A Dangerous Joie de Vivre

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It’s such a powerful force, a candle burning brightly, precisely because its dangerous. Because it burns away everything that is false-like gold tested in fire-and leaves what always really mattered. Dispelling illusions and leaving you with no excuses for not seeing that what you have been chasing is right beneath your feet.
I hesitate to say, this is it.
This is not what I planned. This is not what I always wanted. I’m not sure I want to do this, forever.
-What about family, values, country? What about the one that got away, those dreams you once dreamed, the life you always wanted, the one you were supposed to lead?
It’s gone, in a flash of lightning, gone leaving only a holy smoke like incense burning. Gone like kings of the past, no longer existing except as a lost possibility, somewhere in your mind that will soon forget it, not like a tattoo or scar or even like the memory of a toothache, just like that to-do list item that you never really needed in the first place, you just put it on the list because someone and you can’t remember who said you should have it.

I am ridiculously happy, and I have rediscovered my French family in the community of people who went to my school in Paris. They are incredible, and we share so much.

I felt so incredibly lonely just last Sunday, when I left another group of school friends I’d seen at a wedding, fellow Americans, to come back to France. France felt just as foreign and forbidding as ever, and I despaired of it completely, trying to decipher which delusional impulse had brought me here and how soon I could get out. I felt completely confirmed in the theory that coming had been a giant mistake, if an educational one, and the only main benefit of being here was finding a decent job function I could see myself doing since I previously had no direction but Paris…

Life takes interesting turns- only one thing to do- be here now, and enjoy it!

The Irreality of the Present Moment

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I live in Paris.
I speak fluent French.
I wander Paris in the rain, Paris at night.
I have a very good job with a generous company, that I do actually like.
I’m in marketing communications, and it’s a natural fit.
I’ve been to four countries since the end of September (only 2 new ones).
My gym is right across from the Jardin des Tuileries and Place de l’Opera.
And yes, I’m even starting to make real friends.
In a few hours, I’ll celebrate my third birthday in France.

Most shocking fact of all- if I wanted to, I could stay here forever.
And if and when I leave, I’ll be missed.

Wow.

Most of the time I’ve been here, I’ve had a really hard time being happy. I’ve been lonely, disatisfied, feeling out of place, self-critical, and unloved.
I’ve found my calling- and it’s just this, simple as what I am doing right now.

Living in France, abroad, sometimes feels like a place out of time, sometimes a NeverNeverLand, often straight out of a storybook-living a fairy tale indeed, and all too often, it feels like a great civilization in decline. Living among ruins, living in a music box, a tragic but all too beautiful place. And yet-
It’s not dead yet, and maybe this place which is a law unto itself will get out of the mess it’s in. In the meantime, as its greatest detractor and greatest admirer, it breaks my heart.

There’s no logic reason to be here, except language skills-that being said, my work is done in English, and English really is all you need. Really.

And if I’m not happy, I can just go home.

But home is a complicated question. No, I will never be estranged from my native land, and I am so proud of being American and I do really think like one. That being said, my life is so much richer for being here.

And as it comes to talking about life, I realize I can’t defer mine any longer. Can’t wait till I am settled, can’t wait to put myself in a well-defined box of a white picket fenced yard, can’t wait until I am back “home.” Because home is here, there, and everywhere, if I just let it.

Can I let myself fall in love, knowing I might have to let go? knowing I might choose to let go? knowing I might simply be let go?

Can I let myself, for just a moment, feel the solid ground beneath my feet rather than looking to the sky and some distant faraway land (even if it’s my own) for answers?

Can I stop running, stop flying, stop searching for “growth”- and simply be?

Can I risk getting “trapped”? Can I risk falling in love? Can I, just for a moment, go with the flow and this time really just see where the wind takes me?

Can I stop myself feeling torn in two and for once, just be here, all of me, the silent witness, not just the labels and the tropes and the culturally conditioned attitudes?

Can I dare to give into wonder? To live a child-like life? To be led by the hand, to be held, by a force greater than myself and all my plans and schemes?

Can I stop living in fear, just for a second?

I’ve decided not to move, for the moment, and in doing so I know making vast progress.
Towards whatever the horizon holds for me, wherever it may take me,

but let it be, simply,
right here, right now.

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So yesterday was another difficult night though I finally allowed my feelings to come out. I am often very disappointed by France.
But it turns out, things are really not so bad.
And if I”m mad, it’s because I am deeply sad inside.
Not just indignant at injustice and delay and hassle and paperwork and things that make everyday life more complicated, but genuinely sad to see a beautiful thing that seems every day to be dying.
Maybe it’s not so dire. I could stay, but I can’t stay.
I’m a little heartbroken that things haven’t worked out exactly as I hoped.
I feel like I am aging, and my goals are changing.
I feel this desire to build a life rather than just pass through.
So basilaly I think I am going o extend my contract for another six months, and leave when the opportunity comes before then, rather than forcing it by leaving as planned just five months from now.

I just came across a quote on facebook,
“What you are looking for is what is looking.”

I feel a thousand potential lives die, and a part of my actual life ending. It feels like the end of youth, and sometimes maybe it’s what I feel like I want- since I do want to get married and advance in my career and have kids and all that- I want to build a life.

But my life is here, where my heart is beating.

I am so incredibly free, it terrifies now. I want solid ground, but all I can see is more sky. Or sea. I can’t tell which. I’m gasping for air with the realization I’ve just come awake.

All this freedom, and love in every direction. THere is no destination, only the path, and that itself is made by walking.

“Traveler there is no path, the path is made by walking.”

The truth will set up free- but first it will piss you off!

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Gloria Steinem quote, if I am not mistaken.

I do not want to become French, and I am not enjoying my experience here as muh as I hoped, and o by the way, my value system really contradicts France’s (over a year of socialist immersion hasn’t broken me, at least not yet),and yeah I am actually excited to begin some aspects of “adult life” dun dun dun and this is not where I want to build my life sooo
Au revoir, la belle France and all its merde. At least when the opportunity comes.
Unless there’s some sort of dramatic happening that changes everything.

