Anti Social Club
I realized my quest for solitude was becoming a problem when I befriended the pigeon at roost outside my bathroom window. I tap on the glass and he pecks back. I call him Pierre, and you can call me the Hermit of the Hills—of la butte Montmartre, at the very least. You know it’s getting bad when your new pal is a pigeon.
People tell me Paris is a hard city to make your own. It’s too rigid. The anglophone scene is too transient. Of course, these are the people who have already left.
When I moved back to Paris in June 2014, I thought I had a solid base waiting for me—friends I’d met during my semester abroad, a grasp of Parisian life, scanty language survival skills. I was an optimist. While I retain that this is and was the case, there’s been a subtle shift over the years. My French remains spotty at best, but it’s worlds away from the halting string of nonsensical phrases I used to call “speaking French.” People, however, have come and gone. It seems everyone is transient after all. Don’t even get me started on my career…
Last August, my company decided to eliminate our office expense, and my boss and I began working separately from home. I was ecstatic. I was no longer harried. I no longer arrived home after dark with tense shoulder muscles and a bad attitude about cooking dinner. While my time “at my desk” remained the same, my quality of life drastically improved.
I kept my alarm at 8am. Instead of the morning sprint—choking down breakfast, tea, and packing up lunch whilst fighting my half-asleep brain—I pulled out my journal. I put in time thrashing out my thoughts over a mug of tea. I stared into the abyss. I read. Sometimes I even took walks, exploring the empty streets of Montmartre. I even attacked my weekly grocery shopping at the ungodly hour of 8:30am, to the confusion of my checker.
As someone who recharges through solitary activity, my new schedule was a dream. Yet it became incredibly solitary. Working from home, it’s very possible to go days without leaving the house or speak to anyone aloud. Human contact became transactional—the person ringing up my groceries or between me and my cafe creme. Unless I made plans to meet friends after work, I could remain in my own little bubble. And after giving up my Navigo pass, I felt significantly less incline to commit to a trek across the city.
After experiencing the holiday season solo, spending the first month of 2017 in California didn’t sound like a terrible idea. Human contact was healthy. I spent time with my Grams, passed my motorcycle safety class and got my M1 license, checked out the Grand National Roadster Show, tried on bridesmaid dresses for my best friend’s wedding, and watched an episode of television written by my fabulous college friend. I mainly drove around LA with my dear friend Z— catching up on our lives, analyzing the state of the nation, revisiting old haunts, sipping .35 cent cocktails at Clifton’s Cafeteria and eating hickory burgers at The Apple Pan. I half talked myself into moving back to Los Angeles.
I don’t know if it was the nostalgia, having friends, or the bounty of potential jobs, but I started closing the door on my Parisian life. What was so great about Paris anyway? It’s cold. I’m constantly struggling for work. I’m paying ridiculous amounts to live in a small space. All of my friends either have or are in process of moving away. I can’t have a casual conversation in French because I get so nervous my mind goes blank. The few jobs I would be suited for are inaccessible due to my visa restrictions. I was burnt out and readily seduced by sunshine, convenience, and shockingly cheap lobster grilled cheese sandwiches from 24 hour “diners” in DTLA. But I wasn’t happy about it. Not one jot. Even as I tried to see a potential move as an opportunity, it felt like defeat.
While I’m undeniably étrangère in France, I’ve changed more than I realized. At times, I felt more stiff in California than I do in my adopted city. For one thing, being able to hear conversations half a block down the street is unnerving. Must we shout? Is my turtleneck really a problem? It’s January. Could you consider me as a person rather than immediately assessing if I can help advance your film career? And yes, if you spout praise for Donald Trump, I am going to judge you. Have I become even a tiny bit Parisienne?
When the plane touched down and the flight attendants began speaking French, I felt undeniably relaxed. Home. I was home. I felt just as relieved dragging my suitcase up rue des Trois Frères as I did driving down Catalina Avenue in Redondo Beach on my first day in California. It just felt right. Maybe it was La La Land‘s coincidental linking of my two cities, or the confidence that rose like a tidal wave as soon as I stepped back into a French-speaking environment, but I’m filled with the urge to fight for ma vie Parisienne.