The fall is always a bittersweet season for me. As soon as September rolls around, it layers fresh morning dew on our gardens and brings some long anticipated relief from the heat of summer. The leaves start turning all shades of brown, yellow and red and – finally – jeans season is back.
But with the fall also comes sadness; the cold is about to set in for real and keep me shivering for months. I am no winter girl. I never feel ready for it. So I do my best to embrace the last few nice days of the year before winter comes. So in times like this, when the fall just cannot come late enough, I have a few ideas to make the transition just a little easier for myself.
1. Embrace the rain.
I don’t live in California. I live in the Netherlands, where the fall brings about a whole set of rain, cold and overall dreadful weather. I usually wouldn’t mind the rain – but having to cycle everywhere, there is no way around it. It becomes a part of my (daily) routine.
So I try very hard to get myself into a different mindset. As soon as I open the curtains and see gray, low-hanging clouds, I try to conjure up an inner smile.
After all, my getting grumpy and resentful towards the weather will result in nothing but making myself even more miserable. So instead, I think of the big picture.
“Wow, no sweating today!”
“Yay, the grass will be extra green and mellow thanks to this!”
“Look at this gray sky, isn’t it fabulous?”
2. Incorporate actual magic into your life.
Yes, actual magic.
You might have heard of paganism or wicca; religions that are extremely nature-oriented and that celebrate the passing of time by honoring each turning point of the year. (Also, they practice witchcraft, how cool is that).
Eight sacred holidays (called sabbats) are observed every year. In this fall season, there are two: Mabon on September 22 and Samhain on October 31.
Mabon celebrates the autumn equinox and the harvest season. It is a time of balance between light and dark, and a time of thanks for what the Earth provides us.
- How does one celebrate Mabon?
Simple. Draw up a list of all the things and people you are thankful for; these elements are what keep you in balance in the world.
Honor the darkness; without it, there would be no light. Mabon is a time for recognizing the power and beauty of the parts of yourself you aren’t fond of; your fears, your insecurities, your jealousy, your failures. These darker parts of you drive you to appreciate the moments of light and accomplishment in your life.
Reconnect with nature; sabbats celebrate its beauty and sacredness. If to you, that means spending five minutes in a park, baking an apple pie or carving a pumpkin, great! As long as you are mindful during this special day, you are doing it right.
Also – eat apples (apparently they are very magically charged, plus they’re in season).
This view of the wheel of the year, while helping me to accept what is here and ground me in the present, also helps remind me that better times will always come around. Although I don’t practice pagan rituals myself, I really like this mindset of appreciation towards nature and time passing.
3. Cozy up with hot chocolate + good music.
I am always – and I mean always – in need of chocolate. Nutella is probably the food I consume the most of (and it gets embarrassing when 50% of the glass jars my roommates and I throw away are my old Nutella jars).
Forget about burgers and pasta; chocolate is my comfort food.
Therefore, I am always super excited when the time of year finally allows for me to drink hot chocolate (almost) every day.
You know the drill: warm milk, chocolate powder and sugar, and you’re done. I won’t pretend like I do anything fancier than that, so if you want some more elaborate hot chocolate recipes, I suggest you have a look on Pinterest.
The best thing about the fall is that you get to snuggle up under a blanket with your hot chocolate and watch your favorite series. Or, you know, if you’re a student, read your textbooks. Meh.
One thing that always helps me do what I need to do is music. It helps me get up and running in the morning, it helps me focus, and it also helps me wind down.
Since I got Spotify Premium, I have been listening to way more music – and discovering way more artists than before. I follow pre-made playlists for specific moods or needs of mine, and I create my own, tailored to my taste.
It has made a huge difference in my life. I now have unlimited access to music wherever I am, with no ads and a much more diverse playlist than ever before.
So this is how I deal with the fall. It’s not a perfect plan, but it helps.
Christmas is coming.
Last Friday was my graduation ceremony. After completing my BSc in Liberal Arts and Sciences, I got the chance to wear the wizard robes and stupid hats I had always seen American high school movie characters wear.
It ended up being a super special day for reasons I hadn’t foreseen. I felt more appreciation for my degree than I had done in a while, I was around some of the awesome people I got to know over the years, and I was treated – along with the other graduates – like a VIP all day.
The head of each major said a little something about each of their students. Some comments were rejoicing in so and so’s wedding; some were congratulatory concerning the work ethic of a particularly brilliant student; and some were downright funny like this one:
When I first met you, I thought you were a typical high school jock. You had the attitude, you looked sporty, you played funny. And then I found out that inside the jock was a massive nerd.
I think that this comment beautifully reflects the fun diversity of people that I have met in my studies. Man, Liberal Arts was the best.
Having been picked to give the valedictorian speech that year, I was getting pretty, pretty nervous by the time the ceremony started. Would people laugh at my jokes? Did I write a good enough speech or was it extremely common and lame?
