How Do You Measure A Year?

It’s the last day of 2022, and in reflecting on how this year went, I couldn’t help but think of the song from Rent, Seasons of Love:

525,600 minutes
525,000 moments so dear
525,600 minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife
In 525,600 minutes
How do you measure a year in the life?

How do you measure a year?  How do you sum it all up in one word or phrase?  What have your most joyful days consisted of or those that were filled with debilitating sorrow? What have been the adventures you have chosen to take?  How did you spend your days?  Who did you spend them with?  Were there romantic rendezvous followed by heartbreaks?   Was there boredom?  How do you cheer all of your accomplishments or grow from your failures?  What brought smiles, and what brought shame?  Who entered your world and who left it?  What are you vowing to do differently?  What is going to be on repeat?  

I have been reflecting on a variety of these questions today, but actually much of these past several months.  Moving home tends to do this.  One cannot help but reflect on what occurred during the time one resided in a place, and the change one longs for.  I have moved to my fourth country less than two weeks ago.   I officially left the cosmopolitan mega city of Paris France to the coastal vibrant town of Malaga Spain.  Although I am American, I have now lived overseas for 9 ½ years, via the route of the United Kingdom.  At the age of 43, officially midlife, I can’t help but wonder how do I want to spend the rest of my time on this earth? 

This has been a monumental year for me, in that it was different than so many of my other years.  In the past I vowed to make changes, but they never seemed to occur.  It was all talk, but in December 2021, I knew a shift was necessary.  One year ago, I left the traditional work force, and jumped into the world of the unknown in a foreign land which I didn’t understand the language.  I was appreciative I did this at the time, because I was able to spend endless days with my two elderly dogs.  This year, I lost Puzo, my fifteen year old English Bulldog.  This was one of the greatest losses I have experienced, for a being who I took care of for much of my adult life (late 20s to early 40s).  And since his loss, it’s trying to navigate the world without him and create a new life with my nearly 14 year old chug Bella, in yet another country.  The irony is the street I live in now is called Pozos Dulces.  Pozos seems similar to Puzo, and dulce means sweet.  Therefore, I like to think the street I live in now is called Sweet Puzos.  He is still with me.  Life goes on, and I have his blessing.    

I’ve travelled to America at least four times in 2022, to visit family, friends, speak at a large conference, and to sort my visa situation out.   In those moments, I was able to spend time with my brother as he healed from jaw surgery, watch my father got remarried, celebrate my grandmother’s surprise 80th birthday party, and was even able to visit a new city in my home country.  My brother, mother, and friend Isabella came to Paris on numerous occasions.  Isabella was my doggy au-pair during so many of my travels, which I am deeply grateful for.  My mother helped me move countries, which I couldn’t have done without her.  

But the year hasn’t gone as I expected.  I didn’t land that publishing deal I hoped for, or other dream job opportunities I applied to.  I did lead an ongoing creativity group in Paris and facilitated numerous sound healing sessions.  I was able to form new friendships in Paris.  I did a second portion of The Camino de Santiago.  There were other monumental moments I experienced, such as being on my favorite television show House Hunters International, speaking to a group of 600-800 female photographers live onstage, and recently publishing an article in The Washington Post.  How do you measure a year?  

There was more laughter than tears, more love than hate, more connection than isolation, more wonder than monotony.  I spent a lot of the year in confusion of where to go next and questioning what my identity was if not a psychologist.  I spent the year shedding guilt that I could be happy, even if I no longer was a productive member of society in a 9-5 job.  I am still learning this, and unlearning many things.  

Perhaps you have vowed to make shifts in your life during the pandemic, and my question is have you?  What do you want to change?  What is stopping you?  Or maybe you realize no change is necessary, you now know that being in your hometown surrounded by friends and family is the greatest blessing you could have ever wished for.  The pandemic may have taught you to appreciate all that you have.  How do you measure this year that has passed?  How do you want to measure the upcoming year? 

I will be facilitating an upcoming virtual sound healing event next week, where we may reflect on some of these questions.  Join me. Details below.  

