On Leaving in 18 Days

Posted on Thursday, July 12, 2018

Right now is hard.
Right now is two-and-a-half weeks from the day I leave, 2,135 days from when I last hauled my life across the ocean, a night alone in my apartment after saying goodbye to the first colleauges over a few beers. Tonight is quiet, with a glass of red wine and the cat sleeping at the end of the bed and The National playing and tonight is a rare opportunity to take stock.

Are you wondering what it feels like to pack up everything and to bite the bullet and to just decide to go?
Here is what it feels like:
It feels like part of your heart is being pulled from inside you. It feels like you are leaving a part of yourself behind, it feels like you are closing the door on a chapter of your life, it feels like you are making a conscious decision to leave behind people and things and places that you have loved, very much. Because, well, that is what it is.
I got home today and the big tears that had been hiding behind my eyes all day, threatening to fall if anyone said just one sentence more, finally fell. Molly the cat was sitting on my chest as it heaved (until I sobbed just once too many times and she had had enough) and I lay on my bed and looked at the empty walls and thought about what I really am packing - slowly, but surely.
I am packing away a part of myself, a whole life I have lived alone for six years now. I am packing away the days where I do what I want, or I do nothing because I want to do nothing. I am packing away cooking for myself every single day, glass of wine in hand and music or podcast or movie playing, Molly at my ankles. I am packing away the glorious silence of living alone, but also the terrible loneliness that strikes when least expected.
I am packing away the things I've picked up over the years. I am not packing up the things I have given away: the shirt I wore for my 24th birthday which does not fit anymore, both in size and in everything else; Cards Against Humanity because it's too heavy and maybe we're all past that game by now; the glasses I picked up for ten cents a piece and loved but they'd just break anyway; the workout pants I wore for my first half-marathon and my second and my third. I am not packing the tiny oven that has served me so well, the one I got for free after seeing a Facebook post in a group at just the right time. I'll leave behind the tiny oven that has roasted chickens and late-night pizzas and re-heated McDonalds (because it's never hot enough once I walk it down from the closest one) and the first meal I cooked for my guy and a couple of Thanksgiving meals and the snacks I made for drinks with the girls and breakfast and lunch and dinner, day after day after day. The oven is too small and far too dirty at this point and I haven't used it lately because we have been having a bit of a heat wave, but it has worked hard and served me well and I will be sad to say goodbye to it, even though it might be the worst oven in the world.
I won't be packing the marks around this apartment of good nights spent here. The stains on the bathroom door can't come with me, the one that a friend made when, during a party, half of the handle fell off and he was locked inside for too long until we stopped laughing long enough to figure out how to open it. I can't take the marks on the floor with me, either. The spilled sauce and wine and water and, okay, the occasional tiny cat vomit when I give in to the cat's incessant begging and fed her a bit of chicken or yogurt or tuna. The floor that has seen the messes of the past three years must stay here.
I can't take the stupid clothes rack that I actually hate because it always seems like it might fall down, and it scratches the floor when I move it in the winter so that it's not directly in front of the heater. My clothes rack just has eight things left on it. I think that at one point, it might have had close to 80. After three years of picking what to wear to work, of finding the workout shirt that might look cool enough in spin class, of searching for the thing I might have lent to someone but I'm not so sure but I really can't find it right now, of finding something to wear on terrible date after terrible date until the right man came along.
I've lived in this little room - because it isn't more than a room, let's be honest - for three years now. So many days of looking around and seeing my things, the things I was given or I inherited or I picked out at a store or a market or a garage sale. And now, the clothes hanger is empty, the shelves are showing their dusty backs, the clutter is disappearing little by little. It's starting to look a bit sparse around here, and it scares me.

But maybe I'm silly to be scared. Because at the end of the day, what am I leaving behind? Just things. Luckily for me, the things that I actually need to take with me aren't things at all - they're memories, and feelings, and realizations, and truths. Lessons learned the easy way or the hard way. Mistakes, and triumphs, and all the tiny moments in between.
In 18 days, I'll be on the plane. Between now and then, every single day will be a great rush of trying to see everybody that I love here, trying to do everything that I love, trying to enjoy every moment as much as I can, trying to remember, remember, remember, and to never forget. I am already so exhausted and it is only the beginning of the end. I am trying to enjoy it all, the big things and the small. The tiny things are the best; the smell of flowers when I walk in the front door downstairs into the hall shared with the florist, the fact that a major current concern at work right now is how best to celebrate Mickey Mouse's 90th birthday, the "Salut!" from the barman at the café at the corner when I walk past, the cheese sections of grocery stores, every single interaction with friends, and the laughter, the laughter, the laughter.
I have been wanting to write more, because sometimes it feels like if I don't I might explode with everything I have been thinking. But how to find the time to write, between the bags to pack and the WiFi to cancel and the work to finish and the moments to enjoy? How do people remained balanced at times like these?
My mantra has been "keep your head down, and keep going" because if I think I stop too long I'll get overwhelmed and the quicksand will rush in and I won't be able to continue. So I'll keep my head down, and I'll keep going, and making "Blog Post Ideas" notes in my phone, and as soon as everything quietens down a bit I'll be back here to write it down so that I can remember, remember, remember.
It's not a simple time, but a change was more needed than I realized and so I will do my best to welcome the change, and focus on the positive, and keep moving forward. Bear with me. xx


