To Dublin, with love…

I was supposed to be living in Paris by now. My boss is based in Paris and, though I can work remotely from anywhere, all signs pointed to this being the time for me to make the move. It was nearly done and dusted – just needed to dot some i’s and cross some t’s. But for reasons I both understand and don’t understand, that final i couldn’t get dotted and my move to Paris evaporated.

I’m not going to lie. It hurt. I was nearly there, and then I wasn’t. And in between all that there was six months of emotional ups and downs as my boss and several others did their damnedest to make it happen for me. By the time I got the final FINAL word (and that word was “no”), I was utterly exhausted.

So, it looks like I’m staying in Dublin. And that isn’t a bad thing. But, in my mind, I had already relocated to Paris so when that notion went bye-bye, Operation Re-embrace Dublin commenced.

Working alone, on my living room sofa, has left me quite isolated over the past year. One of the reasons I wanted to move to Paris was because I would be able to divide my work time between home and the Paris studio.  But now that I am staying in Dublin, I have made a very conscious decision to really “be” in this city, to get out and spend time doing the plethora of things Dublin has to offer, to do things I had put off because I wasn’t sure if I’d be staying and also to go out and spend time with my people – the friends that I’ve been lucky enough to make while living here, but that I’d gotten into the habit of seeing very rarely. (I’m a hermit by nature, don’t judge.)

The day after I found out Paris had fallen through I went out and bought three things: a new living room rug, a new vacuum cleaner, and… a fiddle. The first two I really needed but it didn’t make sense to buy if I would be moving. But the fiddle? Well, that’s something I’ve wanted to learn to play since I moved to Ireland, yet something always stopped me. But now, fuck it. I’m going to learn to play the fiddle. I’m three lessons in and I’ve mastered “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and have moved on to the “Newmarket Polka”. When I play, it sounds like I am killing cats and my poor neighbors probably want to turn my fiddle into kindling. But I love it. I suck, but I love it.

My hermit-y nature means that I’m usually fine with not venturing out much but I’m actively putting a stop to that as well. Sitting on my sofa, I could just as easily be living back in Buffalo. But I’m not in Buffalo, I’m in Dublin. And I’m going to start making more of that, and really seeing and exploring the things this city has to offer. A couple weekends ago I took myself to the Little Museum of Dublin, a quirky place in a Georgian mansion right across from St. Stephen’s Green. I’ve been meaning to visit it for about four years now. I loved it. And last weekend a friend and I went to the breathtaking Caravaggio exhibit at the National Gallery of Ireland. It was utterly not quirky, but sometimes one really just has to get their art on, and this exhibit did it for me. It was amazing. So, look at that – two distinctly Dublin museums in as many weekends. And so many more to go.

And then there are my friends, my people. When I moved here more than four years ago, I knew no one. Now, I have a lovely circle of friends but, as I said, I’d gotten in the habit of staying home rather than going out to spend time with said circle. Last Thursday evening, I had to go out. There was a Women in Animation Ireland event and I’m a committee member – I had to be there. I planned on going, having a much-needed glass of wine and leaving after an hour, maybe two. But then something happened – friends that I had not seen in a really long time showed up. And you know how it goes – everyone takes turns buying the next round of drinks and before you know it, you’re stumbling home at 2:30am.

At one point during that evening, I realized, rather immodestly, that of the five people sitting with me, I was directly responsible for all but one of them being a part of this group. Two I had hired back when I was in my first job as a Producer, convincing one to relocate from Scotland and the other from London. Two others I’d met at previous Women In Animation events – both were just getting started in their careers in Dublin and I actively endeavored to help them get work. They are now both working with the studio where I had that first Producer job. Spending this unexpected time with these five people just drinking and talking about stupid stuff was, in a word, fun. And in another word, needed.

And then a couple days later, I had a Girls’ Day Out with two of my very best friends, not only here in Dublin, but in my life. We started at a pub at 1pm with cocktails and prosecco and didn’t finish until nearly midnight at my house with doritos, beer and warm white wine. Amazing on so many levels. And again, fun and needed.

Both of these events were something I really needed in the wake of my Paris debacle. I needed to be reminded that I have people here. Amazing, funny, supportive, fun people. And I love my people.

