Excerpts From Living in Translation
Essays of Loving, Leaving and Living in Foreign Tongues: Miscommunication, All in Translation
It was as if I had something I needed to prove to myself. That no matter how hard I tried, I convinced myself that I could return to Paris and create a life.
I suppose that not everything has to go according to plan. That even when you feel incredibly confident about your decision to move back abroad, work as a self-employed creative and rebuild your life - things can easily crack at the surface and spread for miles.
I have to keep telling myself that I didn’t fail. That instead of viewing my imminent departure from Paris as yet another opportunity that bit the dust, that I tried and tried and tried and finally decided to try a new route.
I never imagined that my life in Paris would consist of sitting in my small 5th arrondissement apartment, writing blog articles. I didn’t imagine that most days would be spent alone, in the confines of this small studio - working to save money for the occasional weekend outing.
A life of minimal social interaction due to the high costs of cafe bouncing and working for wifi.
The strangeness of working by myself is that I never really feel alone.
I scurry up the spiral staircase past my landlady, Madame Rosa, in hopes of not letting her know which apartment is mine.
I am hiding in my small studio, as I sublet from another American friend who sings at the Opera Bastille - we have worked out an agreement that is somewhat taboo in Parisian living culture. I pay her rent and she lets me live in her studio, an arrangement only described as “pas possible.”
The First Time in French
I first moved to Paris in the summer of 2016, to work as an au pair for a Parisian family settled in the 15th arrondissement. A trying and testing feat of caring for 4 enfants (le children en Francais), picking them up from school, rushing through the city to attend activities, practicing their American style English and preparing their meals of evening sustenance. A position that proved to be anything but easy - was my first taste of what it meant to live amongst the Parisians.
I found the job on a website called Au Pair World. A space home to the young, twenty-somethings across the world who wanted to escape the entanglements of reality, hoping to dive into the realm of cultural immersion - to build a life within a foreign society. The site was full of families in every destination imaginable, looking for someone to be the keeper of their children while offering their new visitor a room, transportation, amenities and even pocket money for nights of European exploration.
Speak to Me in English One More Time
In Paris, I am unintelligent. I speak in broken sentences, within one singular tense of the present, unable to properly express myself. My thoughts and feelings are tangled into the mess that is my brain, attempting to eradicate the tendencies of my mother tongue as I acquire a new form of expression.
In Paris, speaking French is a jigsaw where none of the pieces seem to fit.
How To Tackle the Death of Originality
As a creator, the internet is king. It is the end all, be all to sharing your work. It is a tool with such power, such potential to reach hundreds and thousands of people with the push of a button. Yet, in a world where technology pulls the strings and plays puppet master to our creative musings — how are we keeping our ideas alive and original? Is anything we see today truly a unique concept, thought or piece of art? Or have we all played into the hands of an oversaturated market, driven by our desire to ignite and spark a creative revolution? Let’s talk about keeping originality alive.
Figure Out What Inspires You
When I talk of inspiration, I do not mean pulling out your laptop and scrolling through curated lists of images, mood boards or articles that are already found on social media platforms. When we say we use these sites for “inspiration” we are in fact using them for “ideas” to recreate because we like what we see. Although this can be a useful tool to work from, inspiration needs to be an organic process that comes from experience, visual stimulation and mental rest.
To find inspiration these days can be difficult when everything revolves around a screen. Yet, on the other hand, such an accessibility to varying types of media can prove to be beneficial to the creator. Inspiration can come from watching films, listening to music, reading books and having experiences (so, go out there and live ya life!). But really, using creative and artistic pursuits as inspiration are much more unique than looking at someone else’s video, photograph or piece of art and saying “I want my work to look like that.” Instead of attempting to replicate, we need to digest the core meaning, emotion and purpose of what affects us.
Watch a film and take note of the fashion, the emotional reactions, the mannerisms of the characters or the color of the visuals. Listen to a song and dissect the lyrics, find the ebbs and flows of the melody and write down how it makes you feel. Read a book and pick out the words that challenge you and create something that represents this vocabulary — pull apart, rearrange and stick back together the elements that cause you to feel a stroke of genius.