I am creative and fiery, I need to be doing something creative, if I am not creating I cannot be happy.

Also, I kind of really want to be a writer of some kidn when I grow up. As fate would have it, I am in some ways a professional writer now, though that’s really not what I planned…

In the long term I am probably not all that well suited for corporate life, at least not in semi stuffy non free wheeling places, so well, that’s that…

When the student is willing the teacher will appear, and such has been my case as I’m sure it will be for my next job.

And after literally seeing a pretty good chunk of the world, I do want to go back to where I started, Washington DC, and see it with new eyes.

And o by the way, that dude I’ve been crushing on for forever- not impressed with him. He is probably just ill-equipped to relate to me in ways I would like and he is just unattached to me at this point, or so I think. It’s complicated, but basically the point is that I finally realize, it shouldn’t be.
And I want to be happy more than I want to force being with him. in fact, I am just done with forcing things at all because it never works out right and it costs so much energy.

And for the first ish time in my life, I am going to go with my gut and not with my fear. Decisionmaking is painful but it doesn’t have to be, probably. At least now, I am just going to try my best and instead of trying to find some ultimate solution, just freakin

Do WHAT I WANT TO DO!

Amen (to myself)
and no apologies either.

Namaste,
MJ

Love is Terrifying

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So the guy I am kind of best friends with who I kind of love called me a term of endearment the other day. This was incredible since he hasn’t so much as hinted at having even a blush of emotional for me since being a relationship has never been practical between us and i made it all too clear how I felt. That being said, there are things between the lines, and the fact that we talk like we do and he never turns me away when I’m having a meltdown, and despite never wanting to give it a go and try long distance the times I have wanted to, he’s never said he doesn’t care for me.

It’s complicated, but it’s not that complicated.

For the most part I feel like a fool dying of unrequited love, much as I’ve continued to fool around on my end and haven’t made being in a relationship any real priority. I have dried his virtual tears when his actually real relationships ended and he has been there for me too though he clearly feels uncomfortable hearing about my adventures. And he has never and would never tell me to curtail my dreams in any way, not to please anyone.

Now, I’ve been seriously thinking of going back to the US and he’s getting older and we actually have a very real friendship now.

So naturally, I felt incredibly terrified. And while I continued to tease him as I usually do, I tried to just keep it casual. And I didn’t endear him back. Though I felt like it was implie ,given that he was thanking me for calling him on his bday which I remembered without the help of facebook.

That whole day, I was in ecstasy imagining our bright future together and all the ways things might play out romantically for us. But a few days later, after I called him and didn’t get a response, I was afraid that he didn’t mean it the way I thought he did and he was pushing away in some way. It’s been a long time since we’ve chatted and basically we’ve been playing gchat tag. I tried calling him again today but it went to voicemail, and I didn’t leave one because I literally just called to catch up with him and hear what the big things were he had alluded to going on in his life.

And of course, to say, without saying, I love you.

And now I am afraid as fuck.

And hoping he gets back to me.

I’m in the midst of making some big decisions about whether to renew, extend or let my contract expire in march, would would mean I would be leaving my company in Paris. Though I am confident that if I really wanted to, I could probably find another job here.

I am happy here, the days I am not sad. So afraid to miss out and go back home, since you only live once…

And Paris has stared to love me back, and knowing I have the option of staying here, and knowing I could make it work, feels like I have a key to the city.

Going through the streets around the Jardins des Tuileries today, I felt like I owned every each of it. Every single Hausmannian facade was part of me, and those luxury goods around Place Vendome were within my reach.

Some may prefer Paris in the spring, or its long, pleasant summers, but I love Paris in the Fall. Or at least, indian summer.

Naturally I can’t let this friend of mine and the mere possibility of romance with him define my life, much as before going away on vacation, I was at the point of being ready to leave Paris for good. Sometimes Paris (and France) seems like a bad boyfriend, and other times I feel like it’s given me the philosopher’s stone.

In any case, it’s made me who I am and given me the space to become a real individual and define the person I want to become. And it’s just a beautiful, beautiful place, and that counts for a lot.

Paris may not be what it once was, but it is not a has-been and never will be. It invented modernity, and preserves all that is charming and romantic within it. Not the Eternal City, but certainly the eternally chic.

As some of my colleagues would say, it’s just a bunch of slick marketing. But for someone who made it my goal to come here in the absence of other goals and totally lacking direction, this was my desired port of call and seemingly invincible challenge. For readers of Paulo Coelho, I once thought it was the dream but it’s actually more like the oasis (at leas tthe first time I was here) or maybe the pyramid where the guy gets beat up but finds out where his treasure has been hiding all along. If you have a more classical bent, I would say it’s something in the Odysey, maybe Dido’s Carthage.

And some part of me feels like the circle needs to be completed and I have to go home. Here could be my home, no matter how alien I may be or how far away my lovd ones are. ANd I do love this place and living here. I have other goals too though, whih I discovered while here, disappointed because I’d attained my dream of living here but was still depressed.

And sometimes I just get tired of fighting to live here sine it goes against the grain and nothign is ever easy, and I wonder what it would be like if I used my energy to swim forward instead of treading water. It seems treading water makes you strong, but eventually you’ll tire and drown.

I also sometimes have trouble reconciling my own awe of the city and the feeling of grandeur with all the macro level bullshit that filters down to my peon level. Everyda, a friend and I trade articles about how the country is going to shit, much as neither of us has moved despite having another passport and the right to live in a prosperous, seemingly more sane country.

Even sacarier, I heard through the grapevine that Francois Hollande, the president, said that if people knew the truth about the state of the country, there would be revolution. And that’s why he does nothing and puts a bandaid on a breaking dam.

A colleague pointed out it’s really interesting to watch things fall to ruin, and someone during the Fall of Rome must have made a fortune and had a good time. As an anglophone with decent credentials, it’s quite possible that my own star might rise (albeit perhaps not as quickly or as high as in my home country, because everything moves slow here and the ceiling is much lower) . And the truth is, I can always leave.

