Category Archives: miscellaneous thoughts

Choose Optimism

Five months after graduating college, I had ended up doing the one thing I claimed I never would: working as an over-caffeinated, disposal employee in corporate America. With the same indifferent demeanor I had adapted from weeks of daily routine, I started researching new cities and jobs, the first ripples successful in disrupting my stagnancy. Not longer after came two part-time jobs, agency websites, electronic applications and visa visits, all marks on my to-do list that swelled towards a tangible future. Quit job—check. Pack up apartment—check. Plane ticket to Paris—check. Once at the airport, I sat on my boyfriend’s lap and cried, terrified of being alone. I interrupted the airport security line a dozen times to kiss him goodbye, but still I passed through the gates, drifting forward until too many people had passed between us and he disappeared.

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In retrospect it sounds a bit like the beginning of a corny romantic comedy, but I didn’t feel worthy of a lead role even in a made-for-TV movie. It didn’t take long to realize that Paris was not as hospitable as my small college campus. I stuttered over foreign syllables, attempting conversation with disinterested classmates. I spent days shut in my small studio due to the fickleness of that first Parisian winter, calling home almost every day, obsessing about getting back together with my boyfriend and Facebook-stalking my friends. I had thought coming to France would make me happier, but if anything I felt worse than before. I resented the ever-present melancholy that settled like fog between my thoughts. For as long as I could remember my mind floated everywhere except the present, whether it grieved the past or anticipated the future. Why couldn’t I be happy? The question eroded my mind until the emphasis shifted the way syllables do when a word is repeated continuously: why couldn’t I be happy?

For nearly half my life I had jumped from one long-term relationship to the next, craving the affection of romantic relationships to compensate for the love I wasn’t ready to give myself. I followed my boyfriends’ ambitions to avoid creating and pursuing my own. Rather than trying to heal I evaded my problems, letting them decompose until negativity consumed me. I feared happiness and the accountability that came with it but I was tired of waiting for someone to help me actualize myself. I decided to stop listening to the self-doubt and challenged myself to shift the focus. Of course I couldn’t be appreciative of the present if I mourned everything I’d left behind (which couldn’t have been that great, considering I did leave them). I stopped thinking of myself as a victim and started taking responsibility, stopping making excuses and instead made decisions. I forgave myself for the past and identified self-destructive behaviors, vowing to eliminate them. I identified the type of people I wanted to surround myself with, the way I deserved to be treated and all the things I wouldn’t tolerate. I conceded that I needed to take better care of myself physically and aimed for more sleep, a more natural diet and more exercise.

ImageEvery day I become more lucid. No longer do I fear silence or solitude. I stopped searching for a new relationship, content to have a relationship with myself. The more at peace I become, the more I recognize the world’s vivacity and open myself to others, savoring moments of aliveness that pass between us. I choose to be optimistic. Moods fluctuate and bad days happen, but since I started loving myself the way I wanted others to love me—unconditionally—my happiness has more or less stabilized. To quote Warsan Shire, “I belong deeply to myself.” It took twenty-three years of traveling, but I’ve never been to such a beautiful destination.

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When Paris met my Past

Summer days in Paris seem to stretch beyond their expiration, spilling over from the day before, scents of wild lavender and hot asphalt heavy in the humid air. The sky peels its usual gray and redresses in cumulus clouds contrasted against a vivacious blue. Six months had passed since I’d seen anyone in my family. I had planned to get to the airport early, directions ready and itinerary full, to prove to my father, Dave, that I had shed my negligence like a bird molts its old feathers. Instead I waited for a half hour at the station, the iron-toned crescendos of approaching trains overpowering the country music in my headphones, songs Dave used to play during family road trips. Each time a train passed I tensed at its preceding wind, that feeling of time crushing forward.

Once inside, I flitted through the crowded terminal searching for Dave and spotted him quickly. He stood as usual with hislegs slightly wider than hip distance apart, his hands folded in front of him, chewing at his mustache: a solid, stationary figure amidst a blur of luggage. He wrapped him arms around me, secure as the covers he’d tuck around me as a child, and I relaxed into a girlish giddiness. Reconstructing my life in a new city gave me an anonymity that often hindered conversations deeper than short-term goals and alcohol preference. I started spewing stories and ideas I’d collected during the past months like the excited chirping that greets the sunrise. I wanted to flaunt Paris from every facet, to show him the flowers that spilled from window baskets, the storefronts full of fresh cheese and soft pastries, the narrow streets, the fresh bread available at practically any moment—all the reasons I had started to make it my home.

