Jul 31, 2010

The Quality of Human Life

No particularly deep thoughts from me today, but a snippet I would like to share from - you guessed it - The New York Times.  The article, from the Fashion & Style section, is mostly about "Mad Men" (I'm still on the fence about that show) but uses the series and its delightfully wicked behaviour to make a broader point.

Instead of paltry paraphrase, I give you the original:
Of course people still have hangovers and affairs, but what dominates the wholesome vista is a sense that everything we do should be productive, should be moving toward a sane and balanced end. The idea that you would do something just for the momentary blissful escape of it, for intensity, for strong feeling, is out of fashion.
When we talk about the three-martini lunch these days it is with contempt, with a pleasurable thrill of superiority. [...]“How did anyone get any work done?” someone will invariably ask. But maybe that’s the wrong question, or maybe the kind of work they got done was a different kind of work, or maybe that’s not the highest and holiest standard to which we can hold the quality of human life.
You can see why it resonated with me now, can't you.

Alright.  I'm done with my inflammatory, revolutionary proselytizing.  You can go back and cuddle your BlackBerries.

Jul 29, 2010

Les vacances

The following conversation takes place mid-morning, on a weekday.  The sun is making its way through the clouds.  Tourists are heaving their backpacks around the cobbled streets of Paris.  Res, a very young-looking thirty-something, is walking towards home carrying a large pot of paint and new underwear, uncovered in the final day of the sales.  She is the only French person about - all other Parisians still in the city at the end of July are safely tucked inside their offices.

Res' phone rings.  It is her very good, equally over-educated, unemployed friend.  Let's call her Mona.

Mona: "Hi!  What are you up to this week?"
Res: "Painting the new flat.  It's hard work."
Mona: "Sounds like it.  Should we have cocktails tomorrow afternoon?"
Res: "God yes, I'm exhausted.  I really could use a drink."
Mona: "Any news on the job front?"
Res: "Nope.  Still waiting to hear back about interviews.  Refreshing my email fifteen times an hour.  Checking my phone's batteries.  Harassing recruiters.  That sort of thing.  You?"
Mona: "Same.  The problem is, everyone's on vacation."
Res: [Long, drawn-out sigh]
Mona: "I think I need to go on vacation."
Res: "Mmmm."
Mona: "You know, we're entitled to five weeks a year."
Res: "Five weeks a year of what?"
Mona: "Of vacation."
Res: [stops walking, cocks head to the left] "I don't understand."
Mona: "We're entitled to five weeks a year of vacation."
Res: "But we're unemployed."
Mona: "It's the law, apparently."
Res: "It's the law that we're entitled to vacation?"
Mona: "Yes."
Res: [puts heavy bucket of paint down to scratch her head] "But aren't we always on vacation?"
Mona: "Well -"
Res: "I mean, isn't that sort of the definition of unemployment? Not having to go to work?"
Mona: "But during five weeks a year we're allowed to not think about looking for a job."
Res: "We're allowed to not think about looking for a job?"
Mona: "Yes."
Res: "So you're going to take a week off and not think about looking for a job?"
Mona: "That's right.  I'm not going to think about it for a whole week."
Res: "Huh."
Mona: "We're entitled to it."
Res: "Right."  [pause]  "Do you know if unpublished writers are also entitled to five weeks of not thinking about writing?"

Jul 26, 2010

Icarus had it coming


It got the Greeks in some serious trouble. 

Not those Greeks, the ones with the deficit and fiscal mismanagement and street protests (although, on second thought, maybe those ones as well).

But the ones in Sophocles' plays, in togas, who went around flouting the natural laws of the gods and were smitten (smote?) down as a result.

I think I may have a little smiting of my own coming.

Almost a year ago, Res decides that she's too good for consulting, or really any silly desk job for which she has trained and slaved and filled out circles with number 2 pencils.  Not for her, the dull life of time sheets and black trouser suits and morning commutes with sweaty unknowns.  Not for her, the anonymity of millions and the banality of monthly paychecks. 

No, for she has talent.  A special gift.  She has been touched by the gods.  She can use a keyboard and string sentences together with only the occasional grammatical error. 

And so, she will Write A Novel.  She will be Awarded The Pulitzer.  She will be  A Brilliant Author and hordes of readers will Bow Before Her Greatness.

Yeah right.

Let's count the number of people actually talented enough to write a novel, shall we?

That didn't take long.

And it appears I am not one of them - turns out statistical improbabilities are just that.  Improbable.

So let the deadly deluge and plagues of locusts begin.  I'll get my umbrella.

Jul 17, 2010

Coming back down to earth

Let me paint a picture for you.

Res, in her new yellow adidas sports top and black mini shorts (bought in the sales), stands contemplating the ocean.  She is about to go on a 7km run along the coast, and she feels pretty good about herself.  Sure, it isn't a half marathon, but given that she's been nursing her knee for three months, 7km in hot weather is entirely respectable.  Besides, the yellow of her top is showing off her golden tan superbly, and her legs look remarkably long in these shorts.  Long for a midget, anyway.

