(warning: this is also the longest post ever)
It is past 4pm in New York City, and that means that not only is it pitch dark outside now, as though we were living somewhere in Scandinavia, but most significantly it means that the sun has set in New York City for the last time in 2018.
That’s it. The last day in 2018 is officially over.
Every year I think, “wow, this year has flown by!” But this time it’s different. It’s strange, because I spent half the year in Paris and half the year in New York. Half the year was in limbo, and half the year was in trying to recover for lost time. I came back to North America for good in June, so I really do mean half the year. I’d like to say that I published so many blog posts this year, and I accomplished this and accomplished that, but in reality, most of my growth occurred offline. In fact, for those of you who were paying attention, I barely posted any blogs this year at all. New Year’s resolution #1 is about changing that.
It is nearly 2 years since I embarked on my documentary project to narrate the stories of refugee children “stuck” in Calais, France. It was an emotional journey, and like most of the children whom I spent time with, the journey is not over. Most of the action also took place offline, outside the presence of the camera. I learned more about life and about humanity in that timeframe than any other time I can remember. In the 6 months I spent “alone” in France, I had a lot of time to reflect. There were a lot of feelings of fear, anxiety, stress, anger, helplessness that I needed to overcome, or learn to deal with, and I did it by writing. Yet, even though I could have written an entire novel throughout the time I was in France, I barely eeked out one chapter and an outline. I sometimes feel like I wasted the time, but other times I let myself acknowledge that I’m still on this long journey of self-discovery. I think that sometimes we go down this dark road remembering only what we failed to accomplish rather than reflecting on what we learned, and how we have grown. The book will come, just not this year. Maybe 2019.
And as I begin to write, the words flow so quickly, and I want to release what I’ve been keeping inside for so long. I know that it’s just fear of relinquishing my story that is keeping me from writing it all down, trepidation of the commitment and time it is sure to take. Anxiety of not being able to finish. But I will. Just not now… in this blog post.
Now, I’d like to just reflect on this past year, because when I look back at where I was at this time last year and where I am now, it seems like last year belonged to another world. Perhaps you’ll be able to relate to some of this, maybe not. Sometimes I don’t know if anyone’s reading. In any case, you should know that writing saved my life.
Six months in Paris, living out of a suitcase- I learned to travel light! I chose to stay in a shared AirBnB in Le Marais, with a lovely, young, entrepreneurial, gay man with a passion for bringing people together through his love of cocktails. The first night was one of his monthly parties, and I knew then that I would never feel alone if I didn’t want to be. I made friends and explored Paris, discovering neighborhoods and experiencing them in ways that I never would have if I was only visiting. I learned French so well, that formerly snooty cafe waiters were confused about my accent, and could never figure out where I was from. I discovered my new favorite writing spot and cafe, after getting a taste for all the other free co-working spaces within a 4 mile radius from my apartment, and formed my group of Latinas… but only when it was time to go back home.
Something that surprised me the most was realizing how open and welcoming my new friends were. Not judgmental in the least, and willing to drop anything at any moment to help someone else. Paris is bigger than New York City, but it was so much easier to make plans with friends in Paris than it has ever been back home. I don’t know why. Maybe transportation is just better?
I mastered the train schedules, becoming a frequent visitor to Gare du Nord, and tested my limits of how often I could get away with free subway (I mean, Metro) rides, until I learned the hard way, and decided… [sigh] it’s just not worth it! You can get away, until you can’t. I got into every single museum and event that I wanted to with my press card, and boy was that a good investment. A press card is like a Swiss passport: gold… and all-access pass. And yet, everyone is hesitant to speak to a journalist– especially if they’re documenting anything having to do with refugees. Anyways, I ate the best Ethiopian food, the best Persian food, went to the movies in the giant, plush, government subsidized theaters. I ran along the Seine, and exercised alongside the Eiffel Tower. I decided one week I would start rapping, and discovered I could make pretty much anything rhyme. I found that I could ‘let go’, and that once I did, I could do anything as long as I put my mind to it. Near the end of my time in Paris, I got myself a writing gig at a magazine- it had been easier to get the job than I thought, I just had to put myself out there. Just do it.
This year, I lost my husband, but I gained a sister-in-law. I lost half a year of my filming momentum, but I gained a better story (I will tell it soon). I lost two of my closest friends to miscommunication, but after doing everything I could to salvage the friendship, I had to accept the reality that they may not have been as good friends as I thought they were. But for every vacuum, my life filled up with something better. The friends I made this year are genuine and real, and I am so thankful for them. I lost part of my independence this year, but in exchange I have been able to spend more time with my family, especially my mother. In fact, I have been spending so much time with my mother, that when I go back to my former living situation, I know I will feel an incredible emptiness. After spending so much time trying to find someone to help me edit my trailer, I serendipitously bumped into a school-friend in the middle of Union Square, and she created something powerful and professional, just like she said she would. I’ve met the most incredible, strong women this year, whom I’m happy to call friends, and I continue to be surprised with people’s kindness and generosity. This year, many people in the United States have become more keenly aware of the refugee crisis as it has affected our country personally. I lived with displaced young people and families for a long time while I was in France, and the parallels with what is happening on our borders and in Europe’s borders are astounding. I’m so proud of all the Americans who are as passionate about this subject as I am, and who are doing much more than what I was able to do. I am also proud of our American law enforcement. When I think of the difference between French law enforcement and American… well, it just makes me want to hug a police officer. That’s just me though.
2018 was a year packed full of every kind of emotion, every kind of experience. Yet, I know that the only thing I can expect is the unexpected. Nothing ever turns out the way you think it will. But like Midge Maisel in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, if you just go with the flow, take everything in stride, life reveals itself in a way that is extraordinary and unpredictable.