When my kids were little and we would go to the park I was constantly stopping them from taking time to stand on the edge of the pond and watch the ducks, or climbing on rocks. I wanted to keep moving on our walk and get home where, ironically, we really had nothing pressing to do. I was on self-imposed White Rabbit time, always late, always busy to get to … what? The end the walk? The end of my day? The end of my life?
I’ve been reading “The Skinny, Sexy Mind: The Ultimate French Secret” in preparation for the next novel series I plan to write. The book’s title really doesn’t describe the content well. I’m almost finished and still not sure what a skinny mind is. The part that has made sense, and made this a book definitely worth reading, is the American author’s analysis of how two years living in France helped her to overcome a long history of eating disorders. It has a lot to do with the rushing, racing to nowhere mentality that is so common in the United States and that I describe above.
What she discovered in France (and I am rediscovering through her book) is an attitude of joie de vivre or joy of life. Americans think they get the concept, but what we really get is something like french fries, we think it’s what they have in France when it’s actually an Americanized version. Joie de vivre done our way is streamlined and fast and as copious as possible. Which is absolutely silly when you know the true meaning.
The true meaning has to do with pleasure and guilt. The author, Trish Blackwell, learned to give herself lots of the first with none of the second. Generally, French women don’t do guilt, because most of them really don’t give a damn what you think about them. Their focus is on living their own life and getting as much pleasure and joy from it as possible. It’s summed up in one of the many quotes I highlighted, “When the focus of your life is more directed towards impressing or competing with others, you have sacrificed your ability to live your own life.”
Trish Blackwell’s eating disorders were the result of her competing, in her mind, with every other female around her. No matter how hard she tried the woman she saw in the mirror was in some way physically inferior to some other woman. She was literally running as fast as she could to a finish line that she was moving closer and closer with her actions, her own death.
It takes guts to for an American woman to declare that she is living for pleasure and has sworn off guilt. It flies in the face of our puritan work ethic and ultra competitiveness. Other women will be the first to pin scarlet letters to your chest: bad mother, selfish, indulgent, lazy. At a party recently I admitted that I have no interest in a mega cardio workout because I happen to like my curves and really don’t want them to disappear (plus is sounded like a horrid form of torture). Most struggled for a response to that announcement.
And joie de vivre is about so much more than food and weight. It’s about slowing down and saying no to stuff that adds nothing to your life. Today the morning news show was one guilt ridden statement after another about not finishing Christmas shopping or decorating on time. Guilt is the national conversation and obsession but does it really add anything to your life? Would anyone on your gift list think less of you or reject a gift because it showed up late? (I know I accept gifts anytime someone wants to give them–day late, year late, it’s all good.)
I celebrated the solstice yesterday, slowly, quietly, with no agenda but my own. It was fantastic, a true slice of joie de vivre. It’s an overcast day today but my little dehydrated orange slices look sunny and sweet hanging in my window. I love them because they are a reminder to slow down or even stop–all my competing and obsessing–all my running to stand still.