it never hurts to appeal to a person’s humanity. Don’t over do it- especially with the French. But a simple smile, a polite ‘how are you’, or a preemptive merci can work wonders. This is not to say that you should avoid being firm when needed, but rather don’t come in with guns ablazing and silent rage bubbling. After all, these are the gatekeepers you’re dealing with. Make eye contact, be confident, but most importantly be kind.

#4- Be creative, don’t despair. If things don’t go your way, don’t crumple in awkward panicked defeat. Allowing your first thoughts to be your worst thoughts is not only unproductive, it’s unrealistic. There are always options. Maybe let a few frustrated tears fall if that’s what you need, but then get back to the drawing board! Did you ask all the right questions? What would happen if you went again? What would happen if you talked to someone new? 9 times out of 10, plan B has had a weird way of working out.

#5- If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again…and with different people. Piggybacking off of the whole being creative thing, is the need for some good ole fashion perseverance. Keep trying. As my grandma loves to say, “Never surrender! Never give up!” (yes, I know that she mixes the order- it just adds to the delightful quirkiness of her shouting it).

My French coworker once said to me, “French administration is a labyrinth. You can get in, but you can’t find a way out.” While it is indeed a mental maze and at times you might find yourself in a pit of despair, a release of control, a creative outlook, a little kindness, and a lot of persistence are excellent tools for navigating that labyrinth.

…and if all else fails, grab a tea or coffee at the nearest cafe with a supportive loved one and prepare for round 2…or 20.

Advertisements

Blogaloutions

Bonne année and happy 2014 to all! Are we really already a month into the new year? And has it really been almost 2 months since my last post??

I was partially MIA due to the fact that my long visit home was insanely busy (as home usually is), filled with a flurry of friends, family, much missed food, painting commissions and workshops, and a surprise trip to the arctic tundra that is the northeast (Boston was 4 fahking degrees!)

…but part of my lack of writing was due to the fact that I didn’t quite have the words. I know, I know. It might seem incroyable- Me, not have words?? But I was silently bottling up something I’ve been trying to hide for far too long. And this is my confession for the new year: in spite of all my denial- in spite of this very blogs title- I am… a little lost.

*Warning. This shits about to get personal and maybe a bit ranty so proceed with caution… Continue reading

Resistance is Futile- I am “a artist.”

Not too long ago, my mom and I rediscovered a film of my 7th birthday party. We watched as my mother interviewed each of my semi-toothless friends about their future aspirations- “a doctor, a mommy, a teacher, a vet”. As each little girl relayed their dreams with gap toothed smiles, I grew curious about what my own scrawny, short-haired, seven-year old self would say. And I was surprised by the answer.

“A artist”.

My mom and I turned to each other in awe. How could a seven-year old be so insightful?

I didn’t know much at that time, especially when it came to hairstyles, but I knew what I wanted, boy hair and all. If only I’d continued to carry the same confidence as that seven-year old. I’ve spent the past 15 years denying something that has been such an important part of my life for fear of- I don’t know what. Failure? Self-indulgence? Being too contrived? Taking a risk? Fear is a funny thing. It holds us back before we even know what it looks like, or what exactly it is that we’re afraid of.

The thing is, I like to create. I always have, in one way or another, whether it was hand sewing costumes for Halloween or plays, or crafting cards for any possible holiday or celebration. One summer, my friend and I spent hours making and delivering anonymous cards to the neighborhood that just read “have a nice day”. Each one was different.

And I don’t know who I was kidding. I had endless sketchbooks filled with doodles and costume designs, and journals embellished with ‘marginal’ drawings. When I went to a Fine Arts high school to study theater, I double majored in art with a passion for painting. And though I went to college for psychology, a serendipitous turn of events led me to studio work and to becoming an art teacher.

But I found that as I taught young artists to embrace their own creations, discover their personal marks, and celebrate the “happy accidents”, I struggled to do that for myself. It wasn’t until my semester abroad in Greece, where I realized how much I learned, how much I knew, and how much I truly loved to paint, that I finally allowed myself to acknowledge what that seven-year old did with such ease.

I am ‘a artist’.

I am an artist who loves to paint. Loves to capture the moments in life- the subtle connections, and the little things that make us smile or wonder. I am an artist who still uses that word with trepidation. Who just wants to create. To capture the magnificence of the ‘ordinary’ within the corners of canvas. I am an artist who finally took the plunge.

And created a website.

So fears aside, today I am admitting that I am an artist, and introducing a new chapter, a new part of my blogging experience, and a new website:

Annakotecki.com

198491_10150141777945642_8068806_n

 

Happy Friday! This weekend- do something that scares you 🙂 

The bug

Let's Go Anywhere

Well, it’s official. I’m living in Grenoble!

I finally moved in a couple weeks ago. It’s been a long back and fourth of visiting for visa purposes, wondering if I could even stay in France, finishing my time in Montbeliard, and running around the south of France with the remaining TAPIF assistants. By the end, I was ready for down time. Traveling and trying to move in/establish a new life felt draining. I wanted to invest in one or the other. And I felt it was time to invest in living in France.

