Monday, December 27, 2010

-3 Degrees Celsius.

9:15 on a winter Monday morning. I wonder what the Parisians are doing right now. I'm sure the city is mostly desolate, as many of its inhabitants have headed to the mountains for their winter ski trips. But I'm sure the natural sparkle of the city goes on. Family-owned shops are still opened, and sidewalks must be swept up so that les propriétaires des brasseries can begin a new week. And while the weather may be drastically different from the 95 degree sweltering heat I grew accustomed to, and while the clouds may never part during a winters' day, I'm sure that the radiance of the city's wonder will shine on nonetheless.

Madame Dru must still be sleeping, or either sitting in her kitchen smoking while enjoying a cup of steaming hot black English tea. A piece of toast will suffice until she heads off to work, grabbing a bit of quiche or salade on her way. I wonder what free-spirited ring she has selected for herself today. Perhaps the clear ring with all the rhinestones to compliment her black sarong, or maybe a swirled design to jazz up her simple yet purposeful Birkenstock sandals.

«Les Bagues des Rêves», Chez Rosine, 2010

Then again, this is Rosine we're talking about. Two days after Christmas, she probably hasn't seen her children much this fall, and she doesn't really enjoy working. So she's probably traveling, or sleeping in late-- enjoying a good existential piece of literature, sipping tea and/or Diet Coke.

And here I am, restless and neurotic in my home-home, at 2:15 in the morning. My mind wanders from street to street, trying to relive all the life-changing moments of my Parisian escapades. As frustrating and confusing the city was on a day-to-day basis, I couldn't help but fall in love with the wave of emotions. For such a seemingly reserved culture, French folks really wear their emotions on their sleeve. When they're mad, they show hand gestures, in words, and in eyebrow scrunching. And when they're happy, they attempt to smile and usually kiss your cheeks like they've just seen a long-lost friend. But one thing you can count on with any strong emotion is the repetitiveness of their words. Usually in threesomes.

Très très trèèèès bien.

But why do these peculiar details intrigue me so? Why do I weep for the strange friends I made on the streets, in cafés, in dark bars and late-night streets? Why do I crave the scent of foreign second-hand smoke wafting through the streets accompanied by the distinct scent of freshly baked croissants and quiches? And why is it that I'd rather sit on a dirty metro for 30 minutes than in my own air-conditioned car during a traffic jam?

I of course have an answer for all of these questions, but am not brave enough to face it. So I lay awake sometimes for hours each night, thinking about my life in Paris this past summer, the friends I made out of complete strangers, and the odd sense of welcome I felt each night at la fontaine Saint Michel. And despite the fountain being a tourist hot-spot, I never felt like a tourist. I always received a warm greeting from the performers who recognized me, who understood that I could not pay them each night I watched their routines, but saw how much I valued their passion and talent.

So I lie here awake, feeling guilty for wishing to go back so soon in life. Guilty for not wishing to visit my own country in greater depth, fearing that if I don't go back now, I never will. Or worse, my friends and French family will have forgotten me by the time I manage to "get my act together" and return.

But somehow, the mere image of crowded outdoor cafés steaming with guests and their daily gossip brings me right back into the wave of French culture I dreamed about before even embarking on my adventure. My heart aches for so many things. And right now it aches most for my humble yet dark and twisty hippie of a host mother, the reassuring feeling of solitude, Centre Pompidou, a quietly messy salon, the shuffle of the metro, and a 4 euro bottle of Champagne to be shared among friends at sunrise for no particular reason other than the sheer factor of being young.

My heart aches, and it's an ache that hasn't faded. An ache that won't fade.

«The Best Chicken on a Stick Ever», Chez Rosine, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Shack

I'm not quite sure where to begin. This was more than just a book, it was an insightful legend to what it means to be a human being. I probably should have taken the religious aspects a little more seriously, but the advice that was given spoke to me in a much different way. And to be honest, the overtly religious aspects more often than not offended me a little bit. Mack, the protagonist of the novel, raised a question during one of the meals he shared with Papa (an African American female, who we know as 'God'). He inquired about which of the three, the Father, Son or the Spirit, were most powerful. He wanted to know if our version of their hierarchy was the reality of their relationship. And what Papa revealed to Mack was nothing he expected. She explained that they are a circle of relationship, not a chain of command.

Jesus chimed in and noted that humans created the hierarchical systems of everyday life. "Once you have a hierarchy, you need rules to protect and administer it, and then you need law and the enforcement of the rules, and you end up with some kind of chain of command or a system of order that destroys relationship rather than promotes it. You rarely see or experience relationship apart from power. Hierarchy imposes laws and rules and you end up missing the wonder of relationship..."

So then I started thinking about my relationships, and how I approach them all. In some, it is very evident which role I play in the pair. Whether I'm the strong one, the weak one, the smart one, the chaser, the chased, etc. And others, I find that there is that sense of equality that Papa, Sarayu and Jesus were attempting to teach Mack about throughout his journey. In some of my relationships, I do in fact feel like I am trapped by rules, following whatever the other person orders me to do. And in other relationships, I wonder why I feel like I am the responsible one, trying to hold the two of us together-- when in reality, if we just let each other live and understand we have differences, there would be no need to enforce rules on each other. There wouldn't be a need to fight for understanding or argue against each other's methods of thinking.

Sarayu, the personified spirit of God, further explains, "...broken humans center their lives around things that seem good to them but will neither fill them nor free them. They are addicted to power, or the illusion of security that power offers. When a disaster happens, those same people will turn against the false powers they trusted."

If I constantly live in this illusion of power and weakness, I don't think I'll ever truly be happy. If I continue to live in this world where I think certain people are better than me, while others rest below my 'status', then I will always see people in tiers. This kind of relates to something my Grandmother has been getting me to understand, I think.

She tells me to let go of anything and everything that is not related to Love, Truth, Beauty, & Knowing. It seems so simple in text, but when I try to apply the concepts, the challenge sets in. It's taken me years to figure out just what I find beautiful, and what I usually fall in love with. But knowing and trusting truth, that's a whole other type of game for me to try to play. But something this book has shown me, is that we can trust our gut...after it's been trained. We must train our minds, and our gut instincts to steer away from snap judgments and categorizing habits. Ultimately, it will be my gut who tells me whether or not something is true, but until I can definitively stay away from categorizing people and things, I won't be able to see the beauty and know that something is truly amazing, or truly worth my time. This stagnant routine of judgment I've created for myself closes in on my perception of life and clouds my ability to distinguish good from evil and truth from falsehood.

There were a number of themes brought up in this novel, and many I'm sure I will have to reevaluate for myself, but this one really stuck out to me. This theme of how we treat other humans really swept me away to another world-- a world where I could judge myself and how I judge other people. It seems so normal to shape people into certain types of human beings, to see them in one, maybe two ways, but nothing more. And here I always thought I had a pretty wide open perception of the world.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A little help from a wise woman.

"Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world." --Etty Hillesum

Helping others find peace does not find me peace. And it doesn't find peace for the people I interact with on a daily basis. Instead of looking to fix everyone else's problems, why can't I just stop and look at the situations I'm creating? Why can't I look at the people I'm hurting, instead of the strangers who are hurting themselves and begging for help? I'm a troubled, reckless little girl with only a few vague directions in life. And I guess that's how most twenty-year olds are, but for some reason I find myself in this extreme version of that lifestyle. And I'm not at all sure how I ended up in this place, hurting the people I love the most and only feeling bitter and alone at the end of the day.

"It gets more confusing everyday. Sometimes it's heaven sent, then we head back to hell again." --John Legend

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

midday fight.

ever since i can remember i've fought for the underdog, given the sucker a second chance, and always tried to see the brighter side of things for everyone...but myself. and it's never really occurred to me that fighting for myself is just as important as fighting for the world. i never felt gipped or jaded by what has happened to me-- just hurt and confused.

but i do ignore myself a lot of the time. i do worry about others when i should be worrying about myself; and to be honest, i'm not entirely sure what it feels like to fight for myself anymore. i have these passive mannerisms that i use to imitate what fighting for myself would be like, but i haven't directly fought for myself in a very long time.

that's not to say that i just lay down and surrender to people, but when it comes to making decisions for myself, for what i want, and for what will make me (and sometimes only me) happy, i let a lot of opportunities pass me by.

there's a huge difference between being selfish and wanting what's best for yourself.

so maybe for now i can just work on fighting for myself, for what i believe in, and for what i need from life.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

"They say time heals everything, but I'm still waiting."

“The fight for you is all I’ve ever known…so come home.”

