How to say "a thought" in French and rewiring the brain (neuroplasticity!)

Kristin Espinasse (c) Jean-Marc Espinasse
Where is the mind located and do our thoughts really have substance--as scientists have observed? They say our thoughts can control our pain levels and more. I believe this, having used mind over matter while receiving several shots during skin cancer removal. Now if I could only train other parts of my brain--especially the emotional parts. Note: the fur, above, is fake. I'm wearing my daughter's vest.

la pensée (pahn-say)

    : thought

 perdu dans ses pensées = lost in thought


    by Kristin Espinasse

A Beautiful Mind 

In an ancient outdoor amphitheatre, while watching Lillywood and the $@#&! bring down the house, I stood up, kissed our friends goodbye, and stormed out of the concert. 

Making my way through the maze of Arles, trying to find our car, I looked over my shoulder again and again to see Jean-Marc lagging behind me. "Why don't you catch up!" I snapped.

(Before being labelled the castrating wife, let me share this: I'm currently working on a monumental task... the outstanding effort of retraining of a brain (my own). And what you witnessed in paragraphs one and two, was yet another discouraging backslip! )

It is disheartening to lose ground on the path of self-improvement. But it gives me hope to know that a positive rewiring of the cerveau is not as impossible as it seems. By taking every thought captive, we can begin the task of replacing our negative thoughts with positive ones--and so forge a new path of positivity.

My goal is to be more flexible. To go with the flow. To be easygoing. To say "No bother. Things change! AND CHANGE IS GOOD!"

But it's a one-step forward deux en arrier process--this thought replacement business. Step one is to examine my troubled thinking: what frustrated me last night--what had me steaming out of Arles, my husband in my wake, was something I'll call "The Let Down Factor"--my body was reeling with it! 

The Let Down Factor has to do with suffering. In a nutshell it's this: you are voluntarily engaged in an uncomfortable chore, one that has a start time and an end time. For this reason, you agree to suffer the task--knowing it is pleasing (and or helpful) to someone else, though painful to you. You can struggle through the task because you can "see the light at the end of the tunnel" and, so seeing, you set your heart and your mind on the bright light--while ignoring the inconvenience. Like this you can confidently suffer the moment knowing how long that moment will last.

The Let Down Factor occurs when the light at the end of the tunnel fades to darkness. This happens when the "stop time" is renegotiated (the "moment" is stretched) by a second party, causing you to lose sight of the destination (or "Pain's End"). Here is a classic example:

Harvest Time. The Let Down Factor is a given when you agree to help a friend or family member with the grueling task of grape-picking. You begin naively enough setting your mind to the task, ignoring the sweaty droplets running down your face and the sticky scratchy weeds scraping your skin. You hold your bladder, knowing at break time you'll be back at the farmhouse with its private throne.

"We'll break at the end of this row," the winemaker says.

"Yes!" your brain responds, beginning the let down process: letting down its guard, letting the dulled senses awaken (you now feel the scratchy weeds, the annoying sweaty droplets--and that nagging need for which you'll soon find relief! You don't mind the pain because break time is coming up, as promised!)

...And then La Grosse Deception. The Big Disappointment.

"We're so close..." the winemaker says, changing his mind (and your destiny). "We may as well finish these last two rows!"

Amazed, you look up at the never-ending vine horizon, the scratchy weeds circle around your knees, and the sweat slips into your eyes, stinging them. And you can't hold it anymore! Panic sets in. Your mind paints a bleak, humiliating conclusion to this story. Whereas a moment ago you were numb to the environment, suddenly all your senses are alive and kicking--ready to get the heck out of the Godforsaken grapefield. Alas, it's not gonna happen!

Enter The Let Down Factor, or Extreme Disappointment 

Had you known the true "stop time" (end of task or effort) you would have remained in your "buffered zone", keeping your pain under the hood of your physical engine. Instead, you let down your guard and in rushed the sensory torture

So how does all this tie in to a wonderful concert in an ancient ampitheatre in Arles?

Faulty baffles, for one. The speakers pounded across the outdoor arena, up the thick stone slabs on which we were seated, and into our chest cavities!

"I don't like it when I can feel it booming in my poitrine!" my friend Emilie remarked. 

She was right. It felt as though every organ in my body was bathed in the liquid pounding vibration

I looked over to Jean-Marc, who had his hands over his ears (this somewhat reassured me. I wasn't a wuss after all--the music really was too loud!

"C'est saturé," another friend complained of the sound. "Oui," Jean-Marc agreed, getting up twice to have a word with the technical crew, but the ear- and organ-busting beat continued. Unwilling to let it spoil his evening, my husband searched for a solution. Leaving his seat near the speakers, he disappeared....

