The Week of Living Normally

The view from our apartment window.

The view from our apartment window.

The plan was simple. Go to Paris for two weeks so you can spend the first week doing all the irresistible tourist stuff you can’t not do no matter how many times you come here. (And yes it takes a full week just to do the minimum.) Normally my husband and I hit all the sights and museums and then drag ourselves exhausted and bleary-eyed back onto the airplane when the week’s up to head back to our daily round and life back home.

Not this time baby.

This time I was smart.IMG_6271
I booked us—for the first time since our honeymoon 25 years ago—two weeks in Paris. Yesterday we finished the first week of walking everywhere in town. (Fitbit claims we averaged 13K steps a day. If only exercise was so effortless back home!) We’ve hit every chocolate shop, stuffed down pain au chocolat at every boulangerie on every corner–even when we weren’t hungry—(what’s hunger got to do with it?) and made lunch a bigger deal than Henry VIII in his great hall.

On literally every street corner...

On literally every street corner…

We went back to the old haunts so we could reminisce (“Oh! Remember when John Patrick was little and he fed the sparrows here in front of Notre Dame?”) and to visit favorite restaurants and neighborhoods for that sense of familiarity and—in the case of Paris—awe.

So now we’re ready to be normal.

Except I’m not sure, after three years of the kind of work schedule both my husband and I’ve had, if we know what that means. My first inclination is to say, “Let’s look it up on Google! I’ll type in normal and see what we get.” That got us nowhere. (Although I’m glad to report we’re nowhere near normal.)

Le Roi du Pot au Feu! And trust me, they don't lie.

Le Roi du Pot au Feu! And trust me, they don’t lie.

But one thing I knew was that waking up at ten every morning and eating flaky pastries two hours before a gargantuan lunch was not normal. For the last seven days I’ve told myself that a year of tuna salad sandwiches and yoghurt cups await me back home so eating pot au feu TWICE in four days was okay. (Honestly, I still don’t see the problem with it.)

But being normal for this last week in Paris is important to me. While not the reason for the trip (that’s to research my current novel) it is the whole point of coming for two weeks. The second week is the part where we stop feeling like tourists and start feeling like we live here! And eating big heavy lunches every day and a pound of artisan chocolate doesn’t fulfill that—even for a Parisian.

So today I’ll get up early, work for a couple of hours in the morning then wander about the neighborhood just to wander. I’ll go hang out at a café and people watch, and not see a single thing all day that’s famous or is featured on a postcard. I’ll take pictures (covertly) of the every day things that will remind me of this week-as-a-Parisian (because after all I do know my time here is finite and the Florida suburbs await me). I’ll eat when I’m hungry and stay my hand on all the amazing and omnipresent sweets—just like I’d do “normally.”IMG_6322

Instead of endlessly revisiting Notre Dame or the Eiffel Tower, I’ll memorize the bones of the beautiful Haussmann apartment buildings that line almost every avenue in every neighborhood I walk through and I’ll watch the faces of the Parisians hurrying by. I’ll concentrate on the fragrance of the coffee in the cafés, the rolling burrs of the natives speaking all around me, and I won’t look at my blasted smart phone once.

Well. Just to get the GPS coordinates to find my way back to the apartment of course. I mean getting lost is fun with you’re twenty years old but I’m wearing very fashionable ankle boots with two-inch heels on cobblestones here. (A lot of things may have changed in Paris since you were here last but trust me on this, Parisian women are not running around Paris in sneakers.)

So wish me luck on being “normal” in Paris this week. I’ll report back as to my success. Who knows? If I can manage it here, I might try it back home too. I mean, that’s the perspective shift we all get from going on vacation, right? The way we can see our lives back home so much more clearly? And then make the changes to fix the things you didn’t even know needed fixing?

What could be more Parisian than a perfect scoop of ice cream on a cold day?

What could be more Parisian than a perfect scoop of ice cream on a cold day?

Or maybe I’ll just focus on café-sitting and people watching.

That would be good, too.

And of course, it wouldn’t be truly Parisian if I were to eschew all chocolate…

 

It’s a Numbers Game

63308251I love numbers. They are so starkly factual. They are so comfortingly irrefutable. There’s no wiggle room with numbers. As a creative, I like the security of facts. And there is nothing so factual as numbers. They either add up or they don’t. I once had a friend who was both a writer and an artist. She said the main reason she preferred painting to writing was because she said she always knew when she was finished when she was painting. She could look at it and know: That’s it. I’m done. With her writing, she was never certain. Let’s face it. We can always tweak and rethink most of what we write. It must be lovely feeling to look at a project you’ve labored over and know for sure that it was truly finished. Numbers give you that certainty. They’re either right or they’re not and we can all agree—from Toledo to North Korea—on whether or not they add up.

I think there’s a place for this kind of firm grounding in life—especially if you’re a “creative.” I look at it as a sort of infrastructure within which I might take chances or break the rules a bit. That makes me feel safe when I take big leaps.

Where numbers drive me crazy, however, is when we attach a value to them not based on anything but opinion or maybe personal pathology. They still add up as they should but now the numbers aren’t comforting or supporting, they’re indicting and debilitating. The most obvious way this occurs, I guess, would be in your checkbook or your family budget. But since having more money than you’re spending is a pretty universally accepted idea of a positive situation, I’d be inclined to point out other more insidious areas where numbers add up to grief.19209376

The weight on the scale, for example. There are probably very few people reading this blog who haven’t jumped on a scale only to find the numbers ruin what had up until then been a very nice day. Why, if your clothes fit as well as they did the day before and you’re basically in a good mood, would anyone let a number on the scale—a number YOU put in your head as a RIGHT number—mess with your mood or your day? Furthermore, why would you then, do this over and over again, day after day? Some days letting the numbers give you joy, and other days, letting them bring you down when—if you’d never looked at them, you’d have been perfectly happy. I’ve heard of the power of numbers before but this is nuts.

Numbers are good. I love numbers. But I believe a détente with their power is definitely in order. Numbers don’t—even IQ or test score type numbers—determine your worth from day to day. They just don’t. They don’t measure or predetermine or fulfill or prove or disprove your worth. They only label. That’s a very good thing when you’re trying to figure out how much corn syrup or GMOs are in a can of applesauce.

Less so when you’re using them to determine how you feel about yourself.

I think, as with everything, numbers are best seen as tools to enhance our lives. Using them to gauge how well my last book promotion did in the way of sales or downloads is one thing. Looking at them to determine how I feel about myself? Not so much.

Okay, now the jacket is REALLY poufy and I have about ten layers of sweaters on underneath, you realize.

Okay, now the jacket is REALLY poufy and I have about ten layers of sweaters on underneath you realize.

Mind you, having just returned from a week in Germany and Switzerland—land of the heavy, filling and ubiquitously draped melted cheese over potatoes and fried pork diet—I may be a little more hesitant to find out what the trip’s final cost was for me (and I’m not talking Euros) than at other times.
Anybody else giving more power than is probably good for you to a predetermined number in your head?