Okay, so it’s been predominantly an internal fight—but a fight’s a fight, right? Too much rhyming for the mood I’m in.

People don’t give kids enough credit. They think that because their brains aren’t working at full capacity, they can’t interpret the world around them; they can’t understand fully what an adult says to them; they can’t understand the difference between being treated well and being neglected. For those naïve parents out there reading right now, you’ve been dead wrong since Day 1. Your kids notice anything and everything.

Kurt Vonnegut made an excellent point about children in saying, “They aren’t moving hand-carved animals on and off a Noah’s Ark, believe me. They are spying on real grownups all the time, learning what they fight about, what they’re greedy for, how they satisfy their greed, why and how they lie, what makes them go crazy, the different ways they go crazy, and so on” (Mother Night, 265).

Do you really think that shutting a wooden door mutes the fighting? Do you think kids don’t pick up on your hateful eyes reflecting in the rearview mirror? Did you miss those things as a kid? Because that would be the only way you could think your children wouldn’t notice the same treatments. How do you think they developed facial expressions? They don’t just come from nowhere, it’s called mimicking, and every species from the idiotic fruit fly to the great blue whale learns from what they observe.

But I digress. A little.

What I don’t understand is how parents can expect their kids to grow up sane and well rounded when they themselves don’t show the kids two cents worth of respect growing up. If you blow your kid off when they’re eight years old, what do you expect them to do when their eighteen years old? If you yell at them for speaking their minds at ten years old, do you expect them to want to open their mouths at twenty? Logic would tell you, no. But somehow, you expect different results.

When you say you’ll call, you better make damn sure you call. And if you don’t, don’t expect the same courtesy in return. Because trust me, people are only as disrespectful as the person who disrespected them the most as a child. There’s a little food for thought. Instead of focusing on how you treat people on a day-to-day basis, let’s focus on how we treat our youth…because then maybe, just maybe, we can breed a generation of kids who won’t want to cut each other’s throats, drop bombs on complete strangers, and who have the guts to call their fathers when they can’t attend a holiday dinner without fearing a confrontation from a couple hundred miles away.

But I digress again. A little. At least we’re making progress on the frustration front.

Ooh, maybe that could be the new nickname for the “War on Terrorism”. Sidenote: Now that we’ve destroyed a country from their infrastructure, out, how does that not make us the terrorists…since that’s what we were ‘trying’ to prevent them from doing in the first place?

My point is, kids internalize everything about their surroundings. If their environment is nurturing, they most likely won’t turn out to be baby-killing animal torturers….to a certain degree. Of course each person has the capability to be a good or bad person, but in general the way they are raised dramatically affects how they turn out as an adult.

“Hopefully the hate subsides and love can begin…and maybe I’ll just dream out loud until then.”

So, now that we’ve covered the nature versus nurture argument (a little), let us turn to the affects of such treatment. It’s really quite simple.

If you’re not around, and you don’t care…don’t expect them to be around and to care once they’re capable of making their own decisions. You only have so much time to repair the pain and fear you’ve instilled in a child’s eyes…before they’re so far jaded by the world they don’t know who they can rely on.

If you have daughters, you better hope they find a man who can give them what you didn’t and protect them from all you let them encounter. And if you have sons, you better hope they somehow learn how to treat the women they’re meant to protect.

Subliminal message: If you don’t want to be a parent, don’t have sex. Just whack it at your earliest convenience. Lord knows we don’t need any more bad parents running around with their children on monkey-backpack leashes.

Wow, lots of skeletons in my closet I guess.

New Beginnings

It would be an understatement to say that I can't count on two hands how many times I've searched for something new-- for how many times I've run away from what I have. And I don't necessarily only run away from things I'm scared of, upset about, or even angry at...I tend to run from things I grow tired of. It's not that I'm a bored person in general, because I can always find something to do, or something to entertain myself with, but I never feel satisfied with what is in front of me.

Some people call that ambition, or a taste for adventure, but sometimes I think of it as a curse. Never being fully satisfied with the life I have is very tiresome at times. Always wanting to help people, travel somewhere new, make more money, buy something else small that makes me happy-- it all just exhausts me.

And when I can get away from my life, I pretend that the few days I have to ignore reality will somehow fix every problem I'm faced with. Those few days where everyone wears a smile and gets along, will somehow finish my homework assignments, clear up my daddy issues, and deposit money into my bank account.

The Holiday season is approaching, but all I can think about is how I will do at the Orange and Green I will do on my French paper that I haven't started...and how I will ever be able to clear my mind into enjoying the Holiday season.

Maybe, for the next two weeks I should just close my heart into a library book and hide it away on a shelf in the stacks. That way, I can get my work done and train the way I need to without having to stop and worry every three seconds if someone is trying to break into my house, if I paid my credit card bill, or my never-ending medical bill, or if my car has enough gas to get to class tomorrow. And maybe after finals are over, I'll be able to focus on what I actually care about, solving worldly issues and falling more in love with my best friend.

Friday, November 19, 2010


it's silly, really. very, very...silly.
to let an absent human being
determine my level of happiness
it's silly. but very much my reality.
i've seeked approval and temporary
love from too many boys/guys/men
for it to not be my reality.
but every once in a while,
i still feel silly about it. very, very silly.
if i'm out of his mind, then
he can be out of mine.

(i think.) so silly.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

someone once said that scars are the roadmap to the soul...

Every scar tells a story, reveals a past adventure, a past heartache, and a past memory. Some people scar more easily than others, but one thing thing remains true about scars, no matter how big or small. They're there forever.

I used to be ashamed of my scars. I used to try to hide them, or make up stories about why they're all over my arm, my ankles, my hips. And I guess now people only see the ones that line my arms, not the burns on my leg, my hand, or the scars I have from picking old wounds. I may not directly lie about where my scars come from more story about a burn from the bakery I worked at, or some cat scratching me. I mean, come on, was that every really believable? Do cats really have 6 claws that are parallel to each other? No.

Now when someone asks, I just look down at them, cover them up a bit, as if to hide the person from the bitter truth for one more instant, and then glance up at them for a moment and say, "They're really old scars." And then I change the subject. Okay, so that's not really telling the truth, but it's better than directly lying to their face, right? Every scar may tell a story, and since I wear mine very visibly, I guess I can't knock the people who demand to know the story. But why is it I'm so afraid to tell them? Why am I afraid to tell my best friends, my teammates, my family members, what I've done to myself?

Sure, there's only a handful of people who know exactly what I've been through, who were witnesses to what I suffered growing up. But there have also been people I've met that don't care what I've been through, who see it in my eyes that I've been hurt, and who probably only wish to hear the truth about where I've come from and what's brought me here. Yet I still run away from them. I try to run from my own story, one I have written for years, memorized it down to the very last facial detail and muttered last words. It's a story I don't like to tell very often, one that wipes the smile from my face each time. One that turns my eyes glassy as I turn away to conceal the tears. It's not all bad, of course, but most of it explains why I've become the person I am-- why I'm freaked out, insecure, neurotic and emotional. A lot of it also explains my attachment to people, my fear of them betraying me, leaving me, or just plain physically hurting me. And parts of the story reveal my peaceful side, my need for human love and devotion, and my heartfelt wish to make everyone around me as happy as can be.

But why can't I just make myself happy? I go through these phases every once in a while. Phases of feeling self-worth, pure happiness with the world around me, and this hop in my step that can't be overturned. And then, darkness falls. A feeling of anxiety rushes in that can't be stopped. It attacks my body from the inside out. First, it devours my stomach, leaving me feeling sick and curled in a ball. Then my breathing rate rises and won't be lowered for anything. Tears start to burn my eyes and the smile fades away into a grey frown. And that physical state stays in place until someone, or something can shake me out of it. And I must say, as the years add up, it has become harder and harder for people and things to get me out of this state.

One thing I can always reflect on in that state of mind is my arm, or my leg, or my hip. A constant reminder of where I've been, and where I don't want to end up again. A few strokes of those tale-telling scars and I'm ready to try to smile once more.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

That was a Sunday sign of Fate.

A few weeks ago while reading at the pool, I saw a father playing with a few of the kids at the apartment complex. Between sessions of tossing them into the pool, he would stop at read a few papers. With a red pen in his hand, I figured he was grading papers so he must be some kind of teacher or professor. The table he sat at provided him with the just the right amount of shade to clearly see his work, while giving his back a nice tan.

