It's been a beautiful summer here. Great weather, a little hot, but bearable; some happy traveling and visits with friends, both here and out in the country; and a lot of lovely evenings when we simply took our dinner and some wine over into the park, lay down on a blanket, and relaxed along with our fellow Montrealers under the canopy of leaves while young people played their guitars and flutes, ducks splashed on the lake, and seagulls made lazy circles overhead until the sun set.
At the same time, it feels like la rentrée - that Quebec term for the fall back-to-school, back-to-work "re-entry" - came early for me this year. With several big projects happening, both for Phoenicia and in our design/communications business, I've had to be super-organized and focused for the past six weeks. Choir rehearsals for the fall season begin tonight. A week from tomorrow, I'm leaving on a two week trip about which I am very very excited. And when I get back, there's going to be a lot of work, a lot of singing, and deadlines coming up right away.
This is, I admit, how I'm happiest: being busy. I don't like feeling like it's out of control, but I've always preferred to be a little over-scheduled and under a certain amount of pressure -- often self-applied -- than being at loose ends. Many of my best friends are people who are also like that, which makes sense. I've found, however, that Canadians (and maybe French Canadians in particular) are much more laid back than Americans, and that's been good for me. They take weekends off. They take long vacations, and actually go away, often far away. They don't take their work home with them. They've taught me the value of stopping to relax and do nothing - not even read a book - and just look at the sky while making a glass of wine last a long time. The way they enjoy their leisure time and their friends and family, and insist on putting the latter first, may not be the the road to national productivity and efficiency, but it may well be the path to a happier life. We've always loved having people over or spending time over a home-cooked meal with friends; here this is common, and a shared pleasure no matter what people's social or economic circumstances may be. There's so much less self-comparison, insecurity, anxiety and judgment. People are more accepting of difference, and happier and more contented with themselves, just as they are.
Having spent the first fifty years of my life in the American pressure-cooker of higher education, over-achievement, self-employment and entrepreneurial business-creation, as well as trying to move forward in my own artistic pursuits, without any social "safety net," there was a constant demand for self-direction and self-discipline, and acceptance of competition.Furthermore, as self-employed people, we were responsible for saving and paying for everything, including our own health care, insurance, retirement. That creates a huge amount of pressure, even without having children to educate. I don't know if people who haven't been there can really see what this does to individuals and to a society; likewise I wonder if you can really understand the lack of it if you haven't lived for a while under a different system.
I may be happiest when I'm working hard, learning, creating, and collaborating, and think that will always be true, but I'm not too old to see the good in different ways of life and gentler values. I'm grateful to Canada and especially to Quebec, and hope they always stay this way.
Toward that end, we registered to vote last week, and will be casting our first Canadian ballots in the upcoming elections. Together with our newly-arrived Canadian passports, these were the final steps toward really becoming dual citizens, and I'm awfully happy to have finally arrived at this point.