During the week before my trip to Chamonix, I was in West Lafayette, Indiana and Versailles, Kentucky. I celebrated my best friend Logan’s graduation, did a shot for the first time (I know…), watched storms pass at one in the morning. One night I cried in his arms (thank God for best friends who are there/still like you when you’re at your most pathetic) because I was so scared to get on the plane and go to France. When I got home to Versailles, I cried to another friend (Ben) over the phone, still scared. There’s a way we can always know everything will be fine—but we don’t know it. On the phone that night, Ben told me all I had to do was get on the plane. I was scared of that, too.
But I got on the (first) plane on Saturday at 11:30 am, Eastern time, and stepped into my apartment in Chamonix at around 2 pm on Sunday their time. Time zones are a bit of a mystery to me so I have no idea how long that travel time actually was, but I know that I felt profoundly far from home. I unpacked and struggled to lock my front door (which I have now figured out—just so you know, Mom!). I left and went to find a grocery store, even though mostly everything here is closed on Sundays (and often everything just closes at random times—the French seem not to be concerned at all about making money). I got some frustrated looks because I didn’t know they don’t give you bags for your groceries or how to ask for one in French.
By Monday morning, I was at home. I didn’t know it was possible to feel so perfectly at home in a brand new place. I keep thinking about how this—my reaction to this place, this adventure—isn’t me at all. I am calm here. The first morning, I walked down the street to the “compound” where all our teachers are staying, punched in the gate code, and had coffee and pastries while we met everyone and got ready for workshop. Then we read poems under a tree and looked at the mountains for a few hours.
I’ve been here a week now, and I have about a million things to say. Here are some highlights:
- workshop: Four days a week, I get to sit down and talk poetry with one of the smartest and most honest, down-to-earth poets around. I had workshop with Erin for a week at IU a few summers ago, and it changed my work entirely…so here I am again, having my work turned upside down. I’m basically just writing down everything she says. I’m learning about my work and some great poems and even how to be a better teacher, because Erin is a great one.
- mountains: I have never seen anything like these mountains. This is what all those poets mean when they talk about the sublime…that odd mix of awe and terror. And they’re impossible to describe…just gorgeous. Every morning it’s like I’m seeing them for the first time.
- food: Pastries, bread, strawberries, chocolate, wine…and the most ham and cheese I’ve ever seen. Everything is decadent. And the espresso! Ah, it’s all so good. I can’t even talk about it. OH and the macarons. The salted caramel one…good grief. This past week has been punctuated by instances of me saying “omg, this is soooo good” every time I eat something.
- weather: It’s warmish during the day and cool at night and I get three weeks out of what I’m sure is shaping up to be a sweltering Nashville summer. Chamonix is even beautiful in the rain.
- community: There are about 15 of us here—including three adorable, sweet kiddos—and I’m the youngest (of the adults). I’ve spent a lot of time listening to some incredible life stories and throwing in the bit of life I’ve had so far. Being here has been like coming home to a family I didn’t know I had or needed. We’ve all been instantly encouraging and supportive of one another—something, I’d guess, that I’ll look back on as once-in-a-lifetime. Maybe I’m just emotional coming off my two years of the MFA, but it turns out I really, really needed this.
- French: I know very little French, still, but I’m catching on. It’s becoming much more natural even just to say ‘bonjour’ and ‘merci’ and at least try to order something, for example, in French. Today, at church, I read the Apostle’s Creed in French—at least I could translate that! It’s strange being in a place where I basically can’t read. I’m building a tiny vocabulary that centers almost entirely around food, with minor exceptions for the words for street and roundabout.
I remember sitting on the plane, about a couple hours into the flight, thinking about how I knew, in that moment, that I was capable of more than I’d ever thought I was. So far, that’s what I know for sure.