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I’d been sleeping over at a friend’s apartment, as one sometimes does when the friend is in fact a best friend you’re potentially obsessed with (and someone whose presence you feel lucky to enjoy for every second that it’s available).
On that early morning, the best friend was already going about his early routine, on account of his pets and also his psycho internal clock (if you’re reading this, I’m sorry for calling you a psycho). I stirred awake, my attention drawn to the sound of his podcast or non-fiction web series or what have you (EDIT: an episode of Strange Mysteries). I only heard muffled bits and pieces like “slow down time” and “the age of your consciousness,” but it was enough to drag me out of bed to find out more.
I shuffled down the corridor with my hair all askew and only one eye squinted open, since I’m either a vampire or a bitch who hates the world before her morning caffeine (it’s still up for debate). I may have also hissed like a cobra.
I swung the bedroom door open, and as I watched him happily fold his laundry in the way that early-morning psychos do (sorry once more if you’re reading this), I listened more intently to the words flowing out of the iPad. The explanations were technical at times, but here is a summary of what I heard:
…As we go through life, our consciousness ages along with us, and the older we get, the more exponential and rapid the aging of the consciousness becomes. As you can imagine, I found this fact to be deeply disturbing, and although I was very tempted to grab my phone and google “consciousness botox,” I decided to keep on listening.
Okay…so the aging of our abstract self/soul/being or however you want to call it was explained to me as such: when you are four years old, one year represents an entire quarter of your life. And so, as this child of four, you perceive one year to be extremely long in duration. This explains why childhood summers seem endless, and why the joy of building snow forts can last for hours without a semblance of feeling cold. In other words, when a year is 25% of your life, time feels slow.
Fast forward to being say…30 years old, and one year is approximately 3% of your life. 3% eh? What’s 3%? Basically nothing, that’s what. Using that logic…if a year is only 3%, then a month is minuscule, and a week is even less. And guess what happens when time represents so little: it flies. Which basically means…when you’re an adult and time flies, you’re getting exponentially older and barrelling through life on a rocket headed straight towards death…
Best friend and I froze as we had our realization. “Wait a minute…” we said. “Is this why we always hear adults saying ‘where did the time go?’ Or ‘it’s like I blinked and suddenly summer’s over’? Or ‘I feel like nothing happened this year and it’s already almost another new year’s eve.’ Is this WHY?!?!?!?
I was about to have a nervous breakdown, but we kept on listening, and the next thing we heard was a little more promising. The episode talked about how slowing down time would slow down the aging of our consciousness, allowing us to stay “young at heart,” if you will. It went back to describing children, and how they value play and carry with them a sense of wonder, which gives every moment and minute the chance to be fascinating. And so the theory was…if we do more with every hour and every day, time will feel slower, and slower, and slower…ultimately keeping our consciousness “young” and prolonging our abstract life (and hopefully that can also erase eye wrinkles too? Yet to be tested and proven).
The episode then got crazy and talked about stopping time altogether, but then it was getting into “black hole” topics and I hadn’t had my coffee so we turned it off.
Afterwards I couldn’t stop thinking about it. For days it was on my mind. Then I started testing it out, just with the littlest things. I started enjoying nature more…making more plans to see friends…eating more meals without Netflix in the background, and so on and so forth. I’m not going to pretend that within a week I anti-aged my consciousness to resemble a nubile fourteen-year-old, but I have to admit, the more things I did with my days, even when it was just doing more interesting things while alone, the more that my days started to feel a little longer.
And then it got much bigger than that.
How so, you ask? (or probably not but you feel obligated to finish reading this?) Well, since you asked, I never would’ve been so spontaneous as to plan a long weekend in Italy with only 20 hours notice, if I hadn’t listened to this episode about slowing down time. There’s just no way I would’ve done that, since I’m a PLANNER and an ANALYZER; it’s simply not in my nature to quickly pick up and go somewhere by myself.
But I did it.