Do Not Aim for Perfection
I’ve always admired individuals who could speak multiple languages, were well versed at various musical instruments or who could pretty much excel at any creative pursuit they attempted. It wasn’t until recently that I began to understand that I could be just as well equipped and artistically inclined as these individuals, if only I put aside one aspect: perfection.
When thinking and conjecturing potential ideas, the concept of doing it right or perfect seems to create boundaries that limit us from acting. When we want to build something specific and we cannot seem to create that the first time around, we become discouraged and place the idea on the back burner. Instead of putting our thoughts on hold, for those better results, look at each project as a beginning, not an end. Just because your work is not at the same level as someone else or you aren’t quite getting the calls for that ideal job — it does not mean you are failing in your craft.
Our thoughtfulness and creativity breaks when we strive too much toward perfection or toward an idea of what we think will be well received by our intended audience. Although it is important to have purpose, we should not let aesthetics, cohesiveness or brand alignment be the driving force of what we share. In order to be original and to hold onto the ideas that you want to display as a creator — you must be willing to ditch the idea of being the best, the most liked or shared when starting off. Find what makes you tick, where your creativity thrives and develop your style with trial and error. Eventually, you will see your work change and grow into something that is specific and natural to you — something that people will begin to notice you for.
Test Out Different Mediums of Creating
This idea holds true not only for the creative community, but for anyone who is willing to test how far their mind can reach. As humans, we use a minuscule portion of our brain (about 10% of its actual capacity) — yet, with such a small percentage we are capable of achieving and excelling at a variety of endeavors. Stretching your brain and comfortability, is a key part of growing if you hope to remain tact and sharp.
To flex those muscles, test out different mediums that are outside of your primary tools. For example, if you are a photographer (like me) test your capacities by writing, using the camera to make videos (which is actually a completely different way of visualizing) or take up an instrument.
This method has been used often by those in creative ruts. When the expression and flow of ideas have come to a halt, it is advised to change the routine and find something new to discover. Although you may not excel at this new medium, the purpose is not for it to replace your current craft, but to reinforce your ability to think, act and analyze tools outside of your comfort zone.
Spend Less Time Explaining and More Time Creating
I can say with confidence that any creator, entrepreneur, business man/woman or critical thinker goes through a period of trying to explain their ideas. Whether you are attempting to provide insight, offer an alternate view or just express your passion on your terms — an over explanation can lead to frustrations, self doubt or lack of motivation.
The hard truth is that not everyone will understand your idea. In fact, many will be confused, perplexed or even put off by a concept at its first conception. A product of varying mindsets and understanding, ideas are rarely ever well received at their beginnings. It is important to not let one person’s belief affect your process.
Instead of talking about your project, idea or art piece — just keep creating. Once you have worked through the grittiness and underlying development of your work, it will start to speak for itself. An original idea should be brand new — something that may cause confusion or misunderstanding. That is the point! Spark a conversation, start a movement, build, create and mold something that people will have stop and comprehend.
How do you think people reacted to the idea of placing a piece of glass, wires and mechanics to your ear to speak to someone in another city, state or country? Would you believe that the idea of sitting in hunks of metal and pressing a pedal would result in traveling at speeds incapable by the limbs of a common man? No great idea, invention or concept makes sense at first — but, that never means we should stop creating them.
The World Doesn’t Care About Your Art
“But, that doesn’t mean you should stop creating.”
I care too much about what others think of my work. A perfectionist at the core, I place an intense amount of pressure on myself to create what I consider to be “good work.” I have an appetite for impatience, wanting things to happen in an instant and even when I achieve results, I find myself slightly dissatisfied.
I recently heard a thoughtful comparison to creating art in relation to the work of Leonardo Da Vinci. As a painter, his masterpieces took him years to create and finish —the Mona Lisa took four years to create and he even kept the painting to himself in secret for years after — his artworks were true labors of love, made with specific intention and meticulousness. Back in his time, art wasn’t a necessity to society — but rather a form of expression and passion for creative minds. He didn’t create it because he thought people would swoon over his work, he created it out of love for the craft.
