D Day

I was doing fine until this morning. In fact, I called about a half dozen friends last night and left them messages saying that I was feeling strong and good about leaving today for Paris. And as what often happens, leaving those messages were more important for my mental status than for the recipients'.

But then this morning I started piling everything up that I needed to take with me and I couldn't find my house keys. In some kind of poetic twist, even the physical problem existed of not being able to "get back into my former home." And as I ransacked the place, cursing the piles of junk mail that have collected over the past two months and shoving old magazines in a garbage bag, I started bawling again, the mantra repeating in my head "I don't want to go." Because on some level, I don't want to come back. And the only thing worse than being somewhat dissatisfied with your life is going away from it and having to re-enter once more.

I lay on my bed staring across at the closet as my poor mother searched the nooks and crannies of the room around me. And suddenly I got up, walked across the room, reached my hand into the right pocket of my white jacket and pulled out the keys. And then I calmed down.

I'm leaving for a week to get my stuff and I promised my new boss last night that I would be coming back (although don't think it wasn't an idea as recent as a week ago to end up staying in Paris for good). I can't promise good Internet access over the next week, but I can promise some good stories when I get back. Like what "downward facing dog" is in French. I'm really looking forward to that.


The French students find out I'm not coming back...

Hi Jen !
What are you doing ??? ;)
Do you have decided to stay in NY ?
Do you have found a new job near Central Park ? A good job?
Hi Jen,
I’m so sad about this email!!!! I didn’t kwown that !!!!
But I guess it’s a good thing for you !!! congratulations !!! sincerely !
I hope everything is all right for you and hope see you again one day !
Hi Jen,
I’ve heard that you’re not coming back to Paris on September. If it’s true, I’m glad that you’ve found a good job but a little sad because I’m nostalgic about our discussions, laughter… during classes.

Because I refuse to believe that I came out of the womb as anything but a fifteen-year old...

As with most girls my age, I was an avid Babysitter's Club reader back in the day. I always longed to be fashionable like Claudia was, but envied Mary Anne, who at the ripe old age of 12, demonstrated a real stability in her relationship with Logan. And then there were Stacey and Dawn, the New Yorker and California girl, always sounding exotic, what with their vegetarianism and diabetes.

I think it would be a fair assessment to say that I earned 98% of my income from the age of 11 to 18 as a babysitter, lugging my own "Kid Kit" to each family's house which was stocked with watercolor paints and animal figurines. Overall, babysitting was a good job for me because it paid pretty well and I felt comfortable around the kids. Though admittedly, whenever I was sitting for a kid under the age of two, I'd do periodic checks to make sure the baby was still breathing. I don't know where that paranoia came from; perhaps one too many 20/20 episodes.

Today after work I stopped by a French woman's house, one who I became friendly with the last time I lived in New York. I used to babysit her three boys and now she has added a girl to the mix. While I was there, her new babysitter rang the doorbell; she was there to take care of the kids for the evening. When she opened the door, I almost fell off my chair. A CHILD had arrived to take care of four children. "Holy GOD," I thought to myself, "This canNOT be legal!"

Turns out the girl was fourteen years old; I couldn't get over how young and fragile she seemed, how her tiny hands were going to do things like change a diaper or cook dinner for five. On the other hand, at her age, I'd been a 3-year veteran in the business. I can't believe that I was ever that young but this is an obvious delusion.

And now I realize that there's just a host of problems awaiting me when I get to the point of hiring someone to watch my future children. Like finding a babysitter who looks responsible, minimum age 45.


Slope! And other GRE Fun Facts

So far GRE studying has been going well. There are two main reasons for this:

1. I have been completely ignoring time limits.
2. I have been very nonchalantly verifying my answers ("oh hmm, yeah, wow, that one was way off! ha!")

Last night I decided to buckle down and set some time limits. It goes without saying that the math and verbal sections that I tackled under these conditions were the hardest I've encountered so far. My results on last night's exercises would put me somewhere in the academic range of "i do good at skool" and "decimals are decorative!" In the midst of the problem solving section, I was bitch-slapped by standard deviation and kicked in the gut by percentages. And then, a tiny graph appeared, one that asked for the slope of the line.