This morning I was the first person at the pool so I set up shop at the same table to warm my back with the sun's mid-morningh rays. The neighbor behind me had some kind of mix playing in his apartment, so music wasn't needed. He's the hippie who steps out on his porch every morning to chat with his plants while his wife makes a pot of coffee for them to enjoy later on.

So I set off and worked on my teaching assignments. Powering through my field notes, I watched as the complex slowly woke up. Enjoying my cup of coffee and Pandora music mix, I showed no mercy in my observational write-up. As I finished my assignment, I heard a somewhat familiar voice behind me say, "Good morning!" as the gate opened up. I turned around and realized the voice was probably directed at me, since no one else was at the pool. So I responded with a, "Good morning, how are you doing?" and recognized the face. It was the same father from a few weeks ago, this time leading his son to the other side of the pool deck, with their bikes at the ready for an adventure.

He stopped for a minute as I asked him if he was a teacher of some kind because I thought I noticed he was grading papers a few weeks back. He told me he was a chemistry and physics teacher at a local high school. "You seem like you're hard at work," he said to me as I muted Pandora to further inquire about his profession. His son was now a few steps ahead of him so I told him I wouldn't delay his day but I'd like to sit down and talk to him about his profession one day, as I had just begun my work at a middle school for UM.

Chris, my neighbor caddy corner to me, just across the pool-- a high school teacher who spends time with his kids every weekend despite having constant papers to grade. If me sitting at this very table, on this very morning, working on my future teaching career as he steps out with his son, isn't some kind of sign for my future profession, then I don't know what is.

I've struggled with seeing signs lately, constantly wondering if my belief system is just a crock of hippie wishful thinking. But I don't think it is, and this was an oddly refreshing interaction. And if all it does is improve this one hour of time for me, that'd be enough.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Disney has doomed us all.

Fairytales, from the way I've been exposed to them, don't come in many different packages. They start off with a little girl who either has daddy issues, step-mother issues, an evil magical spell cast upon her, or just plain bratty-princess syndrome. They start off with a little girl who usually wants for nothing, but wishes for everything. They start off with a beautiful, young, tortured soul.

As the story progresses, the little princess runs from her problems, sweeping them under the rug until there comes a point when they're staring her in the face and she has no where to turn but to a handsome prince, or a fairy godmother, or maybe a pack of friendly animals. She never saves her own ass. Instead, it's saved for her-- by some guy who she will ride off into the sunset with to get married, have really attractive babies, and then begin another generation of want-for-nothing-wish-for-everything(s).

Life isn't a cookie cutter though. It's not molded into an early onset issue that can be magically healed with one kiss or a magic fairy waving her wand. Life is brutal, it's harsh, yet it's magical in its own ways. Very few people experience trauma, struggle with money, or have an absent parent from a young age. But those that do don't go about finding their fairytale in a systematic way. There is no Pythagorean Theorem that tells them which step to take next. Sure there are some pretty pivotal steps a person has to take in their lifetime; go to school, get a job, get married, have kids, and obviously pay taxes. But how they go about those steps, if they even want to take them all, is entirely up to them.

A pregnancy can occur in high school. Drop out or keep going? Keep the baby or terminate? These aren't things Cinderella had to deal with.

An absent parent can surface in college. Take the easy way out and ignore them? Be the bigger person and forgive easily? Okay, maybe a few of the Disney princesses had to confront poor parenting skills. Good thing for my generation that we don't have to worry about the "you must be married to a prince" rule...or the whole arranged marriage setup.

Life is messy though. Very very messy. And we don't always get what we want. I may not come from nothing in the full sense of the phrase, but I certainly don't find myself wishing for everything. I have hopes and aspirations, of course, but the reality is that not every wish you make comes true. Not every prayer you utter will have a positive outcome. And not every person will want the same things you do. One thing I have to face as a non-Disney princess is the concept of compromise. And boy does it suck sometimes.

I wish I was still young enough to be convinced that coming from nothing means you can wish for everything...and have a pretty good shot at getting it all in the perfect order.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A New Perspective.

I was given an assignment for teaching and learning class the other day and I was told to read the Sunshine State Standards for my subject area and write a response to what I see. The Sunshine State Standards, in a nutshell, are just the hopes and dreams the state sets up for all teachers to follow as they form their curriculum. It's a long list of what a student should learn in a particular content area, in a few school years. The standards are broken down into Pre-K to 2nd grade; 3rd to 5th grade; 6th to 8th grade; 9th through 12th grade. And since Florida, the wonderfully education-driven state it is, decided to re-write the standards over a ten year period, has not yet re-written them for foreign language, I had the opportunity to read the older standards for my subject.

What I find interesting is just how much a student learning a foreign language is expected to know before entering 6th grade. There are things that I didn't learn until I myself traveled to Paris to study for four weeks! Some of the cultural integration and comparative knowledge about grammar and syntax styles just amazes me. I didn't even know schools offered foreign language before middle school, so it was only to my surprise to see what was crammed into six years of school for me.

The reason we were given this assignment was not just to read about the secondary schooling standards. It was to see what students were expected to know by the time they were handed over to us. We are to see what we're up against, and what we'd have to play catch up for. The purpose of this assignment was to see just how disparate some of our students will be upon entering our classroom simply because of a very not-simple issue; literacy. It's just now hitting me why it seemed so many of my peers struggled in French class in 6th and 7th grade. They weren't reading at a level that allowed them to be successful in English class, let alone any other content-area. The structures, grammatical comparisons, and overall use of mature vocabulary didn't make sense to them.

So now I'm left wondering, do I step into a classroom full of struggling students, knowing that the State will be on my back making sure I cover a certain number of standards, all the while my students struggle to read the instructions in English? Or do I step back and consider teaching Elementary level French, and have more time to help my students master the English language while learning a new one simultaneously? I hadn't considered teaching Elementary school since I gave up the notion that I could be as great of a kindergarten teacher as Mrs. Prewitt, but maybe literacy is where I could find my calling. Maybe I could make the difference I've wanted to make in a younger classroom, improving the literate abilities of a very impressionable group of kids.

Friday, September 3, 2010


This summer I thought I discovered my own way to be inspired. I thought I had finally captured my personal method of internalizing the world around me. But I guess not. Since I've come back to reality, to track workouts, to reading assignments, and daily chores, I've felt lost when it comes to expanding my mind. My eyes are wide open, but my heart feels oddly shut off from the world, from myself.

Maybe it's how I perceive my surroundings and there really is a lot to be inspired by walking down US-1. Or maybe this really is a city you live in to just drive right by everything around you, too busy to recognize anything or anyone but yourself. I've never felt so alone, even living in one of the most populated cities in America. Sure I felt alone in Paris from time to time, walking to school alone everyday will make a person lonely. But for the most part, the loneliness didn't bother me. It was my time to think clearly, to feel the sun's rays on my shoulders, to look up at the sky and know I was where I should be. It was my time to buy a Euro-worth of candy, or buy the International Paper, when I know very well that I don't even buy papers back in the states. I can't describe how I felt in Paris, because I just was. In Miami, I feel confused, closed off and sick the majority of the time.

The sickness I feel isn't a cough, and it's not a headache. It's a rising feeling starting in the bottom of my stomach. It's the kind of rising anxiety you get when you've just heard your boyfriend cheated on you, or you might have been caught cheating on an exam. First, the drop comes. Your stomach drops to the floor, pulling your heart down with it, inch by inch. But then your breathing calms you for a moment, and your equilibrium sets in. The nausea settles in at the bottom of your stomach, but quickly works its way to the top. It's an aching nausea that you feel all day something in your world has gone terribly wrong and there's not a thing in the world to be done to mend the pain.

That's the loss of inspiration. That's the sickening feeling I get each and every day, doing the things that supposedly bring me joy in other areas of the world.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I like to stare at the ceiling at 1 am.

"Do you promise?"
"Say it?"
"Yes, I promise."

So simple. And so easily said. Yet those words form a complex system based on trust and follow-through. Those three words can sum up a belief system, a vocalized feeling, and maybe even a future action. When I was younger it seemed so much easier to just believe a person when they said 'I promise'. There was no guilty ache in the bottom of my heart, no rising-sick-feeling in my stomach. I just believed.

Maybe we hooked pinkies, hugged on the deal, or made a vow, but no matter what we did, my friends and I knew our promises could be kept. There was no concept of lying to each other-- sure, we lied to our parents when we wanted to do something we approved of, but there was no lying to friends or other loved ones.

"L'innocence", Centre Pompidou, 2010

Now I find myself making promises with people, hoping they keep their word; wondering if they will come through in the end; wishing my innocent belief systems would come racing back into my life. It's hard to trust others when you've been disappointed throughout your entire life. That's not to say your own life itself has been disappointing, but there are certain times to look back on and wish for a brighter outcome.