I’ve only been back for two days, but that 3-day weekend in Italy legitimately felt like two weeks. When I returned it was with an exhausted sigh, as if I hadn’t seen Paris for ages. And even despite the crappier weather, I felt like I’d missed belle Paris.
Were my days feeling slower because I’d enjoyed every minute in Italy?
I believe that’s true, which for me, makes this more than just a theory…
To be fair, I’m certainly not saying that all of life’s stresses are solved by running off for a long weekend getaway (sure they are, YOLO!), but it seems to be true that the more you do in a day that’s outside of your subconscious routine, the more you will immerse yourself in actual conscious life, and therefore, the more you will savour every minute. I know this isn’t always easy to do, since there are deadlines and obligations and responsibilities, and no we are not the same as four-year-old children who can play in the sun all day, I get that. Still, imagine for a second all the time we spend thinking about what’s lacking, or worrying about what hasn’t happened, or trying to plan for something later that distracts you from today. I’m not saying I’m any better, because I do it too. Despite that, lately I’ve been thinking about: what would happen to my day if I spent even one less hour watching Netflix because I’m lazy? Or one less hour replaying a bad conversation in my head? Or one less hour wondering why my life hasn’t progressed at the rate of my dreams or compared to others? Or one less hour punishing myself for the times in the past I stole a heart but couldn’t keep it? (please stay with me on this abstract plane, since I’m not referring to an actual stolen organ in a cooler)
When I think about how I could change the way I use my time even just a little, and make my words and actions towards others just a little more meaningful, I already feel like so much more could happen in a day. I guess what I’m saying is…when we do what we say and say what we mean, without the games and the pride and the coolness, I suspect life becomes more genuine and real, like this actual thing you’re inside of, rather than a show starring you, a performance you’re just observing from start to finish, until the credits roll and the lights go out and oh guess what you’re a corpse, too late to rewind all those past regrets now! (morbid tough love, I know, but hey, I didn’t promise you roses)
So that’s what’s been on my mind. And the fact that the food in Italy is as amazing as everyone says.. 🙂
Now as a disclaimer: when I talk about saying what you mean, which implies being true to yourself and others, I’m not suggesting that we behave TOO honestly. For example, when pushed into a corner, I will always say a baby is cute, even if I secretly believe it resembles a miniature old man, and I will always say someone’s haircut is good, even if it’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen (except when it comes to a certain world leader’s hideous carpet of hair, but that is a different blog post I will never write, because well..fuck that guy). I would expect the same lies in return, a.k.a. thank you for all the compliments on my February haircut! So yes, we need small lies for society to function, but it’s when it comes to the “big things,” the “life things,” I think that’s when we should always be true, because it makes the ride more real, and the time spent living it more meaningful.
So do that. And eat lasagne in Italy. And that’s all.
Until next time, ciao bitches, and here are a few pics from beautiful Milan (and the picture at the top is Genova which is beautiful too).
A writer’s work day is a vast and varied thing. I will never call it difficult or noble, when society’s full of people doing tougher and nobler things, but it entails all kinds of “work” you might not associate with a writer’s job.
Like…for example…spending a solid hour reading through links and watching tutorials on how to embed a PDF into a wordpress.com page, which resulted in a bevy (yes, bevy) of conflicting info on whether or not embedding is possible unless you upgrade to wordpress.org, and the eventual realization that all I had to do was get a Scribd account and upload my file through there…the end result being a lovely string of code with magical embedding powers.
(I fell asleep as I was typing that; and you?)
