LOWERING THE BAR

Did you miss me? Aw, thanks, I missed you too. Why yes, I have had a nice summer. I’ve been eating a lot of fruit, reading a little and I went somewhere I haven’t been in twenty years: Paris.

Now usually a person doesn’t feel nervous and guilty anticipating a glamorous, upcoming vacation (unless of course that person happens to be my husband), but before the trip I had some concerns. The last time I’d been in Paris I was a college student doing her semester abroad and when I left in the summer of 1994, I assumed I’d be back soon, in the naïve, entitled way that a person does when they’re unable to realize how thoroughly they’re taking something for granted.

Trying to look cool = no smile

Trying to look cool = no smile

As the years went by and I traveled to other places but never back to the city that had embraced and challenged me, I began to wonder if perhaps I was still up for Paris – meaning mostly that I was terrified of speaking French again (which hadn’t exactly been my forte, even at my most immersed). If you are thinking, “well then just speak English,” you do not understand the solemnity with which the Parisians of my youth took their mother tongue. Rule #1: if you know any shred of French whatsoever, you speak it. It’s a sign of respect. We can get into the historical/socio-political context for this attitude another time. Just know that being the compulsive rule-follower that I am, respect I would show.

Cut to the summer of 2015. Paris is a significantly more diverse city than the one I left. It’s also cleaner, friendlier and generally younger (though maybe that last one has more to do with me being older). And pardon the abstraction, but it also feels more nuanced and layered in ways that are difficult to explain. Or were hard to explain until I reached a particular passage from our old friend Karl Ove Knausgaard, whose second volume of My Struggle I happened to be reading on the trip:

“When I was twenty what I had, what made me me, was so little. I didn’t know that, of course, because that was all there was at that time. But now that I’m thirty-five there’s more. Well, everything that existed in me when I was twenty is still there. But now it’s surrounded by so much more.”

I thought this was a great antidote to sentimentality – the idea that life becomes richer and more interesting as we get older because we are more enriched and interesting ourselves.

Does this mean j’ai parlé with the best of them? Let me put it this way. It’s amazing how fluent one can be in a language of 1,000 words. It turns out that just getting one’s point across, no matter how clumsy, can be a victory in and of itself. In fact, it can even be fun. Lowering the bar allows you to leap over it.

Le Metro I

Which brings me to this blog. During this past year, I wrote a post based on every book I read. The idea, as you’ve figured out by now, was to use the books as launching points for pithy little essays, rather than to write reviews (there are plenty of those out there).

This year there are new demands on the work and personal fronts—all good, but demanding nonetheless—so that both my time and mental energy are more occupied now.

So I’m going to lower the bar. I’m going to write in a language of 1,000 words, rather than 100,000. I’m going to post when I can but not freak out when I can’t. (The compulsive rule-follower in me has trouble changing rules, even when they’re self-imposed.) Hopefully the things I read will be inspiring enough that writing about them will be effortless, but I’m making no promises. I know, dear reader, at this point you’re shaking your fist at the screen and screaming out “WHY???” with a sense of bottomless grief. It’ll be a loss, I understand, but try to carry on as best you can during my absences. I’ll be back before you know it. I do, eventually, return.

Le Metro II

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