On Ugly Pink Bathrobes

Posted on Sunday, May 27, 2018

For as long as I've been here, or almost, I've been thinking about going home. Maybe not the first six or eight months, but after the first year it was definitely something that I considered. "A year abroad is nice!" I thought, and tried to see how it would feel to leave it at that. But life is funny and as I followed its twisting path I saw the years begin to pile up, two then three then four and five and soon six. The idea was always in the back of my mind though. I pictured a life for myself back at home, snowy winters and sweltering summers and being near friends and family and bagels. But it always remained a back-burner plan, something nice to think about but unlikely to actually happen... Until this year, when the back-of-the-mind part of the whole thing melted away, little by little, until suddenly it was very much at the front of my mind, and I knew that the decision was being made slowly, slowly, slowly somewhere inside me and that one day, unexpectedly, I would have made it without realizing.
That's how I found myself booking a ticket home one day a few months ago.
The weekend that I booked it, I cried a lot. Having an end date to the life that I've made over here feels strange and sometimes wrong and all the time scary and sometimes exciting. I haven't come here to write about it yet because it feels impossible to even try to find the words, but I think I have to start somewhere.
So I'll start here, on a sunny Sunday, sitting on my bed surrounded by heaps of clothes, trying to sort and organize and make lists and piles and plans. How do you pack up almost-six years of your life and move it all halfway across the world?
I've grown attached to the silliest things over the years. I have made my life here by myself, for myself, with no one but myself, and I think that this results in strange attachments to mundane objects.
My bathrobe, for example. Not the new fluffy one. The old scrappy pink one. I remember the day I bought it in 2012, taking the métro out to La Défense to visit the big Auchan store to stock up on cheap necessities for my closet-sized first apartment. Kitchen knives, tupperware, batteries, extension cords... And, a visibly cheap bathrobe. It felt silly at the time in such a small space, but when I saw it I knew I had to have it. It is bright pink, and feels and looks completely like it's made of polyster or plastic or, I don't know, worse, but I have loved it so well. The silly ugly robe has kept me warm on so many occasions over the years. Over sweatshirts and under blankets, hood up and belt pulled tight. I'd put it on when I got home from work in my first shoebox, I'd pull the space heater close to me and keep one hand in a pocket while I made dinner and tried to think warmer. In my big cherrywood four poster bed in the eighth, in my much nicer second apartment, I'd still wear it. A beautiful bedroom with parquet and a marble fireplace and a gilded mirror and a Juliette balcony, and this increasingly-threadbare pink robe that didn't fit in at all. Here now, in this third and last Paris apartment, is where I finally replaced it a few months back. (Before I knew there wasn't much point). I bought a new robe, a longer, softer, cozier, white one with a blue pattern.
I've still got the old one, though. It has hung faithfully on the back of my bathroom door, a reminder of all the other places it's been. It reminds me of cold nights in the 7th and the 8th, of lazy mornings making brunch and coffee, of the just-out-of-the-shower feeling that is so good no matter where you are. It reminds me of home.
Today I folded it up, fingering the ripped seams and the threads hanging from the belt loops and checking the pockets to see if I'd left something behind. It's in a black trash bag now, waiting to go to someone else or somewhere else. My heart feels really sad to say goodbye to it.
The pink robe won't be the last thing to make my heart lurch. As I continue to sort and sift and get my mind around the piles of things I've accumulated, I'm sure there will be many more similar moments. That's life, though, isn't it? Marie Kondo would be disappointed, but I truly wish I could take all the things that have been with me on this journey, and bring them to my next home.
I'll take some of them. I'll take the quirky flower pots that my mother and I carefully hunted out at country garage sales and antique stores. I'll take the leather bag that my dad and I got for 10 Euros, even though the salesman's wife wanted 40. I'll take the little white bowl with whirling dervishes painted on it that I bought on my solo trip to Istanbul. I'll take the blue and white china plates, the le creuset espresso mugs, the books that have changed me, the photos and prints and cards that have made me smile.  I'll take the jacket I wore when I ran the half marathon in freezing sideways rain a few years ago, the shirt I wore on my first day of work at Disney, the Ireland football scarf I got at the Euro Cup tournament. I'll take the tiger-striped cat.
The next few weeks promise to be emotional, and I think I'll be back soon as I try to work it out in writing or at least to record this time of great change. There is so much to look forward to, though I am leaving so much behind. Like the pink bathrobe, I'll be leaving behind little pieces of my story here and there, tied into bags and dropped off for somewhere and someone else. I'll miss that stupid bathrobe.
I think the bathrobes in America are pretty nice, though. xx


On Not Running

Posted on Sunday, March 4, 2018

It's one o'clock on a rainy Sunday, and from somewhere in my building there's a smell of bacon wafting lazily through the air. (Though, ever the cynic, I'm thinking to myself "It's probably not even real bacon...", because after five and a half years in Paris, you know better than to expect real bacon). I've had an extremely relaxing weekend after a busy few weeks, and I've slept well and slept late and I feel good, my laundry is almost done in the laundromat around the corner and I've got plans to see a friend later and go to a movie. I've eaten a delicious brunch that I made for myself with the good whole foods that my body's been craving lately, the cat is purring next to me as I write this, and soon my phone will ring and my favorite voice will be on the other end, calling me sleepily from the east coast to say good morning. After the movie this evening, I'll come home and paint my nails and prepare my lunches for the week and, later, fall asleep tonight feeling rested and ready for the week.
It's been a nice weekend, but it's not the weekend I was supposed to be having, truth be told.
Today I was supposed to be running the half marathon, just as I've done three other years since being here. The first year, triumphant and with all the enthusiasm of a new runner's first race medal; the second year with my best time ever and a slight sunburn; and last year on a freezing day with sideways rain and water-logged shoes and a trashbag covering my torso but the satisfaction of knowing I finished and never stopped running for a second despite the wind and rain and cold.
This year, though, I'm sitting on an unmade bed, and smelling bacon, and listening to the Beatles, and feeling okay with not being there. Kind of.
Well, actually, I'm not really feeling okay with not being there, but I'm trying to let it go and learn from the experience - because isn't that what it's all about, really? When you're newly 28 but still trying to figure things out even though you thought you'd have done that already?
Do you really want to hear the excuses for not running the race? Well,  take your pick: Because commuting for three hours five days a week is tiring and getting up to run before or going to run after feels like the world's most impossible thing. Because it's been rainy and sometimes snowy. Because I haven't been getting to bed as early as I would have needed to. Because my morale has been low for a whole bunch of reasons. Because since late fall I've been on vacation or staycation or weekend trips that interrupt any kind of training schedule. Because my running shoes are shot and I haven't gotten new ones yet. Because because because.
I've been running for fourteen years now, but I've been the queen of procrastination even longer than that. Trust me, I know this excuse game all too well. There is nothing easier in all the world than finding a convincing excuse when the alarm goes off at 5:30 am and it's pitch black outside and there's a purring cat tucked under my arm. It's easy to choose to roll over and snooze the alarm and sleep for another glorious hour. It's easy to convince myself that I need to rest more than I need to run - when in fact the opposite couldn't be more true.