It’s entirely possible that it took me an hour to figure out the above ’cause I’m a moron, so fine, with my personal brain capacity as a qualifier: the above was an hour of solid WORK. Another thing you might not associate with a writer’s job is Googling the term “speedballing,” but that’s for my next book so don’t even worry about it, mmkay? Back to the PDF embedding…below are the first ten pages of my screenplay Dreamaholics Anonymous! Nine of these ten pages take place in Paris, so HELLO, very applicable to this blog, wink wink! (unlike my last post on mannequin kneecaps, which had nothing to do with Paris but was gripping nonetheless). It’s a dramatic comedy with some romance, not a romantic comedy (there’s a difference, I swear), and I hope you enjoy this kick-off to a tale which can quickly be described as such: “When a fledgling writer gets tricked into committing to an “AA style” group for dreamers, she must decide whether to give up or keep the dream alive, amidst the preachings of a tyrannical group leader, a domineering family, and an unexpected romance within the group.”
Page ten may not get you to that “AA style” group for dreamers plot point, but play your cards right and maybe I’ll share some more. Or maybe let’s get a producer on board! Or maybe, most likely, I eventually get my friends to act it all out with convincing props. Right now this script is in screenplay contest limbo, since all the big contests won’t be be posting any results until July or August (if I make the next round of even one of those contests I’ll allow myself a guilt-free bowl of “double-churned” (can’t you just hear the fat?) ice cream). Until then an “honourable mention” a.k.a. third place at the 2014 LA Reel Film Festival is a nice little boost, as I get myself back into book-writing mode with “Paris Anyone? How to Bring Your Dream Trip to Life” (working title), which is an edgy and useful guidebook with some personalized reflections. It’s also the book where the speedballing reference will go! (except that is NOT a personalized reflection)
I should go then, so many more technological writer things to learn!
PS: I hope you enjoy the first ten pages of the script, and I hope the Paris descriptions help you picture a movie in your head…
PPS: invariably this PDF won’t embed properly in certain browsers, to which I offer you an empathetic sigh…
PPPS: PRO TIP: if you zoom-in the view in your browser it’s a little easier to read. I’m such a tech pro, I can’t even stand it..
My relationship with mannequins has been nothing short of tumultuous over the years. First, there was my confusing childhood crush on a grown man/mannequin hybrid in Jeff from Today’s Special, and then, growing up, the realization that a mannequin’s painted-on eyeliner was so superior to my own. For a brief moment things turned around, when a movement began to eliminate hair and faces on mannequins across the board, in favour of the polished and uniform faceless look. I suspect this was done to accommodate the fact that many prospective shoppers don’t have porcelain skin and horse-hair locks of gold. It was definitely a strategy to improve race relations, and recently it went a big step further when mannequins started having no heads at all. It was a bold but intelligent move, since as an ethnic minority myself, there’s nothing I relate to more than a decapitated likeness of a human in the latest and greatest fashions…
A few weeks ago though, things went horribly wrong. It happened on Toronto’s bustling Yonge Street in the downtown core. My friends and I (it’s important for bloggers to “character drop” friends into their posts, to eliminate the stigma that bloggers have no friends, even if the “friends” in question are fictional, and in my case they are, but no one needs to know that except myself and the readers (aka my REAL friends! Are you all eating Cheetos in your pajamas too?)…oh wait, I forgot what I was saying. Oh yeah, so my friends and I were strolling along after a fabulous dinner, a skip in our step from splitting two bottles of vino—friends are great for sharing the vino in a dignified way, as opposed to drinking the bottle alone in your pajamas after binge-eating a bag of Cheetos—when we came across…THIS.
Your eyes do not deceive you; those, my friends, are anatomically-disgraceful INVERTED knee-caps. We weren’t sure if our eyes were deceiving us either that night, so I took the picture, let it sit for exactly one month, and didn’t look upon it until today, only to find that it wasn’t a sick joke. I mean damn, like it wasn’t already hard enough to relate to blonde mannequins, or twenty-inch-waisted mannequins, or decapitated mannequins, but now you’re telling me the basic structure of my human form is no longer worthy of wearing the dresses in the shop window? It won’t be long before women start getting elective knee-inversion surgeries, just like how there’s procedures to elongate legs, or a recent rise in butt implants, or the newfound obsession with having a thigh-gap (did you see that episode of Dr. Oz? Better yet did you see Beyoncé’s photoshopped thigh-gap from that day she was playing golf?).
