On shitting in buckets, ditching city drama, confronting inner demons, and embracing domesticity.
Her kid won’t get out of the bath, a fuse in her renovated-barn-turned-abode just blew, it turns out the plug for the oven is fried, and the roast is about to be ruined. According to my bachelorette books—this chalks up as some kind of domestic-bliss-turned-disaster. I’m already mentally preparing for their divorce. Or, at least, a really, really shitty dinner. But what the fuck do I know about bathtime and pot roasts? I shower once every four days, and subside on a wholly substantial diet of string cheese and gin.
Michelle, however, doesn’t bat an eye. In fact, while her never-a-dull-moment world of housewifery seems to crumble around her, she calmly leans back into her couch, and tops off her wine glass—unflustered.
We’re talking via Skype. And, since she’s calling in from her teensy northeast corner of the French Pyrenees, she’s about nine hours into my future. Which, basically means, as Michelle unwinds over her vino, I’m still sprawled across my bed, trying to find the perfect vein for attaching my IV of just-brewed caffeine.
I wipe sleep from my eyes. Admire my matted hair reflected in our video cam. While it’s a little early for me to tackle such a bear of a topic—our talk steers to feminism.
“For the longest time—especially being this all-black-wearing, whiskey-guzzling art student, living in cities—I always thought that that a woman had to be… ‘something different,’” she begins. “That we should be anything but ‘normal.’ Strive to be some kind of unique spectacle. Like, ‘I’m androgynous! I’m bisexual! I’m an artist! I’m unpredictable! I’m a woman!’”
“I really fought to be different from this idea that I had in my head about like, what is a mom, and what is a family, what does a woman do—what are these roles and where do they come from…and despite all of it, I actually wound up finding the most joy of my life from basically becoming a housewife.” She continues, “and then, just through living that life, I kind of came into this new-found feminism a little bit.”
“Wouldn’t you say that’s been feminism all along?” I ask. “Like, that’s the beauty of it? You do what you want to do and define yourself however you want to define yourself—because you DO what you want to do and DEFINE yourself however you want to define yourself?”
“Well yeah, sure,” she states. “But I mean, for me I guess it’s more than just ‘I do what I want to do.’ I actually know, for the first time in my life what I want to do.” Michelle continues, “I want to be a mom. I want to be a wife. This gives me some kind of foundational role in my life—something that I’ve never had or experienced before, you know?”
Long before babies, hubbies, power outages and pot roasts, Michelle was hot on the search. For purpose sure, but ultimately, for a challenge. When she didn’t find it growing up in her hometown Lancing, Michigan, she opted for a change of pace in Seattle.
“Sure, it was better than Michigan—I mean, most places are…” she explains. “But in Seattle, I was just so depressed. Working in bars. Drinking too much. It wasn’t ‘rock bottom’ by any means, but I think it was there that I started to realize just how sensitive I am.”
Michelle continues, “I waited tables in Michigan, but it wasn’t the same as Seattle. Maybe just because in Michigan, it was just this ‘side thing’ that I didn’t take too seriously. But in Seattle, it was kind of the main component of my life. I started getting offended by every single table.” She grimaces, “honestly, I felt like I could read people’s thoughts. That’s how raw I was.”
When some of her super-rad gal pals (myself included, duh) made a point of traversing (read: tramping) across Europe, Michelle bought a ticket, stat. It was only after whoring our way through Italy, France…and maybe-somewhere-else-but-I-forget-because-it-was-that-kind-of-trip—that we bellied up at some grungy bar in Prague, ordered ourselves a round of Becherovka, and sat down next to her now-husband.
No shit folks. That actually happens.
“I’m not sure if it was because it was the last leg of our trip, or because of Nico (her hubby), or some combination of both,” Michelle shrugs. “But something just clicked. It all felt right. I realized I could afford living there, and that it would maybe suck at first, but I could find a job. I knew some people there…and more importantly,
I wanted to make a step into the abyss. Into the deep end.
The lights above her short-out again.
“WHAT THE HELL!?” she yells behind her. Nico shouts back in French. Some ‘how-stereotypically-sexy’ bilingual bickering unfolds. I take this as an opportunity to sit up and put on pants. More coffee.
She turns back to me. “I think the fucking fridge is kicking.” she sighs. More wine.