In today’s artistic landscape, we could take a few notes from the mindset of Leonardo Da Vinci. In our age of content overload, does creating art for the sake of art still exist? Or are we creating in order to stay relevant, fresh and available to the eyes of our peers?
Art Isn’t a Mass Commodity
I frequently wonder about how much content I consume on a daily basis. I would consider myself a mild user of online spaces — with a profile on a few social networks, a consistent stream of email chains and active on platforms for publishing — I’d calculate that I ingest a decent amount of visual and written work.
In the space of online media, it’s apparent that the amount of content produced has led us into a world of sameness. Every day I see images or read headlines that tend to feel all to familiar. Haven’t I seen that image before or already read an article on this? So, maybe it’s not an argument of how much content is produced, but rather why we have shifted into a period of producing pieces of work and art that scream blatant repetition.
In case you can’t remember, there was a world before technology existed. Where photographers had to print their work and show it in person to interested clients and writers caught breaking stories, drafted them on their typewriter and brought them to the printer for the publication’s hard copy. Although you can argue that technology has simply made the process easier, it comes with the ramifications of heightened urgency.
We want our content as soon as yesterday. Yet, this never ending wheel of content creation is the catalyst to the repetitiveness. For some reason, we feel a need to be pushing out virtually every day for fear of being left behind, being an artist placed on the back burner.
Art was never meant to be a mass commodity. Creative works whether in photographic, physical and written forms were meant to be crafted with thoughtfulness, intellect and over a period of time. In fact, doesn’t a work of art lose its value when it’s readily available and no longer a rare, distinct piece? Imagine if we could all own the Mona Lisa in our homes, would we still find it to be worthy of admiration?
With the technological advances that have developed in the last few decades, the art world has shifted into a place of desensitization. With an aggressive increase in exposure, it can be difficult to find a creative work that triggers true emotion and a sense of originality. And with such a vast compilation of work that we’ve seen a few too many times before, there comes a hard truth — the world doesn’t care about your art.
You Still Have to Create
I’m just as culpable as the next artist, creating works in both visual and written spaces that suffer from this plague of sameness. And more times than none, I look at my portfolio and think “No one really cares about what I’m putting out into the world. I bet my mom is the only one who looks and reads my work.” And maybe, this is true.
But, even in a world where everything has begun to blend together — you still have to create. It may be true that there are no more original ideas left, but that doesn’t mean you can’t continue to push this notion and find a unique perspective.
As a collective, humankind may just be becoming more apathetic. We may just care less about everything exterior to our own endeavors and as a general whole, be less impressed by the content we are exposed to. And even though this may feel detrimental, we need to try to view this as a side effect of technological change, not a permanent setback.
If you start with the mindset that no one cares whether or not you create your art, then you won’t produce based on someone else’s opinion or feedback. You will create solely for yourself. In a world where artistic recognition has been translated to followers and social media popularity — it’s important to remember that your art matters.
Whether you produce for yourself, for your mom, for a few friends or even for a dedicated base of loyal followers — what you create is worthy of sharing. Take a note from Leonardo Da Vinci and grind on your creations in silence, invest the time and produce art that speaks to your skill set. Ignore the noise that urges you to produce in massive quantities just to satisfy the madness of a socially impatient generation. Forget about likes, comments or shares and focus on the quality of your work.
Create images you are passionate about, write that jarring essay — realize that desensitization and apathy are bi-products of a machine and not by the true essence of humanity. The world may not care about your art, but you do — and that is more than enough.
Dating in the Digital Age
I’m pretty sure that I don’t know how to date.
I’ve had what you could define as a few “typical” relationships: some boyfriends, casual flings, guys that said they’d call, but never did, boys that became borderline stalkers — the usual spectrum of potential romantic interests.
It’s not so much that I lack experience, but more along the lines that I really have no clue what I’m doing.
You’re probably thinking, it’s not that hard — two people meet, they like each other and continue to see one another until they either breakup, seriously commit or choose to get married — simple right?
Yes, it should be that simple. Yet, in today’s modern dating atmosphere things have become what I consider to be complicated. With the introduction of dating applications, we have drastically changed the way that we meet one another. We have essentially altered the human experience, widening the gap between meaningful, organic interactions toward a world of calculated, handpicked romance.