For years, it was easy for me to choose to get up, feet on the cold floor and too-bright lights flicked on and then out the door and thud-thud-thud on the dark pavement, dodging the last late night party stragglers and the trash collection men and the deliveries, soaking up the beauty of a Paris enveloped in black and then almost-grey until finally the day breaks and I'm approaching my front door and I feel invincible and strong and like I'm ready to take on my day.
I used to be that person. If i'm not that person any more, who am I now?
I've never really liked New Year resolutions. It all feels too rushed, Christmas comes and then it's New Year's Eve and then, usually, I'm trying to cram in as much as I can at home in the States before I shuttle back over here and between all the comings and goings it feels impossible to take a minute or two out to think about what I might really need for the upcoming year. So I usually prefer to make my New Year resolutions in my own "new year," on my birthday at the end of the month. But even there, this year, I fell short, and now all of a sudden it's the fourth of March and spring is around the corner and I'm not running the half marathon because I didn't take the time to do what I needed to do to get there. Doesn't that stink? I really think so.
This blog, as I think you know, has always been more for me than for anyone else, and I always wanted it to be honest - which is why entries are so sporadic. When I don't feel like I have something honest or worthwhile to write, I... Don't. Even if I don't know some of the readers as well as others, I'm here today presenting is my mea culpa: this winter I fell short, I missed the mark. Worst of all, I think, is that this all leaves me feeling disappointed in myself. Living alone, it's difficult to distract myself from my own thoughts. When those thoughts revolve around feelings of disappointment or "less than," it can bum you out pretty quickly.
Of course, I hope you'll have realized by now that I'm not this caught up over a stupid race. I've missed races before; missing a race is not the actual problem here. The problem is that among all the wonderful and exciting and sometimes-scary things that have happened this year, and all the wonderful and exciting and sometimes-scary things that I'm planning to do in the next few months, I lost the part of myself that made it all make sense. Those silent mornings in the darkness, the hard wake-ups, the good runs, the bad runs, the short and long runs... A whole part of my life has been missing for the past few months. But finally, I think I'm ready to get it back.
There have been lots of things going on for me lately, lots of decisions have been made and will be made and I spend a lot of my time thinking and planing and thinking, and somehow I let this be my excuse for snoozing the alarm - even though I know full well that there is no better place to think and plan and think than a morning run.
It's not January first, or even January thirty-first, but I've never been great at being on time. For now, I'll enjoy the rest of this lazy Sunday, and enjoy the sound of the rain outside and the feeling of being cozy in here. I really hope it stops raining overnight, though, because tomorrow morning I've got to go for a run. xx


On Remembering, and La Rentrée, and Five Years

Posted on Monday, September 4, 2017

This summer has been both the most exhilarating and the calmest, all at once. Somehow, it felt both like time wasn't moving and like time was speeding by. There are so many moments from this summer, and in particular from my month back home in the States, that I want to hold on to forever, to always remember the sights smells sounds feelings exactly as they happened.
Some of the happiest and those that feel most important include signing my permanent contract at work at the very end of May, and the feeling that a very long and winding road had finally led somewhere that feels right. Watching my once-kitten Molly grow into a little cat right here in our apartment, and feeling a silly sense of pride like a five-year-old with a carnival goldfish. Returning for a weekend to Villanova, a place that still feels very much like home, five years later, and feeling absolutely content despite Bud Light headaches and a lost voice and too little sleep and a non-insured visit to the doctor the following week. Splashing in the wading pool in the back garden with my cousin, Meron, and realizing thanks to her that sometimes the simplest things might be best as we embarked on Wild Adventure after Wild Adventure, and roasted marshmallows, and danced to the Trolls soundtrack. Giggling long into the night, trying to write the perfect wedding speech with the little sister for the big one, drinking craft beers in her bed. The realisation that this 'little' sister isn't so little anymore, as she proudly shows me her plant collection in the backyard of her beautiful Philadelphia apartment, and I feeling proud of and happy for her but like I could cry all at the same time. My big sister looking the most beautiful she ever had and almost-shyly looking at herself in the mirror as she adjusts her veil and wedding dress, my parents' expressions as they both walked her down the aisle, my brother-in-law's face as she reached him. Dancing with family and friends that feel like family as the rain poured down outside. Running with my sisters through our neighborhood and down the main street of our little town, and thinking for the millionth time that Paris France is nice but that Yardley Pennsylvania isn't so bad either. Drinking rosé on the patio with my parents and sisters and aunts and uncle and feeling grateful for our family and its closeness despite the thousands of miles and too many time zones. Walking around New York on my own, happily, and imagining what a life there might feel like for me. Wading into the Atlantic Ocean at Coney Island and eating a corn dog for the very first time and letting ice cream drip everywhere and spending a really good day with a really good friend getting a really bad sunburn. Having lunch with people I wish I could see more often, and trying to catch a year's worth of catching up into a New York City-length lunch break. Drinking wine with my best friend in the park with a view of the Financial District skyline, followed by pizza in our favorite spot in Brooklyn, and savoring how it still feels like no time has passed. Having a few unexpected late night conversations over unexpected Negronis that I will replay for a very long time in my mind. Dipping Shake Shack fries into a milkshake and wondering what's so great about French cuisine, anyway. Hosting a dinner in Brooklyn and looking around the table at people I love very much and wishing it could happen more often. Eating breakfast on the deck and passing around the paper with my parents and driving to Target and doing a million other things that sound unexciting but still carry that special little bit of magic that is home.

And then, of course, kissing my mother goodbye at the line for security at JFK and feeling like a baby for crying, again, even though I'll see her soon, and then boarding the plane and, inevitably, fighting back the tears that always follow such an almost-perfect time at home.

I think that after a month of such spectacular highs, it's not unusual that things felt a little quiet back over here. It felt like I needed the whole month of July to decompress, to think about everything that I got to see and do in those four weeks at home, and find a way for these little moments to stay intact and glimmering and easy to access on any given rainy Parisian afternoon.

