Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Happy anniversary, Paris.

In her essay "On the Contrary, Outside of It," Angela Ingram analyses geographical exile as more often a "getting away from than going to" a place.
With this intention, I came to Paris. Five years ago. To the day. It was a leaving, a leaping forth, from Bloomington, Indiana, where strewn behind me were several immolations of variously-attempted incarnations - a first version of me was as a graduate student in the Music School, then another Masters in the Comparative Literature Department, then, teaching assistant in the Gender Studies Department, finally, a self-styled hybrid of all-of-the-above as a tentative doctoral student. My ticket out was a teaching-exchange program designed to give me time to prepare for my doctoral qualifying exams (successful!) and write my dissertation (still wildly in the air...). Unfortunately, where my adviser's goals were proverbially pragmatic, mine were formulated less as actions items and more as mystical visions - something to do with enlightenment and actualization. I will leave the evaluative distinctions to later posts...
Armed with my French passport (thanks to my embassy-conscientious mother) and Lebanese birthplace, I was ready to be the American abroad, at least, somewhere in between. My patria was America, through my father, so it was through a reverse exmatriation that I returned to my mother's homeland.
Now, five years later, I am confronted with the task of living life less identified with the exodus and more fully rooted in the present. And in the interstices found between ambiguity and ambivalence, I can still uncover the promise of my Paris.

May your library desks and café table tops continue to support the dissertating journey...

(photo by Walter Bibikow)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Springtime in Paris

It is my fifth spring in Paris.

Never one to be very good with chronology, it is still hard to believe that I have been here already so long. I still feel the vertigo of the recently arrived and am always a little surprised to feel the ground sure-footed beneath me. But hauled up from the depths, four journals do testify to the time spent here. Well or not - those are autumnal observations...

Reading the pages between the pastel-colored covers, each is carefully headed with dates and the locations of where each writing took place. They read like the code for a new function on google maps - a way to measure the emotional significance and biographical relevance of a geographical location.

In an entry dated from March 14, 2008 at Le Phare du Canal (appropriately, The Lighthouse on the Canal) during the days when I was living in the 11th arrondissement, I was taking notes on Guy Debord's idea of psychogeography which he described as the study of the specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviors of individuals. Exploring the behavioral impact of this urban place, I can say - three apartments, countless cafés, several continents later - that choosing to make this city my home has been one of my best decisions.

Sending lilac-scented kisses from the heart of Paris,

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


of reading le monde, i am reading le new york times.

instead of writing my dissertation, i am reading about daphne merkin's struggle with her work avoidance and its contextual depression.

but what makes it all worth it is her quotation of writer and psychoanalyst adam phillips: “psychoanalysis is about what two people can say to each other if they agree not to have sex.”


Sunday, August 8, 2010

gravity and grace

"it is necessary to uproot oneself. to cut down the tree and make of it a cross, and then to carry it everyday"
-- simone weil

reading weil's "gravity and grace" on a saturday afternoon, blanket-covered and couch-supported, i am wondering about the splinters from these trees that we carry. carrying her cross was a task that weil did in solitude, a solitary seeker of god's grace, avoiding the comforts of community.

uprooted. cut.

how to use this image of her spiritual pilgrimage to drain the desolation i projected unto these two scenes i witnessed yesterday?

an old lady, sophisticated and lucid, whose loneliness was luminous around her, had attached to the gates of the jardin du luxembourg, above the dusty-green metallic folding chair in which she was sitting, a sign with spidery script: "parlez-moi" ("talk to me")...

as i was running around the jardin des plantes and great mosque in early afternoon, around every loop of my self-created track, i watched a moroccan man dressed in his ceremonial djellaba, ready for friday prayers, seated in the bench facing the mosque with unread book in lap, standing up and sitting down, but never getting the courage to go in...

i am reading weil's book like a map to find an answer to how it is that she transforms solitude into her path to god. in "gravity and grace," she writes: "this is how we have union with god - by not being able to approach him. distance is the soul of beauty."

i am in awe of, and troubled by, this single forest on her back which is her communing rod to the divine. this has always been the splinter, the thorn, that i constantly worry and cannot let alone - how distance, and the solitude that it implies, can contain both what is sublime and what is terrorizing. and i confess that i do not understand, so i will continue reading...

weil also quotes a poem from st. john of the cross:

“What is grace” I asked God.
And He said,
“All that happens.”

i need to continue reading...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

an even later night

the apartment once nestling with visitors from various cities and continents is stilled from its frenzy. in just a few days, i was the trusty ferryman to air and rails. the luxury of having so many of the people that i love in one place, the same one, the epicenter of my heart, has spoiled me. i am betrayed by my melancholy which is dissonant with the glory which is paris in august - the warbling green of the poplars along the river Seine like so many rustling books, the unsuspected magic of the Eiffel Towers' lights strong enough to iron away my carefully-constructed urbanity, the simplicity of a dusk-covering walk while the limestone buildings gloam from golden to opal.

all this glory which was shared so recently with family - these remarkable people which karma has allowed me to travel this life together. the decision to compose this moment of my life abroad, away, is one which has gifted me with magic - or at least awakened me to magic. but it has also stretched the circle which i have to retrace in order to find my steps back home a little further. the distance is dizzying. and in the quietness of moments like this, i fear of tipping, of falling over. the fragility of being upside down. but perhaps, unlike other trees, i could have my roots up in the air. instead of being rooted in the earth, i could be rooted in the sky. displaced but not placeless.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

late night

shared with friends visiting and family meeting - all for the first time. all in my apartment. not much space left. from new york and florida and italy to paris - all of this happening which would not have been imaginable even a short time ago. i feel so grateful and so tired. full of goodness and the gratitude of. still wishing that i can find myself amdist this all.

here's hoping...


via MH

The Journey, by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.