Love and Choices

So, I am going to say something that no one really wants to hear.  Before I say it, though, I feel the need to first include the caveat that I am not saying it to be dark, or mean, or burst any bubble that you may have.  But rather, to be real, if only with myself. That’s what this blog seems to have become more than anything else – a means of me being honest with myself by being honest with the world that may read it.  So, why not say it. Feel free to prove me wrong if you disagree.  Trust me, nothing would make me happier than to be wrong on this one.

With that, it has to be said that love and desire isn’t enough to achieve anything.  Don’t get me wrong, it helps.  But neither one of these alone is enough to actually achieve or realize anything at all.  What they do, though, is give you an incentive, a reason, to keep moving forward.

You’re probably asking: sheesh, seriously?  I thought you were going to just “ride the waves” and see where they take you?  Why are you writing this right now?  

I am honestly asking these questions myself.

I was in the midst of writing about the process that I went through in thinking about moving to Paris, a post that is nearly finished and expect to share in the coming days.  However, literally mid-sentence, I came to a full stop and my mind shifted to these thoughts.  Perhaps it was reliving and breaking down the process of deciding to move.  Perhaps it’s exhaustion after facing a seemingly unending series of obstacles over the past several months.  Or, perhaps it’s anger at the very real possibility of losing love to circumstance.  Who knows the reason but the words are here now and I feel the need to share them.  

As I think we have established by now, I am a romantic.  Deep down at my core, I love the idea of love.  I embrace it.  Revel in it really.  I moved to the City of Love for love – both of another and for myself.  What I have found, though, is that it is easy to get lost in it – or at least it is easy for me to get lost in the love of another and lose the love for myself in the process.  

Let me back up a little.  I have spent the better part of my life doing things for other people – for family, for clients, for charity.  Even when I thought I was making a decision for myself, there was some part of me that was doing it for someone else – if only to have someone else think better of me. I looked to love and pride myself through the affirmations of others.  Now, for those who know me and are reading this, this is going to seem like an odd statement.  To many, I am strong, independent, at times single-minded, forthright, and unwavering.  All of these are true.  But, at the same time, for the better part of my life, perhaps my whole life, the happiness and impressions of others have motivated my actions. It’s only been the past few months as I have really been alone – more alone than I ever thought I could or would be – that I have come to realize that moving to Paris is one of the only things that I have done entirely without consideration or interest of what others thought.  When I told people I was moving, they asked me, “well, what does your (insert family, job, close friends) think of the move?”  Though I consulted all of them as I went about the process of deciding to move, the fact of the matter was that I had decided to make the move before I even asked them.  And, while their support and love has been important in this process, it didn’t do it because or in spite of them.  I did it because I loved a man who lived halfway around the world enough to take the chance on him, even if it ended in catastrophe, which it is increasingly looking it might.  And, more importantly, I did it because I loved myself enough to take a chance on myself, knowing that even if I found myself back in Washington, DC at the end of the experience, it would be as a different and stronger person than I ever thought I could be.  A person I could never have become if I had never left.

Over the past few months, though, I have forgotten about this second love – this love for myself – as I have gone about the transformation process.  I got wrapped up in the highs that you feel when you have someone look into your eyes and know that they really and truly understand you – if only for that moment.  I told myself that that love was enough to see me through everything and anything.  I allowed myself to believe that because I knew this type of love, then the Universe or God or whatever powers that be are out there would take care of it all.  Maybe this was naive but I know everyone reading this has been there, has felt that feeling.  Maybe it wasn’t the love of another that made you believe this but I know there was something you have experienced that made you think, “yes, everything is going to be alright and I don’t need to worry about what’s to come next because it’s just going to unfold.”  Life has a funny way, though, of reminding you that you can’t just sit back and enjoy the ride.  That real work is involved.  For me, it’s sought to teach me this lesson by giving me a double-whammy of real lows for every beautiful high I have felt and it has been really hard not to get cynical, to doubt the feelings and the surety of self that I have experienced.

As I have gone through the roller coaster, or waves to stick with the analogy I used in an earlier post, I have turned a lot to those closest to me and then immediately shut them out.  I am sure this has been an incredibly hard and frustrating process for them, but it has been the only thing I have known to do as I grapple with the reality in front of me and the fact that I did it to myself.    That said, I have been thinking a lot about an email that I received from my mother.  Well, really one line from her email specifically.  It was simply, “you have choices.”  For whatever reason, this has really stuck with me today.  