Everyday Observances

            There’s a magic you forget, when you live in a touristy town.  I live two blocks from the Eiffel Tower, and a 10 minute walk to the Seine River.  Some people save money for their whole lives awaiting to simply visit this town, and take their obligatory photos.  And in the midst of everyday life: days that are too hot you just want to stay indoors, or days you have too many errands to do, or days you just are feeling down, you forget the majesty that lies outdoors.  I try to remind myself that.  It’s still less than eight months that I have lived here, and I am aware my time is limited. 

            I go to the Champ de Mars daily now, which is my closest dog park.  I notice the tourists, as they dress in their finest and pose for outlandish photos in front of the La Tour Eiffel.  Some try to look sexy with flowing dresses and high slits, cheesy with making peace signs, some jump in the air, or have accessories such as a bicycle held high in their arms.  And I watch their glee, as the moment is captured. 

            But what is interesting I find in the park, is the routine.  The same people who walk in the park at the allotted golden hour before the sun exudes too much heat.  There is the lady with a tan hat who walks laps with a cane getting her steps in, a yoga teacher who takes her studio outside for visiting tourists, a retired couple who work out daily, the staff members that keep the park clean, the homeless person who takes in a nap, and all of the dogs and their owners.  I don’t know any of these people, and have talked to few of them.  But they have become familiar, and in a town of strangers, the familiarity has become something I’ve learned to find most beautiful about this city.  And the irony is that this exists in every city, if you are patient, walk the same paths, and observe closely enough.  You can witness beauty unfolding all around you. 

“To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe. “Marilyn vos Savant

Smile, You Are In Spain

Paris may be my favorite city, but Spain is my favorite country.  Again and again each time I visit, it pulls at my heart.  Perhaps it is because, I know somewhere in my family lineage I am Spanish.  Spain invaded the Philippines centuries ago, and some of the cultural aspects I feel I have inherited.   There is a sense of familiarity I have each time I visit, regardless the city or island.  Flan, ensamadas, and empanadas are all cuisine that I use to eat with my family in our gatherings.  The brightness of clothing the locals wear matches the pop of colors my maternal lineage embraced.   And the language is easier than French, I can actually pass for speaking it.  I took Spanish for several years in high school and college, therefore I feel comfortable enough to get around.  Understanding Tagalog assisted with the ease of Spanish language embedding into my bones.  The California-esque terrain and eternal sunshine warms my heart.  
 Previously there was a Spanish tourism advertisement, whose slogan was   « Smile you are in Spain. » And I couldn’t agree more.   I know Americans are mesmerized with France and Italy, but Spain may have it beat.  The euro stretches far, the siestas are tranquilo, the atmospheres are lively, the people are friendly, the tapas, and the flamenco ! Visiting Spain seems to give you that extra boost of Vitamin D you didn’t know you were lacking. 
Espana is the hidden gem.  Last week, was able to have a brief sibling vacation to Mallorca.  I was open to visiting and had visited this Balearic island years ago, but mostly stayed in the capital of Palma and the confines of my all inclusive hotel resort.  I was curious what the fascination was with this place, but I realized what was to be discovered with the independence of a rental car.   The island has 300 beaches to visit, and numerous villages to wander around in.   On this occassion, I did not visit the capital Palma.   Therefore what was interesting, was I felt i was stepping back in time, when we drove the rural landscape.  Throughout our time there, the only stoplights we encountered were linked as warnings for railroad tracks.  Nature surrounded us in every corner.  The vastness of the large mountains, the rural dessert like atmosphere in the center of the island, the village towns that existed up the mountains, the beauty of the cool blue water.  My brother poignantly said, « Americans talk about freedom, but this is freedom. »  This trip did taste like freedom, but it did not relate to a politcal party, or being in the U.S.A., or the amount of money we had.  It was the luxury of time and the ability to explore vast terrain without boundaries.   If you have the opportunity, visit.  Any location in Spain will do.  This is freedom, and you will say to yourself « smile you are in spain. »  
 

‘Any reasonable, sentient person who looks at Spain, comes to Spain, eats in Spain, drinks in Spain, they’re going to fall in love. Otherwise, there’s something deeply wrong with you. This is the dream of all the world.’ – Anthony Bourdain

An Old Pastime

When I ask a lot of French people what they like to do here for fun, there is a response that arises again and again.  Walk. Marcher. Flaneur.  People like to walk, not as a means of transportation to get to point A from B, as a way to hit 10,000 steps, or to engage in exercise.  They walk simply for the pleasure of walking.

