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.

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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.

Houseguest Harmony…

Later on tonight, the daughter of one of my best friends will be arriving in Dublin.  She is in London for a summer semester, and like any good American student abroad, she is taking full advantage of how close the rest of Europe is to her.

I love having houseguests. When I moved to Dublin, I made sure that I rented a two-bedroom place so I could easily have friends and family visit. And in my current house, I actually have TWO guest rooms – they are tiny, to be sure, but still.

The houseguests I have had since moving to Dublin have been pretty awesome and I’ve enjoyed having them. But I have developed a certain “houseguest etiquette” that I’ve come to expect from my guests, and also that they can expect from me.

If you are a guest:

  • DON’T OVERSTAY – You need to remember that you are staying in someone’s home, for free. Don’t take advantage of your host’s generosity but staying longer than is really polite. Unless it’s a very close friend or family member, I would say that 4-5 days is the maximum one should stay in someone’s home. Now of course, I have had people stay with me longer, especially my friends who have come from the States. And that is totally cool – just make absolutely sure that the length of your stay is okay with your host, and use common sense. A few friends who stayed for a week or so took advantage of being in Ireland and did an overnight stay in places like Cork and Galway in the middle of their visit.  That worked great!
  • DON’T EXPECT A TOUR GUIDE – Remember that you may be a tourist in this place, but your host lives and works here – and they need to continue living and working during your stay.  Do not expect them to have planned activities or an itinerary for you. Do not expect them to take you to the tourist sights – I’ve been to the Guinness Brewery more than once, and I don’t need to go again. Be independent. Get out there and see this new city – and when you come back at the end of the day maybe we can go to dinner, or open a bottle of wine and you can tell me what you saw and did.
  • RESPECT THE SPACE – When you are a guest in someone’s home, I think it is important that you respect the space in which you are staying – perhaps more so than you would in a hotel room or your own home. Don’t throw your crap all over the place. Make the bed – even if you don’t normally do it at home. Hang up your bathroom towel. And keep in mind that your host may need to get into your room during your stay. My house is tiny. My sock drawer is in one of the guest rooms and I’m going to need socks during your stay. Chances are, you’ll be sharing a bathroom with your host – so especially in this room, keep it clean. Don’t leave your stuff all over the place, don’t leave globs of toothpaste in the sink, and clean your hair out of the shower drain. Gross, I know – that’s why you should take care of it.
  • THANK YOU – Yes, I am letting you stay in my house and I am happy to have you. But it does feel really good to have your guests show their appreciation for that free stay. A token, however small, is such a nice way to say thank you. I have had guests buy me dinner or some drinks, I’ve had them buy me flowers or pay for an excursion so I could join them. And it doesn’t have to cost a lot. Once, my houseguests replenished my supply of toilet paper because I am neurotic about running out (best thank-you gift ever!). My friend who was studying in Spain, and making no money, showed up with a Barcelona coffee mug and some local candy. If you are visiting from home, ask if there is anything they can’t get and want you to bring. A jar of JIF peanut butter could be a more welcome thank-you gift than solid gold!

And while it is important to be a good houseguest, I think it is equally important to be a good host. So, if you are a host:

  • BE WELCOMING – Don’t make your guest feel like they are a burden or in the way. You told them it was okay for them to stay, so it needs to be okay. I love visiting with my guests over coffee in the morning or wine in the evening and hearing about their plans and all that. Your guest should feel like you are happy to have them there.  And if you aren’t, then don’t agree to their visit.  It’s that simple.
  • DON’T THROW THEM TO THE WOLVES – As I said above, I do not play tour guide to my houseguests but I don’t just set them loose in an unfamiliar city either. I want them to have fun and enjoy themselves. I’m always happy to offer advice on the best way to see Dublin, the must-sees, insider tips, etc. I have a Rick Steves’ Dublin guidebook and a laminated Streetwise Dublin map for them to use. I also have an old pay-as-you-go mobile phone that I keep topped up so my guests can easily reach me, and I walk them to the LUAS the first time so they know where it is in relation to my house. And of course, they get their own set of keys so they can come and go as they please. These are all very small things but I want my guests to be well-informed and ready when they set out to see my city.
  • BE A LENDER – When people stay with me, I always tell them not to worry too much when packing. If they forget something, I’m sure I have it. This is a perk of staying with a friend – you don’t have to go out and buy whatever you need. Run out of shampoo? Just use mine. It’s raining and you didn’t bring an umbrella? I have several, take your pick. Colder than you thought it was going to be? Here, borrow a sweater. What’s mine is yours, at least while you are here.
  • CLEAN – I know not everyone does this and my guests often tell me that I shouldn’t have bothered, but for me, it is absolutely necessary to clean my place when I am having a houseguest. I wouldn’t feel right welcoming someone into my dirty, dusty home. I want them to know I want them here, and I think this is a small way to make that apparent. Plus, it gives me the excuse I need to actually, you know, dust.

So, there you have it. Be a good guest, be a good host, everyone wins.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll really do need to get to that dusting…

Enjoying the nows…

Forever is composed of nows.

– Emily Dickinson

I bought my 2015 date book (or diary, as they call it here in Ireland) this week. I haven’t yet been able to let go of my paper week-at-a-glance planner for the electronic equivalent – maybe some day but I’m not there yet. I love buying my new planner each year. I love the crisp, white, blank pages that are full of nothing but possibilities.

The thought of the upcoming new year has brought me back to the list of 10 Things That People Who Love Their Lives Are Doing Differently that I have talked about in previous posts. Number nine on the list is “They live in the moment but dream in the future.” And this has absolutely defined my life since I moved to Dublin and started this expat adventure. Of course, there is a fine line between dreaming in the future and obsessing about the future and sometimes I do indeed need to remind myself of that.

During my two years in Dublin, I have often mentioned that I can’t think more than two to three years into the future without freaking out. So, I have decided to stop trying to see into the future and concentrate on the now. I think I have done a better job of living in the moment this past year than probably any other year of my life.

This was a year of changes that I could have freaked out about but I didn’t. I no longer have the job that brought me to Dublin and while that definitely pissed me off, I somehow knew that I would be okay. And, honestly, I turned out to be way more than okay. The opportunities I’ve had since leaving that first job have been amazing – a creative development position doing a bunch of creative stuff with crazy talented creative people at a different studio in Dublin, a writing and story editing position at that first studio, and a Show Runner position on a pilot with a UK company for an American network. Not too shabby.

I thought I was going to be pretty much unemployed by December but, while I’m not working as many hours as I was, I am a lot busier than I thought I would be. I chose not to worry about it and things have worked out.  And I’m choosing not to worry about my job situation come 2015. I just have a feeling that, again, it will work out and I’ll keep moving on this upward trajectory.

But I am still dreaming in the future. There are things I want for the coming year – places I want to travel to, creative projects I want to start (and finish!), personal goals that I want to reach. I will allow myself to dream about these things but also take active steps to achieve them.

I think expats have more reason to stress about the future than most people – we don’t know how long we are going to be where we are, we don’t know where we might go next, we lose friends who go onto their next expat adventure quite often… there’s a lot to obsess and fret about if one chooses to. But better to chose not to, don’t you think? Yes, expats have uncertain futures but their “now” is really special, and better to spend your time living in these incredible moments than worrying about what comes next.

What does 2015 have in store for me? I have no idea. But I’ve got a blank planner that I can’t wait to fill up. And whatever happens, I’m not sweating it.