How can you be 100% sure another person truly has your back? I guess you never really can. Children believe people have their back because, for one, they usually do, and two, children don't know any better. They don't realize that people lie, deceive, torment and hurt others. Children don't realize that one day, they too will lose the wonderful ability to trust with no hesitation, to love without fear, and to believe in everything.

My guess is that the magic starts to wear off once they find out Santa isn't real. Or that the tooth fairy is really just a parent who leaves a quarter under their pillow and places their tooth in a special box stored in the basement. I honestly hope I never have to lie to my children, that they never realize the tooth fairy isn't real, or that the Easter bunny didn't really bring them the best jelly beans in the city. I hope that they continue to make pinky promises with me, their friends and other loved ones. And I hope they have faith that everyone carries through on their promises. To know how much I've been through, and how hard it is to breathe at night sometimes while I lay awake worrying about the validity of what I hear from a person's mouth, I would never want to subject my children to such a nightmare. I would never want to strip them of their innocent and wonderous belief system.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Miss Rita from Lebanon

I have always hoped to find a neighborhood where everyone knew each other, where everyone genuinely cared for one another. Most of the time neighbors just make small talk, but every once in a while a glimpse of who someone really is comes out during one of those conversations.

Last night I met Rita, Susan and a couple of other neighbors while they were sitting by the pool enjoying a couple of drinks to let off steam from the hard work-week. Stepping out onto my patio, they greeted me warmly, surprising me a little bit with their shouting. "Hi neighbor!" And, "Yes! Hello neighbor how are you tonight?"

I had a towel on my head-- having just stepped out of a long shower, and wore only a black tee-shirt. When I realized I wasn't alone on this steamy August night, I made sure nothing was revealed from the bottom of my tee and replied with a warm, "Good evening! I'm just fine, how are you doing?"

And then came the small talk; the exchanging names, apartment locations, etc. I knew I would see them again so I didn't try my best to remember their buzzed and slurred names. They asked me about Merlin, and I told them he was my husky, staying for the night. Mentioning how much they all loved dogs, they promised mum was the word when it came to the Leasing office. And so our bonding began.

Leaving them to their evening, I couldn't help but smile as I stepped back into my apartment, the cool air conditioning sweeping over my face. Little did I know that the next afternoon I would see Susan and Miss Rita tanning by the pool as I taught Evan how to dive. More small talk was exchanged but the surface layers rubbed off and I found out Miss Rita and her family had been here for almost seven years and each member was brought over one by one by her brother, from Lebanon.

I've never known much about Lebanon and I felt humbled talking to a woman who I had assumed to be of Latin or Hispanic backgrounds. After she taught me about Lebanese children learning multiple languages from a very young age, Miss Rita asked me if I was American, American. Of course I said yes, and then that I was born in Saint Louis. A wide smile took over her face as Miss Rita giggled and excitedly said, "Oh my goodness a real American, that's so great!" I have never in all my life seen such a wonderful reaction when I've simply said I was born and raised in America.

It's probably hard for me to understand where she was coming from because I was born in the suburbs, never had to immigrate and I didn't grow up in an area with a ton of immigrants. Needless to say, I felt honored that Miss Rita was so excited to meet a born-and-raised-in-the-States American.

I'm not sure how much I will see Miss Rita, her sister Susan, and the rest of the family, but I can be sure that when I do, I'll say hi and ask how her niece is doing with her ping-pong competitions and if she's met any more "pure-blood" Americans.

Friday, August 13, 2010

It's all in the fun.

The trick is to merely soft-boil the eggs. If you over boil them, then there is very little point to using le coquetier. To the French, hard-boiled eggs are actually just American eggs. What we call hard-boiled or diced eggs topped with salt and butter, they just consider another American "delicacy".

The real art rests with the soft-boiled egg. It's really very simple if you think about it.

1. Boil water.
2. Place egg into boiling water.
3. Wait 2-3 minutes.
4. Remove newly soft-boiled egg.
5. Place newly soft-boiled egg into le coquetier.

But then the fun begins. This is one of the first meals a child is able to eat all by themselves, fork and knife in hand. Once the hot egg is placed in its holder, you cut off le chapeau, or the hat of the egg as the French call it, and eat the top of the egg white off the inside. With most of the egg white still concealing the inner yolk, a small piece of baguette is used to break the seal and dip its way into the core--soaking up the runny yolk.

Now it's not just any old baguette. This baguette has been thoroughly salted and buttered and ripped into many small pieces...and is usually just placed on the bare table for anyone to share. Crumbs litter the table top and bits of salt find their way to the floor. But as soon as the baguette bit hits the yolk, the butter melts into the heated center and the process continues until the liquid center has been absorbed.

Luckily, the coquetier holds the egg in place. I'm sure one reason Americans choose to hard-boiled their eggs and then smash them to bits is so that parents don't have to worry about their children handling a hot, rolling egg shell. Or maybe French children, like Julien-Francois are just more sophisticated than their American peers.

As a nineteen year old exchange student, learning this common mealtime activity was very humbling to say the least. But Madame Dru walked me through every step, showing me how to cut the chapeau, prepare the baguette, and even explaining to me that because bread was once impossible to find, it is now for everyone...a major reason they just break bread and pass it all over the table. I found it a little funny when comparing it to the American practice of everyone having their own Pilsbury croissant sans another's germs.

After soaking up the precious yolk, a thin delicate spoon is used to remove the insides from the shell. The pieces of egg-white along with the occasional over-cooked egg yolk are scooped up, sometimes placed on more pieces of baguettes and slipped into the mouth.

Want to know what the typical first joke a French child tells?

When they have finished their soft-boiled egg, and all that is left inside le coquetier is an empty egg shell, they will wait until their mother's back is turned. Quickly, they flip the egg shell over, hiding the open top, revealing an unbroken side and yell out to their mother,
"Regarde maman, je n'ai pas mange mon oeuf!!"
(Look momma, I didn't eat my egg!)

And of course the mother plays along saying,
"Oh lala, c'est mal. Pourquoi est-ce que tu n'as pas mange ton oeuf?"
(Oh no, that's bad, Why didn't you eat your egg?)

Giggling with every word uttered, the child takes the small spoon and cracks open the shell, shouting with excitement,
"Je blague!"
(Just kidding!)

Well thought out, kid. Sure makes Why did the chicken cross the road? look a little silly, doesn't it?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Thessalonian Mornings

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. --1 Thessalonians 4:11-12

I must admit, I don't know much about the Thessalonian Scripture, but I think this piece of it pulls a lot of weight in today's world. Too often people concern themselves with gaining the respect of others without realizing exactly what it means to gain someone's respect. Acts of kindness lose their beauty when the doer shouts about them in the streets. Quiet acts of kindness go much further and are probably more often noticed by outsiders than anyone realizes.

What interests me about this scripture is the beginning where the ambition should be to remain quiet in the background, hard at work, and in turn a profitable life will be led. There is no mention of happiness following the hard work, but in my mind, if you gain the respect of others for being a hard worker, then happiness should take care of itself. Hard work leads to high productivity, which leads to a prosperous outcome. And I don't think many people are unhappy with an outcome such as that.

The final words so that you will no be dependent on anybody sticks with me as well because too often in today's world people depend on one another to get through life. We are first born alone in this world, and while we may die with people sitting at our bedside, we physically die alone as well. I think that during their lifetime, people take advantage of the help others are willing to give. An act of kindness turns into years of aid. People take niceness for granted and independence has taken on a new meaning. Today, people think independence means making your own decisions, taking control of your life, but not necessarily being independent from others when it comes to the necessities of life. But if a person works hard, and maintains their own life before helping others, they won't need aid when it comes to food, water, shelter, and transportation.

I think the beginning and end of the passage speak loudly in many realms of everyday life. Obviously it applies to working hard at a job, but I think it also can apply to getting an education. If you study hard and make sure you do what you need to do to succeed, it will pay off. Helping others can only come after you've helped yourself. Having only worked in a middle school for two semesters, I have very little experience with today's secondary students. From the observations I have noted, I see students who depend on their teachers to give them every answer, form the words in their mouths before they utter them aloud, and expect their aid on exams and written assignments. There is very little autonomy among today's youth and I'm not sure what caused this change in the world. Simple writing and arithmetic skills have been lost, and asking for manual labor is completely out of the question.