         This reminds me of the Jane Austen days, when people would take turns about the grand estates or gardens.  Outside of going to the fancy ball, the local market, or working on skills to impress others (instruments, singing, reading) there was nothing to do.   And so they walked.  

         We live in a world of distractions.  Non-stop entertainment on endless devices.  The French engage in these activities too, along with the rest of the world.  But the Parisians also like to walk.   This brings joy to me.  As over the years, I have found I take pleasure in walking.

         In my Midwestern hometown, the only people seen walking are children or those who have gotten a DUI (driving under the influence).   Nobody would be caught dead walking.  Most of the time one will drive from one shopping plaza to another for the sheer convenience of it.  But here that wouldn’t be an option.

         I was speaking with my friend the other day, and noted the French do not count their calories.  It is not listed on menus, or boards where one orders food.  Nobody seems to be calculating how many carbs were eaten or fat consumed.  But perhaps they do not have to.  They walk it off.  This is part of life.  

         Walking does not cost any money.  All it requires is good walking shoes.  One may wear out their shoes more easily, but view it as an investment.  There’s no need for a gym membership or gas money.  Let your feet take you there. 

“After a day’s walk, everything has twice its usual value.”

-G.M. Trevelyan.

Happiness is a Human Right

I was at a my first raclette party the other day filled with expats, who mention they may not return to the United States due to several things: healthcare, guns, and education.  “Healthcare is a human right, it should not be for profit.”  I cannot disagree with this statement, and it ruminates in my head as I live here, and ponder my future.  

Later that evening, I got off at the metro stop Varenne by the Rodin Museum (my favorite sculptor).  The Eiffel Tower was in the background shining, as I walked towards my apartment.  I was leaving a dinner with a new group of friends, I had just gone on a date that surprisingly went well the day prior, and had plans the next day to meet up with creatives to lead an Artist Way workshop.  I thought “this is my life!”  I’m shocked by this fact repeatedly.  Paris is my current hometown.  I live in a city people dream for years to visit, and I was doing it.  I was living in a town filled with delights in pleasure. But I couldn’t help but feel a pang of guilt.

Did I deserve to be happy?  I wasn’t working.  I thought of the judgements others may have towards my happiness that I was lazy, a freeloader, or a drifter. I even thought of so many people who are suffering, who may believe I wasn’t worthy of this emotion.  

I was setting limits on the bounty of my happiness.  

Why do I feel guilty for feeling happy?  It’s as if I feel happiness should be earned.  I felt guilty that I was not working in a job.  I had this false belief that I could only receive happiness if I clocked in 40 hours and received a paycheck.  

I was setting rules to how I could enjoy myself.  

But as I walked home, I battled that thought.  Happiness does not have to be earned.  It is a human right, just like health care is a human right.  We all deserve and have access to happiness.  It’s not a limited resource, or tied to profit.  I have the right to be happy.  And I will continue to remind myself this, as I live in the city of my dreams.  

“You stumble, you soar. And if you’re lucky, you make it to Paris for a while.” — Amy Howard

Fondue Etiquette

I was in a fondue pop up Swiss Restaurant in a French Agriculture Exposition.  And I felt judged.  My French friend watched me as I dipped my bread into the fondue pot.  I knew there was a comment to be made.  Portions of bread were provided to be dipped in the cheese, and so I did.  After some time, he said “no, cut it into small pieces, like this.  That way you could cover every spot of the bread and have even more cheese with more little pieces of bread.”  Ahh.  This made more sense.  I thought dipping the big piece of bread with the skewer looked awkward.  I had only frequented The Melting Pot once, an American high end chain fondue restaurant.  It actually is the only fondue restaurant I had ever visited.  I was no pro at this, I admit.