But now here I am, officially in Grenoble and I have the itch. The travel bug is gnawing away at me- impatient and greedy. And I don’t know what will satisfy this fat little fucker. I’m living in France! I’ve been traveling on and off for the past 8 months. I just finished booking a trip to Italy with my cousin and sister in July, and another to Spain in August with my friend. But the bug wants more. It wants Thailand and Morocco. Egypt and China. To revisit Greece and Turkey. To backpack, to explore, to volunteer, to teach. And I don’t think it will stop there.  Continue reading

“To Be Lost is to Live”

P1030550

The other day my father sent me an e-mail sharing his horoscope. At the time I found it intriguing but little did I know just how fitting it would be.

“Never to get lost is not to live,” writes Rebecca Solnit in her book A Field Guide to Getting Lost. In fact, she says that not knowing how to get lost is unhealthy. These are useful ideas to consider right now, Virgo. It will probably do you good to get at least semi-lost. As you wander around without a map or compass, I bet you will stumble upon important teachings. At the same time, I hope you will put some thought into how you’re going to get lost. Don’t just leave it to chance. Make sure there’s a method in your madness.”

If only he, and astrology.com, knew just how relevant that horoscope blurb was, because the other day I got lost.

I’ve always been a fairly independent person. And I’ve always relished the feeling of being out on my own, facing new adventures, having time to place my thoughts and space to meet the unknown. But getting lost really is a challenging and eye-opening experience.

As I wandered through the windy streets of Grenoble, on a quest to buy art supplies, I started to look around at the unfamiliar and soon realized I didn’t quite have my bearings. Actually I was lost.

Much like learning a language, I started off energized and approached it as a challenging game. “Yay! Adventure time! I’ll learn my way around Grenoble! I’m independent and this is fun!” Thirty minutes later I was singing a different tune. As each old, gray, building started to look the same and the cobblestone streets fused into a blob of intersecting paths, the irrational panic settled in. “I’ve been down this street before. No, wait I haven’t. Yes I have!…And I’ve been going in circles. I’m never getting out of this clever labyrinth! Adventure time my ass! This is so NOT fun!”

It wasn’t until I embraced the moment and gave in to my lack of bearings that the panic subsided and I began to see where I was. I was in FRANCE. In France with nowhere specific to be and nothing but time and a beautiful day on my side. I could wander down that unknown street and relish in the small savory moments of life- like colorful ukuleles hanging in the shop window with just the right lighting, or the little old lady intimately transfixed by a pair of shoes through the window- boy do the French love to window shop. With new-found clarity I followed my visual breadcrumbs (an important tool for the directionally challenged) back to my destination.

Along the way I stopped in the square surrounded by ancient buildings and an enthusiastic fountain, and felt overwhelmed with happiness. I’m in France. I’m living in France. Will anywhere else ever feel normal? Will I actually get used to the idea of living abroad?

Getting lost came at an appropriate time as it’s appropriate for where I am in my life right now. As I reach a quarter century, move to a new location, strip myself of all defaults of my identity (my language, my job, my friends, my security blankets), I realized it’s ok to get lost. It’s ok to be lost. It’s in these spaces and these places where we can find things we wouldn’t expect- the beautiful and bizarre- and whether we end up on the original path or a new one, we come out a little bit more savvy and self-aware.

As my dad said, “Lo, tho it may be Virgo, it is relevant to you. I liked the title “To never get lost is to Never live” or maybe, “To be lost is to live”.

εὐδαιμονία

I can be such a recluse sometimes. Fortunately tonight was not one of those nights. After quite the busy weekend (wonderful but a tad chaotic day trip in Mulhouse- more on that to come), I was not feeling entirely enthused to take my precious time to my professor’s house to deliriously stumble through a dinner filled with French. But I decided when in France…suck it up and get involved. And boy am I glad that I did.

Not only did I have succulent sweet wine, and a delicious raclette dinner (originally from Switzerland, consisting of savory melted cheese poured over potatoes and onions), but I managed to talk entirely in French…for the most part. And I was surprised. I talked about the death penalty in Texas, how to say hello in Turkish, my opinions on Romney, why I chose to be vegetarian, how capitalism is hurting our nation, how my father is a conspiracy theorist, how I’m trying to learn the ukulele, our cliches of the French (eat frogs and snails, don’t shower, are semi pretentious, smoke and complain all the time…) and many other things that I never thought I’d be able to do. I held my own in a French conversation! Of course it was not as articulate as I would’ve liked, maybe even verged on a spastic 8 year old’s interpretation of politics, but it’s a start!

And moments like these remind me of why I got that first tatoo 3 years ago. I wanted to always remember to thrive, to flourish. And as weird as it might sound, tonight I experienced my own personal eudaimonia.

And ultimately I left the night feeling full- not just of raclette, but of life. I felt invigorated by my own small personal accomplishments in French, but also by the people. I loved hearing their stories, getting little snipets of their lives. One man, who most certainly belongs in the organic food movement in Austin, kept saying that I had “good energy”. Normally I would’ve smirked at such a thing, but tonight I smiled.

Love this