I am all for helping people in need, for helping people who are too far lost to help themselves, or who have felt so low for so long, but I am disgusted when I see people begging for help when all that is required is a bit of thinking on their part. If we can't help ourselves when life is easy, how can we expect to get anywhere when life gives us lemons?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The differences between a 5 year old and a 20 year old?

As it turns out, there aren't too many. The only one I can think of is age. Sure, fifteen years is a big difference, but the mentality isn't different at all.

Last night I watched my niece, Faith, despite my seemingly "adult" age paired with my long list of aspirations and life goals, our thrill for simple things in life is the exact same. She showed me her first Build-A-Bear animal and pulled me up the stairs to show me the computer game that went with it. I have many Build-A-Bear bears, but the computer game is something I'd never had. So I sat on her pink beanbag chair while she showed me her interactive world. I could almost see the wheels spinning in her mind, much like mine when I'm hard at work.

Then we jumped into her room where she pulled out her Nintendo DS and starting working her magic on the twisted levels of Bolt. She showed me how he jumped and kicked, laughing at her own little jokes the whole time. But then she suddenly threw down the Nintendo and jumped through the air yelling "Tickle time!!!" and started clawing my face, chest and legs. I laughed through the scratching and managed to flip her over and start tickling away. Jason and Sophia were downstairs getting ready for their date and I'm sure our giggles echoed in every room.

We must have heard someone coming up the stairs because we both snapped to attention, found the Nintendo and laid on our stomachs facing forward, pretending to be locked in on the game. Jason came in the room and asked us what we were doing...Faith and I just glanced over at each other, hair a mess, bed sheets all crumpled up, and we started laughing out loud. Not everything Daddy's Little Girl does with Aunt Lauren has to be shared with Daddy does it?

Faith batted her eyelashes and brushed some of her tickle-soiled hair from her face and asked Jason to get her past a level on Bolt. She then told him he and Mommy could stay out as long as they wanted cause we'd be playing a long time. So as soon as the door shut downstairs, Faith jumped up in the air and said "You're all mine now! Tickle fight!!" And away we went.

But then the tickle fight game morphed into something different, something a little challenging and scary for Faith. She climbed on my feet to fly in the air like a helicopter. She had a death grip around my hands which helped her overcome her fear of heights. "I won't let you fall sweetie, I promise" I told her, so she started to take her hands off for a photograph. Then suddenly she wrapped her arms around my legs and a look of fear took over. I grabbed her little face and told her she could trust her Aunt Lauren and that I wouldn't let anything bad happen to her. The smile creeped back on her face and she asked if I could crash the airplane onto her bed. So suddenly her fear of heights vanished and she was ready to fall from three feet in the air.

We must have played that game for a while because suddenly it was dinner time and we were both hungry. But Faith wanted to keep falling, asking to be tossed off my feet faster and faster, and I just wanted to see her keep laughing and facing her fears.

But we agreed it was probably time for dinner so we ran downstairs and I made some delicious microwaveable chicken nuggets for Faith and some oatmeal for myself. Sitting on the island we talked about how to make sure the food wasn't too hot and what we would do next. The new Scooby Doo movie was on the list so we popped it in and I did my best to figure out the sound system. About fifteen minutes later we were watching the movie, Faith had a freeze pop and was comfortably sitting on my stomach.

But after the ghosts and goblins were all gone, and the mystery was solved, Faith wanted to play again. So I cranked up the music and we started a dance party in the kitchen. Dancing by ourselves in the beginning I noticed she and I were spinning the same way, hands in the air, smiling and bopping along to the beat. I picked her up and we spun around the kitchen giggling and yelling. Faith wanted the music louder so I chased her into the living room and she jumped up on the couch so we could dance at eye level. I held her hands to make sure she didn't fall off but soon the couch dancing turned to couch bouncing and then we were spinning around and around again. Still wanting the music louder, we moved the dancing out onto the deck and Faith wanted me to teach her some dances. So we slowed danced a bit, and then an early 70's song came on so I showed her my best hippie dancing skills, locking hands and spinning in a circle while throwing our heads back.

"This is the best day ever Aunt Lauren!" rang through the air.

Once the bugs got to us we moved back inside and this time we danced while playing volleyball with a balloon. Ah, the never boring game of "DON'T LET IT HIT THE FLOOR!!" was played until Jason, Sophia & Ayven came back. The fiesta, as Faith called it, was in full motion, and we were both diving to the ground so as not to let the balloon fall.

Telling Sophia all the fun things we did, I realized that I wasn't just doing them because Faith wanted to. I helped come up with what we did too, and enjoyed them myself. Faith and I grew closer while I maintained my child-amusement. After Jason & Sophia wished me luck on another school year, I got into my car and blasted the radio, continuing the Fiest-Dance-Party all the way home.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I could find beauty anywhere.

Today after the rainstorm ended I decided to jump in the car and use the DSLR to take a few pictures at Creve Coeur Park. I'm not sure what I plan to do with them but I had a great time walking on and off the trails, snapping life as I see it through a lens.

So here's just a few sample photos from my walk through the beautiful park this afternoon. I know this isn't a "photoblog" but I thought I'd share some of my work. Enjoy.

"Calm After the Storm", Creve Coeur Park, 2010

"The Power of a Broken Heart", Creve Coeur Park, 2010

"Natural contrast at its finest moments." Creve Coeur Park, 2010

"A Daydreamer in Motion" Creve Coeur Park, 2010

Life will pass you by if you don't have the antidote to the toxin.

I find it insane how much of our life we spend worrying about nothing, about everything. Minutes turn to hours of worrying everyday, and so much of life's beauty is forgotten. The idea of not having enough money blocks out the thought of how warm a kiss on the cheek feels, how pleasant the sound of a baby giggling can be. Everyday sights and sounds become blurred into the background as life's major concerns take us over cell by cell.

Of course I can't sit on a high horse and judge everyone around me, because I too find myself over thinking, worrying about finances, the future, and how to maintain the certain happyness and childlike wonder I hold so very deep in my soul. What I've realized the past few weeks is just how viral such thinking can be. It seeps into my skin, attaches to my cells and soon enters my bloodstream. From there I can feel my temperature rise, my breathing strain and a sense of anxiety enters my mind. The twisted, sick feeling sits in my chest, stomach and brain for hours upon hours, consuming my every thought. Sometimes it is easier to just fall asleep and hope that when you open your eyes, those feelings will have resided, and the world will once again find equilibrium.

We all know viruses never go away. There is no cure for a virus that enters the body, the risk of it coming back is always there-- lurking in the background.

But my question to the world, to myself, Why do we let such a virus enter our system? What happened to the days when all we worried about was getting to stay up late in the summertime, sneak an extra dessert after dinner, or getting that first kiss without our parents finding out? What happened to the days when childlike wonder flowed through our mind, making the world seem brighter, happier and full of possibilities with very few heartaches? There was no worry over money, jobs, living conditions, or transportation. There was no fear of being heartbroken and alone for life. None of that was relevant. Why does it have to be now?

I can try to deny the lurking fears that I've allowed to enter my body, but I know that sooner or later they will surface. Instead of masking them with bad decisions, impulsive buying, or even rash decision making, I try to find the simple things that make me happy; baking, reading, writing, petting an animal, helping someone find their way (whether it's physically finding their way on the road or metaphorically speaking in life), listening to music, and taking walks.

Some people choose to call this 'therapy', but I just call it living. Ooh, there's a radical idea. Go out and do the things I love to do, seek the finer/beautiful things in life instead of laying in bed late at night, worrying about the mysteries of my private student loan, wondering if I will be able to find my next place to live by the time my Lease is up in 10 months.

Babies laugh. The sky burns blue in the daytime. The sun sets in the West, rises in the East. Flowers bloom. The eyes of a broke street performers light up when a few cents are dropped in their hat.

Musicians put their heart and soul into every piece of music.
(Artists put their heart and soul into every work of art.)
[Authors put their heart and soul into every piece of writing.]

Lovers hold hands at 2 years old, 10 years old, 24 years old, 50 years old, and even 90 years old.
(Lovers kiss in public at 2 years old, 10 years old, 24 years old, 50 years old, and even 90 years old.)
[Love never dies.]

People may live their lives when they want to, when things are easy and fun. But it is very seldom to see people living their lives when they need to; when life gives them lemons, which is really just a nice way to say when life beats them over the head with a frying pan.

Two mottos to try to follow.

One modifies the other, and vice versa.
(Change the world one heart at a time.)
[Starting with your own.]

From there, spread the joy to every plant, animal, and human being on this Earth. If we're all put here together there must be a reason for it, and what better reason than to share life with one another? What better reason than to not let life pass us by because of solitary worries?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Just an empty weightroom.