But he kept watching me.  I knew what it was.  When I rolled my cheese in the fondue, there was so much excess string I pulled the string piece out of the pot with my fingers.  I made sure it didn’t touch the pot.  Was he worried about my germs?  “See I’m not touching the other cheese, I’m pulling it out,” I said to his perplexed face.  “No, like this,” he said.   “You must be patient, as you roll it. Just wait.” I had noted my poor fondue skills, as I had been pulling the cheesy bread out of the pot too quickly.  The string would then come with it, versus letting it linger and eventually harden to the bread before bringing it to my plate.  I realized I would have to learn to soften my American ways during this year in Paris, in more areas than just fondue etiquette.  Most likely this virtue would serve as my mantra for the months to come: patience. 

I had quit my job two months prior, and felt I needed to already be a success in this new world I was venturing into of being an entrepreneur and author.  I wanted to see results fast and damn was I struggling, like that piece of melted cheese. I seemed to forget why I had moved here.  I moved here to write my book, spend more time with my aging dogs, learn French, and make new friends.  In my previous job, the last several years my life consisted solely of work, and a minimal social life.   Here, I had the opposite schedule.  My days were filled with French classes, trips to art museums, and friendship outings, but I feel I am not being productive enough.  I was judging myself because I had yet to be a signed author.   

But everything takes time.  And who is to say I am not successful in living the life I am living right now?  It is a dream for many Americans to vacation here, let alone live here.  Wasn’t the life I am living successful because I am doing what I set out to and enjoying it along the way?  Tim Ferriss encourages us to have multiple mini retirements throughout our life, not just one big retirement.  Perhaps I can learn to live into this during the year, minus the guilt of productivity. 

So this year, as I learn the practice of undoing the busy, I will also begin to embrace the acts of pleasure and patience.  Maybe this is what Paris is meant to teach me, and to eat from a fondue properly.

“When good Americans die, they go to Paris.”-Oscar Wilde

The Test

“That step, the heroic first step of the journey, is out of, or over the edge of your boundaries, and it often must be taken before you know that you will be supported.” Joseph Campbell

         Did I really want to move to Paris?  But this was one of the biggest risks I would take.  I had planning it for months, quit my job of 8 ½ years, got rid of my car, put everything in storage, and now was ready to make the Great Resignation during the pandemic to start my new life.   This was all because I was tuning into listening to my intuition and not just following out the logical path.  

But there were numerous tests along the way.  I would have to get a negative covid test 24 hours before, my dogs needed their health certificates, I would navigate sleeping on the floor for five days as the movers came, and numerous other minor details.  But the massive test came several days before.  On Thursday December 16th, France made a declaration that the only people from the UK that could come to France were those with a “compelling reason,” this meant residents, French citizens, or those travelling for a funeral.  I was going to be a new resident, would that count? 

         We had to think quickly.  My mother had flown from the US to assist with the move. Decisions were made for her to fly back in two days to Philadelphia to not chance it of being rejected into the country.  The taxi driving me and my dogs from the United Kingdom to France cancelled on me without giving any alternatives.  I chose instead of freaking out to think of other solutions, I could freak out later.  I called the taxi company pleading to ride with another family days earlier.  I then phoned my moving company to see if my dogs and me could ride with the boxes to France.  Both said no, but I was eventually able to find a company that assisted with ease. 

         For one week, I lived in shock, mania, and extreme caffenation.  I knew I could do this.  I knew I could empty out a four floor house and squeeze into less than 300 square foot apartment.  I made too many sacrifices to quit now.  And I pushed through. 

         I took the risk and it paid off.  

         In the midst of this, everyone is asking the following questions: 

         What do you want to do first thing when you get there?

Answer: sleep and rest (which works because I have to quarantine for 48 hours)         

         Do you speak French?

                                     Answer: No, but I will learn.

         Do you know anyone?

Answer: Acquaintances, but I will meet people in my French classes.

How does it feel to be here? 

                                     Answer: relief, joy, and gratitude.  

And so it is…

Whatever dream that is pulling at your heart, know it’s possible.  Adversities will arise, but so will angels to help you out.

“The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.” Joseph Campbell