3.1 Decades

First, let me apologize for not updating the site in nearly two months. I know many of you are interested in what’s been going on over here. I have had so many unbelievable experiences over the past couple of months. My friends and family should already be lamenting all the long, drawn-out, convoluted stories they’ll be forced to listen to the next time I see them. I’m pretty sure the Geneva Convention will eventually outlaw my storytelling as some sort of inhumane torture.

Besides my inability to tell a concise story, the other reason I haven’t updated much is because most of the things that have been happening to me are pretty personal. I know part of the point of a blog is to share personal feelings with others, however I will always keep a part of myself for just those closest to me. Here’s a small amount of what has happened to me over the last few months.

I’ve had my phone stolen by hookers in Barcelona, not while patronizing them. Made friends with the owners of a wine shop and their friend in Avignon, who treated me like they’d known me for years, not days. Given away my favorite article of clothing to a homeless girl with two puppies when it was sleeting so they could be warm. Ice-skated in the middle of Paris with someone I’d just met and kept her upright even though she’d never skated before. Broken a champagne glass because I was afraid of a pigeon. Sat on steps in Finland that were in the middle of the capital city but made me feel like I was at the edge of the Earth. Audibly gasped at a demon mannequin child in a museum in Stockholm. Had students from Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School practice making food in my kitchen.

I’ve been out from sunset to sunrise. Stayed in my flat for over 24 straight hours. Been afraid to walk in a grocery store. Been confident enough to find out if the cutest girl at the bar speaks English or not. Discovered new music. Listened to the same song for hours on repeat. Been completely panicked about what is happening. Been completely relaxed about what will happen next. Been hurt. Hurt others. Lost someone who was important to me. Found someone who will always be important to me. Woken up cold and alone. Woken up curled around a warm figure. I’ve been lost. I have found myself.

31 years ago, the greatest mother I could have ever dreamed of gave birth to me while the greatest man I’ve ever met stood by. They’ve been standing by me ever since. No matter what crazy idea I had they supported me, even when they disagreed with it. I can’t tell you how many times over the all these years they’ve asked me how I was doing, sometimes as a casual icebreaker, sometimes with genuine concern for my well-being. I still don’t know what’s going to happen, where I’m going to be, what I’m going to do, or who I’ll be with. But finally, I can answer them truthfully.

I’m good.

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Normally, this is a place where I tell you what or how I’m doing while I’m away from the states. This time however, I’m concerning myself with an issue that’s happening back in the states. The marriage equality debate has hit a fever pitch and I’m sure people are tired of reading statuses, tweets, and seeing profile pictures changed. However, this issue is too important to me to not speak out. Not for me, though I’m getting better at fighting for what I want, but for people who are close to me.

Many of you know I’m extremely close with multiple homosexual people, and while I won’t be mentioning them by name, they know exactly who they are. These are people I count amongst my greatest friends. People who have supported me during my best times and my worst times, and continue to do so now. To not support them would be a disservice to the love I have for them. How could I tell them I love them, which I do, and then not fight for their happiness? Make no mistake, that’s what this entire debate is about, happiness.

I’m not going to approach it from a political perspective, but instead only as a moral issue. So let’s dispel some notions about marriage equality that have nothing to do with the reality, first and foremost being the religious issue. This is a completely irrelevant argument to me. Currently, I can get married to anyone at anytime I want. All it takes is a plane ticket to Vegas, which is admittedly more expensive now that I’m in Paris. There’s no need to get married in a church, or even by a man of the cloth. These marriages that take place outside of religious institutions or are completely devoid of religion whatsoever still count the exact same way when being viewed by the state. If churches want to deny homosexual couples getting married in their church, let them live in the past. However, just like heterosexual marriages that take place outside religious dogma, why wouldn’t we allow homosexuals the same exact rights? Who exactly is judge of how we treat the citizens of our nation, religious institutions or we the people? Furthermore, I’m not exactly a theology scholar, but I’m pretty confident a key component of almost every major religion would be to treat others as you would like to be treated. I don’t understand how people can label themselves religious and actively fight for the right to deny a portion of the population the opportunity to be happy. I know that there are many tolerant religious people in the world, but it makes me happy that I don’t subscribe to that label.