Maybe I Believe in Destiny?
Call me old fashioned, but I prefer to meet people in real life. This isn’t to say that the dating online doesn’t work for some people, I have had plenty of friends and acquaintances recount their tales of love through the internet — but I’m not convinced that it works for me.
It’s probably because I’m all about the story — the writer in me can’t properly articulate a well crafted tale based on the algorithmic action of swiping left or right. The idea of my relationship thrives off of its conception — where and how we met and what actions transpired to turn this friendly encounter into something more.
To me, the idea of meeting someone in real life as a result of my daily actions speaks to the person I am. It allows me to realize that the decisions and choices I make have purpose and reason — I suppose in a subtle way, it’s a note to my belief in destiny.
I can admit I’m a romantic, looking at the world through rosy perspective — but I do think that through the mess that is life, people have a way of finding one another. Does that happen by the way of technological dating? I’m not quite convinced.
Dating Apps Take Away the Mystery
The main issue I find with dating online is the calculated nature of it. Using a dating app, you are sifting through hundreds of profiles in a short period of time. With most applications being visually triggered, a few pictures and very little personal information, you are essentially choosing someone based only on the way that they look. It is vanity at its finest.
Once you match with one or several potential suitors, the next step is to strike up a conversation. An act that can make you want to crawl out of your skin, initiating inner dialogues that go something like this:
I think I’ll start with Hey, how are you? Will that be coming off too strong? What if he gets scared off? I don’t want to be embarrassed.. Maybe I’ll just wait for him to start the conversation…
This isn’t just the case for women, men are just as culpable of being nervous to make the move. And why is that so? We have situated ourselves behind two screens, removing any inkling of the awkward, discomforts of human to human interaction. Yet, we still find ourselves playing chicken?
But let’s say you finally muster up the confidence to reach out. You talk for a bit and eventually decide to meet up. You coodinate place and time, looking forward to your new encounter with a stranger. Maybe this dating thing isn’t so bad after all?
In the days of technology free dating, you met someone and had the ability to get to know them in person. There were no background checks or social media stalking prior to the first date. You didn’t have the skewed luxury of learning everything you possibly can from their online presence before ever talking with them face to face.
With online dating, the process of curating our love interests sucks the mystery out of the experience. We select and choose with such precision that we leave no room for the unexpected — no possibility that the person we may meet is much cooler in person than on the Internet.
Are We More Lonely Than Ever?
The idea of dating online was conceptualized to make the process easier, more accessible in a busy world. It was targeted to the people who didn’t have the time to meet someone, for the people whose daily schedules didn’t leave room for romance.
The idea in its infancy appears to be with good intention, but as humans when given an inch we take a mile. With the abundance of available people, the possibility of always finding someone better — we have become addicted to idea the endless choices. Essentially, brainwashed to think that greener grass can be found in only just one swipe away.
In a pursuit for better relationships, we have created an adverse affect of aggressive loneliness. We go out less and log on more. Finding ourselves sitting at home on a weekend night, carefully selecting who we want to meet. We close ourselves off from the opportunity of natural encounters because we can’t seem to loosen the hold of our devices.
If we’re this technologically dependent now, what will dating look like in 5, 10, 15 years? Will random occurrences with perfect strangers be a thing of the past? Will love be expressed solely through our screens? I don’t think I want to know the answer.
And so, what if my idea of dating doesn’t fit into this new wave of applications and online profiles? I still hold on to the idea that organic encounters exist, that love can be found outside the realms of my device. Does this make me an unsuitable candidate for romantic entanglements? Not at all. It only makes the idea of meeting someone the old fashioned way, in the movements of daily life that more exhilarating.
Cigarette on the Balcony
It is around nine o’clock on a Sunday night as I stand at my tiny stovetop cooking dinner — huddled in a pair of comfy sweats and a cream cardigan stirring a pan of onion, garlic and bell peppers. The sun is on the verge of retreating, as I can see out the corner of my delicate window — a view that looks out into the courtyard of worn Parisian structures in the 15th arrondissement.
