I don’t know quite how Spring faded away. I remember rejoicing in the appearance of tender leaves clinging to the severe branches of the trees; smiling at the daffodils sprouting—exuberant and haphazard—wherever there seemed to be a free patch of grass; happy to shed woolen socks and tights in favor of sandals, even if my toes got cold. Now, the long lines of trees in the garden are thick and fat with leaves, and the roses are blooming. I spend my free days here, or KB Caféshop, when I can spare the 3€50 for a flat white. They open the floor to ceiling windows. The breeze ruffles my hair, and people spill out onto the sidewalk nursing iced coffees. Hipsters walk their tiny so-ugly-they’re-cute dogs, carrying freshly cut flowers wrapped in brown paper. Fête de la Musique has come and gone; it’s finally, finally here: Summer.
I wanted to write about my first anniversary with the city. June 10th has come and gone, but I’ve been mulling over what I wanted to say. How do I mark the passing of my first year living in France? I expected to be bursting with joy—completely bubbling over—but I’ve been feeling far more introspective than celebratory.
At the end of March, I found myself abruptly unemployed again, and feeling completely adrift. All my plans had failed. I wanted to work in a bookshop, settled for a pub, and ended up struggling to keep various service industry jobs. I never heard back from 98% of the places I applied. My college degree had never mattered so little. Without fluency in French, what good was that hard-won piece of parchment from a private school in Southern California?
Ultimately, impulse control is not one of my strong suits. If you want to feel less bad about nibbling away at a square of chocolate, just look over to my corner—I’ll be stress-eating the entire bar. This last year, I’ve handled my anxieties in variety of ways, however, most prominently via spontaneous travel. Fired? Brussels. I’ve got all the time in the world. Let’s hitchhike. Fired again? Hello, London. Perhaps it’s not great for my financial health, but it’s sure been great for the nerves and overall morale.
A week before I even knew I was going to London, I felt change in the air. I’d never quite felt that way before. Hippie-dippy cosmic vibrations. Rolling your eyes yet? I certainly would have, had I not been utterly unsettled. I was in Daunt Books on Marylebone Street, when I suddenly felt I could put words to this feeling. I thought immediately of Joan Didion’s essay “Los Angeles Notebook,” and her description of the Santa Ana winds bringing upheaval to Southern California. Despite the fact that I was far from feeling homesick, they blew through me, bringing their mysterious change, aching like a phantom limb.
Rather than stand in a corner of the bookshop all day, I purchased Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and the rest was history. I fell in love with Joan Didion much in the same way I fell for Fitzgerald: slowly, then all at once, consumed. I rarely read introductions, however Didion’s brief introduction to the book unexpectedly carried the most meaningful section of the entire volume.
It was the first time I had dealt directly and flatly with evidence of atomization, the proof that things fall apart: I went to San Francisco because I had not been able to work in some months, had been paralyzed by the conviction that writing was an irrelevant act, that the world as I had understood it no longer existed. If I were to work again at all, it would be necessary for me to come to terms with disorder.
I’d felt this exact way for months, and here was dear Joan writing my very thoughts, decades previously. I’m not sure if I’ve come to terms with disorder, but after a year of complete chaos, I’ve certainly managed to figure out how to tread water against the rising tide.
Upon my return to Paris, life clicked into place. Mechanisms were set into motion. Plans were made. Risks were taken. Jobs were gained. I was inspired to write again, after months of being stuck in a rut. The days grew longer. The sun came back, after months of heavy cloud cover. Quite simply, everything turned golden.
As a student, life is measured by hierarchies in four-year spurts. The year begins anew in September, and everything that matters comes to a close at the end of May. Watching friends graduate college from 5, 500 miles away, I was struck by the ambiguity of change. Life after graduation becomes just…life, endlessly transitory and ambiguous. By the time you notice something’s different, you’ve already missed the tipping point. It’s no longer that things are going to change, but that they already have, and will do so again and again.