The final countdown…

Next week at this time, I’ll be “The New Dubliner In Paris”. After dreaming about living in Paris for years, after all the false starts over the past year, my feelings are… mixed.

And I blame Dublin.

I was cocky when I decided to move to Dublin five years ago. I thought it was going to be so easy. But I didn’t take the time I should have to process the enormity of what I was doing. So, when it finally hit me (in a hotel room in London the night before my official arrival in Dublin), it shook me to my core, sending me into a months-long spiral of panic, anxiety and depression the likes of which I’d never experienced before.

I like to think I kept it fairly well hidden at work (no idea if I actually did) but I have never felt so completely alone and scared in my life. I had no friends yet, so I would cry on the phone to my sister and my parents everyday. I would wake up in the middle of the night, nearly every night, just gripped in panic.

I finally started to turn the corner when, after crying on the phone to my sister for the umpteenth time, she broke it down for me: “Shannon, the absolute worst case scenario here is that you come home.”

And she was right. That advice, along with a xanax prescription, gave me the freedom to really start living in Dublin. If it didn’t work, it didn’t work, no biggie.

Now, five years on, moving to Paris is stirring up the same feelings in me. Though it’s more the anticipation of panic that is wrecking my head right now. Because the anxiety and panic caught me so off guard with my Dublin move, I’m actually having anxiety about the possibility of anxiety – and yes, that is as exhausting as it sounds.

But the Paris move is different in many ways. I’m moving someplace that I know really, really well. I have a circle of friends there already. I’m not moving to start a new job. Doesn’t mean I’m not scared though. Doesn’t mean I haven’t needed a xanax or two as I’ve packed up my Dublin house and said good-bye to my friends. Leaving Dublin makes me, in a word, sad. But I know that I am not done with this city yet. I have too many friends here, I have business ties here, and I do love it here.

The same way I still consider myself a New Yorker more than 10 years after moving away, I will always consider myself a Dubliner. But, much as I love Dublin, Paris is something that I need to do. I do not want to look back on my life thirty years from now and see a chance not taken. I would rather face my fear than live with regret.

And the same advice that my sister gave me five years ago still holds true – worst case scenario, I come home.

Only now, home means Dublin.

 

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Write It On Your Heart…

I tried something new during the course of 2017. Everyday (okay, nearly every day) I wrote down on a slip of paper something that happened during that day to make me happy. I can’t remember where I read about this practice but it’s about finding your gratitude, your peace, your happiness – even if it’s something small. I didn’t turn into a Pollyanna or anything – I’m far too cynical and sarcastic for that –  but I did enjoy reflecting on my day and finding a moment that made it happy. Some days were easier than others, of course. But I think most people would find that even on the darkest of days, there exists some sliver of happiness.

I randomly picked ten slips of paper to see what made me happy this past year. They were mostly small things, insignificant even. Had I not written them down, I probably would have forgotten they even happened. But as I read these scribbles, I found myself smiling and these moments made me happy for a second time:

  • January 23 – AFTERNOON NAP I love naps. They are decadent, they are relaxing, they always make me happy.
  • February 22 –  LISTENED TO “DEAR EVAN HANSEN” FOR THE FIRST TIME This and “Hamilton” have been life-changing for me and I haven’t even seen them on stage yet – that’s for 2018!
  • March 9 – ONLY ONE EMAIL IN MY INBOX THIS MORNING Is there anything more freeing than not having an onslaught of emails greeting you at the start of your work day?
  • March 31 – FIDDLE LESSON I am a truly horrible fiddle player. My lessons didn’t make my neighbors happy I’m sure, but they did bring me joy.
  • April 15 – LIE IN ON A SATURDAY MORNING ‘Nuff said.
  • May 27 – RAINY DAY IN DUBLIN I’m one of the few who actually likes the weather in Dublin. And I love a cozy, rainy day.
  • September 23 – MY NEPHEW FACETIMED ME SO I COULD WATCH HIM PUT LEGOS TOGETHER Yes, it was beyond boring. But I also loved every mundane second of it.
  • October 16 – RODE OUT THE HURRICANE WITH A FRIEND As natural disasters go, this hurricane proved to be just a windy afternoon spent drinking wine with a friend.
  • November 2 – FRIEND SUPPORTIVE OF PARIS MOVE This person is not only my dear friend but my business partner and her instantaneous support of me when I told her my plans meant the world to me.
  • December 10 – FACETIME CHAT WITH FRIEND As I prepare to leave Dublin, this chat really resonated with me. It was with a friend who left Dublin more than three years ago. The fact that we’ve maintained a close friendship despite living in different countries reassures me that my friends in Dublin will remain a part of my life even when I am in Paris.

