Here I am, living the dream. I left my job in New York and came to Paris to stay in my little apartment for two months at least. I’m lucky, right? Amazing, yes?
So why am I depressed?
Well, okay, I arrived to find my apartment deeply damaged from a leak in the building that has been carrying on for months while the upstairs neighbor and the managing agent—le syndic—debate over who is responsible to fix it. And I was unable to stay in my own home because toxic mold has grown inside the walls and under the parquet. Maybe this has been secretly eating away at my joy. But a friend did arrange a gorgeous apartment for me—on Ile de la Cité, no less—to stay for a month. That should make a girl feel pretty blessed, angels on her side and all that. And I did, I do. I think.
Still, I can’t shake this feeling of unease, of gloom. Of fear and loathing. What’s wrong with me? Do I not know how to be happy?
“You’ve had tons of huge change in your life,” a friend and fellow writer, Lisa Taylor Huff, reminded me over dinner near Hôtel de Ville. “Leaving your job. Moving to a foreign country. That’s a lot to handle.”
She’s right. Why did I think I could coast through this?
In my mind, I now had everything I’d ever wanted: a book deal, the ability to go wherever, whenever—Paris, New York. I owed it to dreamers everywhere to be elated every day, didn’t I? But when they teach you to dream big, they don’t tell you how it will feel when the dream becomes real, when fantasy falls away and you realize you’re still you, lugging your same bag of crap around. They skirt the issue of how hard it can be to blaze that trail, how alone you’ll feel at times. How lost. Did I actually think my life in Paris would be more charmed than my life in New York?
I guess I did. Every time I came to Paris, I returned to New York, renewed and inspired. Paris was the one place where whatever I needed would manifest itself immediately. Magically. But that was when I was on vacation. What about now, with real life leaking all over my apartment? Was Paris pissing on my dream?
“Paris feels strange,” I confessed to my friend. This was a huge—and deeply sad—revelation about a city that I had heretofore called my other home. People are strange when you’re a stranger. “I can’t get past my fear.”
Lisa responded, as she often does, with something profound, in this case a quote from Ambrose Redmoon.
Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.
So I wasn’t a failure for wanting to curl up in a ball and cry? For experiencing fight or flight pangs just because I don’t understand what the train conductor is telling me? For feeling like Dorothy in the beautiful and magical Oz, who just wants to go home to good ol’ Kansas?
Dream Paris vs. Real Paris
Real-life Paris is very different from the Paris I thought I knew. I understand a bit of what my Parisian friends have been complaining about these many years: life here can be hard. Everyday things are often harder than in New York, even doing laundry takes all day. And getting a simple leak fixed is apparently impossible. But is that what’s really bringing me down? What’s the biggest difference between vacation Paris and real-life Paris?
The difference is me.
In my former life, I’d come to Paris for just a few days at a time, and have a packed schedule. My visit was an event, for which all my friends would be on hand. I was never alone too long, and even when I was, my Blackberry would tether me to my job and things familiar back home. But that life is gone. My days aren’t filled with friends anymore, not when you’re here for months. They all have day jobs, like I used to; they’re busy with their lives. I’m a writer who sits in cafes all day, alone with my thoughts. All day long. I know I need this time to search my soul, to write my memoir, but I’m starting to get a little sick of myself. I wake up heavy from too much me.
Oh God, did I do the wrong thing?
This journey has been propelled by something outside myself—or deep within—something that drove me to buy the apartment, and pushed me to leave a steady job and move here. A compulsion to walk away from everything safe and familiar.
Now I’m out there. Way out there, farther than I’ve ever been. This is a life completely uncharted—scary for someone who makes lists and plans months ahead. And there’s a little voice inside screaming, “Turn back!”
I wonder if Columbus questioned if he’d done the wrong thing, when he was halfway across the ocean, and perhaps the Santa Maria started leaking. Did he think about turning back? They talk about the Explorers’ daring and success but never of their doubts and fears. While we know what they discovered on the other side of the world, we can only imagine what they discovered about themselves as they watched their familiar shoreline disappear from sight.
Courage is not the absence of fear….
Fear not, dear friends, I will push on. Sure, nothing is certain; there are no guarantees I’ll make a go of this new life. But one thing I know, it will make a helluva book—fear, loathing and all. It worked for Hunter Thompson, am I right?