Freelancing and Other Life Lulls
Since two more of my friends moved to London at the end of February, Paris has felt extra vacant. Sure, it doesn’t help that as a freelancer, I spend most of my day alone trying to write, but the feeling persists. There are always ways to make long distance friendships function, but I miss the simple connection of being able to meet for a walk, or share our days over a cup of tea. Sometimes it feels lonelier than ever to have amazing pals you can communicate with online, but no one to grab a pint with on a Friday night or check out new art exhibitions.
Even worse, it’s becoming difficult not to be jealous of all of the opportunities available in an English speaking country. Comparison is not the way to live life; good feminists buoy each other up towards success; be grateful for what you have—you don’t have to tell me twice. I’m happy for my friends, but it’s hard to turn down the volume on the little green monster shouting, “What about me?!”
I’ve built a life for myself in Paris, but what about a career? As most expats can attest, anglophone opportunities here are sparse—even more so if you can’t claim fluency in French. It’s not enough that I can track down my lost packages over the phone. I have to have the full command of the language. I know, I know…what were you expecting when you picked up and moved to France? Let’s not get into that.
When I began freelancing full-time, I definitely wasn’t ready. All the blogs hand out generic advice—build a huge portfolio of regular clients, save your money, manage your time. But while I do have some savings, I definitely don’t have a stable of established connections or longterm gigs I can count on. In fact, over the year and a half that I worked in the tourism industry, I’d barely written at all. Under normal circumstances, I would have told myself “Don’t quit your day job (yet),” but this time I didn’t really have a choice.
Lately, I’ve been starting my days with a podcast or two before sitting down to write. However, despite my best intentions, not much is happening there. When setting aside a few hours of writing time, you’d hope to get at least something good out of it. Three hours later, I’ve written little more than a paragraph that’s actually interesting, and am going deaf from the insanely loud volume of my inner editor: You will never be a writer! Look at that pitiful paragraph! Novelist?! Pah!
Today was no exception, and podcasts or no podcasts, the amount of negative energy in my head is swirling out of control.
What keeps me going on days like today is Paris. Glorious, surprising, beautiful Paris! When it feels like I’m spinning my wheels, the only antidote is to head outside. Cobblestone streets, wrought iron window grills, old women walking their poodles, fruits and vegetables artfully arranged at the primeur—that’s the trade-off. Paris makes it worth it. The ability to take in the little things that make everyday life so beautiful gives me the strength to keep pushing forward.
On my way to Hardware Société, I was struck again by my luck. There I was, casually passing the Sacré Coeur on my way to a pick-me-up coffee date with myself. Where else in the world would this be part of the scenery?! Arranging myself at a corner table by the window, I ordered a chai latté and a coconut cake before opening my book to read. As cliché as it sounds, I’ve been reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, and I’ve been reading it slowly. While I’ve never been one for the self-help genre, now more than ever I feel I need a nudge towards self-actualizing. I appreciate her wisdom on fighting the fear of imperfection—something I find particularly stifling when I sit down to work on my fiction. While could race to the finish line with this one, but I’m appreciating a slower pace, and taking time to really consider this book-length, creative pep talk. It’s a bit fluffy and more than a little New Age-y, but I’m trying to keep an open mind. For now.
Within a few minutes of the cake arriving, an American woman sitting at the table next to me had introduced herself, mentioned she was a food photographer, and asked to take some snaps of my table. While that might sound incredibly overbearing, for once I didn’t mind. I appreciated the chance for some friendly chatter, and balked at the idea of having to order three courses in order to get your perfect shot.
As we started talking, the conversation transitioned from good coffee in Paris to freelance journalism to anglophone life in Paris. It was fascinating to hear a woman in her 40s mirror my experiences—the struggle of starting over with a career, the transient nature of friendships, the loneliness that felt utterly irrational considering that you are choosing this life. Sure, she has a French husband, years of professional experience, and teenage children to wrangle, but somehow expatriation has built a bridge.
Perhaps all that will come of this connection is a brighter afternoon—the impetus to write this entry before delving back into my fiction project—but it certainly made me feel like spending the rest of the day back at my desk.