Moving to a different type of notion, one of the biggest stereotypes about homosexual men specifically is that they are not strong, but are in fact weak. That could not be more false. For my heterosexual friends who are in love, imagine being told by someone that your love for the person you care about more than anything else in the world was not right. They told you the way you want to pursue your happiness was immoral, wrong, and would not be accepted. This isn’t just by strangers or the state, but possibly by some of your friends and even your family. Now imagine the courage it would take to stand up against all of that pressure and pursue what makes you feel happy. Sound like weakness to you? When have you had that kind of courage in your lifetime?

Ultimately, this entire debate comes down to equal rights. What exactly are homosexual people asking for? Are they asking to corrupt your children, your ideals, or your religion? Not even in the slightest. They are simply asking for the same rights afforded heterosexuals, first and foremost being life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That is the kind of strength and pursuit that literally built this country. We have a moral obligation as a nation to treat all people equally, so stop worrying about whether being homosexual is right for you, and start worrying about it being a right.

Risk, Reward, and John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill was one the earliest and most influential supporters of women’s rights. His essay, The Subjection of Women, one of the most important feminist works of the nineteenth century. He was the first member of British Parliament to ask that women be given the right to vote. He also believed in freedom of speech, refused to attend Oxford or Cambridge because of their alliance with religion, and was a huge supporter of civil rights for every person.

The reason I bring him up is that he was buried in Avignon, where I currently am until I head back to Paris on Saturday. I was asked to seek out his resting place for a research project while I was here. I had heard of Mill and respected his opinions and work but did not know much more about him. I was very surprised at what lay atop his grave. While there was a small inscription on the side informing you that this was indeed where John Stuart Mill was buried, the top was solely dedicated to honoring his partner in life, Harriet.

The following adorns the top of the grave of John Stuart Mill

The following adorns the top of the grave of John Stuart Mill

to the beloved memory
of
Harriet Mill
the dearly loved and deeply regretted
wife of John Stuart Mill
her great and loving heart
her noble soul
her clear powerful original and
comprehensive intellect
made her the guide and support
the instructor in wisdom
and the example in goodness
as she was the soul earthly delight
of those who had the happiness to belong to her
as earnest for all public good
as she was generous and devoted
to all who surrounded her
her influence has been felt
in many of the greatest
improvements of the age
and will be in those still to come
were there even a few hearts and intellects
like hers
this earth would already become
the hoped for heaven
she died
to the irreparable loss of those who survive her
at Avignon Nov 3 1858

Harriet Taylor Mill

Harriet Taylor Mill

Mill and his wife knew each other for less than thirty years and were controversially linked while Harriet was married to another man. They were socially outcast solely for being in love with each other. If this had happened in modern times, Harriet and her first husband would have divorced and she and Mill would have been free from judgment by (hopefully) most. The chance they took was immense, and so, it seems, was the reward they were given. We are very risk-averse as a culture now, preferring to be cautious so we can avoid the pain that comes from taking a risk and dealing with the fallout if it does not pan out.

I’m generalizing too much…

I’ve been hurt in the past. I prefer to be cautious instead of risking feeling deep and meaningful things for another person. I would rather avoid the pain that comes from taking a chance and failing. If this pattern remains, I will continue to be good, but never great.

John Stuart Mill died May 7, 1873 and fifteen years later he adorned his grave not with his great and many accomplishments, but with a dedication to the person who meant more to him than any other. Many of us probably don’t remember John Stuart Mill even though his works were extremely important in advancing nineteenth century thought. He is remembered for being one of the early feminists, advancing Utilitarian thought, and probably by a small town in Australia a couple hundred kilometers outside Melbourne named for him. Mill, however, decided that the one thing he wanted to be remembered for more than anything of his greatest accomplishments was his love for another. I know in order to feel that strongly for someone, I’ll eventually have to take that large of a risk again.

Walk It Out

I’ve often complained of the lack of good public transportation in most places in the states. Though there are exceptions, the rule is that driving is most likely the best way to get around. Paris actually has a very good metro system, so did Barcelona for that matter. While it can be very tempting to hop on whenever you have a long walk ahead of you, I highly recommend walking as much as possible.

