Thank God Even Crazy Dreams Come True: Part II

October 31, 2008 at 2:52 pm (2008)

I’ve met some go-getters…and big chance takers
I’ve met some young hearts with something to prove…
There’s a lot of wonder left inside of me and you
Thank God even crazy dreams come true.

Carrie Underwood, “Crazy Dreams”

Back when I first began this blog, I created a list of things I wanted to do in my life as an attempt to gain some bit of control in the chaos and uncertainty that I found myself wading through. I had recently quit my full time job and was working with a temporary placement agency, and I was denied acceptance into the publishing program for a graduate program. What did I want to do with my life? What was my next step? For all of the factors that seemed out of my control, I thought that I would put what I wanted into writing and work towards what I could: learn martial arts, host more dinner parties, volunteer again at the Humane League, and, most importantly to me, this:

Long-Term Goals: Spend a month in S. France and/or touring Europe.

That was the biggie…something I’ve always dreamed of doing, never believing that I would be able to return anytime soon. That is, until I was sitting in the Barnes and Noble café with a friend, flipping through the pages of a writing magazine. An ad in the back of the magazine caught my eye — a tiny box advertising an artists’ retreat in the South of France — and my breath caught in my throat for a split second. I could have kept going, could have turned the page, but running purely on instinct, I interrupted my friend and sent the web address to myself as a text. That night, I researched it. A week later, I submitted my application.

On Sunday, nearly six months later, I’ll be boarding a plane by myself to spend the month of November in a little town tucked into the mountains in the South of France. And, like all of my adventures, I won’t believe it’s really happening until I get back.

My mom had said that my trip to France nearly ten years ago was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and for all that I had experienced, all that it had done for me, it absolutely was one that I will never forget. But still, I vowed that one day I would return to the place where I’ve always felt a connection; to the place that has always, in some way, called me home.

Studying literature in college, I’ve always felt envious of those writers who spent months or even years in Paris — drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes at cafés as they connected with other literary geniuses who were also working on their latest works. I don’t drink coffee and I don’t smoke, but I would do both if it meant I could spend my time writing in France like Ernest Hemingway or Carson McCullers. I reminded myself that those were different times then (and I have obviously romanticized it) — back in the 20s and 40s, you could pick up and move to France for awhile just to write. Back then, it was a different life.

But maybe not so different…

Soon I’ll be realizing this dream for myself, connecting with other artists and immersing myself in a world I’ve created, reuniting with familiar characters and telling a story that has long lingered in my soul. For the first time in a very long time, I intend to take off my editor hat and delve back into the creative mindset, to block out the rest of the world, to ignore time and transport myself to a place where only my words and I exist.

The idea seems so fantastic, so surreal, that I almost want to ask what the catch is. Only I already know — the catch is the challenge to myself, the first step in becoming truly independent as I navigate a foreign land completely on my own. And I couldn’t be more excited, or more nervous, to do just that.

When I first broached the idea, I questioned whether it was really possible. One year ago, I know it wouldn’t have been, as I had been working a full time job and thus had other responsibilities. But life has a funny way of rearranging itself to make things happen, of connecting the dots in ways that are only recognizable in hindsight.

Events, situations, moments add up, I’ve realized, to create a picture. Sometimes there are big, gaping holes that leave you wandering, wondering, but there will always be that one piece that fits just right, that will lead all of the others to fall perfectly into place.

My picture is far from complete. But finding where I fit is the best part of this puzzle.

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Thank God Even Crazy Dreams Come True: Part I

October 29, 2008 at 11:26 am (2008)

Hello you wild magnolias
Just waiting to bloom.
There’s a little bit of all that inside of me and you,
Thank God even crazy dreams come true…
Carrie Underwood, “Crazy Dreams”

When my high school French teacher first announced a ten day class trip to France, set for the summer of 2000, I remember thinking that I probably wouldn’t be going, despite my heart lifting a little at the possibility. It was a huge deal, I thought, and would my parents really say yes to the price tag that came with it?

I remember walking into the kitchen before dinner that evening. Mom was cooking at the stove and dad was at the sink, still in his work clothes. I remember being hesitant, not sure if I should even bring it up, not sure what they would say or if it was even a possibility; I wondered if I should even be getting my hopes up. My parents had always been supportive, but would they be ok with this?

I nervously toyed with a piece of paper on the counter and nonchalantly mentioned the trip, not even forming it as a question. I thought that I already knew their answer, and I was prepared for it. Their enthusiasm took me by surprise, however, and now, years later, I feel ashamed that I didn’t know them better than that.

“That’s wonderful!” My mom had exclaimed.

“Really?” I asked, still doubtful.

“Yeah,” Dad said as he chuckled in that familiar blend of words and amusement.

