I'm not in Paris anymore. I don't know if that was clear. I'm getting divorced and therefore need to be in the US six months, specifically Cleveland, which I once left with no intention of ever coming back. I haven't been writing because it's not something I really want to talk about and also because I literally can't. Where once there was an opulent and lush mind palace now rests the ashes of my already middling creativity, ignited into a desolate, airless void of a Wernicke's area, shuttered and boarded up, with no signs of visible life, not unlike the Burning River itself. I can't even muster up the words to reply to emails or comments anymore, I'm painfully uninspired. Even the mindnumbingly boring daily commute from glorious, leafy Invalides to Quai des Grands Augustins everyday- down Rue de Babylone, past Le Bon Marché, Square Boucicaut, and that café that charges 17 euro for Orangina- seems positively stimulating now. I miss the man living outside Jardin Catherine Laboure who threw beer cans at me when I gave him Ticket Resto. I miss sitting on the balcony with my cats, casually conversing with ravers hanging out the window across the street; walking from Barbes to Grand Train or Maison Bon for cookies; wheeling my wicker cart around Pigalle, filling it up with packageless produce from Causses; and sneaking into apartment buildings just to take pictures of the courtyards. It feels weird telling my friends, "I'll be there in ten minutes, I'm leaving my place now," and actually showing up on time, as promised, when at home I couldn't make it down Avenue Trudaine without being roped into at least three pleasant conversations with neighbors. I never realized how attached I was to Paris. I routinely rag on self proclaimed francophiles, deriding that subset of books instructing hapless Americans on dressing / dieting like the French (especially How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are, which reads like a geisha manual for white girls). But I loved that city more than I ever, or probably will ever, love any guy, which is the truest and simplest explanation for my failed relationship. I understand what Rihanna meant when she said she found love in a hopeless place, minus the love part- emphasis on "hopeless" and "place."
So here's what I've been up to lately: missing Paris, daydreaming, getting fat, forgetting what little French I knew, wishing I was dead, thinking about nothing, wondering why I was born in Cleveland, bitterly contemplating how much my life failures mirror Rory's in Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. I'm not looking for sympathy. People in Cleveland treat me like gold, even kids I went to school with who should probably hate me since I used to charge money to sit at my lunch table. For one thing, a three in Paris is a ten in Cleveland. I pay for nothing. When I walk down the aisles of the grocery store, other shoppers move out of my path and apologize. Not a day goes by without someone telling me I'm skinny- context is key, I guess. Thrift stores here are full of treasures like Reformation tops, black wool Louis Vuitton pants, cropped merino turtlenecks, and patent Stuart Weitzman ankle boots, all of which I added to the nucleus of my minimalist wardrobe. Against the somberness of these new-to-me pieces, I finally realized how ridiculous it was for me to think I could wear anything that wasn't neutral or Dior, so I sold my purple Kate Spade coat and claimed a navy cashmere Brooks Brothers boys' coat (which my mom thrifted and my brother outgrew years ago) as my own. Now my wardrobe reflects the darkness of my current mood. I like to think of it this way: my clothing says, yes, I've cried into a donut recently, and I'm technically a mole person, but I'm a mole person who wears Louis Vuitton and was a delegate at Asia's first ever zero waste event last year.
I hope this unceasing malaise will subside once I stop being so self centered and remember how privileged I am and how many people face bigger and more serious problems through no fault of their own (see climate refugees, fast fashion factory workers). Barring that, maple sugaring season starts up again in February. Nothing cheers me up more than using fuel efficient reverse osmosis to process fresh syrup. Since leaving Paris, I traveled to China, Istanbul, Portugal, London, Marrakech, Toronto, Boston, and Arizona, consulting on sustainability and permaculture projects, visiting zero waste sites, and generally trying to figure out who I am apart from my husband. The highlight was Paolo Soleri's Arcosanti, a failed sustainable community of the future, which one Instagram user aptly described as "Beautiful and deeply unsettling, like Kourtney Kardashian's birth video." I loved the friendly people, cypress trees (non native, but whatever), and upcycled hippie meets hipster vibe. Resident cats let themselves into my room in the Sky Suite every night- a huge comfort- and the vegan food in the cafeteria was delicious. They are close to zero waste in that they compost or recycle everything, provide only reusables, and hope to be completely solar powered and self sufficient in the near future- right now they are at about 10% renewable energy. Set on a nature preserve designed to fight urban sprawl with minimal land impact, it was not uncommon to see ringtails or javelinas on the trails, zipping around cactus-chewing cows. Hiking the Grand Canyon, discovering Sedona's red rocks, and driving through various microclimates to Biosphere 2, Flagstaff, and Native American reservations (I rented an electric car- Arizona has so many charging stations!) made me realize what a varied and ecologically captivating country the United States is, something I took for granted when I lived here. Standing at the edge of the South Rim with my mason jar in hand, drinking in sweeping vistas and snowy mesas, I hadn't felt so proud to be from America since ABC made The Bachelor available On Demand. I'm also working with a professor from my alma mater at an assisted living facility (the residents play with my hair constantly; I find it soothing), and volunteering on a community program for underprivileged children from the projects, in the hopes that staying busy and productive will keep me from spiraling wildly out of control. I'm supposed to go to London, New York, Singapore, and Indonesia again for (sustainability related) work this year too so I'm paying a carbon tax to offset my deepseated environmental guilt.
One thing keeping me afloat, providing continuity and beauty in an otherwise soulcrushing period (apart from loving, supportive family and friends), is zero waste. For me, zero waste symbolizes freedom. It helped me gain independence from corporations and marketers telling me what to do or how I should live, it helped me adjust to a new country and a new language, and I hope it will help during this transition. Especially now that I have no money, it's been crucial- not buying a lot, shopping secondhand, eating unprocessed plant based foods, and utilizing reusables / water only / bulk soaps and oils instead of having to buy paper towels, plastic wrap, packaged meals, or tons of beauty products allows me to maintain a high quality of life without blowing my drastically reduced budget. It gives a quiet sense of satisfaction to clean without the use of expensive industrial chemicals, or float from place to place with minimal physical baggage, even when toxic emotional burdens seem overwhelming at times. The next few months will be so complicated, making the simplicity that comes from living zero waste even more critical. I like having less to worry about. There's something meditative about pouring dry ingredients into mason jars, baking vegan from scratch, or handwashing clothes as I wear them, like my grandmothers did nightly (I now handwash and airdry almost exclusively. If you are a childless person who doesn't have enough time to do laundry every day, try deleting Pinterest or Facebook from your phone and I guarantee you will find the time. Interestingly, experts say we now have less leisure time than ever, despite the proliferation of convenience products entombed in non biodegradable plastics).
I originally thought I would go back to Paris as soon as these six months are over. It's my home, and I feel I belong more there than I do in Cleveland, which always sort of made me feel like a factory farmed fish. But Cleveland is kind of like quicksand. Stay there too long, and a high tide can sweep over and you'll be stuck. Maybe the close proximity to my family, or ready access to cheap vegan and gluten free pizza, will keep me here indefinitely. Next time you hear from me, I might be driving a minivan, brandishing a Costco card from a (secondhand) Coach keyring. Who knows. For now, I will take things one day at a time, clutching my mason jar, cloth napkins, netted produce bags and EcoLunchbox with the implacable attachment Linus had for his blanket. I don't have control over much right now- not my circumstances, nor climate change- so these little steps, the last things tying me to my old life in Paris, are the first glimmers of hope I have for a fresh start.