How a French novelist helped me to discover the road to personal enlightenment
A few weeks ago I discovered the works of the contemporary French novelist Aurélie Valognes. Her books are perfect for my reading level so I can zip through each one in a day or so, and I’m learning a variety of colloquial phrases and words I’d likely not otherwise encounter. The characters are well-drawn and psychologically acute.
In her oeuvre there’s always a protagonist who begins in an unfortunate situation which then deteriorates. The protagonist’s life becomes more and more difficult, but through adversity they find their best self and ultimately there’s a happy ending.
A recurring theme is how irascible old men, isolated and unhappy, can find love and satisfaction as they sink and then struggle to overcome life’s challenges.
This set me thinking.
People who know me describe me as level-headed, calm in a crisis, never one to flap or run around like a headless chicken. I seldom discharge my frustrations onto others and for the most part I’m helpful and polite to those I encounter in my daily life.
Which means that as I, like most people, experience a certain degree of adversity and suffering, I’m not getting any benefit from it.
If I’m already a fairly decent person who is content with my life and secure in my emotional relationships with others, what’s the point of life delivering me challenges and disappointments?
It seems to me that in order to benefit properly from fate’s inevitable setbacks, I need to start from a completely different position.
And so it is that my belated New Year’s Resolution for 2020 is to become a grouch.
After a little research on the Internet I’ve selected the following stock phrases, which I intend to mumble and shout at random passers-by as I go about my daily business here in Lausanne:
Get off my lawn!
Turn that music down!
Don’t talk to your mother like that!
Kids these days got no respect.
You call that noise music?
When I was your age…
The fact that almost everyone speaks French here in Lausanne does, I admit, pose some difficulties. I’m slowly accepting the fact that I’ll need to augment my cranky repertoire with equivalent phrases drawn from the angry discharges of frustrated and disappointed French octogenarians.
But on the bright side, this is one more difficulty that I’ll have to overcome and by doing so proceed on my path to self-improvement. Indeed, I’ve already made a start:
Laisse moi en paix!
Mémé dans les orties!
Mauvais goût, mauvais genre…
Thus armed with an appropriate perspective and a repertoire of suitable phrases, I’m ready to step out into the next chapter of my life, confident that eventually I’ll reach my own personal happy ending.
So if you happen to visit Lausanne and encounter a strange, grumbling man in his 60s who at random mutters or shouts unhelpful phrases at innocent passers-by, fear not. To paraphrase the great Louis XIV:
L’état d’instabilité mentale, c’est moi!