Thursday, December 26, 2013

l'artiste refoulé

(the repressed artist)

Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.

‒ Cesar Cruz

The quote above is just lovely.  I found myself on a high after discovering it on Simon Sinek's twitter page a year ago.  I also felt vindicated.  I had always viewed myself has as an artist, as a tortured soul who was then exposing intimate ideas and feelings in order to relieve the pain that he was experiencing.  Such acts of exposure were far from comfortable and, more often than not, what was expressed did not make sense to people, to those I knew and to those that I did not.  At the end of the day though, once the deed was done ‒ if the deed was done ‒ I would often experience a rare, deep peace.  On the other hand, if the deed was not done, the torture would only amplify.  As such, the only logical thing to do next was continue.

It is often said that adolescence is marked by rebellion, that individuals start coming into their own during their teenage years.  We are talking about people who are half my age.  I actually don't know if this is true, but it seems to be what is accepted, particularly in Western countries.  The thing is, I don't remember having gone through such a phase.  My teenage years were spent meeting external expectations and doing so brilliantly, helped by a long streak of good grades and a strict adherence to the rulebook at school.  Outside of school, life was not much different.  I played the role of a boy who abided by the judgment of his elders, avoided risk and uncertainty, and analyzed situations before deciding what to do or what to say.  In fact, since entering adulthood, I have been on this right path without questioning it.  It is a path that is known, appreciated, and followed by many other people as well.  It also appears comfortable.

But the glitch in this state of comfort is that I see myself as an artist.  I have for a long time and I do not see that changing anytime soon.  Over the years, I have successfully found ways to explore the artistic side of myself.  Yet these explorations, albeit passionate, have remained small in relation to the right path that has always directed them.  More aware of this conflict than ever before, I can no longer afford to add value to a life of socially correct behavior while subjecting to it the longtime vision of myself as an artist, or better yet, as a free spirit.  That would only bring about torture, and I already have enough of it for company.  It follows that some sort of rebellion will be necessary.  A rebellion against the rightness that gets in the way, to be more precise.  Besides, I missed out on the chance to go through that during my adolescence, didn't I?  Well great, I have a new opportunity now as an adult.  Granted, individual rebellion is not usually synonymous with adulthood.  The adult is expected to be serious, careful, reasonable and humble, to care for others, and to contribute to society.  Anything contrary to that is best reserved for younger generations.  Fine.  All that tells me is to choose adult ways of carrying out a rebellion.  All that tells me is to be a rebel with a cause.  After all, it's either that or running the risk of alienating oneself from other adults.  And the latter is another source of torture that I prefer to do without.

So folks, it's time to rebel.

One of the keys to expressing yourself in your art is to try to break through self-restraint, to see if you can get past that socialized part of your mind, the superego or whatever you call it. […] Art, hopefully, is one place where you can get away with that, breaking away from those things and revealing something deeper. I know from my own work I have to let that stuff out, it can't stay inside of me: all the craziness, the sexual stuff, the hostility toward women, the anger toward authority.

‒ Robert Crumb

Saturday, December 7, 2013

why i love paris (2)

These photos were taken on a Sunday afternoon in September 2008.  My friend Stephanie was visiting Paris at the time and we had just returned from a exciting trip to Western France that began in Rennes and ended in Blois.  This Sunday was Stephanie's last day of vacation and, after taking a stroll on Rue Mouffetard, we decided to hit up Montmartre.  Upon our arrival, we naturally waded through the crowd loitering outside the Sacré-Cœur Basilica before joining those shuffling inside, we admired the bright yellow colors worn by the young girl playing the accordion nearby, and then, far off in the distance, we caught a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower.  Twice.

Good times.

Monday, December 2, 2013

investors in paris

Invest in Paris.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it?

Well, it just might to some dwellers in Paris, notably French citizens or citizens of former French colonies.  Virtually any Parisian would agree that is not uncommon to come across people who deplore Paris or reiterate their wish to flee to more attractive pastures, which in general refers to English-speaking countries like England or the United States.  Maybe it is the attitude, the expense, the bureaucracy, the aged mentalities, the systems that either seem backwards or simply do not work, or the absence of joyful people in the metro.  I wonder if I have heard it all.  In any case, I doubt that I can help to reduce the woes of these Parisians, given that I am an adult foreigner in Paris whose mother tongue is English.  Having moved to Paris only a couple of years ago, I cannot fully relate.