And then, all of a sudden after all that remembering, July had passed in a heartbeat and the month of August arrived once again. Right when I felt ready to stop sitting still and start moving, the city began to shutter its doors and close its blinds. The annual signs appeared in windows around my neighborhood, closed for two weeks, three weeks, four weeks. The quiet that I'd been feeling for all of July arrived to the rest of Paris as the sidewalks emptied. Work was quiet, home was quiet, and everything in between was quiet, too. August in Paris feels like the city itself takes a break from being, for a while, and everyone that lives here has no choice but to take a break, too. I spent my August weekends waking up slowly with my little tiger-striped cat curled and purring, as close as can be, drinking coffee before heading out on my own across the city - sometimes with a destination in mind, sometimes without. My group of girlfriends and I talked a lot about picnics, but the weather never seemed to agree, so we did our best without enough sun. One weekend, we drove through the night across three countries to Amsterdam for a weekend and a change of scene and to stroll the canals and drink some really really good coffee. We stopped in Brussels on the way home just because (or because you don't drive past Brussels without stopping for some fries). The days felt deliciously lazy and the weeks melted into each other, but I was glad when August ended.

In my professional life, there are a few French words and expressions that I dread coming across, because they lend themselves so poorly to English: "I'm suddenly feeling really tired" doesn't sound quite as nice as "j'ai un coup de barre," one of my favorites. This time of year, I find myself frequently having to translate another one: "la rentrée." I guess "back to school" comes close enough, most of the time, but it doesn't quite cover it. Over here, la rentrée is that transitional time in between the last long rosé-soaked afternoons in the sun and the pick-up of the daily grind, the week or two that everyone comes back to the city from their country escapes or from beyond the border, rested and revitalized and ready to begin a new year. But if you ask me, it's more than just a word for the time itself. I think it covers a whole feeling, one of those tough to pin down feelings that we've all felt, without knowing what to call it.

Remember when we were in school, first grade or tenth grade or senior year of college? Remember how the beginning of the school year felt full of promise and potential? Remember when we swore that this year would be the year we'd change that thing we'd been meaning to change? Remember when the first chilly breeze felt like it might be bringing something new? La rentrée feels like that, for everyone.

This year, I am embracing la rentrée and its quiet optimism more than ever. On Tuesday, I'll celebrate the fifth anniversary of leaving home for Paris. Though time has flown, five years still somehow feels like a very long time all the same. This "Parisversary" feels momentous in a new way. It's longer than I lived in the UK or in Ireland, longer than I spent at Villa Victoria for high school, longer than four years at Villanova, longer than I ever thought I'd be here. Five years feels important.

These past five years have felt, at times, like wandering along a winding road without a map. I think about the person that I was when I boarded that plane in 2012, and I admit that sometimes she feels like a lifetime away. Lots has happened since then - mostly good things, with a few bad things too - and this place has changed me profoundly. I think about everything that I've done and seen, the places I've traveled and the people I've met, the food and wine I've enjoyed. I think about how Paris looks on a sunny day, and how it looks in the rain. I remember a day in 2010, during my college semester abroad, walking around the fifth arrondissement in the rain, treading on soggy fallen leaves and listening to Erik Satie and feeling filled with wonder at how a place could be so beautiful and melancholy all at once. I think about how hard it can be to live here sometimes, how fist-clenchingly frustrating this country can be at times. About the impossibility of explaining certain things, or understanding others. About the stubbornness and the slowness to change and the "ce n'est pas possible, Madame"s. But I also think about the rhythm of life that made me fall in love with this place, the charm of it all, the people I've grown to love, the traditions that I've embraced. I think about the smell of bakeries in the morning, the cosy sounds of bistros in the evening, the expert flick of an aproned waiter's wrist as he sets down a coffee, the way the light catches the trees in Parc Monceau in the morning or slides across the Seine at night, as the Eiffel Tower twinkles in the distance.

When I think about the past five years in Paris, though, I don't just think about this place - I think about myself too. I think about the person I was when I arrived, so young though I thought I was so old. I think about the places I've lived, the tiniest studio and the beautiful Haussmanian apartment, and now here in my own place. I think about the hundreds of miles I've run on these streets in the pitch black early morning, the races I've trained for, the tears I've shed crossing finish lines. I think about the heartbreaks I've healed, the hard realizations I've come to, the falls I've taken, the mistakes I've made, the family and friends that kept loving made it possible to get up and keep trying and trying again. I think about the late nights en terrasse and the one-too-many drinks and the salty taste of a hot ham and cheese crêpe on the early morning walk home. I think about the people that I have met that have changed me for the better, the things that I have learned about myself from others, the friendships I have made that I'll always be grateful for. I think a lot, too, about being alone. If I've learned anything at all over the past five years, it's how to be alone. Somewhere along the way, somewhere in the past five years, from all the uncertainty and the foreignness and the heart-aching loneliness, I've managed to make myself a life that feels just right.

I recently came across a journal hidden away on my bookshelf, not even half filled out but with entries from when I was seventeen and twenty and twenty-two. I laughed at myself, reading it, and thought for the millionth time that I can be so dramatic - and that my handwriting really IS terrible. But then I found a page, written on March 15, 2008. It's not a long entry, just five lines written quickly: "I just want a simple life: a French apartment, a cat that's friendly and welcomes me home. I want to meet interesting people and drink black coffee and try to solve some world problems."

I don't know about the world problems (especially not in 2017), but I know about the rest. I've got an apartment that's tiny but filled with light in a neighborhood that feels like home. I've got little Molly, who greets me every day when I get home, and tucks herself into bed when she gets tired at night. I have met interesting people, here and in other cities and at home and everywhere in between. And the black coffee - well, I've never been great at remembering to buy milk.
The past few months have been incredible, but now that la rentrée is upon us I'm ready for the next part. I'm ready for this new year in Paris, because each year  has been better than the last. Tomorrow I'll buy myself a glass of wine and sit at a café and people watch and write down - maybe in the same decade-old journal - a few things that I'd like to start doing, to change, to try. I don't know if I'll be any good at them, I don't know if the resolutions will stick, but after the past few months and the past five years over here, I know that I'm excited to see what comes next. xx


On Last Tuesday

Posted on Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Yesterday, I wasn't feeling well.

I wasn't sure if it was the (physical, emotional, moral, political) fatigue of the week before, finally catching up to me, or if it was the late-night beers and early-morning frites from a Saturday night spent in Brussels, but I knew I wasn't feeling right.

I had slept poorly back in my own bed on Sunday night, tossing and turning and lying awake, my mind reeling and my heart thudding, keeping my tired bones awake longer than they wanted. I couldn't feel calm, I couldn't drop off to sleep despite how desperately I wanted to.