Later that morning I ordered a croissant and pain au chocolat for each of us, cradling the warm greasy bag in my arm as we ambled from the Champs de Mars to Place de la Concorde. We contemplated historical monuments and museums from their exteriors before sidestepping the mass of people pushing to get inside like ants on too few crumbs. We craved evolution, the shifting patterns and transitory trends found when people watching on a café terrace. The afternoon unwound into a cacophony of bike bells, car engines and foreign voices mixed with excess cigarette smoke. He told the same jokes he always had, and I laughed at the sight of them against a new backdrop. He was unchanged, as always. One constant I could count on.

Dave walked past the outlines of my memories: that bench near the Eiffel Tower where I spent a frosty evening with a bottle of wine; the bar where an awkward Brit solicited me for a “cheeky kiss”; the restaurant of Fabienne’s goodbye dinner; the metro stop where I first met Sophie. He pointed out things I once found remarkable but had since grown accustomed to, like saxophonists in the metro, open alcohol bottles in public, the relatively litter-free streets, the culinary genius of the saucisson. I didn’t realize until then that I lived two lives, one in the states where my life was defined by an absence, and one in Paris where I attempted to tie random twigs and ribbons into a resilient reality. Something about this gave me the feeling of flying upside down; I knew intimately a city that Dave had never before visited, tasted a language he couldn’t speak, felt the electricity of expatriatism. He teased me for my snobbishness when I pointed out the difference between a good and poor quality baguette and it occurred to me that I felt guilty for knowing something more than he did. Or maybe I felt disillusioned. The age gap between us does close to a smaller percentage each day.

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My Cypriot Road Trip

After passing a sticky morning ducking into air-conditioned souvenir shops and drinking iced coffee in the shade of a crowded terrace, my friend Robyn and I decided to escape Cyprus’ landlocked capital city Nicosia and head towards the Mediterranean. We rented a car without a GPS, hoping our generic map would get us to our destination. Lucky for us, Cyprus is about the same size as New Jersey; if we got lost we’d reach water sooner or later and could follow the coast home.

Within two hours we made it to Pissouri’s beaches, arriving just as visitors and the relentless heat dispersed with the sinking sun. My toes brushed the shell-less sea floor of Aphrodite’s rumored birthplace, and somehow the water felt purer than any I had touched before, more fluid and buoyant as if it were just as alive as the small fish that came to nibble my ankles. Our hair heavy with salt and sand still stuck to our feet, we continued on to Paphos for a satisfying seafood meze (and to feed every stray cat I came across), before returning home to sleep the deep sleep that comes only after the exhaustion of a hot summer’s day.

The next day we finished our expedition in theoccupied Turkish territory of the north, climbing the cliffs of Cape Apostolos Andreas and relaxing at an adorable restaurant attached to an old couple’s house. We ate fresh olives and tender meats, the Mediterranean blue and soft on the rocks beside us, as our chef snuck a cigarette out the back window, pressing a finger to his lips so that we didn’t reveal his digression to his wife.

Essentially, the quaintness of Cyprus allows for the perfect road trip: the inability to get really lost, cheap fuel, easily rentable cars and plenty to see in any direction. Apart from the mythical island, poor road trip planning can lead to emergency hotel stops, extra fuel, unplanned for meals and other costly expenses.

General Road Trip Tips:

  • Preparing the car: have car insurance information on hand, subscribe to a roadside service and get your car inspected before leaving. Invest in common emergency supplies such as jumper cables, a flashlight, first aid kit and flares, as well as any weather or terrain-specific supplies.
  • Planning ahead: figure out where you’d like to visit and make lodging reservations before leaving home. Many places fill up quickly and by reserving early you can look around for the best deals.
  • Mapping your route: don’t think of your road trip as a game of connect-the-dots; while highways may be thefastest and most direct route to move between cities, they also can be the most boring. Research scenic byways and scenic country roads and incorporate them into your route as well.
  • Leave room for spontaneity: chances are, you probably need more time visiting or getting to each place than you think you do. Make sure your agenda has some padding to give you time to explore roadside attractions, national parks or whatever other gems you come across.
  • Don’t rely on your GPS: buy a good map (one that actually has the road names marked), and travel the good ol’ fashioned way. Sure, you may get lost sometimes, but that’s part of the fun!
  • Home-ify your car: bring music, audio books, a journal, a blanket or two, a few small pillows, handwipes, toilet paper, plastic grocery bags, water bottles, healthy snacks and anything else that will make your trip comfortable.
  • Get better gas mileage: keep tires full, the trunk as light as possible, turn on cruise control, roll up your windows after 40mph and change the oil when necessary.
  • Watch out for animals: in Cyprus, I came close to three wild goats. One time in Maine, I braked inches before a moose that could’ve easily destroyed me and my two-door Honda. In Montana I almost got plowed by a herd of wild buffalo. Be on the lookout and be ready to stop or swerve to the left.
  • Stay alert: driving for hours on end, especially during the night, can get dangerous. Always have someone awake with the driver.
  • Stay safe: while your license plate shows to everyone that you’re not a local, don’t let the inside of your car demonstrate it as well. When leaving the car for any amount of time hide any items (such as pillows or GPS’s) that prove you’re a traveler to prevent someone from breaking in to steal your luggage.