But not before our friends began talking of leaving a little earlier than planned. Such a reasonable idea of theirs, I thought, to wait for the last band, and then enjoy a few songs before leaving. The thought perked me right up, knowing we, too, could soon be leaving. My motivation was renewed with the fixed destination in my mind. (I could almost feel myself crawling under the cozy covers back home--my ears filled with soft cricket sound and not this horrible pounding!)

What a good idea! I thought, beginning to set my hopes on the near future. "Do you mind if we leave a little early too?" I asked Jean-Marc. 

Jean-Marc didn't mind, and I was thankful for the sacrifice he made. Only, come to think of it, he hadn't made it yet. In fact, where had he just skipped off to?

Surely he'd be back, as promised, after the 2 or 3 song limit. He'd promised. But when the second song finished...and the third... my thoughts began to reel and that Let Down Factor began wreaking havoc on my mind:

You're going to arrive home at three in the morning. Have the dogs been fed? You've got to get up early. You won't be able to work with a late-to-bed hangover!

My thoughts were interrupted when my friend Isabelle reached over to kiss me. "See you later! We're leaving."  All three songs were up, the others were following through with the plan--that same plan I had set in my own heart in order to endure. But now those speakers and the late night was getting to me. The light at the end of the tunnel had been dimmed. When would we be leaving now? The unknowing made the moment hard to bear.  

Looking around, I noticed everyone else was relaxed and having a good time. Why couldn't I be the same? Maybe all that beer they were serving helped dull the audiences' senses--while waking their energy. Maybe after ten years, now was a good time for a drink?

My frustration began to grow and grow.Ce malin! That sneaky one! Jean-Marc had approached the stage where the sound was equalized. That meant we wouldn't be leaving after "two or three" songs!

And yet, after the fourth song Jean-Marc reappeared--but by then I was standing up with my bag under my arm. I kissed those friends that were staying for the end of the concert, and motioned to my husband that we were on our way out!

 "No, it wasn't the one or two extra songs that bothered me," I argued, trying to find where our car was parked.  "It's that I was set on leaving at the promised time. Not knowing where you were or when you'd return was extremely frustrating. We might have stayed all night!"

 Adding to my annoyance was my husband's gentle swaying. He'd enjoyed a few drinks over the course of the night and his relaxation was at odds with my frayed nerves.

It hit me then. I didn't have to go on suffering that way. I could change my thoughts and in changing my thinking I could be at peace.

"I feel bad you didn't get to see the whole concert," I admitted. (Stumbling through Arles, I was now following Jean-Marc, who, tipsy, could find our way 1000s times better than his sober wife, who was lost again and again.)

"Don't worry about it. It all turned out well." My husband's words were soft. 

"I'm just not a night person," I explained. "And I don't like it when plans change." Listening to myself talk, I heard the familiar self-limiting beliefs. But it wasn't too late to change... I could alter my thinking and expand my limits. I could once and for all enjoy the moment--or at least allow someone else too! 

"It was such a chance to be there tonight, in an ancient outdoor theater. I'm glad we got to hear the last band." Seated in the car now, I reached over to touch my husband's leg and continued the positive affirmations:

"Thanks for such a beautiful evening...." I whispered, and on saying it, I began to feel the gratitude that was first born in my mind. Thoughts really do manifest.  


Comments and post note: I continue to retrain my brain after a lifetime of limiting thoughts. I hope to talk more about the subject of rebuilding the brain or neuroplasticity. Let me know your thoughts, here in the comments box. Can you relate to the "Let Down Factor"?

French Vocabulary

le cerveau = brain
deux en arrière = two back
le baffle = speakers
la poitrine = chest 

Last night's concert in Arles. Thank you, Pierre Casanova, for this photo I stole from your Facebook page. And thanks for a great evening with friends, beginning at Ariane's Natural Wine bar and ending at an ancient Roman theater.

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal week after week. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, I kindly ask for your support by making a donation today. Thank you very much for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

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I don't have a photo for you of les gradins, or bleachers, in Nimes. I hope this "seat" will be a good stand-in. More about Gallic gradins in the story column, below. (Update: we now have photos of the gradins (see story column and mille mercis to Michaelpatrick Callahan for his photos of the Nimes arena).

les gradins (lah grah-dahn) noun, masculine, plural

    : bleachers.

Audio File: Download MP3 file

Les gradins à Nimes ont tremblé pendant le concert.
The bleachers in Nimes trembled during the concert.