On my way home from work last night, I switched from the RER to the métro, as I always do, at the eastern edge of Paris. I stood, like I always do, in front of where I knew the door would open when the train arrived. As the train pulled into the station and emptied, I stood to the side to allow people to hurry past. When they were gone, I ducked quickly into the carriage and tucked myself into the corner seat, closest to where I'd entered.

Except, somehow, someone arrived in the seat before me. A man, standing at the next door down, darted in and across the space between us and beneath me, sliding past all the other open spots and into the seat I almost had. I was surprised, but mostly annoyed, as he'd walked past four empty and closer seats, before stealing the one that was most logical for me to take. Without really thinking I clicked my tongue loudly and hissed "ce n'est pas POSSIBLE, monsieur," under my breath, before folding into the seat opposite him. Where I'd spoken quietly, almost to myself, he responded loudly. "Ah bon ? Comment ça ce n'est pas possible ?" (Oh yeah? What do you mean, it's not possible?"). He was jeering, no worse than a playground bully though he was well into his fifties, and when he saw me avoiding his gaze (and regretting that I'd spoken), he laughed, loudly. It was a cruel laugh, a laugh that meant "you stupid girl."He shook his head as he laughed, as if to say "Who do you think you are?" With his eight words and his condescending laughter, he made me feel so small, completely invisible, like the tiniest and most insignificant thing.

And all for taking a seat that was closest to me.

I squeezed my eyes shut and tried not to let it happen, but before I knew it there were big tears escaping. I couldn't catch my breath, my nose ran into my rosy pink scarf, my mascara stained my cheeks. Do you remember how it felt to cry when you were a child? When your whole body shuddered, and one fat tear was followed by another, fatter one? I couldn't help it, I was crying like that. Avoiding his gaze, everyone's gaze, keeping very quiet, but I was inconsolable.

Was I overreacting? Definitely.
Was I crying about more than a man stealing my seat on the métro? Definitely.

In our one-minute interaction, I was made to feel invisible, and when I tried to stick up for myself, I was made to feel laughable, silly, insignificant. Sound familiar?

I won't pretend to speak for those less fortunate than me. I recognize that I could never begin to understand how someone else is feeling today, and in the past week. I recognize that I am a privileged white woman, that I have lived a charmed life, that my struggles are so minor. And yet.

I want to write about the election, because it feels important not to forget this moment. I know we are tired of talking about it, hearing about it, reading about it, thinking about it. But we mustn't let ourselves be complacent, we mustn't let our weariness lead us to inaction. I have never written about this kind of thing, politics, on this blog before.

This site is full of personal reflections, but then, this defeat feels so deeply personal.

To start at the beginning, I didn't like Hillary at first. I liked Bernie. I liked his messy white hair and his ill-fitting suits, I liked his way of speaking, his brusque manner. I liked his socialist-leaning ideals. As time went on, though, and as it became clear  that Hillary would become the Democratic candidate, I made the decision to support her. I watched her speeches, her facial movements, her body language, and I warmed to her. I spoke with people who know more about politics than me, I spoke with other converted former-Bernie-supporters,  did enough research to feel comfortable with my decision. (And here I feel I have to say that I recognized, too, on some level, that this election was too important to vote for anyone but her. The alternative, the unthinkable, was enough to be sure I never considered a third-party vote or abstention. But mine was ultimately a vote of conviction, regardless of the stakes.)

And then, as the date approached, I got excited. A mother, a wife, a daughter, our next president. A woman who has spent her whole life fighting, given her all to what she believes in, never given up. In the days leading up to the election, I imagined Hillary giving her first speeches as President, shaking hands with world leaders, addressing the nation, leading us. I felt so proud, in anticipation of the moment she would win. As a woman, I felt the historical importance of what was about to happen. Every part of me was buzzing. We'd show him! We'd beat him, and we'd beat him with a woman. A woman would show him that his racist fear-mongering behavior had no place in the United States. A woman would grab his rhetoric by the you-know-what, and throw it out of our headlines, our discussions, our country. That kind of talk has no place in a nation like the United States, and I was sure she would prove this once and for all, and put this orange nightmare to rest.

Imagine the little girls that would realize how far they could go! Imagine the noise that glass ceiling would make as it shattered!

Around 2 a.m. in Paris on that Wednesday morning, that ceiling suddenly felt a little bit farther than we'd thought. Our night had started with happily sharing cocktails, excitedly discussing how and when we'd voted, joyfully claiming our part of this historic occasion. As the hours dragged past, the joyfulness disappeared. We felt desperate. Some people I talked with returned to the bar again and again, trying to drown it out. I was dumb with disbelief, I felt shocked. I couldn't believe it.

At 4 a.m., I went home, but stayed glued to my screen. 5, then 5:30, and I finally turned off my computer, feeling sick to my stomach. In the fetal position, as the sun came up in Paris, I closed my eyes and let my tears dry and felt comforted that I could forget for a while that this was happening. Two hours later, I woke to a rainy morning. Mustering together the last shreds of hope I was clinging to, I opened my computer. When I saw the result, just confirmed moments before, I stood in my tiny kitchen and sobbed. I watched him climb the stage to give his "victory speech" and let big noisy messy waves from the deepest parts of me drown him out.

How had this happened? Where was the America I knew? Where was the country that I'd thought was welcoming - that had, in fact, welcomed me and my family years before? Where were the values I'd learned about in school, the pillars we promised to stick to the day we wore sworn in as citizens? Where was our America, last Tuesday?

It has been six days and I don't think it's getting easier. Watching Hillary speak last Wednesday, full of strength and grace and composure, I cried once more as I mourned the President she would have been. She was the embodiment of what a President should be: careful, measured, yet honest. A far cry from what we've ended up with.

"This is painful, and it will be for a long time."

In one way, it feels silly to still feel what I'm feeling (sad, disappointed, hurt, grieving, shocked, incredulous, heartbroken). The world keeps turning, and for the time being I'm as good as unaffected, as my fairly happy life chugs along in the land of socialism  (and cheese), far away from the madness. But in another, this loss feels like the kind of weight that I'll have to remember for a long time. Like an old friend or boyfriend, or a time in my life, or a place. Something I'll keep missing, whose absence will sting every time it's remembered.

For me, it's a dark indication of the state of things back home. A storm has been brewing over the months that preceded this vote, and I'm disappointed to see that the storm has gathered strength instead of passing. I'm disappointed in my country, the country that adopted us.

