F is in perfect repose next to me. Dawn’s blue light slips in from between the shades and brightens the hills and valleys of his face. I gently clasp his careworn hand, and he softly squeezes back.
He sits at his desk, engrossed. He has the same discerning look as his baby photo that sits just behind. That look, it sparks my core sense of loving urgency. I walk over, fold him in my arms, and inhale his scent. I whisper my words of love into his skin, radiant with his smell. This is home. His hand raises to meet mine, and they embrace.
He’s here. We love. Right now.
It’s said by people wiser than me,
That you are to declare
No less often than always
Before you can’t anymore.
“Yeah, when I was in New York on business…”
“Those 2 weeks I was in the U.S…”
“The food is terrible… all those hamburgers and hot dogs…”
“American culture? What culture?”
“There’s not much history there, is there?”
“Ugh, that American accent… I can’t understand a thing!”
“The thing about Americans is…”
I mold my teeth back into a stiff-lip chiclet smile. Heh, heh. Very amusing. They look so comfortable, self-assuredly snickering at a caricature of a country they love to shit on.
I observe with fascination the smug joy in their eyes, the derisive wheezy laugh. All driven by a glaringly misguided, yet gloriously seductive need to be better than.
Why should I rain on their shit-parade? I wouldn’t dare spoil their moment of naive delight by questioning their pseudo-intellectual, stunningly brash hubris. There are indeed plenty of things to criticize, sure, but they’re pulling at low-hanging rotten fruit. The bland revelation is too simple, too deliciously satisfying to resist.
Is this how they go through life? Satisfied with a facile, self-serving version of reality, with no desire to learn more?
I’m not offended at their (perhaps unintentionally) injurious comments; that would be too easy. No, I’m learning. This is a pernicious trap of logic, a hasty generalization. Such exchanges remind me to work to avoid this pitfall myself.
“Mm-hmm. Whatever you say. On to page 2…”
Walking through the vineyards on my way to the train station, my carrier pigeon buddy arrives to escort me to the station. He coo-coos alongside me until we reach the threshold between nature and civilization. There, his red beady eyes wink me a “Good luck.” Thanks, pal.
Arriving in town, it’s one of those days where I want to say “Fuck my job.” What am I, some kind of language workhorse? I resent the fact that the corporate masters own my time, even if it’s just 5 hours today. That’s 5 hours off my dreaming time.
All the same, I’m in town, and at least for now, I am indebted to my corporate masters. Unseasonably cold winds tug at my coattails, and my head is pounding for an unknown reason.
I tiptoe erratically around the sidewalk, studded with trampled bits of dog shit. No way am I getting my red leather boots dirty. The cold air invades my nostrils and freezes my brain, aggravating my headache. The fragrance of the first spring cherry blossoms irritates me even more.
The area around the train station is a lot better-kept than in other cities; no seedy sex shops or vaguely-disguised titty bars to be seen, no cannabis fumes in the air; just nondescript bistros that are a bit too antiseptic for my liking. I peek into one, and a middle-aged cook eerily stares back at me, while he scrubs an already-spotless zinc countertop with a clean white towel. Even their ashtrays are immaculate. Freaky.
I approach the monolithic structure, the medieval castle, squatting in the middle of town. Just across the street from its fat, monstrous towers sits another bakery, more modern with dark hardwood floors, and an alluring glow to its sandwiches and pastries that sit on deep blue-gray ardoise slate slabs. I pick up a kouign amann, a Breton specialty: it’s a crispy, flaky, buttery sticky bun. The hammering in my head starts to subside when I take a bite of the luscious pastry.
As I chew and walk on, I’m peeking into chic restaurants, neighborhood barbershops, deserted bookshops and quiet upscale boutiques. A stylish woman walks past, and the sickly sweet cloud of her perfume chokes me as she walks past, her heels confidently stabbing the ground with each step. I catch myself feeling inadequate in her presence, and I think back to a former student of mine, who was a picture of perfection: successful, affluent, immaculately dressed and coiffed. Yet her eyes had glistened with desperation when she confided how deeply she regretted the direction in which her life had gone. I wonder what happened to her.
I drop into another favorite spot, a red-bannered bakery run by a genial bald-headed baker, who always seemed to be dusting flour off his hands and apron in a cloud of magic. His breads and pastries are some of the best in town, and I order a sandwich for lunch. He grabs one off the top of the stack with his large hands, knobby and solid from a lifetime of kneading dough.
Finally, I slide into my favorite café, a neighborhood dig that’s clean, with a good atmosphere, and proprietors that leave you alone to think. I’d like to think I’m becoming a regular, alongside the old salty Italian man who critiques the French and their politics between sips of red wine, rolling his Rs and calling everyone cons (dumbasses)…
I ease into the seat next to the door and order an espresso with water. I catch a cool draft every time the door opens, along with a few wisps of cigarette smoke that sneak in. I don’t mind. I’m surrounded by rough caw-caw guffaws. The server who’s about my age, the older couple that runs the joint, and the old-dog regulars; they laugh and gibe between bites of food, sips of wine, drags of cigarettes. Like a goddamn family sitcom. They’ve got nowhere else to be, except there, giggling and shooting the shit. Hell, neither do I.