Besides the obvious benefits of walking/eating mediocre sandwiches, walking a city has numerous other advantages. My current flat is a bit off the main scene in Paris. It’s around five to six kilometers to the Bastille, which is about as far in the opposite direction I’ve been so far. That’s about an hour walk for me and while it may seem more logical to catch the metro and get there much faster, it’s not like when I’m wandering I have a time schedule to keep.

Walking can give you a window into the city’s soul. You see people working, taking walks with their families, shopping, eating, and generally living day-to-day life. You can smell the freshly baked bread or coffee being brewed. You can walk by neighborhoods you had no idea existed and even if you can’t explore them right away, you’ll know to come back and give it a visit.

Small hole-in-the-wall places can have great food, like this place's cous cous

Small hole-in-the-wall places can have great food, like this place’s cous cous

One of my favorite things about walking is happening upon street food stands that have good, cheap bites to eat. Paris is one of the most expensive cities in the world and while it’s very easy to find great places to eat, it can ding the pocketbook quite quickly. I’ve been fortunate enough to have found a few places on my own, and also got some great advice from a friend about a few spots, including the best falafel I’ve ever had! Besides cooking for yourself, knowing a few different street food places can make sure you’re still able to go out now and then and spend money when you want to.

Plus you can eat in amazing places, like the banks of the Seine

Plus you can eat in amazing places, like the banks of the Seine

Too often, we get caught up in the fast-paced lifestyle of the states. If you don’t feel like you have to rush anywhere the city can open up for you in ways you never knew were possible. Take the scenic route, even if it’s a bit out of the way. Feel free to take your time and see what serendipitous moment possibly awaits you. Put some good music on, find some great food, maybe even talk to a stranger and wander around. You never know what you might find.

Like an ice skating rink plopped right in the middle of Paris.

Like an ice skating rink plopped right in the middle of Paris.

Defining Wandering

In order to understand wandering you have to understand what it truly means to wander. There is no point, aim, or direction needed, only desire. Wandering souls truly follow what their heart tells them. Others may think that these nomads have no sense of what they are doing. Actually, it’s the exact opposite.

People who wander are going solely based on sense. They are living and speaking exactly how it feels correctly to them. Often, at the end of a long day, we find it cathartic to let our minds wander, to free it from whatever arduous task had enslaved it that day. Why not embrace that same concept with the heart, body, or soul now and again?

The best part about the idea of wandering is the idea that by following what we feel is the appropriate path, we will always arrive at the appropriate destination. That place may not be one that was thought of, but it always feels correct when we get there.

I’ve heard second-hand knowledge of our brains that I like the theory of, but have no idea about its factuality, so don’t take this as scientific fact on my account alone. The theory essentially states that our brains developed its decision making center far before developing a linguistic center. We’ve all had feelings, whether they are good or bad, about people, places, or events that we cannot verbalize. This concept explains why we are not able to put those feelings into words. Why does locking eyes with one person when you walk to work, class, or into a bar always stand out in your mind long after the fact?

Wandering essentially welcomes these feelings and does not dismiss them. By going with instinctual thought, or “gut instinct”, it can be possible to get to the heart of what we truly want. That does not mean that these initial thoughts are always correct, just that an understanding of our base desires can be beneficial to self awareness.

This is on my mind today because I’ve decided to stay in Paris for a little while instead of continuing to trek around Europe. That doesn’t mean that I’ll stay here forever, or stop traveling the continent. I just know that right now I’m completely in love with this city and I want to stick around. I don’t know why exactly. I just sense it.

Creation in a World of Consumption

After two extremely long days of walking and seeing the Parisian sights, my body informed me it needed a break this morning by making me feel as though I’d been involved in a car accident that I could not remember. That was fine with my brain, which was exhausted from seeing a veritable treasure trove of art and artifacts at The Louvre yesterday. So I creaked out of bed and wandered into the kitchen to make a cup of tea and enjoy one of the delicious croissants I’d bought yesterday, then decided to settle in and see what was going on in the world.