The incident on the métro yesterday was so minor. It was nothing. But to me, in my tired and run down state, it felt like a reminder that today is a very dark day. Whether on the national stage or in a carriage of the line 2, there are people today that want to make us feel small, invisible, and stupid. They want to laugh at us when we try to speak up.

Where do we go from here? I don't know. I don't know what will happen to America, I don't know how she will weather this storm. I take comfort in knowing, though, that she is scrappy. She is a fighter. If my American education has taught me anything, it's that America is determined, unrelentless, tough to keep down.

I just hope that she will rise up on the right side of history, and not follow this absurd pied piper to her demise.

For now, I think the answer is to start small. In the face of the hateful decision that my country has made, I'm determined to show love in every corner of my little life.

Self love, picking up a bouquet of lilies just because, taking myself out to see the Christmas lights, getting to bed early and eating delicious things that my own two hands have made.
Love for my family and friends, sending cards and making phonecalls and giving compliments and listening, excitedly making plans for a long-awaited trip home next month, imagining how good it will feel to see them all again.
Love for my country — my countries — by minimizing the damage this time around, and then making sure that this will never happen again.

Let's be kind to each other, and listen to each other, and be intelligent and measured.
Let's remember that the brightest days often follow the darkest.
Let's keep going. xx


On Exhaling, or, On August in Paris

Posted on Wednesday, August 17, 2016

I blinked, and it was August. 

The end of spring and the first half of summer were dedicated to meeting a nasty deadline hanging over my head: the day my master's thesis was due. Distracted only by a too-quick but wonderful visit from a college friend at the end of May, time passed too quickly. There was no relaxing after work, because it was time to do school work; weekends were over before I'd noticed they started. Towards the end of the last few weeks before the deadline, one day melted into another with no sleep in between, my diet devolved into whatever was quick and filling and, most of the time, unhealthy. I felt that I'd never get the cramps out of my hands from hours of typing - and backspacing - and typing. My back was aching from crouching in my barstool-height kitchen chairs, from too few hours of tense sleep, from the special brand of nervous energy that only comes from days on end shut in a tiny studio working on a seemingly never-ending dissertation.

But then one afternoon, an afternoon that came after a morning that came after an all-nighter, it was over.  I compressed the files, and e-mailed them, and uploaded, and then sat. And, unexpectedly, cried. I was exhausted, and needed a shower, and had been wearing the same nightdress for a very long time, and my apartment was a mess, and I was sure there were typos, but it was over, and one of my favorite humans in the whole world had just arrived in France and I could go and see her and there would be nothing dreadful hanging over my head. I called my mother, I let out the breath I'd been holding in for months, I showered, I hopped on the train, and I met my cousin and aunt and uncle at Disneyland.

Disneyland is part of my daily grind, as I spend my days translating ~the magic~ from French to English, but this time my train journey had something much more rewarding at the other end. Meron was waiting outside their hotel when I arrived, and she jumped up and down and into my arms and clasped her little hands around my neck and I very quickly felt the awful weight of the previous couple of weeks lift. Over a glass of wine in the hotel lounge, I chatted with my aunt and uncle and felt the particular comfort that only family can bring. Later that night, we stood in front of the château and watched the fireworks, and I held Meron on my hip as she danced to the music, her eyes as round as could be as she watched familiar characters appear and sang the wrong words to her favorite songs. The few days we spent at Disneyland, including one featuring a special appearance by my mother, were just the tonic I needed to the preceding months. We skipped around, wearing Minnie ears, dancing in the main square long after the parade had ended. We ate dinner together each night, and after eating I took Meron's hand and led her outside to run around and count Elsa dresses and giggle. The days passed too quickly, but it must be said that seeing Disneyland through the eyes of a three-and-a-half year old was really and truly a magical experience, and I'll carry the image of her wide eyes with me for a very long time.

They came to Paris for a few days, and I even got to have Meron to my little apartment for a one-night slumber party that began with a snotty meltdown in the taxi, but finished with Maltesers (BEFORE dinner) and Tangled, spaghetti bolognese and a 9 o'clock bedtime for both of us. The next morning she munched happily on a croissant in the métro and sat quietly on my lap taking it all in, cuter than any little parisienne I've ever seen!

When they'd gone I welcomed a friend from college who stopped by Paris during a business trip to Europe, and we spent long nights laughing and singing to music we'd forgotten about and dancing around my apartment after too much rosé.  Seeing two friends from Villanova in the space of a couple of months made my heart so glad and so sad simultaneously - the familiar struggle of completely wanting to be in two places at once. I hardly had time to feel sad, luckily, as the day that Lauren left, my sister arrived at Charles de Gaulle for a week.
I took the week off from work and we toasted our reunion, and Vélibed our way around the city's watering holes and restaurants, we drove out to Giverny and found a Haribo outlet and even welcomed our Dublin-resident sister for a couple of nights. If I hadn't fully recovered from the trauma of drowning in my master's degree before, being with my two sisters brought me back to the surface. We laughed until we couldn't breathe, we remembered old jokes and made new ones, we ate fromage and drank bubbly and picnicked and slept badly, side-by-side-by-side, in my two-person bed.

Being far away from those two can be really hard - even with the WhatsApp chats and video chats and Snapchats and phone chats. There is no technology in the world - and I don't think there ever will be - that can come close to the feeling of sitting around a table with my sisters, teasing each other or talking seriously or not talking at all. We went to a wedding dress shopping appointment for the bride-to-be, and even then it felt like we were six and nine and twelve, or twelve and fifteen and eighteen, even as we watched Sinéad looking at her reflection in the beautiful white dresses it felt as though no time had passed at all, that we were still at home with each other. I felt so lucky during their visit that we have made it all work, over the years. It's a whole lot of distance, three sisters in three countries, but no matter where we all find each other it's always just as great as the time before, as great as any of the times before.
As I waved goodbye to my big sister a few weeks ago, I'll admit that a couple of tears slid down my cheeks. Like all good things, having them here went by too quickly. Despite our lists and planning and trying to do it all, there's never enough time to spend with your favorite people. I walked back upstairs, and sat in my suddenly-quiet apartment, and slowly exhaled.

