Lately I’ve felt a little like everything I do has been done and everything I say has been said. I suppose that is a common enough feeling, it’s just that I feel painfully aware of it. Like everything I say has this echoing reverberation around it and everything I do–a ghostly figure undertaking the same motions in some distant or not-so-distant past.
It makes sense that ever since I was little, one of my favorite activities was imitation–perfecting my favorite lines from movies and practicing accents ranging from cockneyed English to Indian, to the awkward amusement of my parents’ friends. In middle and high school I was a drama kid but I was never so good at making a character “my own” as I was at imitiating gestures and voices I had already seen (not exactly the highest form of acting). Of course this is not really any different now, just ask and you might get a full scene from a Monty Python film, with all parts played by yours truly. Often, I make people laugh with someone else’s lines.
In a city like Paris, which is not so much the City of Light but the City of Neverending Clichés, it’s that much more difficult to escape that feeling of unoriginality, or to find something that is wholly yours. How many people have lived in my building before me? How many people have taken a picture of the Eiffel Tower, hoping to catch it as it shimmers? (Answer: 400 gazillion.) How many other foreigners are here and have been here, hoping to discover something new about themselves? How many come to the same conclusions?
Not that it’s a bad thing–to imitate others, to imitate the past. Nor is it bad to “discover” all sorts of Parisian haunts “off the beaten path” or to feel you are being “alternative” because you hang out in the 10th or 19th or 20th. It comes with the territory. (And I’m sure there will be plenty of that in the future of this blog.) And that’s the wonderful thing about Paris, that even though you are fully aware of the millions of people who enjoy its wonders every year, you can still feel like it’s there only for you. And every action you undertake, every walk down a quiet street, every sip of wine on the bank of the Seine, feels endowed with meaning. But on the flipside, it’s easy to feel the exact opposite. To wonder where the meaning is in anything. What’s the meaning of Paris, in the grand scheme of things? In the context of, you know, the world? (Well…there are probably a lot of Eurocentric answers to that question, but that’s not really what I’m getting at.)
Needless to say, Paris, coupled with your standard post-college angst, tends to bring out the existential crisis in me. (There goes another cliché.) I mean, I know what I’m doing here. I know that I am here as part of a program to work as a language assistant. I can distantly remember filling out the application lat December, and I can vaguely trace the logistical steps that led to my arrival in France. So far everyone seems to have been expecting me, and I’ve more or less successfully started my job, essentially teaching English. That’s what I’m doing.
But what am I doing?
Well, with all these thoughts rolling around in my head, with all my hesitancy concerning the fact that “nothing is original” (and even that phrase is so trite I cringe to look at it), it’s only natural that I start a blog, right? To engage in the most self-indulgent form of pointless phrase-creation there is. (Blah blah blah, I’m white and I think my life is incredibly important so I must write about it and publish it on the internet blah blah.) Don’t worry, I hold no delusions that I am a beautiful or unique snowflake. But that doesn’t change the fact that I would like to write, and it would be nice to feel accountable to something for writing, even if it is just a blog. I could also use the practice in the mere art of getting something done, putting something out there, even if it doesn’t feel ready and even if it makes me feel self-conscious. Even if it is just a blog post. Because sometimes I am so darn hesitant about my every decision, I fear I may remain in a stagnant state for the rest of my life.
Like right now. I am incredibly fortunate in that I am essentially working two days a week and living in a city that is usually considered to be one of the most desirable in the world. And this teaching gig I have is a very small part of why I came here. So, now I have to decide how to spend the rest of my time, and in Paris that’s nothing short of overwhelming. There’s so much to take in, but what to make of it all is a different story entirely. What do I do with all this beauty? This art, this history, that public space, this mosaic of people brought together by circumstance? And what do I do with the ugliness–this pigeon smashed on the street, those murky river waters, that nationalist monument, this gentrification, this racism?
Well, I don’t know. Not yet. But it sure beats living in a strip mall.