“Susan, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

The excitement in her voice was infectious, the phrase echoing as I contemplated the possibility. With those words, and some informational meetings on behalf of my teachers, what I thought would merely be a lifelong aspiration, a brushed-aside fantasy of a dreamer, became a reality: I was going to France.

As the months before the trip turned to weeks, and the weeks sped into days, the knot that had set up permanent residency in my stomach intensified. This would be a trip of firsts for me: first plane ride, first train ride, first time in another country, first time away from my parents for an extended period of time…I was a wreck inside, trying desperately to hold it all together, a toxic blend of nerves and excitement. It didn’t help that I only knew the people in my class as acquaintances — some of us had gone through elementary school together, but we weren’t necessarily close. Could I do this? Could I get on a plane without the comfort of family, without the security of a best friend?

“Susan, do you want to go?” I could hear the annoyance in my Mom’s voice as we packed my suitcase, but now when I look back on it, I wonder if it was also masking her concern.

“Yes,” I answered firmly.

“Then stop complaining.”

But complaining was what I did, didn’t she know that? I worry, I fret, I envision the worst case scenario, and then I’m fine (my grandmother was the same way; I blame genetics).

But I really was fine. After a tearful goodbye and some airplane anxiety, excitement took over. When my teachers, knowing how nervous I was, checked in on me, I was already settled in and smiling, thanks in part to my seatmate, who would end up becoming a good high school friend. Of course I was homesick, of course I left part of my heart back with my family in my small town, but I wasn’t alone, in reality or in heart, and I was flying towards what had once only been a dream.

My French class relaxed on the summer beaches of Nice and Cannes, toured the esteemed castles of the Loire Valley, and immersed ourselves in the history, architecture, and artistry of Paris. The longer we were there, the deeper in love I fell with the country — the language, the food, the culture — and the more I learned about myself. I felt like I was home.

This trip changed my life, of that I’ve never been more certain. Without someone to lean on, I was forced to break out of my shell and become more independent, confident, and assertive. Those ten days were an awakening — for the first time, I couldn’t care less what people thought of me: I tried everything, saw everything, opened up and befriended everyone. For the first time, I shed that reserved layer to which I’d so closely clung and finally let loose. I had found myself.

And now, in a few days time, I’ll be ready to do that again.

 

Tomorrow: Thank God Even Crazy Dreams Come True: Part II

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So Hard To Stay, Too Hard To Leave It

October 25, 2008 at 6:34 pm (2008)

I miss it now, I can’t believe it.
So hard to stay, too hard to leave it.
It’s hard to say it, time to say it,
Goodbye…

Nickelback, “Photograph”

It’s quiet in my apartment — almost a type of soothing silence, if it weren’t for the wind howling through the trees outside and the raindrops trickling against windows. Roommate and I just finished up Day One of The Big Clean, and I’m left alone here as I shut down the music that has been keeping us company and finish whatever I can before the night is over. It’s a new day tomorrow, and I’ll be back to vacuum and dust and spackle the walls…but right now, as I sit on the floor of the apartment that used to be mine, I feel almost serene. Bittersweet. And a little lonely.

The white walls are bare, devoid of the paintings that used to occupy the space in the living room and make it ours. The only objects left on the floor are an empty trash bag, some newspaper, and items yet to be taken to Goodwill. All of our furniture is either in our new locations or hidden away in storage. This place that we’ve called home these past two years — this place that saw us struggle and change and grow, that invited friends and laughter and shunned heartache and sorrow — this place is empty, save for our memories that have enveloped us like the walls of each room. These memories will be the last thing we carry with us as we shut the door to this chapter in our lives.

The day was full of reminiscence for us, and although we laughed, beneath that mask was a level of sadness and, maybe, regret. Do you remember when we decorated for Christmas and strung the lights around the counters? Or how about when I made you, Roommate, wear a scarf as a babushka when we trimmed the tree? Movie nights and long conversation and moments of silent friendship as we sat in the living room immersed in our laptops. Food experiments gone wrong — and right — and ice cream runs down the block and cheers to only one glass of wine.

Every inch of this place felt like home. This is where I first brought Riley after adopting him, where he pounced after his toys and howled out the window, his tail wagging as he spotted another dog on the pathway behind our building. This is where Mikey fell in love with Ellie, after some hesitation, after months of Roommate and I anxiously wondering how the two cats would get along. This is where our own friendship was cemented; where best friend became more than words.

I’m ready to start another chapter in my life; I’m ready for the adventure that awaits me and the opportunities that are along this winding road I’m on, but yet a part of me wishes I didn’t have to leave behind so much in order to go forward. I know that you take a piece of each place with you. But maybe, sometimes, you also leave a piece of yourself behind.

And now, with only cleaning supplies on the counter and a vacuum in a corner, it feels very hollow, very empty. Very much like a piece of my past.

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