The month of August is notoriously quiet in Paris. I wasn't here last August, and I'd forgotten how dramatic the mass exodus really is. Storefronts are shuttered with hardly-apologetic notes mentioning distant return dates. The bakeries are dark, their cases empty. Very few apartments light up at night, their residents far away in the south drinking pastis or across the border eating tapas in Spain or exploring even farther away. The parks are quiet, the usual weekend revellers picnicking on greener grass. At night I don't hear as many cars zooming down the Avenue de Clichy, and the métro is so empty that it's... almost pleasant? Parisians are taking a break from Paris, and I'm right in the middle of their absence, enjoying the calm. With all the busyness of the past couple of months, the work and the visitors and the go-go-go, I don't mind. I like the sleepy streets, I like the quiet. I'm taking a break, too, even if I'm still here. I'm breathing and thinking and reading and writing, taking my own quiet survey of the state of things. It's the end of a really crazy year, a really busy time that I'm not sure I'd want to do again. I'm going to bed early, most of the time, and enjoying being on my own and doing things that I feel like doing - and getting a few things done that I really don't feel like doing, but must. I'm making lists for the year to come, and setting goals, and feeling really excited.
I know that in a short week or two, the sleepy streets will begin to wake up. The bakeries will fill their window displays with flaky pastries and crunchy baguettes, the florist downstairs will be back in business and I'll be able to buy my weekly stem of lilies. The parks will be full again, Parisians eager to catch the last of the good weather before the greyness sits in. And for me, too, things will take off again. As my fourth year in Paris draws to a close, the fifth will begin in a couple of weeks. It's difficult to believe it's been so long, in a lot of ways, but at the same time it feels like the most natural thing in the world. There are a lot of good things coming this year, I think, but let's leave that for another day.

For now I'm going to enjoy the quiet, the abandoned streets, the available seats at sunny sidewalk cafés. Here's to two more weeks of breathing in this empty city. xx


On Villanova (Basketball).

Posted on Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Over the past few days, my social media has become a bluish blur of avid Villanova support. I've been posting on Facebook, Instagramming the only Villanova shirts that made it to France with me, retweeting sports articles from the NYTimes and Sports Illustrated and 6ABC and beyond. Last weekend I spent more than a few minutes Googling places to watch the Final Four matchup while in Heidelberg for the weekend, disappointedly accepting defeat when nothing came up. I've been 'liking' more Villanova posts than I can count over these past few days, reading more about sports than I've ever read in my life, thinking about and supporting a team whose members I could not even name. Why?

I've been turning the question over in my mind today, trying to explain the attachment I feel to Villanova basketball, the pride I'm experiencing today for a group of guys I've never met, the extra spring in my step all day, the butterflies that keep coming back. I'm not the first one to ask myself the question - I've had more than one person comment surprisedly in passing recently that they didn't know I was so into sports.

I think to answer the question, I've got to go back to the beginning, because before Villanova basketball comes Villanova.

When I was deciding where to go to college, I applied to Villanova as a fairly safe bet. My sister was in her junior year as I was applying, and she was very happy. I had visited her, I knew the campus, and I liked it. I knew I could be happy there, but didn't really consider it a top choice, preferring other schools that I thought would be a better fit. In spring 2008, though, I attended an accepted students' day with my mom, and I decided on Nova there and then. Sitting next to my mother, in a room filled with other nervous students and even more nervous parents, I got ~the feeling~ and knew beyond doubt that Villanova was the place for me. I remember the moment vividly, and the whole sunny day - the balloon arches and the blue t-shirts, the light streaming into the Villanova Room.

My feeling of certainty grew over the time I spent as a student at Villanova. After the initial hiccups of the college transition, I grew to love the campus, the students, the black bean burgers at Connelly, the small classes and helpful teachers. I met my closest friends at Villanova, people that started out as total strangers in 2008 that today are among the most important people in my life.

Amidst the blur of freshman year, between the "awkward luau" and the Fiji Mansion parties and the time spent figuring out the fastest route from Tolentine to Bartley, one thing became very clear: at Villanova, basketball was more than a sport. Upon arrival we were given Nova Nation t-shirts, and invited to the Pavilion where Jay Wright preached to bleachers full of believers. We were new to it all, but we eagerly shouted back NATION every time he said NOVA, giddy to feel a part of the excitement. We learned the chants, the whoosh-go, the fight song. With time, we learned how to be proper Nova fans. We wore and re-wore our Nova Nation t-shirts, to the games, to the Spit, to class, to the gym (or not). As the season got into full swing, we learned the players' names: Scottie, Reggie, Dante, Peña. We eagerly awaited the text messages that we'd gotten game tickets, or that we didn't, or that we were wait listed. When we didn't get tickets, we crowded into dorm rooms on South campus to watch the games, all season long. We traveled to the Wachovia Center, sneaking beer into stolen cups from campus, tailgating in the frigid parking lot.

We were baptised by fire that first year, when the 2008-2009 team led Villanova to the Final Four (it was also the year that I got written up by the Dean for trying to bring beers into Stanford for the game...). I remember when we won the Elite Eight game, when Scottie scored that last basket, the campus went wild. We jumped up and down, hugging and laughing, before running down from the fifth floor of Stanford into South campus, cheering and whooping and sprinting up Ithan to Lancaster, singing and throwing our V's up and celebrating. The energy was everywhere, coming from everyone, it felt like that moment was everything.

(Incidentally, that year, we shared disappointment too.)

Here's the thing, though. It wasn't really about basketball, in 2009, nor in the years that came after. After freshman year the team didn't get as far in the tournament, but the energy continued. The basketball wasn't as great, but the energy didn't change. We kept cheering, and whoosh-go-ing, and gasping, and stomping. We kept filling the bleachers, kept looking for tickets, kept wearing our Nova Nation t-shirts. Even when the game wasn't exciting, we were excited. At Villanova, basketball was a tangible energy that drove the students forward, brought us together, united in our celebrations and in our disappointments. It was the rhythm that we moved to: Hoops Mania was the start of the fun and we hoped March Madness would be the end. We watched on South, on West, off campus, at Kelly's. We held our breaths together, time after time, and heard the collective cheers or groans echo around campus. Over four years, Villanova basketball was a constant for us, a common point of interest, a shared passion. We "browsed" the store at Kennedy, just in case the sale section might have a shirt that wasn't XL. We posted our sizes on Facebook group proposing student-created t-shirts: from the ever-classic "Jay Wright for President" to the ever-regrettable "Nova Girls Are Wild - UConn Girls Are Husky."