At least now, before I’ve fallen in love. Before I’ve made a million friends I can’t imagine leaving after the difficulty of acquiring them. Before I feel so utterly changed and transformed by this experience that I fear returning home to find I’ve become a stranger in my own couuntry.

Conversely, when I think about home, though I believe that if I truly desired it, I could get back here somehow, it seems more like a stopping point, though it should feel more like a home port, a place to replenish before having other adventures.

And sometimes the value of adventure itself can be called to question, and at what point you are hiding from everyday life. At what point does this place just become Neverland, with bureaucracy in the place of Captain Hook? Since every engagement I hve here is a fixed time, and it just seems like I find my way but I never even try or dare to put down roots, sine they could be so easily torn up and might not grow so deep. And if they did, o the heartache of having to tear them up because I don’t really have the certainty of being able to stay here.

And so back to my old friend, the one I have dreamed of for years- just the glimmer of real love made me so afraid. made me doubt everything about him, made me want to hold tight to France and never let go, made me think that I still have so much time, I’m too young, he’s too imperfect, I deserve better, and all of that.

I loved someone once, and he changed my life. I broke up with him because we grew in different directions. Without him I wouldn’t be the person I am today, and I will always think of him and pray for him. The person I am couldn’t even fathom being with him, and for a long time I blocked out all the memories. I got into a toxic situationship and thought compulsively about somebody who treated me like crap, rather than the devoted boyfriend I broke up with over the telephone. Because I met somebody who liked French movies and had a goal in life I could understand, and my boyfriend was not my hero anymore, and I was tired of taking him.

And then the knight in shining armor I saw in the distance was an illusion, was actually a mirror of the most hateful voice inside me and all that wasn’t kind in my old boyfriend. I didn’t break up with my boyfriend because of this guy, I broke up with him because I could fathom wanting someone else as my boyfriend and felt passion where I shouldn’t, not when I had a promise ring. I wasn’t yet 20.

Since then, i’ve been single and I’ve been completely devoted to my own development and advancement. I have complained about being lonely and looked for love, but wat I’ve actually done is enjoy the drama and novelty of faux romantic adventures I know will never work out rather than work on a relationship with a real human being instead of jerking off to a figment of my imagination.

I let myself fall in love with a city, with a country, with the cool, detached, exciting, adventuresome expat life.

I dreamt of finding someone compatible who I would never have to make any sacrifices for and who’s devotion I would never doubt.

I loved someone from afar, offering my heart on a platter when I knew the distance was too far and the timing was too short for him to reach over and take it honestly as a gentleman. I do still adore him, and that’s why when he seems to love me for just a second, or if he doesn’t love me, it’s terrifying.

If I decided to leave this life, would it be for just a glimmer of a shot with him or someone like him in the good old USA? To be closer to my family, I could tell other people. And along the way, I’d probably have a more strategic career path if less vacation time.

And if he doesn’t love me, would I stay here to avoid having to deal with the fact there’s no one waiting for me at home? Penelope left her loom. Would I stay here and find someone “better,” in some way, someone more like me, someone who speaks French, someone who has a beautiful house and a chateau in the suburbs of Paris but loves American whiskey? A charming prince lacking all the rough edges of the cowboy who didn’t want to take me away despite my heart full for him, or wasn’t strong enough to?

It seems like life has these distinct possibilities, but there’s probably tons of overlap. If I hadn’t ended up in Paris, I probably would have ended up in a marketing job and liked it anyway and got some direction that way. If I wasn’t in Paris wondering about the home I left behind and feel complacency that I could always come back to, woudl I be bitter wondering over it or perfectly adjusted, surrounded by friends and relatives and leading an ordinary life prepared ot announce my engagement on my faebook page and take my place in the boring circle of life i sometimes feel cut off from here, stuck in suspended animation just a study abroad girl.

But I’m not that and I know that with time and chance, I could find love here-

if I wanted to.

Which in all honesty I haven’t.

Can’t imagine why.

Maybe I have commitment issues, or maybe I’m just not yet 26.

Or I’m chickenshit. That rhymes.

And no matter how many times I seem to face rejection, I know I am just being protected.

I do seem to be in general happier than several of my friends who are in relationships.

And whenever love does come, I can say I’ve done most of th things i wanted to do.

Enough to know that if love comes knocking, the fact I never get seduced by a sexy Spaniard in Barcelona won’t be a lifelong regret.

And I’m independent enough to know that as much as my jealousy is mounting fo rall my friends getting married off, I’d have to really like a person much more than anyone I currently know to do that. And I want babies, and a husband, and all that, but I am proud to say I really, truly, finally have myself.

I’m the love of my life, and I was worth waiting for.

But please love, come again. Even though nothing will ever be the same again, and I won’t be the strong, tall, brave ridiculously independent woman any more. I’ll be weak at the knees, coming when somebody calls, and unable to imagine life without them, and not even wanting to. Who is that person? Could she really be me?

But sometimes, honestly, I get a little bored of my single lady self.

And lonely.

So yes, please love, come again and tear my heart out. Though my life will change because of someone else, and they’ll be no guarantees.

Things I Learned Without Doing Anything -or- 10 days with minimal internet access

So I have just got back from vacation with an American friend. It was very different from what I’d consider travelling or backpacking, not a lot of doing and a lot of eating and sleeping and shopping, but it was fun. We went on a cruise in the Greek isles and did touristic stuff and despite my backpacker mentality, it was fun.

The cruise, while not all that expensiv considering it covered decent food and a room for each day, did nickel and dime for many things, not least of which was internet- an hour cost 30 dollars, while an unlimited package was about 180 for the week.

I forewent the internet and got a massage instead. Not to mention plenty of other splurges.

Going without internet for that period of time, especially at that particular moment in my life, was one of the best things I”ve done for myself in a long, long time.