So off she goes, iPod blaring.  All the way around the harbour.  Down the promenade.  Along the beach.  She's at 2.5km now and hitting her stride.  On the sand, fat people are eating donuts and making her feel incredibly healthy and sporty, kind of like Madonna.  But younger.  And less scary.

Then up ahead she spies a low, chain-link fence separating the path from the road, where she is heading.  She has seen this fence before.  She has even gone over the fence before.  It is at mid-calf height - not overtly threatening.  So, without another thought (except maybe at how good her legs look doing this), she does a graceful little jump over the top of the chain.

And splatters on the ground.


What the f***???? is her first thought.  Her second thought is: ouch.  But in capitals.  Like this: OUCH.  And with more expletives.

After what feels like an hour of lying face-down on the pavement, a bemused group a strangers come to examine the damage.

"Didn't you see the fence?" is their helpful commentary.

Eventually, they get her to an upright position, dragging her up by her armpits.  She doesn't feel so much like Madonna anymore.  Naturally, she isn't organized enough to have a phone with her, so she walks the 2.5km back, willing herself not to look down at her legs.

The bottom line:
- one recently restored left knee now scraped, bloody, swollen and blue;
- one right shin double its original size, and likely to turn a variety of nasty shades over the next month or more;
- one large, oozing, puffy, swollen welt on her left hand, making all activities requiring the use of two hands (like eating with proper table manners) rather entertaining.

Not to mention a shattered ego.

Jul 15, 2010

Tongue in cheek

Five downsides to being on vacation when an unemployed writer:

1.  People say things like: "But aren't you always on vacation?"

2.  You spend most of your time searching for jobs, applying for jobs, speaking to recruiters, getting rejected, etc. rather than sitting by the pool.

3.  If you are sitting by the pool, you're probably working on your novel and feeling bad about yourself.

4.  If you are not working on your job search, or working on your novel, people wonder whether you shouldn't be, and whether perhaps the reason you're unpublished and unemployed is because you spend so much time on vacation.

5.  You start counting the days until you can go home and finally relax.

Jul 14, 2010

Ten Answers

Fellow Parisian blogger Karin did a "ten questions" post a few weeks ago, and I thought this would be a good opportunity to a) answer her and b) let you find out a bit more about me (like you really wanted to know more after reading the "About Me" section, pfff...)

So here goes (note: these are Karin's questions, if you want me to answer yours, send a query and I may or may not get back to you).

1. What is happiness for you?

Friends.  All my friends.  In one place.

2. What is your favorite memory of childhood?

This is a tricky one, I had a great childhood, jam packed with lots of good memories.  I have some pretty great memories of Elementary School, actually, which probably explains why I'm such a nerd.  Also of sand competitions on the beach, pool parties in the back yard, hanging out with our local librarian, Mrs Mac (again, nerd), roaming the neighbourhood with my friends on our bikes.  Being a kid in a rich, leafy American suburbs is nice.

3. Do you like the book Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert? Why or why not? 

I did like the book, but not so much for how it was written or what was in it, but mostly because I thought - heck! spending a year in Italy, India and Bali? I could do that!  Plus, I'm a big fan of eating (especially Italian food) and loving (not so much Italian men, but I can be swayed).  Don't know if the praying part is for me, but I'll try anything once.

4. What do you think is the worst social problem facing the country in which you are living now?

Well, France is an expert in social problems.  Top of the list is our inability to do anything about it because of ingrained and irrational resistance to change.

5. If you like pizza, what are your favorite toppings? If you don’t like it, why the heck not?

I love pizza!  Pepperoni all the way. And mushrooms.  But mostly pepperoni.  I'm hungry.

6.  What’s your favorite holiday? Why?

Christmas.  Because my mom is German and she bakes fantastic cookies.  And I love decorating Christmas trees.  And buying presents for people I care about.  And foie gras.  And champagne.  Seriously, what's not to like about Christmas?

7. Who is the most annoying celebrity? Why?

So many to choose from!  Off the top of my head, Tom Cruise, Lindsey Lohan, anyone who became a celebrity simply for being on a reality TV show.  For all the obvious reasons.

8. Is it better to be physically attractive or intelligent?

Honestly (and this is twisting my guts to say this), I vote for attractive.  Statistics show that attractive people have an easier time in life, getting hired, making friends, finding a spouse, negotiating a raise, etc.  And sometimes thinking too much can get you depressed - better to look gorgeous in a bikini and not spend too much time in metaphysical contemplation.

9.  City or countryside? ‘Splain.

City.  Hands down.  Better cocktails.  Better shoes.

10.  What do you really think about memes like these?

I say 'why not!'  Let's be frivolous and fun once in a while (or in my case, always!)

