Issue Seventeen: From Paris with Love
Notes on remaining
(Sacre Coeur from Centre Pompidou by Sarah MacDonald)
Bob Odenkirk keeps appearing in my dreams. He’s there, sometimes as Saul Goodman, sometimes as Jimmy McGill, sometimes himself, usually standing or observing. In one dream, he was in Paris with me. He helped me find a better hotel in Montmatre than the one I had where a communal bathroom was hidden beneath my room, accessible via a mint coloured tile slide. That wouldn’t do, Bob said. So he took my bags and put them in a car and we drove towards Sacre Coeur. We had martinis and watched the sun begin to set.
My feet are sore. I decided against using the Metro here because Paris is so walkable but that means my feet, which don’t see upwards of thousands and thousands of steps in Toronto, are tender. I slept with a pillow under my right knee to keep it elevated but I don’t think these two twin beds pushed together that I’m sleeping on are doing my body any good. I promise myself that when I get home I’m going to readjust my exercise program and incorporate more walking of the city. I love walking around Toronto. Or rather, I did love walking it. Instead, I talked myself into other modalities like yoga, spinning, and strength training. I have a Peloton, it is my favourite thing, okay!
At home, I deadlift 20 lbs. and can hold a plank for a minute and a half when before I couldn’t do either. I have power in my quads. They are athletic, which I’m not used to. This body has changed so much and yet I feel it stagnant. Perhaps it’s how I always see myself: changing and unchanged. Dan feels my triceps every so often—defined, curved. A small sense of pride bubbles and then subsided inside of me. This is not the change I want.
In Paris I walk. It’s funny how, speaking of changing and unchanged, I remember routes and landmarks with precision. On Sunday, after I trekked the bloated tourist trap of the Sacre Coeur steps for my raclette and ham sandwich at Grenouilles, I decided that, despite the crisp wind, I would wind my way back down to the main street below hilly Montmatre and see if I remembered how. No maps, nothing. Rue Lepic. It was like stepping back into 2018. At Rue Norvin, just before curving down the street, I saw myself, entering my 30th year, standing in front of the street sign, purple wisteria dangling. It was hot that day. I wore a grey dress I still have. My mom took to a photo.
Yet on Sunday, while the sky was bright and blue like the diamond emoji, crystalized, it was cold and people were everywhere. I smiled and continued, walking past the Gaston Leroux themed bar, the windmill restaurant, crepe places, and fish stands. I bought chocolates for my family and Dan. I walked by old Bulldogs slowly descending steps the way I had, their owners speaking gently to them in French, their heads cocked to the right to pay better attention.
For as long as I can remember I have wanted to get away. Every solution to any problem was to run. I remember being 10, packing a bag and sitting on my bed, thinking I could escape the madness of my house, the house my mother lives in still all these years later. I didn’t run but the urge never left me. Even in university, when I had a chance to run, to take that scholarship to Carleton University, to move to Ottawa and away from Kitchener for a moment, I panicked and stayed. I thought about taking my own life that year. What if I had run away instead?
Here I am, in a city I fell in love with years ago, alone, quiet, playing and re-playing Duke Ellington’s “Solitude” while I eat a croissant, the smell of it baking every morning at 7:30 a.m. waking me from my slumber. I ran to this place because I felt I deserved a break from the work I don’t love, the people there who treat me poorly, and all the ways I feel I am failing at my writing and being a person. My therapist would ask me about self-compassion here and I’d answer that I’m working on it.
I do need a break, and I mean it, but I wonder what it means to take breaks at home and to remain.
I think about a newsletter of Jessica Dore’s from sometime ago: “you don’t always have to choose the transformation. you can if you want, but no trophies are getting handed out at the end of this for most metamorphoses. we’re allowed to stick with what we know. sometimes the work is remaining.”
This concept has been rolling around my brain for a days now. What does it mean to remain? I wrote this in my notes app, of which I also wrote this newsletter, a few days ago:
The work is in remaining, isn’t it? Not remaining in bad situations with bad people. Remaining with yourself through the aches, the soreness as tender as the sinews in my legs after all this walking; staying with a self that, as much as you believe it’ll be fixed by running away, has a long shadow I barely want to face.
I wrote this after I spent an hour walking Blvd du Magenta, daydreaming. I enjoyed it. The moon hung over my head, visible in the daylight. I love when she appears in the blue. I told a friend before I left that I feel tired from learning and healing and that maybe I can be tuned towards more experiential learning. Maybe experiential learning and remaining. I think that’s what this trip is. What it means to me, anyway. Sure, I’m visiting places that exist with or without me here but they are different based on how I engage with them. I can’t begin to tell you how moved I was in the presence of Monet’s water lilies, fluid and bright and dark and a blur. They exist when I leave but I hold them in my body forever, in that moment precisely. And maybe that’s experiential learning and healing. I read no book on the ways trauma impacts me or what my behaviour says. I stood in a room with people all around me and I cried and I leaned into it and was consumed by the pastels before me.
That long shadow. What is the worst thing that could happen? It never seems bad enough in lucid moments like this but I know if I close my eyes and the race begins, dirt trudged up in my brain like on a track, I’ll panic. The fear will take hold. It’s remarkable how fear takes away time from you.
I will remain.
What happens then?
Today is my last day in Paris. Tomorrow is a new month. My card from my year pull for March is the Hermit. I find that fitting. February’s was the Knight of Wands, which I still don’t fully understand, but maybe I will with space from the month. Tomorrow I will sit on a plane and then a train and hug my cat, returning to the little life I have created. Someone said I looked so happy in one of the photos I posted to Instagram of this trip. It’s true, I am, but I don’t post the other happy moments I have. The ones where I am truly, wildly, energetically happy. The inside jokes, wine with friends, basketball games alone. The ones where Dan and I tangled are together in bed, both with awful morning breath, kissing each other, petting Puff, laughing, talking about the day. The moments when I stare at the tulips at my flower shop wondering how something could ever be as beautiful as that. But then, of course, I spot ranunculus and I start again. When sweat pours from my body after doing a very hard ride, my heart pumping, racing, keeping me up and alert. I’m happy then too.
Happiness is fleeting.
Remaining, well, that’s the thing, isn’t it?