I pictured a stoic audience and disappointed professors.
But then it went great. Everyone I talked to after loved my speech, and I was glad I pushed myself to do it – even though it felt like the least natural thing to say yes to. Me. Alone on stage. Talking.
I did it.
I made it through my 3 years abroad, my 3 years of Liberal Arts, and I made it through my first 3 years of independence(ish).
Let’s see what happens next.
I know that many people are somewhat skeptical in regards to the new Potter book, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. And with reason; it isn’t ‘the next Potter book’, really. It tells the story of Harry’s youngest son Albus. If anything, the book is a teaser for the play that is currently on stage in London and brings the story to life. Still, I found the book so enjoyable and exciting to read – and I had many feelings as I did –
this book is just shock after shock after shock #cursedchild
— Marianne (@MyNamesMarianne) 4 août 2016
I just had to share my top 4 reasons to pick it up – if you like the Harry Potter saga.
Any spoilers will be written in white and kept in brackets, like so: (these are spoilers).
1. The characters will make your heart melt
Scorpius Malfoy. Albus Potter. Draco Malfoy. Harry Potter. (Severus Snape. Albus Dumbledore).
Albus couldn’t be more different from his father and that is made clear to us by (his being sorted into Slytherin and) his befriending Scorpius – a Malfoy. Albus and Scorpius have adventures together; but those are tainted by their feelings of inadequacy and difference. There’s a reason Albus is nicknamed ‘the Cursed Child’. He and Scorpius just want to be loved for who they are (oh how relatable for basically any human). They don’t trust the adults that don’t get them – so they do something very stupid – and everything goes to shit.
You can tell what the theme of the book is from its very title: “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”. Albus isn’t even named, and he comes second to his father. This struggle is the core of the story. Needing to exist as an individual. Leaving the past where it belongs…
2. You will be surprised
First and best thing: there is a very obvious gay love story… Though it isn’t explicit, it’s nice to see something a little bit more LGBT-friendly finally getting included in the saga.
But with that aside, the wizarding world has been refreshed. You’ll learn something (super weird) about the Trolley Witch of the Hogwarts Express; you will see just how damaged the trio is (they all clearly suffer from PTSD and none of them seem to have seen a therapist about it); and you’ll find out something shocking concerning Voldemort. Though he was originally a mere metaphor for evil, an unlikely one-dimensional villain, the Cursed Child has made him seem uncomfortably normal; it’s like the character was actually human, which I never really considered. (I had initially dismissed the rumors about Scorpius being Voldemort’s child because of how ludicrous it seemed to me that Voldemort had a sexuality. I always read him as a fundamentally asexual character).
literally gasping as I read the #CursedChild
— Marianne (@MyNamesMarianne) 4 août 2016
The format of the story is weird. Reading a play is completely different from reading a novel. There is no time to dwell on context, explanations or sometimes, plot holes. I’ve read criticism of the play, people calling the story very fanfiction-y. But because a play has to move forward quickly in its story, all the usual fluff has to be taken out. It goes to the point: there is a great danger out there and the kids are in danger (what else is new?).
3. Adult Harry and Ron are unmissable
Of course, Hermione is kicking ass – as usual. She always had done so it is no surprise to see what kind of cool adult she has grown into.
Ron has turned into a jolly father who remains loyal to his friends no matter what. He has turned into a sweet, loving person and he is such a joy to read.
As for adult Harry… ehh. He’s struggling.
Holy shit Harry is a jackass parent #CursedChild
— Marianne (@MyNamesMarianne) 3 août 2016
It’s painful to read, but it’s also such an important thing to witness. It’s great being reminded that the characters – hell, the people – that we worship are just human. They’re just trying hard, doing what they think is best for everyone. And sometimes they’re very, very dumb.
Also, look out for Draco being another sweet, concerned parent. And some cool McGonagall bits. Really, you can’t miss out on the characters.
4. It feels like coming home
Albus’ adventures are a close parallel to his father’s (infiltrating the Ministry of Magic using Polyjuice Potion, seeing a classmate die at 14, time traveling to save an innocent…).
The story revisits events we have already read about; its characters are familiar, the spells are the same, the settings are places we have (kind of) been. It isn’t really the next Harry Potter book – remember, it’s the script of a play – but it takes you along on a whimsical journey through the stories you have loved. It feels like hearing from old friends; a little bittersweet because you can tell you have missed a lot in the meantime, but wonderful all the same because you had missed them so much.
The message of the story hasn’t changed. Friendship, love and cohesion in the face of evil is still what this Harry Potter story is about. It is written word for word:
“I’ve never had to fight alone. And I never will.”
In sum, reading The Cursed Child is like a present for any Potterhead: it was a wonderful mix of old and new, with all the familiar things and characters we know jumbled up into a completely new story. I did not expect it to take me on such a whimsical journey, but it did.