I chose to study in Paris in the Fall of 2010 because I didn't want to miss the 2011 basketball season. I considered staying enrolled in Spring 2012 so I could go to student games, even though I'd finished my credits. At graduation, we posed with our "V's up," the campus-wide sign of Villanova support. We threw our arms in the air, holding champagne bottles in one hand and making V's with the other. Sunburned and with Miller Lite headaches, we moved out of our apartments in Villanova Seniors 2012 t-shirts, moving on from Villanova to New York or Boston or California, or... Paris.

The first year after graduation was hard. I missed Villanova. I missed the proximity of friends, the dollar drinks at Kelly's, lazy breakfasts at Bagel Factory, iced coffee and people-watching in the quad. I missed my seminar classes, the author readings at Connelly, chatting about French literature. I missed the way campus looks on a sunny day, on a snowy day. I missed Father Cregan's free yoga classes, pizzas from Second Storey, late nights in the library spent giggling instead of working.  I missed complaining about Tolentine, about early classes, about the bookstore prices. I missed the life I'd built at Villanova, the relationship my classmates and I had built together over four years with that place. When I've been asked in the years since graduation if I liked my college experience, I've made people regret their question more than once with the length and enthusiasm of my answer. Villanova is where I met my closest friends, where I became an almost-adult, where I loved and lost and laughed and cried.

I haven't been back to Villanova since 2012. I've followed the academic news (A new Center for Irish Studies! A new Creative Writing minor!) and felt proud of my alma mater more than once. I've followed along when my friends returned for Homecomings, for basketball games. Living abroad, I'm no stranger to FOMO (fear of missing out, for the unfamiliar), but the Villanova events always felt a little bit harder to miss. I would have jumped at the chance to go back to campus, back to Kelly's, to the renamed-since-freshman-year Wells Fargo Center. Still, though, FOMO is par for the course, and generally I manage to comparmentalize it and accept a certain disconnect.

This year, though, was different. As the momentum increased in this year's March Madness tournament, so did my attachment. I saw that Villanova made it to the Sweet Sixteen, and felt glad... And gladder still when they entered the Elite Eight. Once they reached the Final Four, though, is when I really started to feel it. It wasn't FOMO, necessarily, but a different kind of energy. I wasn't afraid of missing out, because I didn't feel that I was missing out. Actually, I felt like a real a part of it. I felt like I was part of the Nova Nation that Jay Wright kept thanking. In my studio in Paris, I donned my worn-in Villanova t-shirt and followed along with the team happily. As the excitement mounted, I felt closer than ever to the action, despite being so far. Waking up to the news last weekend that we'd made it to the final, I felt as joyful as I'd felt during the 2009 run to the Final Four. Though I'm long graduated and thousands of miles away, I felt like MY team was making it, MY school was making it. I felt a part of the roaring crowd, even at a great distance.

When I saw the final was on at 3 a.m. Parisian time, on a school night, I knew I wouldn't be watching it. And yet, even without an alarm I found myself wide awake at 5 that morning, texting my sister to know the score. She told me it was almost over but worth seeing, so I tried to tune in. When the streaming website wouldn't work from Europe, my sister and I video chatted and she propped me up in front of their TV in Park Slope for the last five minutes of the game. I joined in on the chatter on my friends' group chat chain, from Seattle to Houston to Boston to New York to Florida to Paris we all watched together. With bedhead and bleary eyes in the 17th arrondissement of Paris, I watched the five most exciting minutes of basketball I've ever seen, and watched as Kris Jenkins scored the shot of a lifetime. While my sister and her fiancé jumped around their living room in Brooklyn I jumped up and down, too. Every social media outlet I use went haywire; triumphant tweets and Facebook posts and photos and Snapchats and texts, soundbytes and photos and emojis and videos. We were ecstatic, we were walking on air. As the team held up their well-deserved trophy, I teared up and my insides felt like they'd melt from happiness. That day at work, in my corporate office outside Paris, I wore a Villanova Wildcats t-shirt proudly (perhaps to the confusion of my co-workers).

Why, though? Why did I care so much?

I'm not athletic, I don't care for sports in general. I'm happy to watch rugby with my family, but not much else. Why was this win so important to me?

I can't speak for the rest of my classmates, for current students or other graduates, but for me, the importance is linked to the first night all those years ago that we learned the Villanova cheers with Jay in the Pavilion. It's also linked to the chilly March night in 2009 that we ran in the streets from South campus, propelled by adrenaline and an unnameable joy. It's linked to that same energy that continued throughout our four years on campus, and I think that this year's championship game was a return to that years-old feeling.

I'm so proud to call Villanova my alma mater. I will keep watching the replays of the final seconds of the game, to watch reaction videos. I'll continue to find gifs of Jay Wright's cool and collected reaction to the result (BANG.). I'm sure I'll keep getting a thrill out of seeing Villanova headlining articles on The New York TimesThe GuardianThe Washington Post, a swell of pride in my chest when I see the photos from Monday night.

For me, supporting Villanova whole-heartedly and completely this year was a reminder of the common ground that I still share with my fellow Wildcats; that no matter where we are or what we're doing, we still care. To me, supporting Villanova basketball is supporting Villanova. It brings me back to the best years of my life, to a place I love intensely and to memories that I cherish. When I cheer for Villanova, I'm cheering for more than the players on the court. I'm cheering for a place i truly believe in, cheering in solidarity with others that have been affected by the same place. In the past few days I've talked about Villanova basketball to anyone that will listen, but I find that the most interested are other graduates. The energy we feel can only be understood by each other. Though general opinion is that Villanova played a great season, that the title is well-deserved, that it was a hard-won championship. More than an athletic achievement, though, for Villanova basketball fans all over the world the victory was personal. They won the championship, but so did we. Current students, recent graduates, alumni of all ages... This year, we all got to remember what it felt like to be a part of Villanova, to share the energy that Villanova was and continues to be.

This past couple of weeks has been such an exhilarating ride, in large part because we're enjoying the glory together - wherever we are, whatever we're doing. Watching a video of current students in the Pavilion, I felt just as excited as they did at the final basket, as if I were there. I hope I can hold on to this feeling for a long while yet. Whoooooosh.... Go!