The fact that this blog is supposed to be about Paris reminiscence (and there’s so much reminiscence I haven’t yet shared!) should tell you how this issue has been weighing on my mind. I even went back and changed the post’s title to reflect this disturbing topic.
Due to my current state of distress, I think I’ll leave it at that. In other news, since I haven’t blogged for two months, I never shared that Ted Talk I did in November re: following your dreams. Well here it is! (I’m also working on a butt-load of writer stuff, but it’s still too early to mention it yet…just know that I’m using the full 10% of my brain that we humans use!)
This is my honest assessment of six months spent in Paris, where I explored a new (to me) city, in a new (to me) country, in a new (to me) continent, made amazing friends, wrote another novel (“Never or Forever“), published that novel, had a book launch party in Paris, had my heart skip a beat more than once, and walked for endless stretches against a scenic backdrop. It was the city of lights, and it possessed the same magnificence captured in the countless guidebooks I’d read before ever reaching its soil.
From the external world, it goes like this:
“So how are you “adjusting” to being back in Toronto?” (the word “adjusting” is accompanied by a condescending scrunch of the nose, which I can even detect in text messages, believe me)
“Have you started looking for a job?” (obviously this question comes from the parental unit)
“Do you think you’ll ever go back to the corporate world, or can you afford to keep writing full time?” (back-door way of finding out how much money I’m making from writing, to assess if it’s more than a hobby)
The questions that come from within are a little more detailed, and they usually go like this:
“What am I supposed to do next, after living the dream that was only a far-off vision for the longest time?”
“Are dreams individual goals, or is dreaming of new possibilities a way of life?”
“How will I get back to Paris? Or will Paris become a memory that nothing else can ever top?”
I’ve never been in this place before, a place where I could check an insane dream off the list, and pat myself on the back for a mission accomplished. Before now it was always something I was working towards, and not having reached it was the common thread to all my efforts, the thing that gave me focus. It makes me wonder if dreams are only ever supposed to stay dreams, since turning them into reality is just another way to kill them, only this time it happens after the finish line…a natural cause of “dream death.”
On the other hand…well shit, if I’m not going to strive for something bigger and better after the best experience of my life, then why am I even here?!
Now is the time to have a sense of humour towards this limbo, now is the time to put my restless energy into writing new things, and now is the time to give my books some marketing love, in the hopes that new readers will find them.
Along the way, I’ll figure out what sort of job I’m willing to take to keep the bills paid, and meanwhile I’ll keep dreaming that one day writing will pay ALL the bills, and leave something extra for fancy indulgences like twenty-five-euro conditioner (I forgot my twenty-five-euro conditioner in Paris; I’m not sure if this is a “white-people problem” since I’m brown, but I think about that bottle often with nostalgia and regret…it made my hair smell like coconuts, and during my nighttime frolics in Paris I’d get compliments about it from various members of the male population).
Meanwhile, the name and theme of this blog will remain the same, since my memory is full of Parisian moments. I’ll continue to post those moments on the blog, which will help me figure out just how they’ll fit into a non-fiction book…i.e. the places and the STORIES behind the places, because you don’t usually get the stories in a typical Paris guidebook.
So I’ll see you soon, or as they say in Paris “à bientôt!” Before I go though, I wanted to mention a talk I did at the Tedx Youth conference this past Saturday. I was so honoured when they asked me to speak, and whereas here I discussed the aftermath of a dream, in the talk I focused on everything it took to get to Paris, in the hopes of inspiring today’s youth (when I say “youth,” I wish I was talking about eight-year-olds, but in reality sixteen-year-olds are considered youth when compared to my very adult age. This is horrifying; now please excuse me while I put on an extra layer of “Oil of Olay” for tonight). The talk should be up on YouTube before the end of the year, so make sure to come back as I’ll definitely share the link!