I still don’t know what the future holds for me, but Dublin feels more and more likely to be part of it in the long-term. I qualify for Irish Citizenship in November, and I am absolutely going for that. Some people collect magnets, I collect passports (and magnets, actually). I’m even kind of, sort of thinking about buying an apartment or a cottage or something here. That would require adulting on a level I’ve yet to do in my life, but there’s something about the idea that keeps calling to me.

So far, Operation Re-embrace Dublin is proving rather promising. Right now, I am where I am, and more than happy to be here.

 

 

 

 

Winter is coming…

It has been three months to the day since my last blog post – the longest gap I’ve ever taken since I started writing it over four years ago. It’s not that I haven’t had anything to say – I’ve had PLENTY to say, perhaps too much. And so I’ve been biding my time as I try to form coherent thoughts.

I have been beyond upset and outraged at the dumpster fire that America has become in only three weeks. What Trump has done so far does not affect me personally, but so what? I think that is what saddens me most – the complete lack of empathy from so many people. As long as their precious lives are not impacted, then you know, whatever.

But that’s not how I roll.

I don’t care if it doesn’t directly impact me. If it’s wrong, if people are being oppressed, if rights are being trampled, if laws are being broken, I am sure as hell going to say something. Shake your heads and laugh at me, call me a “snowflake” or a “libtard”, tell me I should get over it all you want – doesn’t matter. I truly don’t understand how so many people can just look the other way right now. Caring about others doesn’t make me a snowflake, it makes me a good person.

I don’t have any kids and I’m not a teacher, yet I worked tirelessly against Betsy DeVos’ confirmation. Because I care about all children and teachers whether I know them or not. And I saw many of my teacher friends get really involved and engaged in the effort to oppose DeVos.

But what about the issues that don’t directly affect your job? Will those same people, for instance, oppose the dismantling of the ACA because without it people like me (a freelancer with pre-existing conditions) will have no options for affordable health insurance. Teachers have health insurance and repealing the ACA won’t have a huge impact on you  – so, will you just sit back and say “not my problem” or will you remain engaged? I fought for you, will you fight for me?  I’ll be very interested to see how that plays out.

I am truly heartened by the expat community here in Europe who are actively engaged, despite the miles between them and their home country. We are speaking up and speaking out. We are making phone calls, and donating money and marching. And even though we do not live in the United States anymore, WE VOTE!

Yesterday, one of my Paris friends added me to newly formed Facebook group called “The Resistance Abroad”. Amazing! Just because we are far away, does not mean that we aren’t ready to fight, that we won’t remain engaged and informed and action-oriented – that we won’t do whatever it takes to make a difference and take our country (yes, it still is our country) back.

Call us snowflakes if you like, but, as I saw in a meme recently, know this:

WINTER IS COMING.

Expat or Immigrant?

A couple days ago I read an article about the difference between an expat and an immigrant and it really got me thinking. I wrote a post three years ago about the immigrant experience versus the expat experience, inspired by my visit to the Titanic Museum in Belfast but that was more about the immigrant experience in the time of my grandparents – before the advent of the the internet and all its connectivity.

As mentioned in my previous post and in the online article, an expatriate is defined as “a person who lives outside their native country” while an immigrant is defined as “a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country.” Not much of a difference. But even historically, expats have had positive qualities attributed to them while immigrants were labeled as uneducated, undesirable and worse.

And now today, in the age of Brexit and that human cantaloupe running for President of the United States, it feels like more than ever, “immigrant” is a four-letter word. I, as an expat, have been told I am brave, that I should be commended for pursuing my dreams, that any country would be lucky to have me. While immigrants from places like Mexico, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Poland are accused of being criminals and terrorists, and assumed to be uneducated, lazy and looking for a handout.

Why am I considered different? I guess because I’m a white, highly educated, professional who comes from an upper middle class family in a country not considered “undesirable”.

Let’s break that down, shall we?

  • I’m white – so the eff what? Skin color is not an indicator of character. I know lots of caucasians who are disgusting excuses for human beings, hiding behind the privilege that their skin pigment affords them.
  • Highly educated – yes, I am. I’m very lucky. And you know what? A large percentage of these immigrants everyone is so scared of are more educated than I am. Doctors, engineers, professors and the like are among those fleeing the war in Syria. And those from countries like Afghanistan, where education is harder to come by? Something tells me they that the education they get in their new country is not going to be wasted, but appreciated.
  • Professional – yeah, whatever. I make cartoons, big deal.
  • Upper Middle Class – here I am, lucky again that I wasn’t born into poverty. Which means that my parents could afford to get me a good education, which made me the professional I am today. Domino effect, anyone?
  • My Country – ugh. That sorry excuse for an Oompa Loompa is making it really hard to be proud of where I come from. America is losing its stance in the world, and honestly, I’m not entirely sure this is still a positive.

