Living the Dream


It is currently four thirty pm, or 1630h, depending on how you look at it.

I am sitting in Odette and Aime, a café on the corner of Rue Bellefond and Rue Maubege, in Paris, France.  If you were to have told me that at this time last year I would be writing in a café in Paris, I would have told you to go smoke another hit off the crack pipe.

I had no idea I would be here.  Here, sitting in a corner of a café with carnation red painted walls and the soft jumble of French verbs being spoken, correctly, around me.  I would not have believed you.  Oh, I would have desperately wanted to believe you, I would have given my eyeteeth to believe you, but I would not have believed you regardless.

Now, add onto that I just came from a swim at the local pool—Paul Valeyre Picine—I would have been absolutely incredulous.  Almost appalled at you and your teasing and how dare you even allow me to dream that sort of scenario.

But that is exactly the reality of my day, this day, this Sunday in Paris.

Last year at this time I was struggling with what I was supposed to be doing, where I was supposed to be going, where I was living, and the job that I was working—goddamnit I am thirty-nine, my life was supposed to look different.

I made a leap and decided that I no longer wanted to be a nanny.  I was done.  I had come to that conclusion while at Burning Man walking out from Center Camp toward the Man base from the six o’clock keyhole.  My life, I like to remind myself at this thought, does not look like a lot of 39 year olds or 40 year olds or any other year olds when it gets right down to it.  I am the one that imposes the “it is supposed to look like this”—then I compare and begin the despair.

I was with some dear friends and I expressed to one of them that I could not do it any longer.  I was done.  Ironically, I was not done, I still provide childcare, one of the few ways to make money in Paris without work papers, but I have a much different take on it then I did at that time.  I was miserable with the families I worked for and despite being paid quite well and living in a beautiful one bedroom apartment all to myself in Nob Hill, one and a half blocks away from Grace Cathedral in San Francisco with a view that you see only in the movies, or from my front door; I was isolated and despondent in my work.

I shared this at Burning Man.  Saying it aloud helped.  I then and there made the decision to quit.  I went to look into school, graduate school, make up school, accounting school, I checked out a lot of different programs.  I chased my tail in circles.  I ended up taking a job at a specialty bicycle shop.  I became their Operations Liaison, a fancy name for shop girl, at yes, the magical age of 39.

I learned that I was good at the job and I rapidly advanced.  However, I was not making half the money I had been.  I lost the one bedroom in Nob Hill and I struggled to find another place to live.  I stayed for ten days at the home of a family in Potrero Hill I had nannied for; then housesat for another friend when she was in China on a work project.  I couch surfed for a month at another friends home, ah the sense of humor the Universe has, it was two blocks up the road from my former apartment in Nob Hill.

Again I berate myself.  What am I doing?  I am 39, isn’t it time to grow up?

I finally landed in my own place, February of last year, a tiny in-law in the back of a Mexican family’s home in the Mission on Folsom Street.  I had my own entry way and my own bathroom.  I rigged out a tiny kitchenette in the bathroom, smashed a desk in a corner of the bedroom, and had a friend install a bike rack for my fixed gear in the bathroom.

I got by.  I continued to do the one thing that I do now, despite it all, and the one thing that should I allow myself to acknowledge has carried me through the mess of myself, writing.  I wrote a lot.  I wrote some more.  I blogged daily.

I lost my cats.

One went to Animal Care and Control.

Once went to a friend of a friends home in Alameda.

Every move I made I felt like I was losing something, space, clothing, artwork and photographs in storage, a painting I sold back to a friend in Wisconsin.

My world “seemed” smaller and smaller and I wondered, what was I doing, now “age 39” began to be a whip I beat myself with, working at a bicycle shop in the Mission riding a one speed I designed and getting tattoos of stars on my neck.  I had no boyfriend.  No lover.  No career.  No space.  I was at a loss as to how to proceed.  Had I quit the being a nanny for this?  At least it had been a “career” of sorts.

It was now April 2012, I was in the back of a café in the Mission, Ritual, sitting on a black leather couch having an Americano with a friend and mentor.  I was complaining about my job and what my life should look like at this age, 39.  What was I doing wrong?  This is not what I want. How do I get more?

He looked at me with wide eyes and said, “Well, what do you want to do, Carmen?”

My eyes misted and I sighed, “I don’t know, I just don’t know.”

“Yes you do!” He barked at me.  “What do you want to do, Carmen?”  He demanded, “you do know.”

I was so startled by this, the words flew from my mouth, “I want to travel and write and take photographs.”

“So travel and write and take photographs,” he said.   Then a pause, he crossed his legs waiting for me to respond, sighed, and finished, “what are you afraid of?”

“I don’t have any money,” I said the tears now fully formed rolled down my face.

“So what, do it anyway, darlin’ one thing I know,” he drawled, “one day you’re going to wake up and be 85 and wonder why didn’t I go move to Paris when I had the chance.”

“You won’t ever go hungry, all you have to do is ask.”  He settled back into the couch sipping a glass of water.  I could feel his eyes peering over the edge of the cup at me, holding his tongue, waiting for my response.

“Fine,” I said, “fine!“ I repeated.  “I will do it.”

It was the culmination of decades in one sentence, in one moment, I just took a deep breath and I leapt.  I began to plan for Paris.

Making the decision was harder than actually walking onto the plane in November of this past year.  Yet, once I made the decision, things began to fall into place.

A dear friend once told me that if it was meant to be it would all happen simply, that I could not ‘fuck it up’.  Conversely if it was not meant to be, I could not manipulate it into happening.

Paris was meant to be.

All the things I thought I had lost were in fact being taken away from me to lighten my load and enable my travels.  I got on the plane with a roll on suitcase and my fixed gear in a box I checked at the gate.

I realized my dream and turned 40 in Paris.

I still don’t know what I am doing and I am now 40.

I say that with some tongue in cheek.  I know what I am doing in the present moment and in this moment I am doing just fine.  I do not look 40, but I do not think I have ever looked any age and when I allow myself to not “look” or “act” my age, I just get to be me, Carmen, a writer in Paris.

Who cares what age I am here?

I am here.

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One Response to “Living the Dream”

  1. ReB Says:

    Kudos for having the courage to change ur unhappy life. How I wish I could. U inspired me to make small changes, to think “why not” and do the things I wanna truly do.

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