A Day in a French Life...
by Kristin Espinasse

Les gradins... we call them bleachers, back where I come from. And back where I come from the "gradins" are placed in a field -- and not within a two-thousand-years old stone arène.*

Arene (c) Michaelpatrick Callahan
photo (c) Michaelpatrick Callahan

Just when I think I am the only one impressed by this fact, the man seated next to me (my husband) exclaims: c'est impressionnant: deux mille ans!*

Another impressive thing, according to our friend Bernard is that for 5000 seats the concert organizers have calculated only 10 porta-potties!

Waiting patiently in line with the men, I notice a remarkable contrast: the modern porta-potties are lined up within an ancient stone alcove. They look as out of place as horse-drawn carriages on an autobahn.

"That's just on this side of the arena," I argue, figuring there must be more toilets on the other side.
"Then make that 20 for 5000," Bernard replies, adjusting his calculations, and I think about how it's both fun and funny to listen to a Frenchman point out the peculiarities of his own country.

*   *   *

Will it be "The Virgins" or "The Ting Tings," I wonder, when the second band walks onto the stage. I have never heard of either one. For that matter, I haven't heard of Franz Ferdinand, for whom to see we travelled to Nimes.  I guess that makes me officially middle-aged if I can't keep up with the music scene. On second thought, that's an unfair statement: just because I can't keep up with the music, doesn't mean my contemporaries aren't on top of things. Looking around, there are a fair number of people my age, and beyond.

Speaking of age... my eyes focus on the child seated in front of me. He couldn't be more than 8 years old. What's he doing at a rock concert, I wonder? He is seated beside his middle-aged mother. The tendresse and the fragility of the two is so palpable it hurts. What is she doing at a rock concert? Once again I am judging things... when the reality is: nothing is as it seems.

A young woman lights a cigarette and the boy, seated beside her, seems bothered. He discreetly lifts the hood on his gilet* and covers his face. Finally, his mother switches seats, so that she might breathe in the smoke, in place of her son.

Another young couple is seated side by side, but existing in two different worlds (neither here nor there):  They are texting friends on Facebook. I begin to feel smug about just how present I, myself, am, in time to enjoy the here and now in this amazing Roman arena on a mild, midsummer night. Only, my sage self-image is shot when Jean-Marc points to his iPhone screen, which is showing the Google search results. "It's The Ting Tings" he replies, after I have asked him to identify the band that we are currently watching. I guess I am just as plugged-in to technology as the others. I am dependent on Google search.

Next, the speakers blast. The sound is so startling, so mind-numbing, that I begin to think about mes oreilles.* If my eardrums are vibrating... just think about that little boy's eardrums. At least he has his hood on. I notice that some people have thought to plug their ears with les boules Quies.* Smart.

Gradins (c) Michaelpatrick Callahan
photo (c) Michaelpatrick Callahan

When the band finishes, the audience begins to stomp their feet making the bleachers tremble... and creak. It occurs to me that things can and do collapse and that we are more fragile than we like to think. As I once told a friend, as he raced to reach the French Alps in time (in time for what? in time to arrive faster?): On n'est pas immortel!* (I was pregnant at the time, the time which corresponds to just when my incessant worrying began.)

I realize that I am worrying needlessly. Worrying is a sign of age. I'm afraid I'm getting old. No, I am not old. I still have friends twice my age. Now that's saying something, not that I can hear what the something that's being said is... what with all the noise!

I look at the fragile little boy in front of me and wonder, once again, what is he doing here? He looks so out of place. I turn around and notice the row of young women seated behind me. I imagine they are thinking the same of me: she looks so out of place!

If I had the guts to talk to the girls, I might assure them that more than out of place, I feel out of time. Those millenia-old stone walls, they're whispering my name... while 21st Century speakers scream "baby."


Post note: more and more, my motto is: if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. And so I spent the rest of the concert "banging" my head against the invisible wall before me, in beat, in rhythm, and rockin' with the best of them. The concert was amazing! Many thanks to friends Cari & Pierre Casanova for getting us tickets!

Comments, corrections--and stories of your own--are welcome and appreciated in the comments box.

See a 5 minute video from the concert. (If you are viewing this edition via email, you will need to click over to the blog to view the clip.)

~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~
les arènes (de Nîmes)
= the amphitheater, coliseum; deux mille ans (m) = two thousand years; le gilet (m) = sweatshirt; une oreille (f) = ear; les boules Quies (fpl) = ear plugs; on n'est pas immortels! = we are not immortal!


At the superette in our village, I saw this charming advertisement for a bed-and-breakfast.

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal week after week. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, I kindly ask for your support by making a donation today. Thank you very much for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

Ways to contribute:
1. Paypal or credit card
2. Zelle®, an easy way to donate and there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety