Things I Did In Paris

The Shmoop version:

  • Spent time wandering through parks and sitting on benches and lingering in cafes not feeling bad about not being productive like I do in New York.
  • Improv-ed a lot.
  • Found my groove. Forgot where I left it and lost it again. Found it. It ran away. Chased it around.
  • Krumped.
  • Choreographed in a park.
  • Learned to like journaling.
  • Wine.
  • Had some late night w(h)ine and feelings conversations that dug deep.
  • Needed friends. Found them.
  • Cried in public.
  • Cried in private.
  • Had about four and a half identity crises.
  • Ate snails. Didn’t hate them.

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    Garlic can fix anything.

  • Almond croissants.
  • Macarons.
  • Monoprix brand chocolate mousse.
  • Saw seven performances, which I loved, hated, and felt meh about, sometimes all at once.
  • Noticed which moments from those performances (whether love, hate, or meh) still stuck with me after a few weeks.
  • Was impressed at the size, diversity, and casual-ness of theater audiences. Realized that subsidized tickets probably have something to do with it.
  • Developed an appreciation for NYC’s 24-hour subway service after 2am.
  • Dealt with some transportation strikes.
  • Learned to get around using actual maps instead of just Google Maps.
  • Took dance classes in French. Was thankful for ballet terms and body language.
  • Was an open class junky as usual.
  • Really felt like I was hitting a wall with my performance (in that I literally ran into the wall during a performance).
  • Got good at saying “je voudrais”” and “pardon” and “Je ne parle pas français.”
  • Gave directions in Arabic once (which is a big deal for me given that I rarely have competent directional knowledge or language skills, let alone both at the same time).
  • Got lost in museums.
  • Wondered why I was in museums and theaters when the world is a mess.
  • Went to more museums.
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Posture jungement.

  • Spent a long time looking at art and an equally long time looking at graffiti. Tried to figure out the difference.13494989_10208692991714392_1993365495488247232_n
  • Wandered around cemeteries looking for famous dead people. Wondered about the non-famous dead people I saw along the way. Tried to Google their names. Found nothing.

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    Nijinsky though…

  • Decided that I should to make a resume section for every airport security additional screening test I pass (It’s senior year–gotta pad that resume with something).
  • Realized how quickly I can get comfortable in new cities.
  • Didn’t necessarily leave with the feeling that I need to move to Paris, but with the feeling that I could move there, or a whole lot of other places, and find bits of home-ish.

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All Suburbia Looks the Same

I mean #notAllSuburbia, but enough of the Eastern US along the highways was built around the same time and the same model that driving through upstate New York immediately conjures memories of driving though central North Carolina.

It feels like home. Home?

The houses with brick borders and vinyl siding in one of five pastels. The nearly identically-organized shopping center with a Michael’s, Dick’s, JoAnne’s, Marshall’s, WallMart, and Olive Garden. The half-thinned woods and the planted pear trees.  If I let my sense of the present drown out in the flooding nostalgia, I could inaccurately and precisely pinpoint the location on an outdated map of my old neighborhood.

Then and now, it doesn’t seem particularly exciting, but the type of boring seems to have changed. Before, I had imagined that these mundane images were unbearably local, a terribly narrow view of the world. But now, stretched wide across unencountered space, they appear unbearably generic, a nondescript, placeless universality. Like maybe everywhere can be home, but nowhere really ever was.

Back then, when I thought about living beyond that the limits of my suburbia, I assumed that what was outside would be bigger, faster, more complicated, more sophisticated, unknown. That was a little bit true, but probably mostly false (in proportion of square-footage, anyway). If I haven’t that noticed until now, maybe it’s because I’ve fixated on little islands of flashy difference in an ocean of more of the same-ish.

I wonder if all the overhyped sea explorers of history realized that the oceans everywhere are mostly the same, when they committed their lives to sailing around the world. Or were they too caught up in their sparkly dreams of islands to see?

Placeless, familiar, unencountered, known, endless.

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You could drown in it, or just keep floating. 

Aspartame (a snippet)

You spoke to me with a voice that was sweeter than sugar. Two hundred times sweeter, to be precise: engineered and measured to the mark. Some would call it sickening, but swimming in the dark, bitter coffee, you could shine through like natural couldn’t.

And you never promised something real, just something better: guilt-free; an untraceable zero. So you could be my zero. And I was your zero.

So then somehow I was left with a gaping hole: empty with hunger and filled with hunger.

No one thought to calculate the aftertaste.

 

aspartame_structure

 

Gaps (a snippet)

I thought that’s just how we did things: talking around issues instead of talking about them. Communicating in loaded silences and drawing out our boundaries with negative space. Because it beats running at the divide head-on, only to find that we don’t have big enough words to bridge our gap in understanding.

Secondhand Violence

On Wednesday, I was doing some reading for my History of the Modern Middle East class, and I found it annoying that the book kept giving extended play-by-play descriptions of war. For the purposes of my notes, I just wanted to get down to the “important stuff:” what sides fought, what it was over, what side won. The in-between details–which cities were attacked, what weapons were used, how many people died–could be glossed over with the generic acknowledgment that violence happened.

That approach seemed particularly messed up over the following two days with the series of ISIS attacks in Beirut, Paris, and Baghdad.

Following the attacks and the widespread show of sympathy for Paris, some people have been pointing out the Western-centric sense of outrage which mostly ignores the other attacks, as well as non-European victims of violence in general. That point needs to be made. I’m not a fan playing “competitive injustice,” but (social) media bias is real, and racism, xenophobia, and Islamaphobia are all too relevant.

But on a more personal level, I feel strange criticizing people for their inadequate mourning when I’ve spent much of my life numb to secondhand violence.

As a kid growing up in the US with Lebanese parents, I saw the history of war in Lebanon primarily as a tool that my parents could employ in their “when I was your age” shpeel. (“E.g. Isn’t school annoying, Mom?” “No, I found it way more fun than staying at home to avoid shooting.”) Periodic violent outbreaks in Lebanon–marked by my parents turning up NPR for reports about jumble of political actors I couldn’t quite sort out–were primarily a variable in my summer travel schedule. My closest encounter with a bombing was being unable to get to get to a waterpark for my birthday because of it–which felt like the major injustice at the time.

It’s not that I didn’t know that violence is bad, but other things were higher on my emotional radar.

Maybe this reflects my position as a stupid, egocentric American, or maybe just my position as a stupid, egocentric kid. But if I could manage to feel this way about places and people I knew–not just some generic Other–general American apathy is hardly surprising.

Stories, selected news reports, Facebook feeds: we use them to tune into what’s new and habituate to what’s old in the process. Each medium edits our perception of violence, but so do we. We weed out the meaningful “tragedies” from the merely “unfortunate” background noise. From a distance, you can make those distinctions. Violence that’s massive, and constant–not to mention foreign–is unlikely to make the cut.

It’s not right, but it’s also not unexpected. If disproportionate outrage is unacceptable, proportionate outrage is a tough alternative to navigate.

No one teaches you how to feel that level of violence. How can you do the emotional math to mourn hundreds people every day with the same weight you would give to one? If you did it right, would it shrink down your ability to care about anything on a smaller scale: dying pets, break-ups, your GPA?

Because you might say–you might actually believe that all lives matter, but only some of them seem to invoke your tears. It’s never all of them. Maybe it can’t be all of them. There’s only so many tears you can cry and still be able to get on with life.

Yesterday afternoon I found myself tearing up over a stack of papers I was supposed to be grading, unable to convince myself that any of it mattered.

In an attempt at productive procrastination, I pulled out my history reading again. Plugging through a summary of recent Lebanese history, I annotated the events in the book with the ones related to my life. Lebanese Civil War–that’s my parent’s high school and college stories. 2006 July War–that’s the summer after 5th grade when our summer trips started getting more sporadic.

The political context missing from my memories blended with the personal connection absent from the text. I was crying. Crying a cold, gooey personal-political soup. I guess with an ambiguous, amorphous, shifty sense of “home” like mine, what “hits close to home” can shift too.

So I can tell you to declare your solidarity with the people of Paris and Beirut and Baghdad. To bring attention to underreported acts of violence, and be cautious of political responses which treat some deaths as human tragedies and others as statistics. But can I tell you how to feel? If I do, will it matter? I really don’t know.

I just have a lot of feelings right now.