I was happy to come home and not just for the internet, I was really happy to come back to my everyday routine, which is really not so bad. It ripped the band aid off of

Living with out internet, ripped off some bandaids and helped things come to lightsome thighns I obsess about but rarely actually think about: I miss my family and friends, I am lonely sometimes. and I would like to be in a romantic relationship.

I had a lot to think about, not least of which is my future in france. It’s possible for me to stay, although there doesn’t seem to be much room for improvement in salary or title, and I probably don’t have a long term future at my company. That is to say, I think that if I was doing what I’m doing now a year from now, I would be bored. And while I have thought that maybe if my social and romantic life was going awesome and I was enjoying the proximity of the wonders of the Western world and travelling often, that might be enough, in fact, I don’t think it is.

In some ways, my social and emotional life here feels somewhat stagnant. I tis not easy to meet people. At this point, I have yet to meet a French guy who really shares my mentality, and I know in my heart I don’t want to be with the average French guy who couldn’t really live outside of France. I still adore my old friend Captain America, who continues to be my close friend, love me from afar, and in a brief moment, recently said it all in just one word.

It’s not the fact that maybe we would be together that makes me think I would perhaps have better romantic luck outside of France, not to mention I’d be swimming in a sea of more similar fishes and maybe it would be raining grade A all-American beefcake kind of men, it’s the fact that after all this time and effort into living in France, I still don’t necessarily see myself staying here.

And that’s ok.

I don’t really love it any less.

Things are good here, and they won’t necessarily be “better” elsewhere, there are no guarantees.

But what I do know is that I want some room to grow. I know that if I tried, I could find it here, but the truth is that I don’t want to. I want to move back to America in my heart of hearts. Not because it’s too hard to live here, or because I couldn’t get everything I wanted here, or even because France is in decline or at least, not as strong economically. I know that I could carve out a niche here, though it would probably take a lot of extra work.

The truth is, this isn’t my dream.

I have many dreams, and simpler things like falling in love and having my own family one day are part of them. I do’nt have a very specific career dream at this point, but I do want to keep learning and growing and advancing.

Sometimes by staying in the same place, you are not just treading water but actually learning to be. Sometimes just being is enough.

This is not one of those times.

What I actually want, besides great love and a baby, I am not sure. It’s not just that I want to win and continually do “better,” by some benchmark of money and career. I know that that alone won’t fulfill me.

But what I do know is, I want to be a good leader. And this is a clear connecting thread from herding interns in DC to speaking up at a town meeting as a child to substitute teaching to running my projects at work now. And in order to lead, you have to learn, and be willing to do the right thing and be uncomfortable. It can be a lonely road when you are going for excellence. You can’t just stay at a comfortable plateau like the vast majority of people do – and honestly, there is nothing wrong in doing that, as long as you plan for the future and don’t expect it to last forever.

My american friend told me that by living in France, I was postponing my adult life and a b school profesor told me the same thing as well. I told her that I was facing many challenges of adult life in a very difficult place and my life here was anything but easy as a reasult, and I told my professor that maybe life is not all about advancing. However, the words stung, because they were partially true.

The truth is that I have tried to hide from things I find painful, at home and abroad and within myself: feeling like I don’t really fit within my family or among people I am supposed to be similar to, afraid to form new solid relationships for fear they will end and fear of rejection, and afraid to choose the wrong path. I also am afraid of missing out- on the pyramids, Barcelona as a single lady, 1000 places to see before you die, etc.

All normal things. It’s clear to me that living in France has been like Odyseus’ journey home to Penelope, and I am so enriched by the experience that ultimately, it won’t matter if I make a giant circle. Living is a giant circle. And there’s no reason to skip to the end.

So when I ask myself, why not stay another year while I can? The answer is no, because I don’t think I’ll ahve the room to grow which I need to put down roots. And though I find myself Frenchier and Frenchier, in reality, I don’t think I want to become French and though I hesitate to pass judgement as my feelings and thoughts continue to evolve, at this point their values are not my valus. I admire their culture and their beauty and their food and their language, but ultimatley, I do not want to become French.

Or rather, I do like being a little bit French but that is enough.

I don’t love it any less.

In fact, I love it more posibly. I am living in the city of my dreams, and my dreams have become a reality, and yet, I am not going to cling to it. It seems my dreams and relaity are going elsewhere.

All I can say, is, Thank you for he journey, for the memories.

For the time I walked out of an emergency room, had nobody to call, rejoiced in having enough money to pay for a cab and so happy to have found a good job with good insurance, and hauled myself up six winding flights of stairs with a sore, painful, twisted ankle.

Thank you for the time that those pesky neighbors tried to get us thrown out for being too loud and appealed directly to the headmistress instead of just asking us to keep it down.

Thank you for my boss who has taught me what it means to work with people and take institutions as they are, and still get stuff done with a smile on your face.

Thank you for enforcing certain standards of beauty and culture even down to the level of school and cafeteria lunches, and for your commitment to proper language and keeping it beautiful.

Thank you for correcting my grammar and being honest with me that I should eat less.

Thank you for teaching me that life doesn’t need a purpose, it is a purpose in itself.

Thank you for teaching me not to revel in past glories or make the mistkae of thinking my way is the only way.

Thank you for showing me that there’s always an incredibly typical asshole- and at least 3 people who come to my aid when the need arises, ever so kind when it is most needed.

Thank you for being a little chilly at first because you don’t fake friendship and you know it takes time to grow.

Thank you for teaching me that freedom and choices aren’t exactly the key to happiness.

Thank you for proving to me that the easy and comfortable way is usually not the best path.

Thank you for showing me that even though everything may not be possible at all times, there is always a path available and it’s your attitude as much as the choice taken that matters.

Thank you for teaching me to slow down, and showed me the perils of being sad for no reason instead of happy for no reason.

And thank you for helping me to find- and create- myself.