I do however relate with foreigners who seek to leave Paris because they are, as they might describe, fed up.  I have known a few in recent years and I cannot help but feel sad hearing their wishes to depart.  After all, many people move to the French capital excited about a new adventure, only to end up wanting to leave after a short period because "it is not working out" (whatever that means).  Aside from factors not related to Paris, I'm supposing that a good deal of these ideas of flight have to do with the people in Paris.  Granted, Parisians do not tend to welcome newcomers with open arms.  And while they may not offend you, they may just not recognize that you are there.  The widespread opinion that there is a lot of beauty and culture in Paris is great for someone relocating here, but, at some point, a frequent need for human connection takes over.  Foreigners might as well find this human connection within social groups that cater to them, thereby giving up on the French locals, who will naturally look to themselves when looking to fulfill the same need.  Given the obvious abundance of French people in Paris, the need is easily fulfilled and the sense of comfort is quickly restored.  After all, Paris remains a place built by the French for the French.  For the adult foreigner attached to a different way of life, this kind of situation can instill a pressure to conform or spark an identity crisis.  Or even nurture thoughts of leaving the city.

Yet there is great opportunity in Paris for the foreign resident to engage with the French-speaking local.  The city offers a rich culture and it is more often than not through its residents that one best discovers this culture.  Beyond Paris is France and many Parisians revel at the opportunity of presenting many things French to foreigners who may not have a clue.  Call it French pride if you will.  If you are open to learning new things, you can count on the French to enlighten you that regard.  Indeed, some Parisians come off as disagreeable and others have their quirks that rub people the wrong way.  If we accept that this is a part of life since we are all different (right?), then we can be more understanding.  Besides, an unpleasant behavior is only one side of the story; another side may include brighter things.  Also, there may be something interesting in the way Parisians express themselves (non-violently of course) when angry or annoying.  Sometimes, it's like theater that some of us may be incapable of either producing or producing as well.  We may not like it, but we will talk about it.

That said, the bulk of the opportunity to thrive in the Paris rests more in our hands than in those of the people with whom we share the city.  Each of us has something to offer, something that could enrich the lives of our fellow Parisians.  Yes, our numbers are much smaller when compared to those of the French-speaking locals.  But these low numbers makes us the rarity, the exception.  In other words, our difference makes us special.  We do not even have to strive to be special; we are so just by being in Paris.  And I think that we should embrace that.  Even better, if we can embrace that in beneficial ways that French-speaking Parisians can potentially identify with, then they can value us.  It's not a matter of trying to change French culture or of abiding by French culture.  It's rather about finding some middle ground, where we express our difference in favor of the people among whom we feel different.

It's like the popular saying "Leave a place better than you found it."  It's like the most famous words of former U.S. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."  So what can you do for Paris and its residents?  What is it that your foreign eyes see since you have been in Paris?  What do your foreign eyes see lacking in Paris that, if provided, could  benefit Parisians, as well as yourself?  Indeed, it's not only about Paris; you are just as important.  It's about your own experience in Paris, not just that of the foreigner (or that of the local for that matter).  It's about the time that you invest in Paris.  Is the investment paying off for you right now?  Are you confident that it will yield a high return in the future, even in a life after Paris?

I believe that it is by this mutual consideration for Paris and for oneself that a foreigner can thrive in the city.  It's like a marriage where both sides must maintain a balance.  If the foreigner gives too much to Paris, he risks losing his sense of self.  If he gives too much to himself, he risks feeling isolated.

Some years ago, when I was having a passionate love affair with the French language in the United States, I decided to take a month off work — practically more than my annual leave allowance — to live in Paris.  One afternoon during my stay, I met Colette, a wonderful lady and French teacher that a Francophile friend had put me in contact with.  Between picnicking and strolling together in the park in the center of Place des Vosges, Colette sensed my enchantment with many things Parisian and French.  Consequently, she gathered that I was wondering about a future life in Paris that lasted longer than a month.  She promptly warned me: "Paris, c'est un mythe."  I got a similar reaction after returning to the States as some people pointed out to me the difficulties of living in Paris, perhaps owing to an impression of Parisians as unfriendly people.  In both cases, I thought to myself somewhat naively, "Oh, I'll charm them anyway."

Eight years after that stay in Paris, I finally feel that I am realizing the opportunity to do just that.