I realize my headache has ceased.
I’m satisfied with life in this moment, and smile into my hot cup of black coffee.
Just another Thursday.
“I’m afraid of being made fun of.”
How many times have my students confided this fear in me? Ashamed to struggle, flustered at their mistakes, looking like they want to disappear.
I wonder, What’s the big deal?
Since when do strangers’ opinions matter? Why are we so ready to give away our confidence to imaginary people who fictionally criticize us?
This mentality seems to speak to the greater idea that unless you’re going to be great at something, it’s not worth trying. Anything less than excellence is insufficient. You run the risk of entering the annals of history as a Failure.
Is our sense of self-importance that inflated, that our failures, never mind our very existences, will be remembered for more than 5 nanoseconds?
Push the logic a bit further, and it falls to pieces.
I screw up, forget things, commit acts of thoughtlessness.
I have a funny accent when I speak foreign languages.
I’m sure my lipstick is never smooth and flawless.
I trip over my feet, my skirts ride up, I get parsley in my teeth.
At times, I have no idea what to say. I get testy on occasion.
I ruin recipes and often write what I think is garbage.
So what? We all do.
Criticism from one person is fleeting. As is the embarrassment of screwing up.
More than fictional criticism that hasn’t happened yet, we should be afraid of leaving this world with regret in our hearts, at not having tried.
Let’s get over ourselves, and just do it.
I land in Japan. I’m 20 years old and it’s my first time outside the United States. I’m nervous, lonely, and feeling out of place. Realizing that I’m not sure who I am.
In due time, I am to learn that this uncomfortable feeling is what leads to growth. Unfamiliarity is exciting. I meet new sensory experiences, and a glimpse of my true self. I learn to welcome them.
Japan is where I discover the joy of solitude. I can experience inner calm, the joy of independence, and the freedom to follow my own rules. It has become one of the core values of my life.
Things feel stagnant. Unmoving. Static. Gray. My life feels like short bursts of excitement that punctuate my cycle of reality: home, work, home, work…
I scan the coming months in the calendar, biting my thumbnail. What do I have to look forward to? I live from crescendo to crescendo; I ride the upward crests, and feel exhilarated when I get a peek at what’s to come. I feel aimless when I don’t have that joyful anticipation.
I crave something different.
Oh, I recognize this feeling. Wanderlust. I don’t need to do anything drastic; I just need to shake off the dust and move.
Walking is moving meditation.
Time spent alone is truly free.
It’s okay to get lost, I know I’ll always find my way in the end.
Time to find a new notebook and book a train ticket. I’m already feeling more alive at the thought.
Long time no see! (Wokka wokka… Ugh, what a way to begin. Let me break things down for a minute.)
(Where have you been?) In response to that little voice in my head that masquerades as my conscience, I could say I’ve been occupied with schoolwork and my job (which is true), I could say that I’ve been out enjoying the seasonable French spring weather (also true), and I could say that I feel guilty for neglecting the keyboard all this time. This blog is meant to be my canvas, my own personal workspace to express myself and add my tiny droplet of a voice to the ocean of chaos in the vastness of cyberspace.
But that little voice in my head knows those excuses are complete bullshit.
No, there’s a voice that keeps me away from this space, which should be consecrated to ME and MY thoughts, a place where I can be as selfish or selfless as I please, where I should feel free to mold my thoughts into little pieces I can be proud of. My little blog entries that I can bottle up and send out into the ocean, perhaps never to be found or read, but that made me happy just to write them out.
That voice that I think we can all relate to. The voice that tells us that we’re not good enough, we’ve never been good enough, we never will be good enough. The voice that tells me it’s in my own best interest not to write, not to be myself, not to speak, because then I’ll be exposed, left open and defenseless against the barrage of negativity that I’m convinced is around the corner. “If people found out who I “really” was, they wouldn’t want anything to do with me.”
Sometimes, it’s easier to pull away and hide from that big, bad world. I’ve got enough on my plate already, why try to practice an art and put my feeble attempts online, where there are endless hordes of sharks out there, ready to rip me apart?
The scary thing about practicing an art is that you never know if it’s good enough. There is no prescribed path, no sure-fire way to improve except to do it: to try, to fail, to learn, to try again, and continue as such until the end of the road. At least, that’s what I’ve heard from artists I admire and respect.
But every day that I don’t write, I feel like I’ve lost something irreplaceable. My fingers itch and little ideas float down into my brain, but still I prefer to rest invisible. Because over the course of much of my life, I’ve learned that to be invisible is to be safe. But I’ve grown more and more discontent with being invisible. It doesn’t have to be this false dichotomy between being invisible or expressing myself and being a disappointment, and therefore destined for rejection. For many of my almost-29 years on this planet, I’ve been caught up in the black-and-white, the this-or-that, the good-or-bad. Since I’ve come to France, I’ve become more interested in the rainbow of colors in between.
Will this post spur me into action? Perhaps not. I’ll leave this up here for my own future reference, at the very least.