 

Have your own road trip tips or experiences?

Post them below!

 

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The Electric Fairy

The Musée d’art modern de la ville de Paris is a small museum about a mile or so from the Eiffel Tower, most notably known for the “La Fée Électricité” (the Electric Fairy) by Raoul Dufy. Over the course of a year Dufy marked 250 panels with oil paint and pen scratches, slowing inscribing in color humanity’s electrical victories. The finished work stretches 200 feet long and 33 feet high, and as I stand barely 5 feet tall at its base, my thoughts revise and start to gain perspective.

The painting reads like a poem, blooming from the center with the gods of Olympus and spreading outward, intertwining mythology andhistory. Cool currents intersect warm waves, landscapes shift and slant, the entire canvas in motion as it shuffles through a hundred and ten individuals, from Aristotle to Edison, who aided in the development of electricity. Dufy’s style is whimsical yet evocative, carrying the imagination of infancy into the scientific world, a reminder of science’s dependency on dreamers.

I sit in the middle of the room and dissect the painting panel by panel, wanting to note every detail, every change of brushstroke. I want to scream how beautifully he has transitioned images in this spot, how I have never seen a yellow like that one before, how it must have been tiring and exhilarating to work on this painting for a year straight and how some days he must have wanted to kick his foot through the panels, but I’m so thankful he didn’t. All of the energy he poured into the painting still radiates there, whispering of a celebration and I want to fill empty air with music and bright light. I wish I could memorize every angle so I could recite them later on. I want to do something other than nod my head silently in the dimly lit room and walk away guiltily, knowing that I can never fully give it the time and attention it deserves.

Art and time have an unusual relationship; art borrows from time in an attempt to cheat it. Those lucky enough, blessed by talent and circumstances, succeed in immortality. Raoul Dufy, a man who lived and died in France 37 years before my birth, generated a thought and projected it into the world where it lingered, hovering like a hummingbird, allowing me to find it. His ideas have impressed themselves into me, discovering and explaining parts of my psyche I never realized existed. What, other than art, demonstrates the universality of existence?

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happiness doesn’t have to be a holiday

Even though the calendar scheduled spring for two weeks ago, Paris remains trapped in winter. I sit before a window on the second floor of Shakespeare & Co., its aged glass warping my view of the Notre Dame’s naked stones against a slate sky. Still, persistent tourists crowd around the looming saints and gargoyles, cameras posed in an attempt to capture forever what has already existed longer than themselves—and what will continue to stand for years after they’re gone.

I’ve never lived in a city before, much less a city so soaked in antiquity. The present blends effortlessly with the past as people walk the same ground that Hentry VI of England strode for his 1431 coronation, where a pack of rampant wolves were slayed in 1450 after taking the lives of forty Parisians, and more than three hundred years later, the Festival of Reason, when philosophers attempted to rip Christianity from the cathedral and instill within it their own liberated beliefs.

Thousands of other stories never made it to the history books. I watch from my seat as several hundred more lives create their own small anecdotes, each person a microcosm that I see briefly, nothing more than an out-of-focus speck in a photograph, a blurred face that will appear in a dream and later be forgotten, the world continually in transit.

Before I arrived in Paris two months ago, I spent most of my time romanticizing the past or plotting the future, which did little more than exhaust satisfaction from my present. Slowly I’m learning how to stay grounded. Paris certainly helps—it has the unique ability to coerce one to live in the moment, because it appeals to every sense (no wonder it is a Mecca for artists).

Sometimes I think I must be crazy – I quit a good-paying job, broke up with my boyfriend and left everyone I know behind in order to become an au pair in a foreign country. But when I really reflect upon everything, I always come to the same conclusion: risks are necessary. Discovering and learning to appreciate oneself is worth any inconvenience. Even when something tries to scare you, don’t let it. Be fearless. It’s time to quiet our minds, grow away from the past and start creating a history worth retelling in our years to come.

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“Through travel I first became aware of the outside world; it was through travel that I found my own introspective way into becoming a part of it.” — Eudora Welty

inspiration brought to you by eudora welty

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“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” – Cesare Pavese

 

inspiration brought to you by cesare pavese

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inspiration brought to you by william least

“When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.” – William Least

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