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.

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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.

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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

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

Kindness Counts

I can’t believe it’s been over a month since my last post. Where did time go? How does it fly by so quickly? I have so many ‘return to the States’ observations, thoughts and general posts whirling around in my brain. But here we are- a month later and I’m just now posting. I guess being home for the first time in a year, coupled with a plethora of familial emotions will take its toll on time.

Plus I’m a horrible snowball procrastinator. Just the worst. If I let something slide, and then slide even a little bit more, it snowballs into this seemingly overwhelming task that occupies too much of my thoughts, and thus results in a complete system shut down- a.k.a. curling into a blanket on my dad’s couch and watching the worst American television. Seriously. Is it just me, or has American TV gotten even more dramatic, over the top, expulsive, and so generally disgusting that you somehow can’t put down the remote and oddly continue to watch in shock (and awe) at this train wreck that is television? My return to America (or should I say ‘Merica) was christened with walking into the hotel room where my sister was watching Honey Boo Boo. Enough said.

But I digress. There will be other times, other posts to rant about overweight hicks on “reality” TV, or terrifying trashy pop stars occupying all forms of social media, and even American news. Right now I want to talk about kindness. About having patience, going above and beyond, stepping outside of your daily routine, and generally giving a shit at a time when ultimately, it’s easier not to. Continue reading

Pre-Life Crisis

In exactly 8 days I will turn 25.

And according to “real life”, in exactly 8 days I need to have my shit together.

Quarter life crisis time? Not exactly. I’ve been in the throws of what I like to call a “pre-life crisis” for some time now. True, I’ve had the space (and privilege) to give time to these thoughts, but basically I’ve been avoiding the whole adulthood thing (what is an adult anyways?), struggling with ideas of what I ‘should’ be doing vs. what I actually want to be doing…and consequently figuring out what exactly it is that I want to be doing…

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You see, I’ve always been very organized and very calculated, with a prospective plan on the horizon. Until one day I set out to not have a plan. That’s right. I planned to not plan. I specifically went to an alternative liberal arts college where majors weren’t declared so I could have space to explore. And what did my type A self do? I decided that I wanted to make my life more complicated, choose a distinct path, and get a license to teach. So I spent my remaining college years with a clear plan in mind and unstoppable wheels in motion. As I realized that I truly adored teaching, and as I saw a potential life flash before my eyes- a young teacher settling in a community and establishing herself in a very specific way- my desire to be unplanned rebelled.

Almost three years later, here I am in France, in my mid-twenties, with the weirdest plan I’ve ever had- winging it. It might seem like a bizarre time in my life to go down this path as I don’t have a working visa, I don’t have a job, and my savings is growing sizeably smaller. But I do have a love of teaching, painting, writing, and cooking, and I plan to do something with it.

And just as I was feeling self-congratulatory and confident about my new path, real life (or my dad) called reminding me of responsibility. I received two important letters- one explaining my need to deal with student loans, and the other stating that I am no longer eligible for health insurance now that I have reached the ripe age of 25. So much for Obamacare. It looks like adulthood has found me. Right when I decided to be self-employed.

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Happy freaking birthday.

A therapist once read my ‘star chart’ and told me that I was going to face a personal crisis that most people experience in their 40s, early on in my life. She said that I would spend some time struggling, but that I would come out of it self aware, secure, and stable even in to middle age where most of my peers would be struggling.

But as much as I’d like to believe my therapist’s lovely portrait of the future, when I look at the present, my peers are also struggling now. Every one of my friends in one way or another is facing the “real world” and figuring out their place in it. Maybe it’s technology, maybe it’s the time (can you say recession?), maybe we’re just at ‘that age’, or maybe it’s just the nature of transition. I think we underestimate the power of times of transition. As you pass from one phase, one place, one path to another, it seems only natural that you face a life-crisis- or maybe a life introspection. But it’s times and challenges like these that help us grow. Or maybe I’m just projecting…

But who knows, if my therapist was actually right, I’ll be sitting pretty while those suckers are doing their time.

So bring on 25 and all the misadventures that come with it!

To expel or not to expel…

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From Friday…

Out of all my classes, the only class that I see every week (it never changes) happens to be my last class on a Friday and consequently- my hardest. When my lesson finished last week, I left foul and disappointed. Why was it so damn hard for them to listen? Why was there so much disrespect? I worked hard to make my lessons fun and engaging. Shouldn’t that be enough? But as most people who studied education, or have any experience working with children, will tell you, the answer is no. An engaging lesson is never quite enough.

Feeling lost and seeing as how I am not the actual teacher (but rather a mere assistant), I e-mailed my professor for help. His response- “Kick them out. Too bad. They had the chance. Give me their names and I will kick them out.”

Maybe it’s the sappy teacher in me that sees the potential in all my students, but I just couldn’t bring myself to hand over the names. True, as a whole, the class can be unfocused, rambunctious and as of late, disrespectful, but when it comes to each student, they’ve all had their shining moments. I wasn’t ready to just expel a big bunch of them and be done with it. Maybe if I didn’t have a passion for teaching, my life could be a little easier.  I could say fuck em. If those little shits can’t be respectful, then they can leave. But I’m not just an assistant. I like to teach and *nerd alert* I leave elated when I know that they’ve learned something. So even though I wasn’t ready to expel them, the question became- What should I do now?

Many conversations and even a little research later, I devised a solid plan. I would come in firm but somehow still leave as the “good guy”.

My plan of attack was this.

1. Come in early. Open the door by myself. I have had the hardest time with my keys and have never actually been able to open room 129 on my own. One student has somehow mastered this skill. How can I have respect, if I can’t even open the damn door?

2. Change their seats. I conveniently had slips of paper with their names on them and arranged them around the room so that 1. they were no longer by their friends and 2. were closer to me.

When they entered the room and sighed in disappointment, I asked, “Do you know why I did this?” to which one student replied, “Because you hate us?” Oh how wrong she was. If only they knew…

3. Have clear classroom expectations. This was linked to the be early part of the plan. I wrote my expectations on the board.

1. Come in, sit down and wait for your name to be called

2. Respect- do not talk while I am talking and do not talk while your peers are talking

3. If you have questions or problems, raise your hands. I am here to help

4. Listen to your classmates and participate. TRY

5. 3 strikes and you’re out.

The last one particularly amuses me as it is a policy I use with my elementary kids. Normally I wouldn’t think such a thing would be necessary with high schoolers, but with this class it seemed to resonate. Especially after I told them their professor wanted to kick them out.

4. Be Reasonable. Give them some input- Seeing as how the professor presented this class to me as “make it fun for them. make it fun for you” I didn’t want to leave as the crazy strict American Assistant. So I wrote some questions on the board for them:

1. What makes a classroom work?

2. What do you expect from your teachers?

3. What do you want from this class?

Their answers impressed and amused me:

“Funny works”

“The teacher speak with a student and joke with us”

“I would like to learn English in a good ambiance”

“A teacher who is interesting and learning us”

“A good ambiance, a good and nice teacher, students who participate”

“A class works because we have an exam to pass at the end of the year and for our personal culture. This exam and the marks you have can give you a school and also a work”

“Pupils have to be nice and respect the teacher. A classroom works when there is an exchange between pupils and teacher”.

It’s so wonderful when they get it. ‘Good ambiance’ was a common theme in their responses and by the end of the lesson, I’m happy to say that good ambiance was achieved. The class ran smoothly and we even had time (and focus) to try the adjective game I’d invented. I regained respect. I established my expectations and we still managed to have fun at the end. Teacher 101: It’s always good to shake things up and amazing to see what happens when you stick to your guns.

But we’ll see what next week brings….