There's something very peaceful about an empty weightroom. It's not just the sound of the metal clanging against itself after a set, and it's not the fact that the mirror is vacant from all wandering eyes. Usually I wear headphones while I workout to drown out the heavy breathing of other lifters, or to keep their small-talk out of my thoughts.

Today I walked into the weightroom and noticed it was empty. Not a single person had a towel on a seat, weights on the bar, or a med-ball misplaced. Everything was where it should be and there was a beam of sunshine coming into the room, landing in scattered spots on the floor.

Not knowing where I should start first, I put my headphones in and stand in front of the mirror where the same rack of dumbbells exists in every weightroom worldwide. Deciding that it was too early for hard rock or gangster rap to get me through a workout, I slide on some Bob Marley for my warm-up. Most people assume that headphones should only blast very powerful music during workouts, in order to ensure that motivation levels stay high. But who's to say that Bob Marley isn't powerful enough?

So I grabbed a set of dumbbells and warmed up my rotator cuffs and shoulder blades. "Ya see, in life I know there's lots of grief, but your love is my relief." The song played on and I did some body-weight squats to wake my legs up. And as the music played on, the mood in the room picked up. No longer just a room full of metal, but suddenly a moving workshop had come alive.

I felt myself ease into the workout, knowing I could take it anywhere I wanted next. So I did a few hanging leg lifts, moved over to bench and set up my squat rack at the same time. But now I was ready for a little more music, so I turned to Mariana's Trench. Not quite a hardcore, punch someone in the face kind of sound but it was good enough to get me through the four sets of bench and three sets of squats that lay ahead of me.

"And I can feel the water changing me, it's changing me for good." A drop of sweat falls on the floor and I know its time to towel off. Even though nobody is there to scoff at a girl who actually perspires, it's still common courtesy in case somebody else walks in.

Feeling brave enough to workout without my headphones, I take a whack at going solo-- without the help of any genre. The calmness of the room overtook me a little bit. I felt like I was back in high school when our coaches didn't play music so that we could concentrate on the new lifts we were trying to master. But suddenly my focus sharpened and I was only thinking about my lifts, feeling every movement of each muscle. For the first time in a long time I could feel the benefits of my work right then and there, and not twenty minutes after when I am sore and trying to relax. I had almost forgotten what it was like to be so focused in on one act that it brings out all of these small details in the work.

Lunges with 60 pounds on my back. Suddenly, instead of just feeling my quads get tired, I felt my shoulder blades tense up to help my back stand me back up. I could hear my own breathing and how it changed with each movement. The serenity of the room elevated every sound I made.

I miss the days when I lifted alone, concentrating only on myself and not on the teammates surrounding me. Sure, we all help each other get through our grueling practices, but it's nice to just take it one lift at a time and dig deep into my own heart and soul and find that inner strength to finish on my own.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Whatever your faith, it's beautiful.

I've always felt a little lost when it comes to religion. Growing up, Church wasn't a mandatory thing, and when I went with my friends I just listened and went more just so I could spend time with them and their families. While I support 100% each individual's religious practices, going to Church or Saturday Services was never a religious event for me. And it didn't occur to me until middle school that that wasn't normal for someone who went pretty often.

And then of course, when a few events changed my life at a young age, I started to question why anyone would want to believe in God, especially if such horrible things happened to a girl who was only twelve years old. So for a while, I was bitter with the concept of religious practices, giving all your faith and hope to one belief. I wanted to make my own way of life, and follow my own morals. They were morals I had always been raised with, and my mother isn't particularly religious either, so I know her morals didn't come from Temple, or the Bible, or any other religious manuscript. At that point in time, I knew I could follow my own way and make it out all right.

"Toute seule dans le jardin", Luxembourg, 2010

When high school hit me, and things worsened a bit, I tried to explain to myself that bitterness would help nothing. So instead of casting off the concept of God, I simply disagreed with it and believed in a higher order, something out of human hands, but not necessarily one creator of the world. And again, for a teenage girl, that was very hard to accept. And to be able to discuss, or defend. I still went to Church services with friends, but was more hurt by not being included or not feeling welcomed at times.

When I traveled to France with PNH, I saw some of the most beautiful Cathedrals in the world. I stepped inside the walls of history, where people came to beg for forgiveness, beg for good health and pray for a good season. These people all truly believed in something higher than themselves. And for me, I tried to feel that same way. I sat in the most beautiful church of all of Paris and talked to myself, hoping a more powerful voice would enter. But it never did. So I knew I wasn't meant to believe, or to have this kind of faith. And the search ended.

"Nous avons peur", Notre Dame, 2010

When Shay died my whole world collapsed. A young, vibrant life, lost so violently-- to me, had no excuse. No reasonable explanation could dictate to me why one of my best friends was killed late in the night, while his father was out of town. Even to this day I find myself with the same hating thoughts from time to time. And they're not healthy. It's never a healthy lifestyle to be so consumed with confusion, anger and frustration.

But to try to cope with Shay's death and the history that floated in my mind, I restarted the search for God, or for understanding this January. I found a Church who's Chapel felt warm and welcoming even on the coldest day in Miami...which happened to be 38 degrees. And living in Miami, I definitely didn't own a coat. I walked in and was greeted by a wonderful Pastor, her husband and a sweet couple who sat in the same pew as I did for the first 8 weeks to make sure I felt welcome. I followed every service and tried my hardest to pray and understand the scripture. And for a few weeks I truly felt like things were changing for me. I felt more at ease with the world and I even felt good about most of the scripture readings.

As the semester pressed on, I again started to feel distanced. But instead of angered, I just felt blank. There was no emotion towards going to Church or not. So naturally I found myself very confused. I still went for the company and for the non-Biblical lessons, but I wasn't studying at home as much and I certainly didn't schedule my week around going to church on Sunday as much.

This summer, since I left for Europe religion hasn't been an important part of my life. It's not that I forgot about it because I still read daily scriptures, but I found myself not praying as much. And when I learned about the problems my family was facing, I told myself I couldn't pray for good health because I hadn't been to Church in ages. I have little respect for those who run to a Church when things get just a little bit hard. So I relied on hope, on faith, that the doctors would heal the ailments my family members faced. And it worked. But I never told myself that God didn't have a hand in it. Because I know some of my family believe that God did, and I 100% respect that notion.

But onto the point of this blog. All of these things combined have helped shape my religious beliefs, but this trip is starting to change them yet again. Walking to school, riding the metro, getting stitches and even dining in small cafes I see so much pain and self-destruction in the world. And I can't even talk about the world in a greater sense because I was only in a few districts of one major city.

Every corner I turned I either saw a woman huddled over a cane with a dirt covered hand out, one small mangled foot revealed from under her skirt; a man sleeping against a wall with a puppy in his lap, sleeping just the same; or even children walking around trying to sell pieces of paper with prayers written on them for spare change. For me, if God created everyone just the way they were meant to be, and everyone is perfect in their own sense, how do you explain those people? There is no way that every single one of them had a perfect life before and they, themselves messed it up. Children who are born into poverty hardly stand a chance at getting away from it. And people who lose their jobs but have ailments that require medical attention literally wither away in the streets.

"Le chien innocent", La Rue l'Arbalete, 2010

Most of the time people just pass them by and pay no mind. But I see every single one of them. I see every single diseased foot, coughing chest, torn pair of pants, and sun burned back. And you honestly can't blame them for turning to bottles of wine, there's no other way to stay warm. Today I was on the Metro going to a Museum in the 16th district and a man stepped onto the train and asked everyone for a few cents so he could call a shelter across town to try to reserve a room. He had lost his job and was unable to find another. He also mentioned that this summer there will be a lot of homeless shelters being closed from over-crowding and not enough funding. For me, if there is a God, what good is it to put people back out on the street where skin diseases and fleas run rapid through the gutters?

I hope I'm not sounding bitter, because I'm not. I understand that God cannot help everyone in the world, and you have to help yourself. But there's a point when self-help isn't enough. There comes a point in everyone's life where you need someone to offer their hand, or their home for the night. If we all just rely on ourselves and turn to God for help from time to time, nothing will get accomplished. You can't boil water without heat and you certainly can't expect miracles to happen without a little help.

"Personne n'aide jamais", La Rue l'Arbalete, 2010

This summer I found out that I can't be satisfied with changing one heart at a time. Because I tried to help people one day at a time and I would turn the corner and find another tragedy at my feet. And that's fine if you want to tell me that "you can't help everybody", but alas my friend, I can and will help the world, with or without the help of a Higher Power.