Post “American Girls in Europe Adventuretimes”, Michelle returned to Prague, Nico, and Becherovka. When the opportunity to relocate to France to fix up Nico’s family cottage presented itself, they ran at it together.
“I think I always knew Prague was just a place of transition,” Michelle continues, “But once we settled in France, and tied the knot, and agreed that ‘okay we’re in this together now—let’s fucking DO this,’ that’s when I had to address this rift in my mind about “who I was.”
She elaborates, “There was this massive internal resistance at first! Especially in the beginning, when I didn’t speak the language at all—and was pretty much alone.” She sips her wine. “I think because I had always been able to read others, and in a sense, use others to bounce off of, suddenly having no way to truly connect with people—no point of reference to define myself by—that just threw me into something terrifying.”
“But,” she adds, “I think all along, ultimately that fear was what I was searching for. So, I tried to just take it in stride. I was just like, ‘this is what you wanted, so deal with it.’ Shit is real. Life can be lonely. But I think on some level being alone and being scared and being literally clueless about this new culture and new language and new life—all that kind of cleared the distractions.
Quieted the noise.”
Michelle laughs, “Look, actually being stupidly scared for four years breaks you down to your core person. Like, in relearning how to speak—I also had to redefine who I was. I no longer had any way to discriminate or react. The process just forced me into this whole new realm of vulnerability. It made me a different person completely.”
As if on cue, a bumbling, cherub-cheeked toddler runs into the room—spouting indecipherable ‘baby-French.’ “So this is Remi,” she bursts out laughing, pulling him onto her lap. “Apparently he finally got out of the tub.”
I proudly toss the kid the entirety of my French capabilities—a hearty “BONJOUR,” and he looks at me coolly, picking his nose. Michelle informs him that ‘no I don’t have a penis’ (when the fuck did penises get mentioned?!) and sends him off with a kiss, before mentioning ‘he’s three dude. And he’s just discovered his penis. He thinks it’s a pretty big deal.’”
“Don’t they all,” I mutter into my coffee mug…
She tops off another glass of wine. “My kid’s fucking amazing dude. And,” she grins, “I hate him at the same time. Like, there are no words for it. He is this little being that comes in and crawls under the covers with me every morning, because he says he’s scared, but really it’s just because he wants to cuddle, and it’s just…the most magical thing in the fucking world. And then, sometimes I just want to throw him out the window! To just…know so much love and so much frustration for someone, all at the same time, everyday, always and forever. It’s overwhelming and exhausting and beautiful and incredible.”
“One of the things that kind of surfaced through this entire progression,” she continues, “was just…relinquishing this illusion of control. Nico actually told me that once. He looked at me, out of nowhere, with no conversational context to anything, and just spoke it. It came from this place of total love and trust.” Michelle pauses. “And I heard him.”
She elaborates, “And I just started working through that I think. It became less about ‘perfectionism’ and ‘outcome,’ and more about just trying to figure my shit out. We moved to this broken-down barn back in 2012, and I was pregnant with Remi at the time, and we just kind of launched this whole DIY-approach to life. One that was about simplifying as much as becoming self-sufficient.
“I mean, we’re on 32 acres of land. Surrounded by forest, and snow-capped mountains, and rolling hills,” she smiles. “There is one electricity line connecting us to the nearest town—which is an easy 20 minute drive away. And, there are no cars on the road.” Michelle continues, “This is some serious backwoods stuff dude. We shit outside. We eat from our garden. We turned—and are continually turning—this hundred-year-old barn into a lovely, livable home.”
Michelle continues, “We keep warm and occasionally make a few bucks from the trees that we cut from our own property. You have to make your own distractions out here. I’ve actually caught myself being bored a few times, which,” she laughs, “I didn’t think was possible.”
She adds, “I think a certain amount of chaos and instability led me to this point in my life. Where, I just wanted simplicity. I realized I didn’t need a lot of friends. I didn’t want a lot of ‘things’ going on in my life. I have my family and I have my land. We’re working to get to a place where we don’t actually have to go to the grocery store anymore. Where we don’t need to rely on this weird world that we live in. We have each other and our projects and…” she trails off.
Nico passes through the room, a blankie-wrapped Remi bundled up in his arms.
While it was a close fucking call, the roast appears to be alright. And ready, at that.
Michelle smiles at me, “it’s square-on dude. I wouldn’t change anything.”