Like an almighty force rushing out through every pore of my being, slope screamed out "CHANGE IN Y OVER CHANGE IN X!" and the explanation from my 10th grade Math teacher echoed close behind "rise over run... you would need to get out of bed before you run away!"

Perhaps my hypochondria stems from an education based on ways to flee one's bed, even while in Math class. But I digress.

Important lessons were learned in the verbal section as well. I am now particularly well-informed about why black slaves ended up preserving tradition better than their white owners (they kept strict records about their kin and therefore never married their cousins... the inbreeding hypothesis might explain what the hell is so wrong with the Bush family) and why Virginia Woolf was so impressed by Chaucer (he didn't outwardly moralize but asked his reader to come to his own moral judgements). Look at all I've retained 24 hours later! And yet, one might ask, why did I only get 5/10 correct last night?

The more I study for this damn test, the more annoyed I get. This is not because I don't like studying the math because I am actually having an okay time wondering down memory lane, reconnecting synapses that have been road blocked since the AP Pre-Calc disaster of '99. It's more the idea that someone like myself, who is not interested in pursuing geometry or antonyms in graduate school, would need to prove something by this lop-sided excuse for a measuring device.

If there is any advice I can offer to those considering taking the mighty GRE, I'd suggest taking it while the iron is hot. Word on the street is they're changing the format to something longer and more focused on the math section, two elements that can only add to the GRE Marketing departments' sleepless nights.


I went all the way to Vermont to get my MA and all I got was this cane...

Speaking of weird graduation traditions (ha! how's THAT for starting in the middle of a thought!), we all filed into the Chapel last Friday night for the Language School graduation and once we got settled, two of the professors banged these enormous cane-like sticks on the ground to start the ceremony. The President of Middlebury welcomed us to the ceremony and then launched into a story about how one of the most precious artifacts that Middlebury owns is the cane that the founder left to the School.

At this point, I was vaguely interested in this story and would have listened more closely, but it was one of those moments when you realize "hey! we're all dressed up in these funny costumes and hey! isn't that the professor from last summer and WHOOPS, there goes the hat again..." So my inner graduation monologue was a bit too loud and all of a sudden we're passing around a cane. "All of the graduates must touch this cane," the president says, "to continue in the tradition. Every graduate of Middlebury College touches this cane during their graduation" and now we're all flustered and "HUH? what is this- oh, wait it's here and now it's my turn and I'd like this moment to be sentimental but it's awkward if this cane-passing takes more than 3 seconds on my part..."

The cane makes its way down the aisle away from me and into the German M.A. students, then on to Russian, Italian and Spanish. Just as I'm starting to wish I'd listened more closely to the original cane story, the first French graduates start going up and we realize that we EACH are taking home a replica of the original cane. Unlike what you may imagine, our canes are full-size, engraved, and have gold bottoms which sound pretty bad-ass when 171 M.A. language graduates are banging them on the floor of the chapel.

Why the banging? Because after the diploma part, we had to sing a SONG about the cane. It really couldn't get any more ridiculous and yet perfectly eccentric at this point, and so we sang and banged our canes and had a merry old time, celebrating the end of a year in a beautiful place together, united by a funny little thing called French.


Leave the dirt at the beep

I'll admit that when I sat down five minutes ago with my Dad's homemade peach cobbler to listen to my voice mail I knew there might be a few saved on there. If you would have asked me for my top guess, I'd have said six max. And no, the answer was FIFTEEN. Fifteen voice mail messages from the past ten days or so, all lined up and waiting for me to dial in.

I'm really bad at listening to my messages, so bad in fact that two years ago Evelyn sat next to me on the couch and MADE me listen to them while she took notes on a spare pad of paper. I think I'd reached 35 that time and the thing is, once you get over three, it starts feeling overwhelming to even contemplate calling the mailbox because WHO wants me and WHAT do they need that I'm late sending to them?