The end has come.

I won't necessarily call it the end because I know it's not really the end. Something inside is telling me I will be back, with certain people, or I'll at least be able to see them. I know I'm not finished learning from Rosine's plethora of knowledge and wisdom. And I know in my heart that the Three Musketeers will be reunited in Philadelphia, or in Miami. Part of me wishes it was easier to see everyone again, but nothing in life is ever truly easy.

It's raining in Paris today. Storming actually. The first relief from the summer heat in almost three weeks. Sure it rained a little one week, but nothing like this. It always seems like when I am sad to leave a place, the sky cries with me. And it's never just a few tears and then sunshine bliss part two. It's a day long event of torturous feelings, consuming the lives of everyone. Okay, maybe that's a little dramatic, but what's Paris without a little drama?

I don't know if I can bring myself to truly believe I am leaving. Maybe it's because the end approached so quickly, none of the group could really grasp that it was in fact coming. We spent the last few days together talking about how our trip ended up circling back to where it all began.

"Tours", The Loire Valley, 2010

"It's so funny because this all started with just a couple of bottles of wine among 12 strangers in front of the Louvre and now we're ending with just a couple of bottles of wine among 12 friends in front of the Eiffel Tower along the Seine." --M.E.P.

I don't weep for leaving people behind. I weep for temporarily leaving people behind I have yet to even begin to understand. It only took a few weeks for me to fall in love with a few of them, but it will be months before we see each other again. And I can only hope that we do in fact see each other again.

Sure, I made a lot of mistakes while I was in Paris. Missed the last metro a few times, so I had to stay out all night. I slept through a couple of classes and even missed one small excursion so I could nap. But I know that I came here to figure out why I make the messes I do. I came here to understand myself just a little bit better, and to start to grasp the world around me just a little bit more as well. Not only have I learned a lot about how my mind works and why sometimes I make the mistakes I do, but I learned a lot about how the world itself functions. I could finally see how an entire city interacts, on foot, and I saw firsthand how strangers can become friends without doing so in the boundaries of a classroom.

I fell in love with a few new friends, an entire city, and a lifestyle I hope to always follow. When I arrived in Paris my heart was much smaller-- not Grinch sized, but smaller. And now as I start to leave Paris I know my heart has grown a tremendous amount. I'm not afraid to walk up to people and vice versa; I'm not afraid to be approached for directions, in fact I now welcome it. And after seeing how people suffer here, I have much for respect for the lives they lead and for the help they deserve to receive.

"La Fontaine a Saint Sulpice", Marche Bibliophile, 2010

Top 12 Events in Paris: (in no particular order)
1. Marching along the Seine at sunrise to lay down at Notre Dame.
2. Fireworks show at Saint Cloud
3. Lunches at Luxembourg Garden
4. Centre Pompidou
5. Sitting like school children in every Art Museum for Art History Class.
6. Street performances every night at Saint Michael's Fountain
7. Madame Mellado's grammar class
8. Playing/Talking in the forest at Chenonceau
9. Dancing late into the night
10. Going to Musee de l'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris with Rosine.
11. Shopping with Corinne on Rue Mouffetard
12. Sacre Coeur & Montmartre afternoon excursion

"Chere Rosine et Moi", Chez Madame Dru, 2010

To the beautiful city of Paris, you now possess a large part of my heart and even larger part of my soul. Take good care of it for me until I return.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Last Full Day in Paris...

And I have two final exams. I guess it could be worse, though. We have our goodbye dinner this evening and tomorrow morning we head to Versailles to hang out together, but the next two days are supposed to be some of the hottest days in Paris so we'll see how that goes.

I'm very sad to leave Madame Mellado behind. She is a wonderful person, so full of spirit and everything wonderful. I managed to steal a few lessons from her though so I know my classroom will have a little Parisian flavor.

"Ou que tu pense a toi.", Salle de Fleurus, 2010

I'm even going to miss Art History. As hard as it is for me to follow the historical facts behind the works of art, I love looking at each painting and wondering at what point in life the artist was at when he painted it. It kind of fascinates me.

"You naughty, naughty girl", Le Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 2010

So while I'd much rather be playing outside or exploring a few more districts, I guess I could be content with spending time with the group and talking to my amazing professors one last time.

"Les Fausses Lunettes", Les soldes dans Rue Mouffetarde, 2010

Live it up, right?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

My Amazing Hippie House Mom

Rosine is an incredible woman. Very thoughtful, intelligent, well-spoken and respectful. We knock every time we want to enter a room, but at the same time, when I may have accidentally walked into the unlocked salle de bains while she was getting out of the shower, she was okay with it and said I need not apologize. She just illuminates grace and comfort in every sort of way.

When I was sick, she gave me three kinds of cough drops, when I got stitches she took me to the pharmacy to get better supplies to wash my wounds, and had the pharmacist re-wrap my stitches after we had been walking along the Seine. And she will cook for me whenever, even though I don't ask her to. I can genuinely tell she wants to teach me, not talk down to me for my very simple mistakes.

"A Warm Welcome", Chez Madame Dru, 2010

And while her outlook on life is at a different point than where I find myself, I can very easily see my future ressembling hers. She is not active in politics, but she holds very strong opinions on how the world functions and what could be changed. We had a fifteen minute conversation about how silly it was that people spend their whole lives trying to pay off a mortage, when having a roof over your head is probably the single most important thing you need in life. And we talked about how globalization has completely diminished the lives of small farmers, who work their entire lives to provide for their families. But with importing and exporting goods taking over every market system, it becomes impossible for them to stand on their own two feet.

"Les Escaliers", Chez Madame Dru, 2010

Today we had an afternoon date planned to go the Modern Art Museum of Paris, and possibly Palais Tokyo, an industrial art museum with a pretty funky twist. I came back from class to take a nap since I haven't been sleeping well with my stitches. Rosine said, ok, bonne sieste and I'll see you soon. Around 3 pm she meekly walked into my room and said, "Excusez-moi Lauren, je vous revez." Looking at my clock I realized I overslept by an hour and immediately got up. She told me to take my time because she was preparing some meat for us to eat before we left.

Meat = hamburger + tomato salad = nomnoms.

So we leave around 3:45, after she made sure I thoroughly cleaned my stitches of course, and set off to find her car. It took us about thirty minutes and three cigarettes later to find her car. We were on the verge of aborting the mission and taking the bus when we turned on one final rue. The whole time we talked about her neighbors and her childhood, and Elisa's half sister. It was nice to just walk around the streets and hear her talk while she strutted along in her Birkenstock sandals and black flowing skirt with a long matching sheer top.

Wind blowing through our hair, Rosine showed me a few places on our way across the Seine. We talked about anglacismes, idiomatic phrases, and pollution. When we got to the Modern Art Museum we realized the permanent collection was a look-alike or a second-hand collection, meaning certain artists mimicked other works of art. It was pretty interesting to see different interpretations of famous Matisse paintings, or Warhol prints, or even Pollock tosses of paint. And the whole time, Rosine would look at one, guess the name and run up to the sign to see if she was right. And she was about 99.99999% of the time. We went through the whole museum in about an hour, but somehow discussed nearly every d'oeuvre.

"Le the et les noix.", Chez Madame Dru, 2010

After sharing a Diet Coke on the Terrace we stepped into Palais Tokyo to look at the funky gift shops. She bought me a 1Euro postcard that has the name "Aurore" written in graffiti on the front. Then she took me to a pharmacist and bought me new cleanser for my arm and made sure my dressings were clean enough. We walked along the Seine for a few minutes and discussed how I can get back to this area tomorrow for class. The evening was so nice, we even got to see a little garden at the back of the museum. On our way home we stopped at a supermarche for some things for dinner. It was a very light selection; some endives with pears, seeds, ham and olive oil. Then peaches with ice cream for dessert. Wonderfully simple.

Elisa got home after we finished dinner so we caught up for a few minutes and discussed the permanent collection we had just seen. And she asked me about my adventure filled weekend and if everything turned out okay. Rosine made a joke that everything bad happened when she left, and I said, "Oui, aujord'hui a Sweet Briar, j'ai dit que quand ma mere d'acceuil est partie, l'enfer est arrive! C'est comme, when mom leaves for the weekend, all hell breaks loose!" She laughed and said, "and so it goes..." (Is she not perfect or what for making a Vonnegut reference?)

