Every night these silhouettes appear above my head, little angels of the silences that climb into my bed.
What do you write when you feel like you’ve written everything? When that existential need to express yourself falls hollow? I would say I am an upbeat person, I’m certainly an optimist. I would say that my friends care about me. I would say that I would be remembered.
But, then you have these moments, these paradigm shifts where the Earth trembles and suddenly you’re falling. In that flash, you doubt – what’s going on? will I be ok? who’s going to catch me?
I’ve gone many places, I’ve done many things, and I’ve cemented many friendships, but more than that I’ve met many men in this last year. However none stood out so much as Hollen. In the course of a few nights we had become as most couples do after months of dating. There was an effortlessness then, an effervescence that sparkled in every ounce of me. It just felt right, and who questions that feeling? Something so fleeting, so craved that even if it is ephemeral who cares? Seize it.
And so we did, and the story unfolded as you have already read and I have bemoaned.
But, recently I have changed. I don’t need a knight-in-shining-armor anymore. Months of almost complete gay isolation have given me time to recollect myself, to reprocess who I am, what I want, and why it’s all worth it.
And my answer to all of these is I don’t know.
Who does? And why do you have to? Sure I could be writing this as some sort of cathartic expression of psychosis, but I think that the worlds of black and white, of gray and grayer, are rational attempts to define the irrational. Try to define your essence in a few sentences and see how little you know of yourself. What we want must be beyond our absolute understanding, otherwise wouldn’t we all be happy? Or at least on the path towards happiness?
Which is why I’m glad that I’ve written Hollen off. I don’t care anymore about how great he was because no one who truly cared about me could so completely brush me aside later. A friend could never do that. I will not linger in the corners of despair or the shadows of melancholy. Instead, I’ll find a clean, well-lighted place: a place beyond the horrors of the shade, where the menace of the years finds and shall find me unafraid. I need find no mate, I need pay no toil or toll. I am master of my fate, the captain of my soul.
In these final days abroad, these last hours of pause before my regular life recommences, I can only reflect on the fact that life in and of itself is meaningless. And so we must fill it with meaning, bring it to a frothy foam. A foam that drips over the edge, that bursts forth and sloshes with every toast, every dance, every nod, every touch.
I may not know where my soul need go, but I will lead it.
So despite the fact that I’ve spent the entirety of the last few days watching Girls, True Blood, The Newsroom, organizing my computer, and kind of doing work, I feel like I need to do something for real. Let’s write. I feel like all of my posts are so maudlin, which doesn’t reflect the reality of my life here.
I quite like Paris. Love would a strong word reserved for occasions when my BAC is over what a salty cop would waive. But I quite like it.
Nothing titillating has happened in the last few weeks, and I quite like that as well. My life has become pretty tranquil, though my classes forever stress me, in large part because I’m too lazy to actually do my work until the absolute last instant. However, there have still been some absolutely lovely moments lately, and I’d like to recount one.
To begin, the absolute best moment ever happened on the metro the other day, let me paint the scene:
I’m three stops from Place d’Italie on Ligne 6 bound for Sully Morland, the stop nearest my Duke classes. It’s been a typical hustle and bustle kind of morning. I woke up at 11:45am for my 12:45pm class that takes 28 minutes to get to. Thinking this would give me plenty of time to get ready, as I always do, incorrectly, I leisurely proceed through my morning routines and find clothes only to realize that it is now 12:27, exactly when I need to be leaving. But I am not currently leaving. Yet I must be leaving. So I skip breakfast, forget my gloves, and dash down the stairs. And yes, this is literally how it always is. Always. I know I know, I bring it on myself, but ehhh I just love staying up late and I neeed sleep.
So I know what you’re thinking, so where’d the metro story go to? My response? Oh yeah, that.
So I dash down the stairs into another blustery November day: gray, overcast, and cold in that penetrating moist sort of way. Aka terrible. In that I trudge a few metres down Rue Boulard, turn a sharp right onto Rue Ernest Cresson where I stumble through the mass of tightly packed cars and pass our building’s homeless man reading today’s paper in the neighborhood’s coin laundromat. I stare at the Woody on the bench in front of the iPhone case store, creeped out as always, only to avert my gaze and see Ile Maurice, which only conjures up more horrors as I think of the boudin, bony fish, and awful cocktail that I lost 17 euros on in September. Then with a tight left turn I’m on Rue General Leclerc. Fully realizing how late I am, I walk briskly, occasionally breaking into a swift jog – the only running I’ve done in 5 months. I pass five homeless people: two might be asleep and that one is definitely drunk. And suddenly the Monoprix is upon me, along with the unceasing crowd spilling out from Rue Daguerre. I slow down, ducking and weaving between the cold strangers who have become my morning compatriots. With all of this behind me, I descend into the tunnels.