Either way, I always end up deleting messages before they're over because they're so old I assume there is no relevant information in them. And perhaps this is my passive-aggressive way of avoiding social responsibility, to wait until the event/issue/trauma/assignment is so far past due that all I can do is shrug my shoulders and delete.

Last week I had dinner at the old apartment in Rye with Evelyn, Tejal and Dani. During said dinner, Evelyn mentioned some highly delicious gossip that she assumed I'd known for weeks because she'd left it in a voice mail for me. I guess my trigger-happy finger zapped it all away though because she didn't spit the gossip out within the first three seconds, a fact that leads me to wonder what else people are leaving at the tail ends of messages.

Is someone in love with me? Have I been fired? Is anyone else pregnant with a KFed baby? I would say that my curiosity outweighs my lazy phone tendencies and that I'll change my ways, but to be more realistic, give me the good stuff first. Forget pleasantries. Leave the dirt at the beep.


To Wish, to Wonder, to Wallow

I know a few people who don't know how to roll with the punches. Perhaps it's more accurate to say that they don't know how to accept having been punched. When life (or an ex-boyfriend or an ex-job or an ex-anything) really socks them in the gut, they do not double over in pain, do not go off to lick their wounds, do not acknowledge the injury. Instead, they pretend they were never hit in the first place.

I wished I was like this kind of person about five hundred times this past week.

The reason I haven't written anything lately is that I didn't know how to write without turning this thing into something boring and worrisome for those who read it. I read several blogs, some of which are written by women who are going through unbearable times and I'm always left with anxiety after reading their words. I cannot do anything to help and yet I cannot NOT do anything either. I spent the past week or so having daily breakdowns in the comfort of my own bed, choosing to get through these moments of doubt alone.

Because the thing is, I'm a wallower. I am not like the aforementioned few; I can't take a punch and walk proudly away. I wallow and I sit in it and wait until my toes touch the bottom so I can push off again towards air. If I don't deal with things as they come they come back to get me months later and so my way of dealing is to get it all out at once. And boy, was there a lot to get a handle on this week. Here is a helpful diagram to help those of you visual learners (minus the black rubber ball, but including the big gut fed by homemade cookies ...):

It was very cathartic to make this silly picture, so if you'd like the image to make one of your own, to name (and choose fonts and sizes for!) your problems, drop me an email and I'd love to see your version if you're into sharing. Naming the overwhelming issues can be a good step towards getting over them and this exercise, combined with a few other moments over the past couple of days has me feeling a bit better. I think I'm swimming up to the surface again; a few yoga classes, a joyful weekend in Vermont for my graduation from Middlebury, and a quiet afternoon of studying math for the GREs have reset a few of my buttons. And while I'm still dreading the trip to Paris in two weeks to collect my things and say my goodbyes, making stateside plans for the upcoming months has helped me feel balanced as well.

Check back soon for Middlebury French class of 2007 pix, fun facts learned while studying for the GREs, and the story behind why I now own a cane. A story not to be missed, folks.


Passing a Torch

The Sarahs and I went to an organic farmer's market last weekend in Nashville, a wonderful tented place that had great deals on green peppers, orange watermelon and FREE kittens. Once we saw the sign for free kittens, which I felt was straight out of some kind of Laura Ingalls Wilder's novel, we made a beeline over to pet their tiny heads. The mere shock of seeing the word "free" in front of the word "kittens" accounted for half of my fascination with it. Who still gives kittens away for free? I'm pretty sure that everyone in New York charges a finder's fee or something equally un-farm-like.

When we got there, four kittens were left and, as the early afternoon progressed, they all disappeared. The orange tabby left in the arms of a young boy and his sister, a tiny black one mewed its way to its new owner's red Honda. One by one, they were absorbed into the local community, adopted into the arms and backyards of local families. It reminded me of the time that Steve and I flew down to D.C. to visit Katie last summer. When we passed through the gates into the baggage claim area, we saw two families waiting to receive tiny Asian babies in red jumpsuits. Tears flew into my eyes as the mothers were passed the newest members of their families and the siblings danced around their parents' legs singing "I have a sister!"