I am in a privileged situation because I do indeed have choices.  Many people don’t in life but I do and I am eternally grateful for them.  

Thus far, I have chosen to let myself be identified by the love of another during my time in Paris.  I liked the idea of it.  And, while it helped me quit my job, pack up my house, and get on the plane, it hasn’t been the basis of either my future personal or professional life quite in the manner I expected.  Rather, it’s been a beautiful story – both for me to tell and for others to hear, in part due to the fact it has more than a little touch of a fairy tale to it.  While I truly hope the story will continue, I am increasingly aware that my choice of being identified with the love of another is unsustainable.  Perhaps I needed to start from the place of being identified in this manner because to tell people that I moved to Paris simply because I needed to do something for myself and needed a change in perspective sounded too selfish or self-indulgent.  But, as I look to an uncertain future in the love of another, it is the love of myself that is providing the strength to proceed forward.  

And, while that love alone still won’t navigate governmental bureaucracy, make a relationship work, or cure an illness, what it will do is give me is not only a reason to stay here in Paris but also the fortitude to truly embrace and learn from whatever is to come.  And that is my choice.

Health, Wealth and Happiness in the New Year

Ok, I am going to say something and you are just going to have to take my word for it. 2017 was a weird year. I know, I know, you are saying, “Um, seriously?  You moved to Paris for love!” And yes, yes I did. But you have to understand that the backdrop of that was basically a full on mid-life crisis.  As I’ve mentioned before, part of the reason I embraced moving here to quickly was because I was otherwise in a bit of a rut in my life. Don’t get me wrong. It was an amazingly wonderful rut – the kind of life that I had aspired and worked hard for years to achieve.  But. I. Was. Bored.  I had looked for new jobs on and off over for a couple of years – taken sommelier classes, learned how to make liquor and thought very seriously about opening a distillery (still a possibility, especially in what seems like a pretty interesting market here in France / Europe), and began working with shamen all over the world.  All in search of figuring out where my path was taking me and why, in my late thirties, it just seemed to be in suspension.  

In an attempt to shake something loose, I spent much of 2017 searching.  Like so many other people, I tend to search for answers through travel – taking myself out of my everyday to gain some level of clarity or peace with my life.  I travelled to Nicaragua for a yoga and surf retreat (an excellent vacation, but no real source for answers).  I went to Paris for shared birthday celebrations with a dear friend (a trip that changed my life, reconnecting me with a man – the Parisian – I met nine years before and who refused to be forgotten).  I returned to Paris a month later to meet the Parisian’s father (a trip that would result in my setting a date to move here).  And I spent a month in India by myself, exploring the footsteps of Buddha and listening to / meeting the Dali Lama (a trip that ended up emotionally preparing me for the steps I took to Paris after, allowing me to see for the first time just how strong and blessed I really was).  

As I write and think now about the past year, I started out trying, perhaps too hard, to create situations that would change my life.  I planned both the trip to Nicaragua and India in search of an answer.  In search of insight into what was going on. Ironically, it was my trips to Paris – taken almost on whims – that provided the most impetus for change.  My time in Paris reminded me about the importance of taking advantage of every opportunity that is set before you and taking advantage of them at that moment in time because they generally won’t linger for long.  I hadn’t let myself have more than a passing thought of the Parisian in our correspondences over the years, despite having had one of the most romantic first encounters that you could imagine.  But when faced again with the possibility of true, real, and deep love, how could I not take a chance – with my heart, with my career, with my life – to see what would come of it?  For years, I had sought to change my life by changing my career.  Leave it to Paris to show me just how much change love could bring!

Since being here, I have been reminded time and time again, despite my best efforts to the contrary, that you can’t force things.  You can’t force people.  You can’t force acclimation.  You can’t force a profession.  You can’t force life.  All you can really do is create the best environment possible for you to see and understand things as they unfold.

This is a hard lesson to learn.  I am a person who makes things happen.  I’d like to think that it is one of the things I am known for professionally (those of you who are reading this and know me professionally, feel free to correct me if this impression is incorrect).  As a result, I really like control.  It’s how I have gotten most things done to date.  I understand all of the dynamics at play – the protocol, the people, the politics, the policies – and make recommendations and then effectuate, if asked, the desired end.  But life is very different from a work project.  It is not a piece of legislation or policy initiative to effectuate. It very rarely plays by “the rules of the game.”  Learning how to let go of the control that I had in my life in Washington, DC has been incredibly difficult.  However, it’s necessary if I am going to be able to make the most out of whatever is to come next.