There’s always someone fumbling with their ticket at the turn-style closest to the Rue Daguerre entrance so with a huff I rush past them, whip out my wallet, slide my fingers into the little crease between my driver’s license and the leather and pluck out my Navigo pass. A nonchalant drop and the light green arrows glow. Paris’ metro is mine – so long as I stay within zones 1-2 during the designated hours. I race down the stairs, round the corner – hitting a maternal woman 23% of the time, a forgotten yuppie 16% of the time, and a hot guy never, only to arrive on the platform of ligne 4. Which I don’t need. So I keep walking down the quai, go down two flights of stairs and after all that I’m at last bound for school. Oh wait, no I’m not…
For once I board the godforsaken ligne 6 I have 4 stops until Place d’Italie. I memorized these stops in a forlorn attempt to understand Paris’ metro system better. Unfortunately knowing Denfert Rochereau- Saint Jacques – Glaciere – Corvisart – Place d’Italie has not ever come in handy. After approximately 4 1/2 minutes on ligne 6 I bound out of the doors before the train stops (love doing that) and stagger step onto the platform. Through more tunnels I go, walking with typical oh-shit-why-am-I-always-late pace: 19% chance the tunnels smell of pee today, 3% chance someone has taken a poo. I arrive on the platform for ligne 7 and after 2-3 minutes (normally, though there are those glorious, day-making times when the train arrives as I do) I’m finally school bound. And it only took 771 words.
Great right? Now the story,
So after all that I am three stops into my four stop ride to Sully Morland (Place d’Italie – Les Gobelins – Censier Daubentons – Jussieu – Sully Morland, I got this girl), leaning on one of the poles in the center of the car. An elderly couple is next to me, not terribly old, but definitely of retirement age like that bus driver you had in fourth grade that shouldn’t still be operating large machinery, but you were like “well she still seems spry so I won’t alert the PTA.” Yeah, you were cool like that.
So her, and her husband, were casually talking next to me. She wore a casual off-white pants suit, little pearl earrings and a darling bracelet of emerald-colored stones. Her husband – or lover ? – was dressed like all old Frenchmen: light brown tweed suit [with elbow pads – safety first], brown loafers, antique spectacles, and a lack of height. Ok so maybe that last part isn’t a piece of clothing… but it is nonetheless ubiquitous here.
Suddenly, we arrive at Jussieu. The doors open and a rather disheveled man walks on with what looks like a small grocery cart. Then, with the same look the dinosaurs must have had when they saw the meteor seconds away from impact [yes, exactly the same look], the woman took a step back. “Non, non, non, non! Monsieur, non! Nous ne voulons pas ca.” [No, no, no, no! Sir, no! We don’t want that]. Evidently used to this response, he replied with something to the effect of, “But beauty is for everyone Madame.”
Meanwhile, I’m dying. I’m laughing so hard that a few chortles escape despite my best efforts to suppress them. Her response is exactly how I feel every time I see one of them board a subway car, and I’m loving that she’s saying it out loud.
The doors snap shut, he reaches down to his cart, and he does it. Nothing more can be done.
He flips the boombox on and starts singing an awful rendition of some awful song from that most awful of decades, the 1980s. The woman and man go the opposite end of the car, and I unfortunately have to leave this lovely scene as soon as we reach Sully Morland.
I don’t have enough self-discipline to update this regularly, or to do much lately for that matter. I don’t know why. I make schedules, list, alarms, reminders, plans, and yet, at the end of the day, I don’t want to do it.
Am I lazy? Should I change my life? I mean I’m living in Paris, so it’s not like I’m stuck back in my Missouri rut. I think instead it touches on something deeper within me. As to what that is I have no idea, but I don’t much like it.
In fact, I hate it.
On a less melancholy note Paris is sublime. Well, okay it’s not always that great, but I like it. I think I just miss structure. My days are totally open except from noon-ish to three-ish which means that I slack basically all day because who can do work immediately before or after class? Evidently not I.
I’m not even going to try to organize this post. I’d prefer to unzip that little barrier that cradles my thoughts, that inner space no can penetrate, and let a few things slip out. Then of course I must seal it back up, even I don’t really know what’s in there. Sometimes that scares me a lot. But, I try not to think about it.
Europe has gotten kind of old. I mean I still love it of course, but after awhile it becomes the same old churches, weird languages, and overpriced sandwiches. Some still take your breath away like when I saw the quasi-ruin of a still-functioning renaissance cathedral in Chartres, the joyful cadence of two Italians rendezvousing, or the $12 paninis in Geneva. Yet those instances are few and far between.
I appreciate Europe. I love its good parts, and I know that everything is nuanced, so I try to not condemn it for its faults. But I’m not enchanted by it. The south of France is great for vacations, Geneva for lakeside strolls, Berlin for counter-culture, Amsterdam for canals, Prague for Habsburg opulence, London for cosmopolitain flair, Paris for effortless elegance, Edinburgh for life’s simple pleasures, and the US for life itself. Yes, that pattern did end quite abruptly. I apologize for those startled by it, but that was the point. Despite all of these great traits, sights, sounds, and lifestyles, it is only in the US that I feel I belong. In France I’m “l’Américain” (the American), and no matter how many compliments I get on my accent or how well I speak French, every French person and I know that I’m the foreigner in their country. I’m the one that will never know all the acronyms, which root vegetables are in season in Limousin, how many bullet holes tore up Charles de Gaulle’s Renault, why Rosé will never equal Rouge, or why the French are so god awful at English.