First stop, Facebook, to make sure all of my friends are doing ok and that the Internet is not short on cat memes. I can assure you all is well on both fronts. Next up, Twitter, seeing if any of my favorite writers have a new story I’d like to read or if someone found a new way to make 140 characters humorous. Again, I went two for two. A check of some of my typical news sites (BBC, Yahoo!, and Slate) followed by a visit to Grantland, my favorite sports and entertainment site and I felt reconnected to the world. All this of course while listening to Spotify (I’ve been quite obsessed with The Oh Hello’s recently.)

I decided to pop in the shower and wander around the neighborhood for a nice sandwich and an espresso, which isn’t exactly difficult in Paris. I came home more than satisfied and thought about what to do next. I could read a book that had been suggested to me, watch Flight, which I had downloaded a few days before, listen to a podcast, or write a little and listen to some music. I settled on watching Flight while I downloaded the book and wasn’t disappointed. Denzel Washington is a powerhouse as always and I found myself completely captivated by his character. Add some solid help from John Goodman (who was great in Argo as well), Don Cheadle, and Melissa Leo and some solid directing from Robert Zemeckis and it was a thoroughly entertaining film.

It wasn’t until I was deciding whether to read or listen to a podcast until I started realizing how incredible it all was. Here I am in another country with a backpack and a messenger bag and I can read practically any book or article I want, watch almost any movie or TV show, or listen to nearly any song. Can you really blame people for being more lazy or apathetic than in previous generations? No matter what entertains you (sports, food, science, redneck families who hunt ducks or send their children to beauty pageants), there is a product out there for you to consume.

I personally get the most enjoyment not out of consuming, but creating. There’s a certain level of personal pride that comes from creation that cannot be experienced from consumption. I enjoy writing for myself; it is a form a therapy for me. It means more when I know others read what I write and enjoy it or relate with it. I love to cook, but it’s so much more rewarding to cook something great for another person. The look on someone’s face when they really enjoy something you’ve created is much more rewarding to me than anything that can be consumed. This is by no means a lecture, I just felt like creating something on a relaxing day in Paris. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to consume a good book and some more tea.

Thoughts from a Day of Wandering The Louvre

The Louvre is the largest museum in the world and houses countless priceless artifacts. It is said that you can’t see it all in just one day. I ended up walking every exhibit in around ten hours today. I wasn’t speed walking or anything, just sauntering until something caught my eye and then I would stop for a closer look. After I had seen everything, I walked back to specific spots I wanted to take more time in. Ultimately, I spent over eleven hours inside and I will definitely come back again. So how exactly do you tackle The Louvre?

Lots of people experience The Louvre in a way that fits them, so find the way that fits you best!

Lots of people experience The Louvre in a way that is meaningful for them, so find the way that fits you best!

The way I went about it happened by chance. I did not bring an ID with me, which is what the museum keeps as collateral for the audio guides for all the exhibits. So instead of listening to facts about everything I was looking at, I decided to put my headphones in, put some music on and start wandering. It ended up being a very rewarding way to experience the museum. I wasn’t concerned with what the most famous things in each exhibit were, or what was the most historically significant. Anything that caught my eye would send over in its direction to try and decipher its French description and maybe take a picture. I only lingered in a few locations, one of them being at the Venus de Milo.

Pictures do not do her justice.

Pictures do not do her justice

Most of the time when I was walking around, I really didn’t listen to the music. It was just background noise that was better than people lightly talking and shuffling their feet. I had picked out some nice, relaxing songs that just put my mind at ease. However, when I walked up to the Venus de Milo statue the Billie Holliday song I’ll Be Seeing You came on. I just sat down, not really thinking, just absorbing the moment, letting it overwhelm me. By the end of those three and a half minutes, I was nearly in tears.

I’m going to get the guide next time, that way I can learn about the history behind all of the wonderful things in The Louvre. For today, I thoroughly enjoyed wandering around arguably the world’s greatest museum at my own pace, even if that meant stopping to sit down and write about my day right here.

My own small perch next to The Winged Victory of Samothrace

My own small perch next to The Winged Victory of Samothrace