When my mom was here recently for the holidays, we spent most of our time just talking and walking the streets of the city.  It was during one of these conversations that she said to me, “You have created a new situation to make the change but you can’t force it to come.  The best thing you can do now is try to have an open heart and mind and just ride the wave.”  I am having to remind myself of this every day now.  And, it’s become one of my mantras for 2018.

That’s not to say that I am just going to wait for things to happen.  If you know me, and chances are if you are reading this right now you know me at least somewhat since I haven’t shared this blog with very many people yet, you know that sitting back is not in my DNA.  To keep myself from trying to control the world around me and allow things to happen, I am planning on embracing as much of the world around me as I can.  To take the lessons that I am learning in creating a life here and share them with you – anything ranging from opening a bank account to approaching learning a new language and everything in between.  To really learn the city around me – it’s streets, museums, art galleries, different societies, and so on.  To see as much of this Continent as I can – not just the usual haunts, but the amazingly unique, historical and spiritual places that I have long dreamed of visiting.  To understand the history that forms the basis of almost every aspect of life here – be it the hundreds of years of evolving periods of conflict and peace between its countries or the relatively recent period of im/migration.  To look at the ways and rules of politics and business through the eyes of a true European as contrasted with an American – taking in the fundamental differences in how both approach these worlds.  

Why am I telling you this?  Well, mainly because I know I am not the only person who is trying to sorting through the world they are currently living in right now and trying to make sense of what direction life is going.  I have had countless conversations over the past several months about not just the move to Paris, but generally the process and emotions I have gone through in trying to see the path ahead.  What has become increasingly clear to me is that while there are some lessons I am currently learning that are unique to expats, many of them relate to changes in life in general.  For whatever reason, I know quite a few people who are struggling with some of the same questions I am – mostly around the seeming loss of control or true sense of direction in life.  Some of them chose to put themselves in this position, much as I did, making major changes to their life without a true sense of what it will bring.  Some of them were forced into it, with events out of their control taking reign of their life, leaving them breathless and seemingly listless.  While the latter have to go through a period of coping with realizing just where they are exactly, we all seem to find ourselves grappling with almost the exact same things.  So, I figure why not share some of my experiences and see if they are helpful or ring any element of truth with someone else out there?

So, as I look to 2018, it is with the intention to create an environment for health, wealth, and luck to prosper.  

Sidenote: As a born Southerner, the first step we take to accomplish these goals each year is to prepare a traditional meal of black eyed peas, collards greens, ham and cornbread on New Years Day to bring prosperity all the following year.  Each of these foods have a specific meaning and what they can bring to the coming year. However, they are not all readily accessible in the land of wine and cheese where I now reside.  Clearly I am not the first Southern expat to face this problem because, upon some internet research, I found that while some have a long history (for example, consuming black eyed peas for good luck stretches as far back as 1500 years), it is as much about consuming the family of food (i.e. legumes and greens) as it is about the specific varietal. So, today I prepared a Southern / French New Years Day meal of flagiolet verts beans, Savoy cabbage prepared in the manner of collard greens (meaning giving them a certain tartness with with vinegar, which you will learn is one of my favorite ingredients to bring out the flavor of any meal), artisenal ham steak and a sweet cornbread.  I am planning on writing more about what cooking has come to mean in this move, but feel free to ping me in the meantime if you want the recipes.  This is one of the first Southern traditions that I introduced the Parisian to and to my great pleasure, he liked it – as much for the history of what the meal brings as the meal itself.

Anyway, getting back to the point, none of us know what the next year will bring.  I certainly didn’t know a year ago that I would be sitting and writing this from a little flat in Paris overlooking the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower.  My hope and wish – both for myself and for those of you reading this – is to take the challenge this coming year of letting go the perception of control and, instead, letting yourself swim in the ocean that is life.  I hope this year to truly ride the waves, as my mom put it, that come along.  Appreciating the beauty presented by even the most difficult of circumstances and reveling in the peace felt once the way forward become clear (no matter how brief those moments of clarity may be).

Bonne Année!