Life is Full of Choices

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So in the past week I have been contemplating my choices really (mostly whether, and how long to stay in France, if I should look for a new job here, go back to DC, where can I find true love, is this it?)-everything seems tied in to whether to go home or stay here or where is home, who am I who do I want to become,  etc, really hard. Possibly too hard. On deep level, I am afraid and anxious, not sure what will make me happy, not sure what’s the right thing to do, what I want to do, if my paradigm of the world works at all, and most of all, which mistakes I am willing to make.

And when one is motivated by existential sorts of things, that means nothing is straightforward. If I wanted to maximize my career, optimize for more time with my family, or for anything else, it would be simple.

Also, every time I come to France, i feel like it’s the last time. Or at least I enjoy it more when I think that way. When I think of it as my potential future and the wagon I have hitched my life to, then it becomes easy to despair, not only become homesick but become totally disgusted with everything here, and long for salvation in some other way.

TO be honest, I think it’s correct, as well as somewhat cutting, to admit that, as my mother mentioned once, I’ve never really been normal in America, so she understands why it would be freeing to go elsewhere where by default I would not be judged by normal standards. It is completely true. It’s also completely true that by being in France and not obeying anyon’e s social rules, I’ve become more comfortable in my own skin and feel more affinity with people at home, who in the past I might have felt separated from. I’ve never felt more American than I do now, or proud of my country to be honest, though that doesn’t stop me from being critical.

I’ve created this false dichotomy in my head that America=relationship/social happiness- family, hotter dudes, and easier to make friends, and nicer people. also better career prospects quite posisbly, more $$$, stability since I have the birthright to live there, expressing myself in my native tongue with all the witticisms you’ve come to enjoy from me,  and you know, not being a foreigner. Though I might feel like a foreigner after all the time I’ve spent here. And France= curiosity, exploration, freedom, isolation, travel, beauty, vacation, stagnation, speaking French, the language of my heart,  iffy on the career side, and nothing will ever be stable. Sometimes I feel like France, and living abroad, can be a kind of Neverland, and a permanent vacation, since there are no roots, and you know you could go back anytime. but like Hotel California, you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. And everything remains kind of surreal, in limbo, or stagnation. I’ve met too many expats, especially Americans, who are just not well adjusted, period. Not least because all the ambitious people of the world, particularly the English speaking world, flock to New York, London, LA…

Another complicating factor is “the one that got away.” Albeit that of course, he got away for a reason. We are forever friends, and somehow no matter how friendzoned, always on the verge of love. Haven’t seen him for more than three years, but every time we talk it was like yesterday. I know if he really wanted me, he would find a way to be with me. But I also know true love waits, and he wants what is best for me (and himself). I feel like I would probably never get to live in France again if I were with him, we might go to another country but it probably wouldn’t be France. And if I did do France with him, it would be so different because he doesn’t speak French at all. And it goes without saying, there goes my chance of marrying into a bourgeois, well-educated, openminded, well-mannered French family, like those of some of my good friends, who have incredibly charming homes and despite being ssooo French, are very kind and incredibly sweet. And they are, Americainized or rather, able to speak English and think like Anglo Saxons (that is to say, logically, har har) when the moment comes. Careerist for sure, but also happy people who love what they do.

It all seems to come down to questions like, “WHo am I?” or more importantly, “whom do I want to beocme?” “What is the secret of happiness?,” or “What is the meaning of life?”

One of the biggest lessons I”ve learned from being abroad is that life doesn’t always have to be logical or make any kind of sense whatsoever. I’ve also learned that whiile thre are a few things that are bette ror worse, most things are just different. I wonder how I can maintain such faith in American ideals despite not living there, but then I realize that my ideals are my own human ones, and trying to fit them into the “american box,” much as I truly do love America and am always inspired by liberty and equality and tolerance, I am more human than American though it’s taken me a long time to realize that. And even though the realization that I am not French helped prompt that sense of identity, the boundaires are becoming blurred.  I’m super anxious about my American friend (why do I have to distinguish that she’s American?!?!) is coming to visit, and I am going to realize all the ways I’dhave truouble fitting into Amurca anymore. We are all citizens of the world, but not everyone has a global consciousness.

So it’s important to stop making false choices, and affirm where I am today, and who I am. I can’t go back to my uncomplicated, less sophisticated younger self, I can’t go back to that right person, wrong time and fix it (I gave it my all at the time and he said no),

I can give up one fairy tale for another

or rather, a story I liked to tell myself about how one day I’d grow up, become normal, and have a litle less wanderlust, and be the person I should be and go live in America and be satisfied, because there’s somethign wrong with me for not being satisfied with that, something disloyal and ungrateful and ill-adjusted; and live fully the fairy tale that I am already living, that of life in a beautiful, confusing country where people’s attitudes sometimes have an ugly side, and it sometimes feels like the land that time forgot and is certainly not winning any glbal race to the top anytime soon, but is beautiful nonetheless. And maybe to do that, I have to give up my false fairytale about finally convincing him to love me, even though I know he really did but he knew better than I did why it wasn’t the right moment, and maybe in anoher few months or lifestyle or two I’ll find him again. But that doesn’t mean I’ll never find love where I am at, being who I am now- giving up the narrative that I was somehow flawed, not ready, not good enough, not mature enough before, and nw I’m all better and fixed and normal-

And me, living in France, regardless of how sound or not my motivatiosn may have been, is a lot like living in a fairytale- despite the ogres and trolls. Just today I had some strawberries that looked exactly like the ones Red Riding Hood was tempted by on the side of the road.

And me, single, but not alone, confused but far from quitting, is not the ending but only the beginning of the fairytale. It’s not this or living my youthful ambition in Washington, which always feels like home, complete with a wedding and eternal bliss with Captain America, complicated and sensitive soul that he is.

Because the truth is I am neither American nor French, I will never “end up,” anywhere, or really be tied down, because nothing in this life ever is-

The illusion is not the way we define our choices, or even that we have a choice.

The real illusion is that there’s ever going to be anything but the here and now, whatever choice we make. And that here and now will always give way to another, and we have the power every second, though life might seem to get brittle and dried out and hard, but rather, it is the river itself.

