So I’m home; Sydney, Australia. Paris est fini. Et je suis triste mais aussi relieved. I don’t know what the word for 'relieved' is in French so I’m just going to continue inserting English words into French sentences instead of actually looking them up. It’s more fun. And also speaking French properly changes my personality.
It’s true you know. I was listening to a talk by a fantastic writer who speaks seven different languages and he said that when you live in another country and want to learn the language, you really have to surrender your identity. But I never wanted to give up my identity. I mean, part of me wishes I had been born French but I don’t want to change who I am now. I like being a nice person and not furious all the time.
But even with my resistance to surrendering myself to a French makeover, the culture has still managed to permeate my existence. When I came home at the end of June I was not only 90% croissant, but people kept saying things to me like “You do have a bit of French in you, yes, there’s something quite French about you now.” At first I took it as a compliment. After all, I was making a concerted effort to wear red lipstick whenever I left the house. But when I actually asked people what they meant, they said, “Well you’ve become quite opinionated. Actually, pushy. Well you’re bossy and aloof and furious. It’s great, so French.”
I was secretly proud but also slightly alarmed, even though I was quietly convinced that it was really the jetlag that had created my new disagreeable persona. Or maybe it wasn’t anything decidedly French at all, but rather the fact that I had surrendered my need to be perfect and presentable and pleasing all the time. Perhaps it was that I had finally given myself permission to be “in the shit.”
How awesome was my alliteration back there? Now that is something I couldn’t do in French. I can think of three words I know in French that start with “P”: prendre (to take), pamplemousse (grapefruit) and Paris. So I could say “Je prends un pamplemousse à Paris” but it is not very clever and doesn’t mean anything at all. So I will continue to write in English for our mutual benefit.
Yes, I think I came back with a lot of the layers pulled off. I was so exhausted and my ego had been so broken down that I had very little energy to pretend to be anything I truly wasn’t. I was tired and overwhelmed and shell-shocked and I was OK with letting people see me like that. That’s what Philippe teaches you. That’s what all the abuse and mortifying insults and confusing tactics are all about. Getting to the place where you have given up your ego and the need to get it right. Getting to the place where you are free from your fear of being stupid or ugly or vulnerable, so that you can try anything, take enormous risks, fall flat on your face and be seen in all your beautiful humanity. That’s what the clown is – the clown shows us the suffering, the innocence, the joy, the pain of being human. I think I came back as a real life clown.
But it’s amazing what a month in your old bubble will do to you. It’s been so wonderful reconnecting with my friends and family, but I have to keep reminding myself of what I discovered during my time in France. I don’t want to go back to the safe confines of my old self. Stepping back from the edge, smoothing the rough edges so that I’m more accepted, slipping into the life that didn’t upset anyone or challenge me… or bring me true joy. As artists we have to keep growing, keep stepping off the ledge into the unknown, even when it seems as though we are heading in a completely different direction to everyone else, even when we don’t understand the direction ourselves.
So now I’m home and have started writing a show about my astronaut clown but am also altogether confused about life. I think that’s OK though. My clown was always “around my body” as Philippe called it when I was genuinely confused. When he barraged me with instructions and insults until I didn’t understand anything and was just trying to cope, I was apparently very funny.
There was one day when Philippe told me again that I was the worst in the group. He was putting me “in the shit”, but it was the second last day of the course and I had had enough. “Philippe I don’t know what to do” I said, on the verge of tears. “That’s the point, you do too much. You’re always doing something. Always moving. The way you move is horrible. I hate it,” he replied. “But last week you told me I talk too much, so if I’m not allowed to talk and I’m not allowed to move, what am I supposed to do?” I blurted out, unable to hold back my tears any longer. Suddenly everyone laughed. There was a pause. “You are allowed to talk because now you’re ridiculous and we love you.” I stared at him in confusion. Everyone laughed again. He continued his assault. “And you don’t listen to the teacher! The teacher said: when people laugh I need to write it on my brain because it means my clown is around my body! So you didn’t listen to the teacher!” I suddenly felt angry. “I did listen! It just happened too quickly! I talked and they laughed and then you yelled at me so I didn’t have time to write it on my brain!” Everyone laughed again. And suddenly my tear stricken face burst into a giant smile. More laughter. I finally had a glimmer of understanding, but he never wants you to be comfortable. “And the way you move is horrible,” he repeated. “I used to be a dancer!” I proudly proclaimed. “Oh my God.”
Yep, that is how we were taught. Sometimes I was convinced it was emotional manipulation, but then you experience the effects of his method and you understand why he does it all. He can make you feel so broken but he is always watching you like a hawk and knows when you are ready to come out of it, or “discover something.”
So all I have to do now is be confused all the time and not know what direction I’m heading in. Perhaps I have surrendered my identity after all.