The Best Day I Can Remember (and how to have more)

After many years of dreaming of it, I’m finally on vacation in France. I’ve been wanting to come here since first reading Julia Child and after appreciating her love of food and life, ensemble. Yesterday I spent the day around Chinon, a village in the Loire valley, exploring the countryside and chateaus by by bicycle. At the end of the day I realized I just had one of the best days of my life. One I will cherish when I’m in my proverbial rocking chair (perhaps on a floating orbital platform, but rocking nonetheless). Then I wondered – what made THIS day, one of the best of my life?

There were many memorable, interesting or pleasant moments. I whispered French to an animal in the dark when I was biking home, hoping that if it was a skunk, it would ignore me. In haltering, but understandable, French, I had a conversation with my waiter about the legality and morality of foie gras – why do we outlaw it in California yet mistreat ducks and pigs? I listened to locals sing a solemn hymn during sunset on the lawn of Azay-de-Rideau, a chateau surrounded by a glossy green moat.

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In a sea of rolling clouds, I saw miles of sunflowers all facing the same way, in anticipation of the next morning. My jaw actually dropped open and I screeched to a stop to take this picture:

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But just as stirring together cake ingredients doesn’t make a great (or even good) cake, these little things don’t simply add up to an absolutely incredible day. I realized there were other forces at work.

I think it started when I booked my tickets here. The fact that I made happen something I’ve wanted for a long time builds beliefs that I can, and do, make my dreams happen. It continued to gain momentum when I listened to hours of an audio book called The Language Hacking Guide. It’s polyglot author says that the most important way to learn a language is through changing your attitude, and just speaking, instead of hours of study. He says you start now, no matter your skill level, and that the people that make the fastest progress embrace speaking it at all opportunities, and rarely “relax” into their native language.

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I’ve been wanting to speak French for a long time, and after years of middle and high school study, I still felt mute around natives. I have even read this book before, but I think that hearing it while I was so happy and excited burned it’s message into my brain.

Suddenly, I wasn’t nervous when trying to bumble out a few sentences to a local. I made mistakes of course – like when I pointed at a tilted stair for an old lady and said “Need!” instead of “Be careful!” – but now I felt able to recover and start again. As I got more relaxed, my conversation partners got more relaxed, and instead of making a mad dash, I stayed engaged for longer and was able to have conversations of more than 10 seconds. By the end of the day, I had the foie-gras conversation with my waiter and I was absolutely beaming. I believe I was primed by all the beauty around me, but this change in myself magnified my happiness.

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That’s when I had my realization: my best days are ones that I both a) feel the most gratitude for things and b) improve myself the most, or take a fork in the road of my life. The days that I’m happy with the world and “on fire” for life, are those that contain a seemingly contradictory mix of “magic moments”, which fill me with gratitude for things just the way they are, but also when I make changes to transform into more of who I want to become. The days that contain both, convince me that life can be more than I ever had ever previously dreamed possible.

5 thoughts on “The Best Day I Can Remember (and how to have more)”

  1. France is just a wonderful country. My family got a house in the alps for over 20 years now and it’s basically the only vacation spot we go to. It never gets old; in the summer you can trek over wonderful mountains and in the winter you ski them down.

    But what I like most about it is their appreciation for good food. If you have the chance go to a local week market. The food you’ll get there is just marvellous and it’s not even expensive.

  2. Heh, sounds like your best days are just like mine, except you get lovely pictures too. I should probably bother taking photos ever.

    I really like that approach on language- I’m gonna give it a shot myself. I’ve learned over the last few years that barely anyone knows what the hell they’re doing, and that the cultural meme of “hours of study, alone, with a textbook” simply isn’t how the world works, at least when it is at its best.

    Today(yes, this early in the morning) I decided that I was gonna change myself. Funny that someone I admire would post a blog post like this right after. I’ve more or less gotten a life I could never earn- as a kid from a city known for its crippling poverty, whose family ran out of savings because the recession hit them, a construction family, right as the kid was a year from college, guaranteeing he could never afford it, and now being a programmer working on ideas that can hopefully make it so he can save other people from themselves and related health problems- I have to be thankful. There’s nothing else, there’s no other path but to remember all the places I got lucky to get here.

    But even despite that, I’m finding that everywhere I go, I don’t garner respect out of anyone but those who see me work. I don’t mean the kid at the grocery store doesn’t treat me like some God- I mean my coworkers in design, who don’t know that despite being our most inexperienced programmer, I’m usually the one who figures out how to do something right before our veterans do. That I have a good talent for all sides of my work- programming, business, even design. I’m not better than our best in those respects, but I’m doing pretty well for a 25 year old who just passed his first year of experience in the field.

    I’m not trying to assert dominance, but simply not be the butt of every joke, the comic relief in the room, treated with such little respect that even when I have a major problem with something we’re doing, that no one takes me seriously until it bites us on the ass a month later. I’d say it was my coworkers being assholes- but when my oldest friends do it too, as well as much of my family? There’s no hope but to guess that the problem is me.

    This is just a really long way to saying, I have to choose my words more carefully, learn how to speak with the authority I do have, and how to do it without turning into the superior asshole that no one likes. But then again, if I’ve changed my life this much in just under two years- this oughta be cake.

  3. So glad you’re enjoying yourself in France! I can see exactly how you’d drop your jaw in wonder at that clouds-and-sunflowers scene.

    Also, glad that your recipe for a marvelous day is so… simultaneously marvelous and generalizable.

    Have a wonder-filled journey, all the way through.
    -g

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