And life is not but a dream, but I’m going to go back to living, and I happen to just be living my dream. Right now.

Namaste

Self-Awareness: Life is Simple if You’re Willing to be Honest

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A few days ago, I received news that I would have thought would make me happy, but instead felt a weight in my gut, like a let down, and I felt claustrophobic, trapped.

Basically I find out that it might indeed be possible for me to spend another year in Paris, although due to certain regulatory restrictions, it will be a little complicated and I”ll have to go without working for a few months.

Nothing to complain about, unless you want to talk about how many things don’t seem to make any sense here, but when it comes down to it, it’s all a matter of perspective.

These days, I’m trying to figure out what mine is. Knowing that it is likely to change, but it’s only through taking action and finding out the reality- of what I feel, and the situation- that I can take responsibility for my life. That said, knowing what you want and going for it does not guarantee that you get it, but living consciously is a pleasure, well more than a pleasure, deeply satisfying, in itself. It’s also good to aim for targets you truly want to hit.

People may say your twenties are all about self discovery and finding self knowledge, but the truth is that a lot of self knowledge is in the moment, and can only be gained through mindfulness. We can’t learn everything we need by reflecting on the past or imagining the future. Sometimes you need to think deeply, but knowing what your body thinks and feels is pretty critical to good decisions.

So I am taking this pretty seriously.

Conversely, when I thought about going back to the US instead, I was pretty happy, although to be honest I feel shocked at giving up the thought of the benefits and vacations and access to culture I have here.  What I crave is community in all its forms, and besides a few good friends and colleagues I like, I haven’t really found that yet.

I tend not to get too deep in my feelings and try to remain independent, but I do have to admit that I miss my family, and that does take a toll, even if it’s mostly hidden. It’s nto that I want to go back to living with my parents, but I do enjoy their company.

Not to say that I have scraped till I hit the bottom of the barrel, but I have not really had a feeling of affinity with any French dude. Being in a relationship is not something you can order up like a croque monsieur, but kissing frogs has just made me long for some grade-a American beefcake to be honest. There’s no guarantee that if I were to go to America, I would be in a relationship , or even that being in a relationship would make me happy(though that’s an experiment that I’m willing and interesting in making), but it’s an experiment that interests me.

I think the biggest sacrifice would be all the things I do can do just by virtue of living in Europe. The culture, the travel, the food. There is nothing similar in the US. THe beauty alone is priceless, though I’m not exactly sure how much all of it is worth to me.  Having more people to share it with would probably help, though it’s not just that I”m sometimes getting tired of taking vacation alone, much as I can’t really fathom how I would be able to stand most people for uninterrupted periods of time. I love people in general and I am outgoing, but in general I prefer to surround myself with a few people I really feel I can relax with.  And I do tend to see travel as sort of a mystical journey. Usually just getting on a train and seeing something new soothes my soul.

Speaking of newness, I ordered a detailed personality profile- how scientific, I don’t know- and it fit me to a T. Actually, to an ENTP, although my Thinking and Feeling were very close. I htink my natural inclination is more thinking but through experience I have become more feeling, or at elast, I have some compassion for the feelings of others, though actually, there are a lot of illogical things I have trouble empathizing with.

Basically, novelty, variety, what is different- all that drives me. And it is soo true. It’s great to be open-minded, but sometimes I feel like it’s a weakness- just another drug. It’s true that I often get excited about something and don’t follow through, but that doesn’t really bother me because for the most part I follow through for most things in life. The truth is that some of the novelty is wearing off here, and though it will never be home, it is my current normal. Which is incredible, and why I don’t want to leave, and yet it also feels kind of sterile here. Another year of not “starting my real life,” or rather, having the mentality that it’s just another year, basically looking at it like an extended vacation, a novel experience. Although sometims it’s kind of strange because there are many, many things that I have never experienced in America that I have experienced in France, and honestly I have no idea how things would be in the US. Less endlessly fascinating yet inscrutable? Would I find any less food for thought? Would I actually enjoy it without all the cultural hurdles to navigate through?

A lot of what it comes down to for me, at this moment, is my career. Gaining skills that I can use anywhere, and mostly, getting paid to learn as much as possible, through doing, observing, and being mentored. I just read that work, at least in the corporate world, is school for grownups. Can’t say it’s not true, bu I do end to view life as school, at least things I like about it. I know, I ‘m so strange for enjoying personal growth and learning and not wanting to sit on the couch watching Jersey Shore in my pjs all day. Maybe reading articles in the New York Times and all the random internet sites I stumble upon is just as lazy in a different way, but I’m not interested in apologizing or being judged.  It’s been difficult for me to understand that many pople don’t have a growth mentality, and I”m sure that it must have some benefits for society since evolution and modern life allow it to exist, and maybe I do need to stop and enjoy the roses more. However, you can’t stop planting and tending them either, and the joy is not only in the scent. It’s in the dirt too.

The implications for all these meanderings are enormous. I think balance in all areas in life is important, and I still agree with that, but the mentality behind work/life balance that work is something to be avoided or is somehow separate from life is totally erroneous. Work is an adventure, just like everything else. The stakes are high, which is why you should play to win, and play well. As Mary Poppins says, “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun.” Going about work believing it is just travail to get money is not a good way to approach life.

ALso, I have found that the feeling of making a difference in my team, and doing good in a small, private way- is really satisfying. I do not need to work for Greenpeace. I’d rather have a fun job in a dynamic environment and send them a check.

Speaking of money, it does not buy happiness by any means, but it helps with many things. Reently I feel like my money has gotten away from me and I’ve overspent, despite not really radically changing my lifestyle from when I was a student. However, life is expensive. THough your wants and “needs,” seem to expand when you have more money, being able to generate income with a bit of surplus (most o fthe time) is huge. A major stress affecting pretty much everyone on the planet, I can’t say how freeing it is to know that if I wnat to buy strawberries I can- even if they are 4 euro a package. Delicious. Having some leeway in the little choices is awesome.