I like the idea of people taking care of projects started elsewhere. Is that an awfully simple way to talk about adoption? It feels like it might be, but I want to insist upon the simple fact that it's a beautiful thing to imagine and conceive of an idea or project or child oneself, but it's also pretty stunning to see the torch being passed as well.

My Nana used to raise African violets in her sun room. They started on an end table and by the end had spread across every possible surface, including the floor. When we stayed there a few weeks ago, we went around and threw them into one giant garbage bag; most had died because it had been so long that someone had been in her house to water them. One, however, looked like it had an ounce of life left in it so I brought it home in the hopes of reviving something in the wake of a loss. It was finicky for the first two weeks and didn't seem to like any of the places I put it in the house.

Proud to report that the sunlight in the laundry room has made this adoption and revival a success.


Ingrid Michaelson at the Mercury Lounge

You need to be listening to this. Like, NOW.


I miss Maddy.

"Reckon i need a departure lounge all for myself - and you too if you like, and all the wondering travellers like us - called 'for those whose hearts break every time they go to up and leave. yet again."


Crayola Organics from a TN Farmer's Market

Paris Newsletter: Month Eleven

Dear Paris,

I spent this past weekend in Nashville (which oddly enough seems to have become my #1 vacation spot in this large country) with the Sarahs. I thought a lot on my plan ride home tonight why my friendship with the Sarahs continues on so strong, regardless of what Midwest state they plant themselves in (and what foreign soil I'm playing on). Staying with them is like visiting family, like having cousins my own age whose values are close to mine and whose love of arts and crafts and everything nature is something we revel in sharing. Maybe it's the wooden paneling in their rented apartment that reminds me of my Nana's or maybe it's the feeling of being far from home that kicks up the family instinct in me, but regardless of what the reasons are, the Sarahs are living proof that friendship can work long-distance.

I am living in a place called Doubtland at the moment; some of you may know it, as it lies directly north of Steam-roll-ahead-Optimistville and just south of Old Regretsbury. There are moment when this just all feels wrong, buying cars and living back at home and working full-time and starting all. over. again. I had a very long and profound conversation with an old boss of mine last week who said it short and to the point when she said "we are misfits. There's no use fighting it, once you become one of these trans-continental people, you can't fit into any one side anymore." She's right of course, and this purgatory-like status feels even more damning when I barely recognize myself in my hometown anymore. Like I've forgotten the language and the will to speak it.

As if such large-scale life changes weren't enough, July brought with it the end to two matriarchs in our family. I spent five days down in Pennsylvania with my Mom at my Nana's, going through her things and was faced with yet another side of myself. To realize we are one in a chain of generations is something I rarely feel in America because the architecture doesn't shout it the same way as it does in Europe. But we found deeds for my great-grandfather's land in the 1800's and photos from the early 20th century that vibrated with history and only fed my over-active imagination at night when I should have been sleeping. To face my past, present and future in the same month has been utterly exhausting.

I greet August with a half-hearted wave, anxious about the next few weeks of setting roots down here, but also dreading the end of the month, when I head back to Paris to collect my things and say goodbye. The future of these newsletters is uncertain as well. I can't continue writing to Paris because it's like never getting over a relationship, but at the same time, it seems too soon to be writing to New York. I may need to find someplace in-between like the Atlantic Ocean or something general like the globe. Or maybe, dear readers, I will cut out the middleman and write directly to you.




Union Square, Summer Evening

Annual Pilgrimage to the Times Square Olive Garden

Me: So how was that Dolly Parton concert you went to in Norway?
Leigh: You know, lots of Norwegians.
Me: Good stuff, the Norwegians?
Leigh: We were sitting next to this one lady who was definitely 100% 9 months pregnant and 100% guzzling beers. We could see her kid getting stupider.