As the steam rises, an aroma of grilled vegetables fills the small flat in which I live, I grab the knobs of the window to allow for some smoke to escape. Within a brief moment, the sky has shifted from pastel shades to a crisp black, illuminating the windows exuding light across the way. The courtyard is a series of alternating boxes, some twinkle while others remain silent in the dark. The vegetables have a few more minutes to reach edibility, so I stir once more and find myself back at the window counting the squares of light as if they were buttons in an elevator. Down and up, left and right — the pan sizzles and oil splatters the counter. I pour the contents into the pan, already stuck with pasta, mixing to finish off my late dinner.
I sit down at the plastic table, a young girl’s replacement for a proper dining area and shift through the tasteless meal. I recall having a bottle of wine in the fridge — red, cheap and potentially expired — I twist off the wine stopper and pour until the bottle is empty, glass almost filled to the brim. Across the way a series of lights flicker on flashing beams in my direction, followed by muffled chatter and laughter that echoes off the concrete. I can hear distant French murmurs as the silhouette of a woman pulls open the windows of her fourth floor flat.
And even though I know better, I find myself fixating on the open window where the woman stands — unable to break the wall of visual contact.
The movements of the people in the apartment became my dinner entertainment. As I sat, scooping pasta and alternating gulps of sour Bordeaux, I watched and listened as the figures graced around the well lit room. Echoes of clanking silverware on glass plates, an indication that they too were preparing for a later meal — the far fetched strings of commonality.
And minutes later, the sounds of their voices retreated as they moved into another room and away from the courtyard’s chamber. My spectacle had ended, as did the last bite of sustenance. I gathered the single dish and glass stained with drops of deep burgundy, placed them into the sink and adding drops of liquid magic — the upside of dinner for one, minimal post-meal cleanup. Water filled the sink creating suds of lemon scented bubbles, I scrubbed off the last bit of burnt oil and lay the items on the counter to dry. Eat, bathe, bed — the nightly routine — a sort of monotony that bordered childhood regression.
As I went to the window to shut the shade, hoping to spare my neighbors with a truly intimate glimpse into my life and undergarments, a silhouette of a figure approaches the window of the mysterious flat — a dark haired, slender woman appeared in the frame.
Pushing away the curtains to allow the night air in, she looks back as if to inform her guests of her absence. Pulling a lighter from below, she places the cigarette between her lips and ignites the flame — spark, spark, fume. She pushes back her hair and places her index and middle around its base, her cheeks sunken in as she inhales — a puff of rounded air releasing as she exhaled. She continues this dance as she stares out with a blank, empty gaze among the lines of apartments stacked within the courtyard; it was as if she was releasing a sort of stress, of energy — a true indulgence of nicotine habits.
I watch each hit with such detail, with such precision as the bud began to wither between her fingers. She stands there — a display of prominence and assertion, her face left imprints of simple, natural beauty. As I lunge to pull down my shade, a noise that reverberates to the opposite side of the courtyard, the woman turns her attention to face me, standing in my window frame, without cigarette in hand.
Her facial expression remains the same, just a shift in her perspective as our eyes meet — an encounter among two complete strangers. Neither of us back down in shyness or fear. We stand in our windows, staring with soft intent, feeling the weight of each other’s loneliness.
She enters with ease into the small room that I call home, a petite chambre and I wonder how susceptible I had made my movements visible to her. As nights before this, my window lay open allowing the room to breathe and even when the windows lay shut — the curtains, delicate and transparent, allow the surrounding eyes to wander into my space.
And as she stares, with such precision and clarity, I wonder what else she has seen from across the way.
The countless nights that I have prepared dinner for one,
My one woman show, a figure dancing and jumping around the room, headphones blasting with music in my ears,
The echo of my voice when I call my mom, my sister, my friends back home,
My layers of warmth, of lace, of skin.
And as the last bit of the bud loses its flame, she breaks her focus — flicking the remainder off the balcony onto the ground below. Without any form of goodbye, without acknowledging my presence, she turns to return back to her home full of guests — stepping inside and in a swift instant disappears into the shadow of the foyer.
And again, I find myself alone, hands perched delicately on the window sill.
I pull down my shade, undress and turn the nozzle as hot water spews gently from above.