I’m not quite certain what my point is with all of this and I apologize if this post is less coherent than usual. I guess I’m just so troubled by the images I see of the suffering of these immigrants, not to mention the words and actions of those filled with nothing but hate and racism toward fellow human beings, that I needed to say something.

I feel the need to acknowledge that I am living the expat experience, not the immigrant experience and I am aware of the privilege, deserved or otherwise, that it gives me.

Angels in Disguise…

Be not inhospitable to strangers, less they be angels in disguise.

                                                                  – W.B. Yeats

This quote from an Irish poet is painted above a doorway in the legendary Parisian bookstore Shakespeare and Company. It’s also on the canvas bag I bought from said bookstore and took with me just now to the grocery store, which is how I found myself randomly thinking about it today.

I’ve always loved that quote but it’s taken on new meaning for me since becoming an expat, especially an expat who has to do pretty much everything on her own. When you are by yourself in a new country, it’s amazing how uplifting random acts of kindness are and how demoralizing random acts of asshole-ishness can be. But I’m not dwelling on the assholes today.

Today I’ve found myself reflecting on complete strangers who were indeed hospitable to me. There have been so many both before and during my expat life. But these are the moments that crept into my mind on the walk to the grocery store today:

  • At a Starbuck’s in Manhattan Beach a couple teenagers asked my friend and me if they could pay for our drinks as part of their “random acts of kindness project” for their church.
  • On a cold November morning at the University of Michigan I was heading home for Thanksgiving and doing the twenty minute trek with loads of luggage from my dorm to where I parked my car. I had one of those ancient wheelie suitcases that you dragged behind you with a loose strap like an unwilling dog on a leash. The stupid thing kept tipping every five steps until a woman saw me struggling, picked the suitcase up and walked it all the way to my car.
  • On my second day ever in Dublin, I was on the main road in Ranelagh, completely, utterly lost looking for the apartment I was supposed to be viewing. Two different people actually pulled their cars over to the side of the road and helped me find my way.
  • On a bus in Reims, France I had no idea where my stop was. The bus map was completely in French and my bus phobia didn’t help matters anyway. An extremely stylish French woman told me how many stops I had to go and when the stop was coming up she signaled the driver and asked him to wait her. She then got off the bus with me and made sure I knew how to walk to my destination from the stop.
  • When at a dingy bar in Santa Monica to see a band, a lovely Aussie girl gave me and my friend her extra passes so that we could be in the front row. That girl, Brooke, became a dear friend and after that night in Santa Monica adventures in London, New  York and Hawaii followed, as well as a friendship that has lasted nearly fifteen years.
  • When at an American Expat Meetup in Paris, the people were far from welcoming. Except for one person – Caren. As I was about to leave, Caren introduced herself and started a conversation with me. A friendship was started that night and, through Caren, I’ve been introduced to many other lovely people in Paris that I am now lucky enough to call friends.

In all of these instances, I was the stranger and these people were most certainly not inhospitable to me. Most were just quick moments that, despite their transience, have remained with me even years later. And some even developed into friendships that I treasure.

Expat or not, the way a stranger treats you really can make a difference in your life. I hope that at some point, I’ve managed to treat a stranger with a kindness that stays with them in much the same way these have stayed with me.

 

Making my world work…

Earlier this month Facebook declared February 4th Friends’ Day. And even though it was a fairly obvious publicity stunt, I liked the idea of it. After all, friendship is something that should be celebrated. As Mr. Zuckerberg wrote in his post announcing Friends’ Day: “Friendships make the world work.”

I’ve never been one who made friends easily and this was a real worry of mine as I started my expat journey. When I moved to Dublin nearly three and a half years ago, I knew that I was going to have to put myself out there and make some friends and that made me very nervous. (I wrote about it here.) But I knew that making friends was going to be the defining factor in whether I would have success as an expat. One can get along just fine without a significant other (lord knows, I’m a prime example of that) but can you imagine living a life without friends?