I also fee a bit less judgmental of how people spend their money and live their lives now that I have experienced it. I would rather get a massage, or buy some meals out, than go blow money on overpriced drinks, but if that’s what other people want, so be it. Sometimes we take spending money a little too seriously.

The biggest takeaway of these meditations prompted by a gut feeling is that it sort of implies I need to take other gut feelings seriously. One in particular is inexcusably illogical. Also, to be honest while I remember the intensity of the feeling, I’m not sure if I remember the message as I want to remember it or as it actually was. I guess I’ll just have to shut up and listen to my body to see. And maybe take a real emotional risk, instead of gunning for something I know from the beginning is impossible. Certain, planned failure is not exactly romantic or putting it all on the line. I’m sure I know the answer to my question deep inside, I’m just going to have to cut out the blah blah and let the answer surface presently, rather than holding on to a presentiment from the past, when I was an entirely different person.

Action is no scarier than reflection. Reflection is not easy, especially when you realize things are not as they seem.

Also, I just want to point out that it’s through appreciating what I have, and finally being satisfied with my life at this moment, that I”ve been able to uncover my deepest wants.

I also accept that I will change my mind and desires, but I have to go with the flow and just be ok with the little dance. and If I listen to my body, that might save me a little bit of back and forth.

And the most important thing in all of this is that I am finally learning to trust myself, believing that my own judgement has value and I don’t need everyone else’s opinion. If worse comes to worse, it’s ok to be wrong but it’s worse not to live because you’re scared- at least that’s my belief.

And it’s best to enjoy it all, even the turmoil along the wya. This day will never come again, but I’m excited to see what’s next.

Even more excited to see what the voice within has to say about all this.

namaste,

MJ

Enough: The One Thing I’ve Been Missing All My Life

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I read a Quora response to the question “What are some things that money can’t buy?” that really touched me. Basically it said that when Joseph Heller, a novelist, was asked why he wrote instead of making money like a much younger man he met at a party who had amassed a large fortune, he said, “Enough. And that’s something that guy will never have.”

I went on some solo travels to the South of France recently, and I just adore the region, more than I anticipated from previous visits to Cannes, Nice, Grasse, and Monaco.  I love traveling and seeing new things. I love solo traveling. I have a weakness/strength for novelty. Sometimes I feel like I can never stop exploring, and sometimes I feel fundamentally flawed for my insatiable curiosity. Even if I saw all seven seas, I don’t think I would be able to stop. And there’s been nothing more painful than my recent realization that all that I have ever seen or read in a library is starting to all sound almost like each other, much as summer seems to be summer whether it’s Shanghai or Cassis or Somerville, NJ. The beach is the beach and the sun is the sun, and my constant companion of myself has changed a lot thankfully- very different inner monologue than my last trip to the South of France a few years ago.

Sometimes life just seems like a giant circle, and living in Europe, in the Old World, has really reinforced this. No, you are not special- you will live and and get old and die just like anyone else, your life passes through stages, you belong to a certain category or class or ethnicity, and life will go on, civilizations will rise and fall and your life is just part of a giant wave.

As a special snowflake child, sometimes its hard to realize that my destiny, though its exact details might include a wrinkle here or there, basically takes on the same contours of so many before me, and I find my archetype in others- my mother, Montaigne, a philosopher or saint. I take a personality test and say, O yes, that’s me.  And all that seemed unique and special and part of my journey of self discovery seemed a bit typecast.

But this life, this awareness, this body, is mine and no one else’s. I find it comforting to feel a part of something greater yet so resistant to think that I am not distinct at all in the cosmos and I’m just some recycled soul or stardust or what have you, some bit of cosmic ectoplasm or evolutionary soup that is just a little speck in all of Nature. Just an insignificant dot.

I think that stands in direct contrast to all that is great about Western civilization, the great triumph of being modern, the huge burden of creating a self, a la Nietsche or what have you, and Christianity, with its focus on Jesus as a personal savior. It’s not the tribe you are born into , but your individual conscience that is everything, no matter how much that fundamental truth is cloaked in dogma or hidden in ritual. We are both the dancer and just part of the dance after all, and maybe the watcher too.

It’s all very hard to explain, much lss to kknow. 

But what it comes down to is that I, <insert name here>, have always striven for more and greater and newer and better. I have never been content, which has fed my success but also led to my anxiety of being constantly a failure because I wasn’t there yet, and disillusionment when I realized I would never arrive, like limit in calculus.

And when I try to be whole, still, in the moment, wanting nothing, when I don’t try to change (often the best method for getting there), when I am so accepting of all that is and even of all that I am, hwen I say it’s ok that I gained weight or am messy or lose things, to admit that life is slightly unsatisfying yet perfectly as it is, doesn’t sit well either. it feels stagnant.

I think this is what they mean by the middle way.

Personaly I have never felt like enough. I have never felt ok about celebrating anything. I have never felt like I am ok as I am, honestly. I have always felt there’s work to be done- and I delighted in doing it, to a certain point, but because I never felt the fruits of my labor, I eventually became discouraged. And I evenually stopped committing self flagellation (mentally) in order to get myself to do things that might or might not be effective, I saw the whip as the problem, and ignored the underlying disatisfaction with the status quo that provoked it. FOr the most part, no goal was achieved from a place of peace, but a feeling of lack, believing that if I can only recover this missing piece, the puzzle will be whole. And what wholeness, what completion, what happiness looks like, just seems to be a moving target at best, a hydra of dissatisfaction at worse.

They say those who chase happiness or try to define it will never find it.

I have this fear that nothing will ever satisfy me, no amount of worldly goods or pleasures, no amount of accolades or fame or fortune or what have you. Not a ton of chocolate, not a sky raining men, no amount of validation or praise from the people I crave it from. 

I have grown afraid to dream a new dream, because the most recent one seemed a bit sour at several points along the journey, much as I have come to love my life here once I accepted it.