Here is a preview of the Ted Talk, with some quotes of things I actually said. This isn’t meant in that traditional way where it’s totally weird and “delusions of grandeur-ish” to quote oneself, but more to give you an idea of the weird things I actually said while onstage in front of 250 students. Below that is a picture of me giving the actual Ted talk, complete with “suspended in a jpeg” hand-motions. It all feels rather old-fashioned in a world of animated GIFs, but it’ll have to do for the time being.
Things I actually said in a Tedx Talk…
“…Angelina Jolie’s right leg had a blog at a certain point…there is even a blog called “Is Ryan Gosling Cuter Than a Puppy?“ which is obviously a resounding YES, so I’m not even sure why we need a blog to debate that.”
“And then the inevitable buyer’s remorse, when you realize the butt pockets don’t even align to your actual butt.”
“When you’re scared about pursuing your dream…you must book non-refundable things!”
“A restless soul is the number one catalyst for change.”—>okay, that one is actually a good reminder for me, I should listen to myself more often (“delusions of grandeur alert!” CODE RED.)
Sometimes in Paris you get this remarkable feeling that you’re amongst famous ghosts from the past, sometimes you feel as though the simplest thing like a charming street has transported you back in time, and sometimes you wonder why it’s not how you’d hoped or thought it would be (now’s about the time that you should watch the movie “Midnight in Paris“).
I was curious to know what sort of feeling I’d be left with after visiting the famous “Shakespeare and Company” bookshop in Paris. And now, after making a few trips there, I think I finally have my answer…
…As you make your way to 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, with the river close by and the Notre Dame cathedral in view, you’ll find yourself in the overwhelming footsteps of Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Actually that’s not true at all.
There are actually TWO Shakespeare and Company bookshops in Paris’s recorded history, two separate entities in two separate eras with two separate histories.
Most people figure this out by the time they arrive in Paris, as Wikipedia and any good guidebook will tell you the same. It was Sylvia Beach who started it all in the early twentieth century, with a bookstore and lending library popular with the “Lost Generation” of writers. It didn’t quite end with her though, for when she died in 1964, a colleague inherited the name for his very own bookshop in Paris, along with some of her private collection of books.
“The 1960’s to present day” Shakespeare and Company has a fascinating history of its own, with the late George Whitman at the forefront. Not only did his regular customers include the likes of Anais Nin and Allen Ginsberg, but he created quite the socialist refuge under that little roof, with book displays converting into beds after closing time, and writers welcome to stay for the simple cost of a short biography, one or two hours of work in the shop per day, and the promise to read a lot of books (books that would be vetted by Whitman’s keen eye…crime thrillers need not apply). Not to mention the Sunday tea sessions, poetry readings and more.
With a history like that, and a Canadian author who wrote a memoir based on the months he lived in the shop (“Time was Soft There“), I was full of naive notions before my visit, tempered by the reality that Whitman had died and his daughter now ran the shop (Sylvia Beach Whitman is her name, and it’s a much more clever name than “North West”). Maybe things would be different now, but not so different that I couldn’t travel back into the past…right? Right!
I thought it would be cool to swing by the shop to see a live performance, so I wandered my way over at seven p.m. (Toronto is for power-walking and Paris is for wandering, in my experience at least). The crowd was already gathering, and before too long, famed guitarist and songwriter Gary Lucas took the “stage” in front of the bookshop. Throughout the performance the crowd grew and grew, along with the number of jaws dropped in awe, as this man let his magic fingers tell story after story, with all the best notes played at mind-boggling speed.
It was a great way to start my journey at Shakespeare and Company.
But then…the crowd.
After the concert, too many people tried to squeeze their way into that tiny hole called a door. As I barely squeaked into the shop amidst body heat and American accents, the first thing I saw were stacks of modern books; today’s bestsellers, last year’s bestsellers, Harry Potter…it was slightly reminiscent of a Barnes and Noble, but hard to tell because the walls and ceilings and bookshelves felt so beautifully archaic.