On that last point I do feel quite bad as I am also a traveller on a formidable language journey. However, I hate the way the French say English words. I find it stuffy, annoying, and stupid. Unless they have a really good accent I would really just prefer to speak in French regardless of my French ability or their English competence. Of course though, I couldn’t be so direct with Valentine, and I told the first lie that I regret in quite a while. Valentine, my oh too dear host sister, is my favorite person here. She’s so pretty in that effortless French way, and her personality is even more beautiful. Rarely have I met someone that is so simply, so purely, good.
Two weekends ago I went to this business conference in New York for gay students looking to go into finance and consulting. It was really interesting, and I definitely would like to consult for a bit post-Navy or MBA, but these last two weeks (since the conference) I’ve gotten more jaded about relying on other people.
I met all of these great people (peers and professionals) at the conference, but when I got back and sent hey it was nice to meet yous (to peers) and thank you notes (to profs) I got a few really great responses, but on the whole all these people that I thought I had made a good connection with forgot/ignored me just as soon as I left.
I mean I get that people are busy and that it’s not always intentional, but I just don’t like being ignored. It’s especially annoying because it was basically students from Ivy-league schools and their peers who are interested in business aka it is a conference of very intelligent, driven, and gay(!) men (and lesbians, I fucking love lesbians).
Do you realize how rare it is to meet 200 gay men that aren’t a mess? (Though obviously there were secret sluts and problem children, but on the whole it was a great group).
I met 3 guys that I at least thought were interesting, but all of our conversations have trailed off since I got back to Paris. Luckily one goes to Duke, but the other two are at Stanford and Harvard so I’m just going to forget them for now.
In looking back over everything that has passed, the one lesson that I’ve learned from the last 10 months that I think is the most important thing I’ve ever learned, and it’s something you can only experience otherwise it sounds cliche or overly simplistic, but there’s really no meaning to life if you aren’t happy. The money, the awards, the lunch dates-social hours-VIP rooms, and travel really don’t mean anything if they aren’t tethered to someone (or some people) that you love.
How to do that is hard. I think that’s really why I made this blog. I honestly don’t care if no one reads it or 1000 read it. I just need to say these things, and there’s never anyone to listen. I don’t know how it’s possible to have so many friends and feel so alone. What I really need, more than anything, is someone truly close to me. Someone that calls me everyday, jogs with me on the weekends, rages with me, smiles when they see me, and, most of all, someone who will listen to these things.
That sentence, even two weeks later, just doesn’t make sense. There are so many things that I’m seeing, feeling, hearing, failing to understand, muddling through, and enjoying against all else; however, in this city everything swirls. Nothing is constant, nothing habitual. I feel as if I completely untethered from everything I know, and yet I float on the sea of dreams.
Stepping off the night train from Berlin, I arrived on arguably the bleakest possible day I’ve ever seen in Paris: blanketed with an obfuscating fog that somehow put me at ease. After all these months of travel I’ve become most at home in la foule – the mass, unyielding, unrepentant. I am what am, and of what this is I care not.
Paris is, well to put it bluntly I have no idea what Paris is.
I can tell you what it is not. It is not the snobby bastion of anti-Americanism that both the French and Americans both elevate and decry it as. It is not cheap. It is not what the guidebooks tell you. It is not hard, and it is never easy. It is not as static as I once thought. And more than anything else it is not hard to love.
I don’t know what changed this time over the other four times that I’ve been to Paris, but what had once been for me the epitome of bland modern France, mired in its past and unable to face its future, seems so much modern, so much more dynamic today. I guess as someone who has spent so much time studying France its facade lost its luster for me long ago. Hence, when I came to Paris as a tourist I found its veneer gaudy and stifling. The whole city just reeked of decadence.
Yet, this lens has switched to a much rosier one. Now I see Paris as a weird but fascinating hybrid of modern and ancient. It remains a bastion of privilege but living with a middle class French family and exploring the more quotidien facets of Parisian life has opened up the city to me in unexpected ways. For one I’ve finally found good food in a capital notorious for its sad culinary inequality (between three star michelin restaurants and tourist-trap brasseries). More than anything my host mother and the cousin staying with them, Valentine, have opened my eyes to Paris. We speak constantly (in French) about life, the city, and those daily conversations that are deliciously trivial.
For now I’m soaking it all in. I bought teal pants at Zara, partied on a boat in the Seine, returned to Normandie to celebrate my old host sister’s 20th birthday and went clubbing in the middle of nowhere France, saw what only the French (and residents) can see: the President’s Palace and National Assembly, and meandered everywhere I could.
I still feel like I’m squandering an opportunity, that I should do more. But at the same time I’m trying to be less American and accept things as they come. For example, after countless wasted hours on Grindr here I’ve abandoned any pretensions about finding a boyfriend. I know I’ll make some French gay friends and maybe more, but nothing will ever become serious.
I came to France to seize this golden opportunity to understand the culture I’ve waited so long to live amongst and I won’t waste it on some dalliance. The time for that is passed, and in the future. The present, that’s mine.