I look like Esmeralda today.
Or maybe—you know—her long lost black cousin.
I want to wear sneakers so my look is less obvious, because leather strappy sandals say a lot. ‘Jerusalem sandals,’ they’re called. I’ve owned two pairs since I was nineteen or twenty—and these are my second pair.
When I was in Marseille I dropped one in the sea, and by some miracle of life, it did not float away.
I feel like I can look weird in Lille: it’s a college town, and people here are weird. I saw a dog yesterday with eyes so black, he must have been from another world.
The woman who owns the studio that is my Airbnb doesn’t live here, and I’m irrationally upset about it. I want to stay in a home, not a box full of Ikea furniture. I think I’m really upset because I can’t sample her beauty products and olive oil. Adrian, my host in London, had fabulous taste. He was a photographer and art was littered everywhere. Even his olive oil was artistic.
Maybe I’ll buy a candle to spruce up the place.
I’m in that really scary place where I know exactly where I want to be, but have no idea how to get there.
When I was nineteen, I asked myself what it was I wanted to be. I had just finished my sophomore year at Penn, as well as my first creative writing class. Up until that point, I didn’t know what I’d be, but science was an option; law was more realistic. I got out a notebook and wrote the question down—In ten years, where do you see yourself?
A vision: sitting at a desk in the countryside, writing.
I wanted to be a writer.
I felt at peace. Then, I felt terrified. What does being a writer even mean? What would I even write? Novels, screenplays? I could barely finish a paper, let alone a large body of work. And what about money? So few are successful at it. I thought of my future children—would they have to suffer because I had the gall to dream myself a writer? Writing, or any profession in the arts, was for people who could afford to fail. I looked around my bedroom in upstate New York: the carpet was faded and dead flies peppered the window sill black. I couldn’t afford to fail.
In ten years, where do you see yourself?
I took the paper out of my notebook, and ripped it in half. Again, and again, and again. Maybe my children could be writers, I thought, painters and poets, too. But I will be a lawyer.
It’s been five years since then, and I am currently not a lawyer.
I am in a bistro in Lille, and I am eating alone. I always thought that eating alone in France would feel particularly alienating, but the beauty is that no one gives a fuck. I spent half of my morning (and let’s be real, my day) hating Lille. It feels more like a town, or a banlieu of Paris. My morning search for coffee in the mall felt uncomfortably pedestrian.
Get me the f*ck out of here, I thought. The wifi in my apartment barely works, and I don’t really care to explore the town. I looked up Airbnbs in Brussels, then realized how irrational that plan was.
Well I guess I’ll write.
And so that’s where I now find myself—back in my apartment with the window wide open, writing; working on a draft of something I surely intend to finish.
Be careful what you wish for, I think with a smile. Because when I planned this trip, I saw myself sitting at a desk, with nothing to do but write. And I’ve been writing, but only here and there.
It will be a writer’s retreat, I told myself. I want to discover what type of writer I really am. I will sit at a desk with the window wide open, and I will write.
And it would seem that dreams really can come true.