Jul 13, 2010


The view from where I'm currently typing, painted toenails and all:

Bons bisous de la presqu'ile de Saint Tropez!

Oh Behave!

I'm a slut.

No, not an actual slut, this isn't Belle du Jour the Sequel (and not a peep out of you, oh darling friends of mine!)

I'm a job slut.  You know, that thing that unemployed people become once they've been looking for a while.

The shift at first is gradual.  Last time you checked you knew what you wanted, you had a list of very specific criteria for your next job: geographical location, salary, type of work, hours, industry, benefits, the colour of the office walls, whether it matches your favourite shoes, etc.

But then you start to stray.  Bit by bit.  Maybe the salary slips a little.  The geography drifts.  You didn't mean for it to happen, you had sworn you would be faithful, but somehow.  Was there something in the fruit punch?  A flirtatious glance that led you astray? 

And before you know it you're selling yourself to anything and anyone that will have you.  From London to Zurich to the dark back alleys of Bonn (Bonn? really? what were you thinking?), you hike up your CV, show a little leg and tell them whatever they want to hear.  Of course you're interested in the widgets this company make (frantic Wikipedia search to figure out what on earth they're talking about); of course you'll accept a pay cut (even below your unemployment benefits? shame on you); of course you've dreamt your whole life about - hold on, which one were you again?

Jul 11, 2010

Flip Flops

Two turtle doves were making their nest in the branches above my head this morning.  I kid you not.  All we need now is a partridge and a few pears and we've got Christmas in July.

Instead of a partridge, though, there's a large gecko crawling around between my legs, and I'm listening to the music of crickets in lieu of carols.  Perhaps we're more into Old Testament territory (Eden and the like) than the birth of Christ and Coca-Cola's Santa Claus.

Whatever it is, it's a little piece of paradise.  But a damn hot one (a veritable hellish roast).

This is how my head works now.  Thinking one thing then another.  Unable to settle, unable to decide, unable to cross the t's and dot the i's and finish off the squiggle of the s's.  In a constant state of flux.  The novel is a future bestseller.  The novel is drivel.  I want to be a lawyer again.  I can't bear the thought of being back in an office.  I'm excited about the new man I'm dating.  I'd rather be with my ex (but which one?)

It's bloody exhausting.

At least football is easy.  I'm for Spain.  I think.


Remember way back when I told you about the random acts of blogging?

You know, that crazy idea about being nice to strangers and then running for our lives to avoid resulting litanies of verbal and physical abuse from umbrella-wielding grannies.

Well, it's finally happening, and this is your last chance to be part of it!  So go ahead and email jill at the duchess guide dot com if you need some good karma flowing your way - God knows I sure could use some!

Les Fourmis

I'm feeling antsy and I don't know why.

Which is odd.  Introspection has become a bit of a hobby lately - and even if my internal reader isn't working, I can usually make something up for the sake of the blog.  I mean, who wants to read about me not knowing what's wrong with me? 

But I apologize, today is just one of those days.  Where things are unsettled in my heart and my head and I somehow can't relax into my idyllic surroundings (and this place is so beautiful, my inability to enjoy it amounts to pure blasphemy in my book).

I'm worried about the novel (the re-read is actually giving me stomach cramps).  I'm worried about never finding a job, or finding the wrong one (add one splitting headache to the tummy upset).  I'm worried about my fitness level being seriously under par for the Paris 20km I'm running in October (a dash of lung constriction and sore thighs sprinkled over the mix).  And all the other things I don't even know about yet, but that are surely very worrying as well (bake at 240°C for one hour and serve with custard).

So there you go.  It's not very interesting for you (hell, it's not even very interesting for me) and there's not much you can do to help (although I've never been known to refuse a massage and a cup of tea).  But cleverer people than myself say it's good to share, so consider yourself shared with.

Jul 10, 2010

The Big Melt(down)

God it's hot.

I know, I shouldn't complain - better hot than cold, right?  But still, it's really hot.

Too hot to blog.  Too hot to write.  Too hot to move my pinky finger and scratch that sun allergy I have unflatteringly (new word, yo) developed all over my chest. 

At least I'm in the south of France.  Down here is a good place for my writing, usually.  I don't know if it's the sunshine, the shimmering blue of the pool, the absence of beckoning shoe stores - but it usually does the trick.  Although for the next two weeks the house will be filled with family members, many of whom are under the age of twelve.  Screaming children : not so conducive to the quiet, contemplative art that is literature.

So let's see, any more excuses I can come up with?  We've covered the heat, the tweens, but there's also the stop-and-start job search, the headache I can feel coming on, the misalignment of Mars and Jupiter, and...

Alright Res, that's enough.  Let's stop pretending that there's any reason for the delay other than being scared witless of strangers and friends reading my baby and hating it.  I'm not sure I have the requisite self-confidence to handle rejection right now.