90% of happiness is going with the flow- getting what you want is a gratifying part of it, but sometimes it’s about getting what you need and wanting what you have.

And wanting what you already have soundslike a pack of lies and utter bullshit. Who am I if not my wants and desires, my unfulfilled needs, my secret, most painful yearnings? Who would I be if my “problems” were solved one day? What if all my inner conflicts sorted themselves out? If I had inner peace, what the hell would be left of me?

And then I realized that, today, I am kind of there. I fucked up on a major thing and still enjoyed my day, realizing that done is done and it doesn’t make me a stupid person, I am overweight, was explicitly told by a guy that I was too round for him, and admitted I too was dissatisfied but didnt’ need his consolation when he tried to tell me he had friends that would lov eme , and I just told him I can live with myself and still love my body anyway, didn’t need his attempted pick me up and thanked him fr his honesty. 

I saw a picture of my ex, my real ex that I was in a serious relationship with for 3.5 years, with his arm around someone (I can tell it must be his girlfriend), and it was really ok. Even though I am fatter than I ever was when I was with my ex, who always told me he wanted me to be thinner, and I am not with anyone.

And today is ok even though a friend who I have fantasized about being more htan friends with and had real feelings for for years hasn’t gotten back to my gchat about when I’ll be around again, and he’s always the person I felt like I would “arrive,” to, who I imagined seeing shocked and applauding now that I”m a traveling solo badass like Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider and all that’s missing is thd hot, fit, bod to go with it, which honestly I can admit to myself that I would like regardless of social pressure to look a certain way, who, like being thin without effort, would be the prize that would finally come around when I reached the finish line.

Well, there is no finish line. And even though I love him, maybe I only still want him because I can’t have him. And maybe I know he’ll never be satisfied with me, because I love and accept him as he is for the most part, and he can’t love and accept himself and would rather chase people that don’t feel taht way about him. And yeah, we live on different continents.

Last year, I let myslf gain a ton of weight and get “bad” grades- Bs- to see what would happen. I remember when I was young, and liked to read instead of playing sports and just generally felt like I didn’t fit in, I felt like people only accepted me for my gifts and accomplishments, not for who I actually was. Now that I have let the real me show- hidden behind landscape photos and inspirational quotes on facebook- I have gotten to see that for most people, it doesn’t matter. ANd they can even stand me when I am depressed and selfish and a total pain in the ass. Not everyone can, but some do anyway. And yes, guys do still like me, and some probably lov me more, while others don’t go for a few extra pounds.  All are entitled to their opinion.

And what do I think? Well, its more fun to play games to win, in general, but getting over perfectionism is worth mroe than an A in my book. And finally, I have my own book and my own values and I can break away from the normative values of society when I need to. Which is huge, huge, possibly my biggest accomplishment yet since now I can ick and choose which rules I want to play by, and finally play a game where when I win, it means something to me.

Not that empty feeling of “is this all there is?” when you cross some other fiish line, be it high school or masters graduation, getting into a relationship, or as I imagine, getting married. Milestones worthy of celebration, to be sure, for everybody, as long as existential goals are fuflilled by them. Adn to go in the opposite extreme, personal achievement by subjective values ie bucket list, as also sort of empty. Yes, it’s great to have visited City X, and maybe it will change you and give you a peace of what you really needed, but in the end it is just a city, and you could have gone o CIty Y instead, although it would have been different. Or you have stayed home, and who knows what would have happened then?

But yeah, for the most part, if you don’t really have it, you don’t really need it.

And if you get more money, at some point you will make yourself have more bills too, your wants will tend to expand with your salary.

And if you meet someone, no, they will never be perfect, they will never reach your expectations.

And life might go exatly to plan o wait, it never does, but you might feel completely different about it that you expected.

 

These things have sort of killed my libido, not in the sense of sex drive but as in semi self actualization, goal setting drive.

I’ve been a bit cynical, thinking I was better off eating pizza and doing whatever I felt like since goals are pointless anyway.

 

But here’s the thing- they are not.

At least 1) if you set the right goals tha are actually in line with what you want

and 2) if you don’t try to hate yourself into getting there. I’ve been so meanto myself everytime I tried to do anything big, eventually I withdrew even from myself.

3) you let yourself celebrate, all the while knowing this just moves the finish line to a different place.

 

The thing is, I’m already there for a lot of my goals, still working on others. I don’t really ahve much of a plan these days, preferring to go with the flow, and my life circumstances/feeligs about thigs are changing. 90% of happiness might be going with the flow, but that doesn’t mea nwe shoudln’t ut in the effort for things we think we want. Without that, life can feel kind of sterile and pointless. Serendipity is great, but so is hard work.

Frankly, I am enough today. I was enough yesterday. But at least now I realizez it. I can be enough yet still reach for me, a paradox, a contradiction, a truth.

Without being a little dissatisfied there’s no room for hope. But without satisfaction in the present moment, there’s no basis for joy, and the only thig we’ll ever get to feel is anxiety and fear for no reason, becasuse it’s already pretty good.

Can we have dreams and still be happy? yes, indeed, and without them we will just be dull.

But chances are if you are not satisfied with what you have, you won’t be satisfied with what you get in the future. So better to be happy, then leave for the greener grass.

I find myself an American in Europe, the has-been continent where life is chill and free and almost inconsequential. Where people get lots of vacation days because besides that it can be hard to find meaning. more or less instead of wanting to “make it” at work like  n american. 

So I’m here, I’ve arrived. It feels good, like a solid foundation to build osmething on, and yet, complete in itself.

I know who I am.

Sometimes I feel like my life is still so many question marks, and I am afraid to get rid of the question marks, which makes me even more afraid and self doubting. 

I’m still struggling with this question of “enough,” and I realize that path only goes on, sometimes I am happy that I got here and that i have already trod so far.

And I realize there is no path, just here and now. sometimes w ego in the wrong direction, yet still the path will always find us again if we dare.

so here’s to satisfaction ;)

 

 

 

 

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