Last weekend, a friend that I made during my month in Paris came for a visit – and she brought a friend that I instantly hit it off with. So, two new friends! Making these friends was a nice surprise for me. When I went to Paris, I didn’t make a concerted effort to  meet people or make new friends – that wasn’t the purpose of my time there, and my stay there was temporary. So making these friends was an unexpected bonus but one for which I am very grateful.

And this weekend, I was out with a bunch of the first friends that I made in Dublin. They are people that I met through my first job here. I’m no longer at that job, so I don’t see them every day anymore but we all manage to get together every so often and have a nice time. And I really look forward to those nights. Not only because  I know it will always be a good time but because those people, those first friends I made, are very special to me.

Though they probably don’t realize it, they are the people who made me feel that I hadn’t made the worst decision of my life in leaving everything and everyone I knew and moving to a city I’d never even been to before. They are the people who made me feel like I belonged even though I was an outsider. They are the people who formed the foundation of the life I was starting to build in my new city. I don’t think they have any idea how important they were to me in those early days but I am forever grateful that they became and still are a part of my life.

After more than three years as an expat, the friends that I have made, in Dublin and beyond, are quite simply, awesome. They are people I share interests with. People who make me laugh. People who help and support me. People I like being around.

And they certainly play a huge part in making my world work.

Bonne Année…

New Year’s Eve. Not my favorite holiday to say the least, and I am definitely not a fan of resolutions.

Last year, I came upon an alternative to resolutions and their inherent failure. Instead of making (and breaking) them, this past year every time I accomplished a goal, or did something I was proud of, or even did something that was just a lot of fun, I wrote it on a slip of paper and put it in a jar. I just finished reading what I wrote on those scraps of paper. And you know what? It was a good year. A fairly awesome one, actually. It wasn’t perfect, of course. But in my third year as an expat, I did my best to embrace the uncertainty that is ever-present in my life and take advantage of the freedom that uncertainty gives me.

The biggest way I took advantage of that freedom was in moving to Paris for five weeks to see what it would be like to live and work there. I knew it would be incredible. Of course, what I didn’t know was that my beloved Paris would come under attack by terrorists, with 130 lives snuffed out in the blink of an eye. I’ve written about how the terrorists attacks made me angry but not afraid. And being in Paris during that time has made me more determined than ever to (forgive the cliché) carpe diem.

I am lucky enough to be ringing in 2016 tonight, something that those 130 souls who went out in Paris on a Friday night probably thought they would be doing as well. It really is just luck – nothing more than that.

So, for those of us lucky enough to be celebrating a New Year tonight – I wish you happiness, health and as an old Irish saying goes:

“May your pockets be heavy and your heart be light.
May good luck pursue you each morning and night.”

Merci Paris…

This is the third thanksgiving I will celebrate in Paris. Actually, my first trip ever to Paris, fifteen (gasp!) years ago, was on Thanksgiving weekend. It was then that Paris first captivated me, and it has kept me enthralled ever since.

Over the past decade and a half, this city that I love more than any other place on the planet has motivated me, guided me and inspired me. Ever since that first visit, it has been a dream of mine to live here. My writing partner and I even named our production company Apartment in Paris Productions, because that was the goal – to make enough money writing to be able to afford an apartment. That didn’t quite pan out, but still, I can credit Paris with getting me started writing. I’m still writing, and even getting paid for it. Just not enough to afford to buy an apartment here. Yet.

If it wasn’t for Paris, and my desire to live here someday, I never would have looked into getting my Italian citizenship. And if I didn’t have that carrot dangling in front of me, I’m sure that I would have given up when things got tricky. Instead, I just hired someone to help me with the tricky bits because I was keeping my eyes on the prize – a European passport.

So, in a way, I have Paris to thank for the awesome life I now have in Dublin – the wonderful friends I’ve made during the past three years, the amazing, creative work I get to do, the pretty cool life I’ve managed to set up for myself. I wouldn’t have had any of that without first having fallen in love with Paris.

Paris has, of course, been on a lot of people’s minds of late. Nearly two weeks on from the horrific events of November 13th, Paris is indeed living up to the words emblazoned on its coat of arms: “Fluctuat nec mergitur”. Tossed but not sunk. And I am happy to be celebrating another Thanksgiving in this amazing city, even as it goes through such a difficult time.

I have so many things for which to be thankful, but this year I feel compelled to give a special shout-out to this city that stole my heart so many years ago and has shaped so much of the life ever since.

Merci Paris.