And it was magical.
Once you’ve got accustomed to your new country, made friends and got settled, living abroad is like having cake on your porch by a sunny Sunday afternoon. Right? Wrong.
What nobody tells you about moving abroad is that you keep a base level of discomfort even past the initial period of adjustment, just because things are different. There is so much work that goes on in the back of your mind to adapt to all that’s new – without you even noticing.
You learn to be more open-minded (“Oh, prostitution is legal here? Hmm, I guess it is nice for prostitutes to have legit work conditions”). You learn to be more humble (“Man, the public transport system is so much better than it is back home”). You learn to listen more (“You can’t call the Netherlands ‘Holland’, that’s just a region of the country and it offends people”).
It’s not just a mental shift that happens overnight; it’s a mental leap that takes you from kind-of-prejudiced-and-egocentric-bastard to oh-my-god-I-know-nothing-Jon-Snow.
The thing is, even when you feel comfortable, you’re still adjusting. For instance, I’m used to seeing product labels written in Dutch; that’s my normal now, but it still makes it difficult for me to do my shopping.
The one thing I like the least about being a foreigner is the way that other people perceive me. Typically, those people who haven’t lived abroad consider me like a premium specimen of The French Woman.
They want to know what things are like in France; do people do this? Do people do that? Or they have observed something about ‘The French’ and want me to confirm or explain it. Or they take one of my behaviors or preferences to be a result of my being French rather than my being me. Or they say “oui oui” in a mock voice and move on with their conversation (in Dutch).
By default, this type of conversation ostracizes me because it places me in the ‘Different’ box; it’s not a bad box to be in, and there is often praise that comes with being in that box – but it’s not quite like being a part of the group.
I’m not actually that different from Dutch people. In fact, there are very few cultural differences between France and the Netherlands and they tend to be quite small or, at least, somewhat subtle.
It’s my own self-perception that takes a toll.
You would think that living abroad is a huge confidence boost; challenging yourself to get out of your comfort zone and make a life where you don’t know anyone is pretty damn cool. But because it’s so challenging, you forget to pat yourself on the back. Instead, you focus on all the not’s.
- You don’t speak the language
- You are an inconvenience to others who have to switch to speaking English for you and, if they don’t,
- You aren’t (good enough to be) part of the group.
- You don’t get the references
- You don’t come from here
- You don’t have a family here
- You can’t figure out how the train system works and you feel really, really stupid
- You don’t get the customs
- You only know like 5 people
- You don’t get why your insurance wants you to pay €300 extra every year
- Sometimes you don’t want to go out and make an effort
- You think that you really should go out and make an effort more
Basically, you are never enough.
Because you don’t belong here. Ouch.
That’s all stupid, right? Because even though it’s tough, you do the best you can and you keep doing more. And people appreciate it. When you spend a lot of time with locals, it’s easy to forget that you are much, much more than all the not’s and can’ts.
- You have a native language you speak perfectly and with which you make smart and stupid puns alike.
- You have a home country where everything looks normal, where you understand strangers’ conversations, where things make sense.
- You have the experience of living away from comfort which has taught you to be more open, more humble and much less judgmental than ever.
- You know the struggle of not belonging abroad or at home, and you know the pleasures of belonging in both.
- You challenge yourself to live a different life than that of your parents and peers.
- You have been so grateful for others’ kindness and acceptance that it is all you wish to offer to them.
- You choose to put your prejudice aside, and you listen, and you learn.
- You are able to grasp the complexities and diversity of cultures you did not know held so much depth.
- You face time and time again other people’s views of your home and culture. And you learn to be diplomatic, and you learn to be proud.
- You exert self control by accepting that your normal seems quaint to others. You remind yourself that when you first got here, you acted just the same. You didn’t know any better then.
Now you do.
When you come home and your friends express their admiration for your lifestyle, all you do is shrug because “oh, you know, it’s okay now”.
But really. Kudos to you.
“But you’re French!” they exclaim incredulously. “Why do you speak so good English?” they add (in a thick Dutch accent).
Here is a list of things I could say:
- I was abducted by American truckers at the age of 8 and they raised me as one of their own.
- I am Canadian French.
- I learned everything I know from High School Musical 3.
- My great-grandparents were French but I like to say that I am French too because it makes me seem cooler.
- I went to an international high school.
- I have to speak perfect English for religious reasons.
But none of the above ever makes the cut; I am a decent human being who likes to keep the best of her sass for dinner parties with friends. Instead, I’ll mumble some kind of a shy thank you with a quick word about how I’ve always liked the English language and maybe kind of taught myself and anyway what’s your name? This absurd situation – being asked why I speak English so well by a stranger – happens to me a surprising amount. People (mostly Dutch people) cannot wrap their heads around it. A French person with no French accent is, apparently, unheard of.