When Elisa left the kitchen Rosine told me this beautiful story about when the French had a fete for the Americans after WWII when they sent thank you gifts to the States. Each gift had a name and address of the family who sent it. Her mother just so happened to send a doll of some kind, and there was an American woman who sent her a letter, asking where she could find one because she had a daughter, who happened to be about Rosine's age at the time, who wanted one. Instead of just writing back a response to find the doll, Rosine's mother sent the woman a doll of her own and they soon became pen-pals. In the late 1950's, Rosine's father traveled to the states and actually met the woman. But her mother never did. And until the two died, they continued to write each other, telling stories of their lives in the kitchen and around the family. One Christmas, Rosine told me she received a great package with things she had never seen before. One-piece pajama sets with footies, Rice Krispie treats, Popcorn, etc. She said it arrived a few weeks before Christmas but she had to wait, but it always stood out in her mind. I thought it was beautiful that Rosine's mother found such a great hobby to start, and that she was able to create a wonderful friendship that lasted until death. That would be so hard to do today, there are no more celebrations of countries helping one another, no connections made between absolute strangers. It's a different time now though.

"L'amour est un caillou riant dans le soleil.", Jardin du Luxembourg, 2010

Then we moved on to talking about her wall of memories. For 15 years she has built this wonderful wall, and I was envious for a few weeks because she was keeping these memories to herself. But tonight, I had the pleasure of going through just one set of keepsakes on the wall. We took down a small handbag full of old tickets and notes from the past years. I was happy to see this because I have been saving my movie theater, museum, and theater tickets for years. Seeing her face light up when she pulled each ticket or handout from inside the purse was priceless. She would quickly pick up her green-framed glasses from the chain hanging on her neck, place them on her nose, and say to herself, "C'est quoi ca....OH! Je sais! Oh, c'est incroyable!" And then the story would start. For nearly an hour she dove into past adventures, surprises for her children, and even little notes she wrote herself from a series of photographs she once went and saw.

One quote stood out to me, "You are not the only who is lonely." I couldn't read the signature beside the quote, but it reminded me of one of To Write Love on Her Arm's creedos: "You are not alone." So I got to tell her all about the organization I try to help out with, and how its for suicide prevention. She thought it was great and she seemed surprised to hear me say I helped out with a non-profit organization, probably because I already have so much on my plate.

We talked, and talked, and every time her eyes lit up, I felt mine light up. I thought to myself, This is really someone I want to be there when I walk down the aisle, when I publish my first book of short stories, and someone I'd like to send photos too every few months. After a day like this, who would want to leave Paris so soon?

"Hoarders Paradise", Chez Madame Dru, 2010

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Childhood is calling.

I love seeing other people enjoy themselves and the people around them. It's like hearing a secret, or getting to watch something truly amazing. Little kids running around wild brighten my day, but in addition to those moments where their chocolate covered faces are screaming, and they're kicking at pigeons, I look at their parents or the adults around them. They all have this same look in their eyes, but it's one that's masked with fear-- with maturity. Somewhere deep down they know they want to get up and run around with this little wonder. But instead, they sit idly, thinking about the childhood they once possessed.

Childhood is calling.

Last night I climbed a statue on the street and sat on it's lap. People walked by, some gave confused looks, but others smiled and understood I was just imitating the figure. I jumped down off of it and skipped up to catch up with my friends. But I Elf-hopped across the cross-walk. Drunk? No way. And I hate that that even has to be a question, or that's just the thought that comes across someone's mind when they see a 19 year old climbing statues, or chasing pigeons. "Oh, that girl must be on drugs", or, "I bet she's had a little too much to drink tonight."

"Fountain at Luxembourg", Parisian Gay Pride Parade, 2010

My childhood is always calling.

I say hi to people when they step on to the metro. I look at them with girlish wonder, trying to figure out where they've come from and where they might be going. Maybe if more people in the world would just listen to their inner child they wouldn't be so grumpy, so afraid to open up.

The ultimate childhood called last night.

The fountain at Saint Michel was filled with rose scented bubbles. And everyone, I mean everyone was running around, throwing bubbles at each other. The funniest group of people out of everyone was a mother, possibly grandmother, her two black cocker spaniels and a four year old boy. At first the dogs, who were hooked to a double-leash, got away so the woman chased them part way up Boulevard Saint Michel and left the boy to play with the bubbles. When she got back, she tossed one of the dogs in to cover the black coat with the white foam. When the boy got a little smart and tossed some bubbles on her, she coyly led him over to the fountain...and pushed him in! His look of utter astonishment wil never fade from my mind. And what followed his look was even funnier, the woman ran away, giggling, leash in hand, to hide from the boy who had already scooped up an arms' full of bubbles snd was on his way for retaliation.

If that wasn't the perfection example of giving in to a childish urge, then I don't know what is. I only hope to maintain my childlike spirit for as long as possible, playing pranks on my friends and family, seeing the beauty in everything in life and never stopping my search for happiness.

"Running Child", Centre Pompidou, 2010


The phrase "wake up slow" has never really been something I understood. Sure I sleep in sometimes, but I never really allow myself to just lay in bed and absorb the world around me. This morning, however, I was greeted with a beautiful beam of sunshine around 8 am. It wasn't the kind of sunshine that blinds your sensitive eyes upon opening them. The rays were gentle, warming and beautiful. I turned to look out my window and saw the day had already begun, but there were no hustle and bustle sounds outside. There was a calm, serene feeling. So I moved myself a little bit to let the sun rest on my face, and blinking a few times I wondered if I looked like a Black and White actress who had just been awakened by her true love. Batting my eyes like a starlet, I smiled and turn over on my side to feel the sun on my back.

Facing the corner, I saw the sun didn't just stop on the small of my back, it was shining over me, projected onto my white wall, broken into little drops of sunshine as it came through my lace curtains. Moving my body once a little once more, I felt my face illuminate and I smiled again, falling back to sleep.

I wake up an hour or so later, and realize it's Saturday. If any day is a perfect day for waking up slow, it's Saturday. My agenda for the day, get lost in Centre Pompidou and look at every piece of Modern Art that catches my eye. The other piece of agenda, capture every moment of Parisian weekend life I can. There's less than 7 days left in my adventure, and while I've taken full advantage of every opportunity that has come my way, part of me thinks there is still more to be uncovered.

I won't lie and say I'm excited to return to the states. Sure, I'm excited to see my friends and family, and play with my dogs, but as far as living in the U.S. goes, I can't pretend like I feel at home there anymore. There's a major difference in feeling accepted by your friends and family and feeling at ease in a city surrounded by strangers. I could never leave my family behind, but I didn't realize how differently I live my life compared to the people in Miami. The University is great, but I realized that I constantly tell myself the fast paced life of Miami is too much for me, it's not my style. And then I just kind of laugh it off and move onto a new subject. But I can't keep ignoring that. The drivers are not nice, you can't stop and talk to a stranger for more than 30 seconds to ask for directions, and you certainly can't just spend 2 hours in a little restaurant with a friend. And I can't think of many places in the U.S. that you can do that.

I love my country, and I love the people in it, but everyday I am here, I realize there was a huge piece of me missing. It's the piece I've been searching for since I was old enough to make my own decisions. The piece of me that's been missing this whole time is a connection with other human beings that's more than just passing each other by on the street. I'm not saying the French are the most friendly people in the world, but people aren't afraid to ask you for a lighter, a cigarette, which metro is closest, etc. People in bars are genuninely interested in what you're doing in Paris, what kinds of things you've done. There's no one way street here, everything is personal and shared.

Okay, so not everyone here is as peace and love, recycling is awesome, and free-spirited as I am. But they get it. They don't mock it, and they see the genuine love in my eyes when I talk about my tattoos, or when I talk about political issues in America and attempt to explain how not every American agrees with the war. They can see a more passionnate side of a younger person, and its refreshing to be valued as an equal here, and not a minor, or just a student with sometimes radical beliefs.

I know I said I would try to find myself along the way, and I knew that was a bold statement to make with just 5 weeks to do so. But looking back after only 4 weeks in Europe, I really have found myself. It's not just wishful thinking when I say I want to change the world one heart at a time, it's a creedo. It's my creedo. And I think it is safe to say I have sufficiently started that process here in Paris, with my own heart and maybe a couple hearts around me.

To the Americans who I've been so lucky to meet, I hope we can stay in touch. And to the Parisians I've quickly become great friends with, and who look out for me at night, or who smile at me when I walk by the fountain, I hope I can look back at these places in a year or five years, or thirty years and know that I changed their life for the better, and they changed mine as well.

Noontime next Saturday I will be making my way to the airport, with a tear in my eye and a bag full of memories.