It really wasn’t hard to come up with a happy moment every day. Some days, many days, I had a hard time picking just one. It was a nice way to spend the year and I plan to keep up the ritual in 2018.

I hope that all of you have started 2018 with at least one happy moment – hopefully many more. As we all embark on this new year, I’ll leave you with this quote from Ralph Waldo Emmerson:

Write it on your heart that everyday is the best day of the year.

It’s All About the Dash…

A dear friend of mine died last Saturday. Stupid cancer. On Sunday, my friend’s wife posted on Facebook the years of his birth and death, separated by a dash, and underneath the dates was the statement “It’s all about the dash.”

And it really is, isn’t it?

Your birth and death are just dates – it’s what you do with the time in between that really counts. This isn’t an expat thing, it’s a human thing. Though following my dream of being an expat is certainly a big part of my dash. As I prepare to move to Paris (two months from today!), I’ve found myself questioning if I am doing the right thing, if this is the right decision for me. I’m scared. Terrified even. But when I look back on my dash, it’s filled with times when I refused to let fear or uncertainty make my decisions for me so why should I let them start now?

I don’t think any of us starts out aiming to have a dash filled with fear or monotony or playing it safe. I think we all want a dash where we follow our bliss (shout out to Joseph Campbell!), where joy and love lead the way, where we are always learning, and where fun and laughter are commonplace. But when the weight of everyday life bears down, I think it’s easy to lose sight of the dash. We are all guilty of doing things because they are easier or safer or expected. It’s easy to lose sight of what would make us truly happy, of what would make our dash truly exceptional.

Everyone’s dash is different but, in honor of those whose dashes are cut short, make yours what you want it to be. Not what you think it’s expected be. Not what others want it to be. Not what you think is safest or easiest. If you are thinking about doing something, do it. Even if you are scared. Even if you don’t know how things will turn out. Just do it.

It’s the big things. It’s the little things. It’s all the things.

  • Take that vacation.
  • Write that book.
  • Go back to school.
  • Get out of that bad relationship.
  • Get the concert tickets.
  • Let your kids stay home from school just because.
  • Play in the snow.
  • Make the career change.
  • Tell your crush how you feel.
  • Learn that foreign language.
  • Jump in the leaves.
  • Drink the good wine.
  • Run that marathon.
  • Learn to tango.
  • March in that protest.
  • Move to Paris.

Or do something else. Whatever you want. It’s your dash – and that’s what it’s all about.

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Paris, part deux…

Earlier this week, an interview I did about my month in Paris last November was published on the website Bonjour Paris, rather synchronously, as I spend a second extended sojourn in the City of Light.

I have been back in Paris for two weeks and will be here for four more. So far, it’s been fairly awesome. And here are some of the reasons why:

  • My view of the (top of the) Eiffel Tower from the skylight in my bedroom. Most nights, I watch it twinkle at the top of the hour before I go to bed.
  • The fresh flowers and bottles of wine my Airbnb host left for me as a welcome gift.
  • Being here for the May 1st holiday and buying myself some Lilies of the Valley, as tradition dictates.
  • The way the tree outside my living room window sways in even the slightest breeze.
  • The picnic at the Parc du Champ De Mars last Sunday with friends.
  • Having an office to go to in Neuilly-Sur-Seine.
  • Making a restaurant reservation over the phone, in french.
  • One of my best friends in Dublin flying to Paris just to celebrate my birthday with me.
  • The classical music concert at Saint Chapelle with that friend.
  • The “Ça va?” I get from the waiter as I walk by the cafe where I am a regular.
  • Writing jokes in french as part of my language class assignment, and getting laughs from my classmates when I read them out loud.
  • The magical thunder storm on Friday night. I opened my windows wide and just listened and breathed in the air.
  • The dinner party last night where our host made “french mex” (it was delicious!).

Now, I’m off to add enjoy this beautiful day and add to the list.

Bon dimanche à vous!

 

 

 

 

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.