From there, the conversation may go on to:
- The person telling me how bad French people are at speaking English
- The person telling me how rude/unhelpful French people are to foreigners (and asking me why)
- The person insisting to find out a good enough reason for my incredible language competence
- The person trying to speak a few words of French to me – which is usually lovely, but also kills the conversation as they just throw random words at me while I quietly applaud their performance.
So when I meet someone new I usually feel quite nervous about revealing where I am from, knowing full well that I am going to have to fight off the aggressive questions and explain that yes, I am indeed French, and yes, I can speak English for no particularly outstanding reason, and that yes, I am very sorry to hear that my people have been horrible to you in the past but no, we are not all like that.
Ultimately this is a very nice problem to have. I am also aware that Dutch people are just a straight-forward bunch who may lack a bit of tact when complimenting my English. So I’m not mad, Nederland. I get it. But… know your audience.
Do you have any sassy come-backs I could use?
If you have to leave,
Find a rose and leave it on my pillow
So I can remember the softness of your skin.
If you have to leave,
Let the silence grow between us
Let it grow impenetrable
And never tell me why you must go.
If you have to leave,
Wait until I am home
Until I can watch you go from the other side of the window –
I’ll wrap my arms around myself
And let in the quiet.
When you have to leave,
I’ll be thankful for the soft rain
For the green trees
For the warm tea
For the whole world still there for me to see;
When you have to leave,
I will gather all the parts I have left of you
Place them in a velvet-lined box
Lay down a kiss on the cover
And let it be.
As I mentioned before, music is really important to me. I am always adding songs to my playlist and learning new tunes to sing along to, so I thought I would share some of the songs that have been following me around this month. This is just a small selection that I couldn’t help but make somewhat eclectic.
The lilacs are in bloom.
There is an old picture of me, taken when I was around five years old. I’m cuddled up against my teddy bear and holding a book, looking serious. Left and right, a tall bookshelf filled to the brim looks over me.
Growing up, I was always surrounded with books. My mom would take me to the library with her every week and we would borrow piles and piles of stories. And yet I never managed to like the library as much as she did. There was something about it that bothered me. It made books feel less… special. With those labels on their spine and that awful stamp on the first page, they never quite felt mine. And indeed, they weren’t, as I was always reminded by the looming date by which to return them. But that distance kept me from bonding with them. This may sound ludicrous to people who don’t feel particularly attached to books, but for me, it makes all the difference in the world. Owning a book makes me feel closer to its story, almost as if I belong to it as much as it belongs to me. With a book I own, I can relish in the relationship that only I may have with it; I can take my time and take in the story in small sips, or I can devour it and read on until the early hours of the morning.
There are things only that book will know of me as I get to know all about the quality of its pages and the bend of its cover. That is why it feels so wrong for me to have to give it back once I am done with it, having poured so much of myself into it and received so much in exchange. It feels like saying goodbye to a love I can never fully have because they never belonged with me.
So I don’t like libraries. Whenever I am in one, I sort of shrug along the alleys looking for something – anything – I might like. Bookshops, on the other hand, are a temple. They hold the promise of so many relationships, discoveries, travels… The promise of so many secrets to be shared. In a bookshop, I feel myself reaching for each volume as if it speaks to me. This one is beautiful. That one is intriguing. And this one has to be mine. The knowledge that I can come home with a new friend to cherish, a new teacher to learn from, and most of all, all the time that I need to appreciate my new book, is one of the best feelings.
She lies on her back. The waves carry her, indifferent. She hears muffled sounds she cannot comprehend. She could be anywhere – floating in the middle of the ocean or drifting through space. The rest of the world does not exist anymore. Maybe she doesn’t either. For the first time in what feels like years her mind has stopped buzzing. She feels grounded. The sea agrees with her: there is nothing to worry about, for the ebb and flow of life will always take her wherever she needs to be. The only place she could be. The wind must have died down now because the ripples aren’t threatening to submerge her anymore. All is quiet, even the water. She feels her hair floating gracefully around her head and wishes that she were a mermaid.
She would sink head first into the deep blue and leave land to more brutal creatures.
She would explore all that remains unknown to humans. She would report only to the moon and to the sea. She would not miss the messy life she would leave behind. Buried underwater, secrets don’t seem as heavy. Everything is slippery here, and right and wrong don’t matter. She would not need to have a name, for her very existence would be enough to matter. She would become a myth; the Lady of the Deep. Her mermaid existence, only half human, would surely be more fulfilling than this half-lived life. She craves simplicity – to have no purpose other than that of being alive. Nothing more. Existing without thinking about it, without thinking about why. She wants to stay here all night; to leave humanity and its pointless search for purpose. Here in the sea, there is no such thing. A fish is a fish. And this – this is water.