The crowd was too thick to explore any further, so I resolved to make another visit, one where I’d make my way deeper in the back to find something better (it’s like grocery stores, where they put all the important stuff like milk and cheese in the back).
On my following visit the store was filled with tourists once again, but this time I managed to make it to the second floor. Here was the Childrens’ section and the library, a place where you could sit and read from leather-bound books all day long. Now that’s more like it. The first thing that struck me was George Whitman’s famous motto hung up on the wall, a simple token that transported me back in time, to the glory days of “angels in disguise” making their home in the shop. Next I saw a typewriter, which immediately brought me back to the writing nook that was used by actual residents in the shop, as recently as the early 2000’s. Only here the typewriter was on display atop a shelf. Like a museum artifact.
Next I saw a surprising real-life message board. It was filled with hundreds of love notes to the shop over the years, with people stating their country and date of visit, along with some special words about their experience at Shakespeare and Co. That was something I’d never even heard of before, and seeing those notes written by people from all over the world was pretty remarkable.
Even so, I got no sense at all of an organic presence of writers living in the shop (although I’ve heard that does still happen), but rather an overwhelming feeling that I was in the way of someone’s touristy experience, so I should probably get out or pick something to buy and get in the queue.
So I left the shop for a second time, now totally confused by my impressions.
Soon after, a fellow Ex-Pat writer told me about a writers’ group every Saturday at Shakespeare and Company. “Go to give feedback, go just to listen, or go and bring copies of your work for a critique.” As someone who had put all kinds of effort into forming a writers’ group in Toronto in 2009 only to watch it fizzle due to people’s lack of commitment, I was intrigued by this fully-formed group (and five Euros a session wasn’t bad for attending a writers’ group in an inspirational city such as this).
When I showed up on Saturday, my initial reaction was to cringe, when the shop was so crowded that they couldn’t let in more than three people at a time. It was like Best Buy during a “Black Friday” sale. I wonder what Hemingway would’ve thought of that. Luckily I was able to skip the queue and head straight upstairs to the library for the workshop.
In the next two hours I heard a lot of poetry and prose being read, and some really useful feedback being given. I chimed in a couple times, but mostly I was there to listen which actually proved to be invaluable (you wouldn’t think that feedback on a poem would be applicable to the first draft of my novel, but you’d be surprised!) After the workshop the writers all converged at a cheap watering hole, and even though I was late for a previous engagement so I couldn’t make it (oooh, I’m so popular!), I’m certain I’ll be back on a different Saturday.
Three visits, and three very different impressions. I’m sure my impressions will continue to grow, like if I see the next play performed outside the shop (I missed “Much Ado About Nothing“), or if I attend one of the many upcoming literary events.
I guess what I’ve learned then, is that time does change all things, but that doesn’t mean their value is diminished. Shakespeare and Company has been featured in books, articles and movies, and so change would’ve been inevitable with a level of exposure like that. I would never begrudge an establishment for achieving success, so even though Best-Buy-like measures are required at times and some of the shop feels like a museum, it’s managed to retain a good community, for those who are willing to participate. Now I’m reminded of what someone told me earlier this week: “I shouldn’t HAVE to make an effort to find a great community in Paris; it should already exist like it did a hundred years ago. But it doesn’t anymore.” (I might be paraphrasing a little). If you ask me, communities are built and maintained by people, so how would you ever tap into that without making any effort? Human interaction…try it sometime!
And so, the writing community in Paris continues to grow as I experience it; I’ve got “The Abbey Bookshop” for random conversations and aperitifs and meeting writers just like me, I’ve got two weekly open mics now, where a great group of people converge (“Spoken Word Paris” and “Paris Lit Up“), and I’ve got a great new place to get writing feedback at Shakespeare and Company.
2013 for a writer in Paris; not too shabby at all…