Tough Love?

Tough Love?

I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.

~Bill Bryson

When you are living in the city you’ve grown up in, there is a lot that you take for granted. Without ever being aware of their presence and without ever knowing what they do, day in and day out you see faces you have seen all your life. It may me the helper in the local grocery shop or the man who brings his kids to your neighbourhood park. You may not know them, but they’re familiar faces in a familiar place.

When you are living in the city you’ve grown up in, you’ve got it all figured out— from your doctor to your favourite restaurant— everything is on your tips. You’ve got your friends and your family and your sense of security.

But now you’re moving abroad and in one magnificent swoop, everything is gone.

You have to start over. Find a new doctor. A new salon. A new coffee shop.

Find new friends and create your life from the scratch.

It’s a nice fantasy to think that you will always be ready to boldly sprint through the cobbled streets of Paris (or any other city). But it is not realistic. If you’re like most people, you will spend the first few days doing what you absolutely have to do, then come home to the apartment you don’t recognise and feel sorry for yourself.

Moving abroad has been romanticised so much in popular culture, that expats feel immense pressure to present a rosy picture from the moment they land on foreign soil. But, the expat life doesn’t come without challenges and it almost never goes as planned. Things that might seem simple at home transform into nerve-wracking challenges when you’re struggling with a new language. You’re going to have to change how you do basic things and you’re going to have to be okay with that.

Bottom line: there is nothing wrong with being anxious, confused or scared. Making another city your home is not easy, and for the most of us it doesn’t happen on day one. It’s a process and it takes its time.

So I figured I would try to put together a list of things I did to make myself at home.

(I’m still in the process, by the way)

#1 Take initiative

One of the best things about moving abroad is that it forces you to take initiative. To go out, to voluntarily present yourself to people. If you stay holed-up in your new home, don’t reach out to people and don’t make things happen, then the isolation will stick around. Accept that isolation might be a temporary phase but sooner or later you will have to shake it off. Otherwise you run the risk of plunging deeper and deeper into the loop of hopelessness. And you don’t want that.

#2 Bring back the familiar

Make an effort to explore your neighbourhood, know your town and join some groups. Learn to find your way without google maps. Find good coffee shops. You don’t have to make huge commitments, just take baby steps, and very quickly the place will feel more familiar and those feelings of isolation will fade.

#3 Ditch FaceTime

Do not waste your weekends on FaceTime or Facebook. Waiting earnestly by the computer for old friends to contact you is neither attractive nor healthy when creating a new life for yourself. You want to stay connected to your past, but it can totally stunt your social growth in the life you’re currently living if you spend every waking minute talking to people back home.

#4 Make friends from other nationalities

Do not ignore people from other nationalities. The idea is to find your kind of people, people you have things in common with, not people from your nationality. If you are only going to stick around with people from your own country what is the point of moving abroad anyway.

#5 Think

I moved to Paris without really thinking about the consequences. I left my friends, family and my personal possessions back in India and came to Paris with a dream. I thought my life would undergo profound changes as soon as stepped out of Charles de Gaulle. That didn’t happen and I was shattered. For a long time I was even disappointed with myself (I still am). Understand that the transformation of unknown into known is a process that takes its own course and time.

In the end, an expat can have two homes or none. and it’s up to you to decide which way to go.


How was your experience of moving abroad? 

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On Escaping Blackholes

I do not possess canny sagacity in my little head. Neither am I capable of stringing pearls of wisdom from the little experience I’ve had with life. But I’ve had some extremely profound learnings lately that I would like to share.

Those who know me are aware that I had a tumultuous year. My life was subject to an endless stream of changes that I could not accommodate. The weight of the idea of making the most of my new life bogged me down. But now that I’ve had sometime to reflect on my mistakes, I can articulate them in a better fashion and learn from them.

I victimised myself endlessly and truly believed that I was the victim of unfair circumstances. How could I not? Everything was going against me. I was finding it extremely difficult to connect with people in my new surroundings. I hated to be kicked out of my nest. I, a tiny bird whose wings were incapable of flying, was in free fall. I hated to be exposed to the harsh outside world. Like a tender bud— uprooted and caught in a tornado.

In retrospect, I can say that I was refusing to loosen the old connections that were so dear to me. Everywhere I went I looked for familiarity. But I was 8000 mi from home in a city I’d never been before. How could I find familiarity? I was looking for things and people to call my own. But I refused to put any effort into making this place my own.

Once hopelessness sets in, it is extremely hard to shake off. Just as success begets success, hopelessness begets hopeless. It grows on you like a parasite until it is the only thing you feel. In my case, hopelessness eventually extended to all areas of life. Areas I was previously good at. My grades suffered. I felt undeserving of love and my relationship suffered. I lost my appetite and my health suffered. I suffered. At night when I lay in bed, I felt myself sinking down this bottomless blackhole from where there was no escape. I lost my sleep. I became adept at indulging in self destructive behaviour. I let go of whatever little social life I had. That gave me more time to think about how miserable I am and compounded the very problem I was trying to escape.

It took me a tremendous amount of courage to tell my parents that I need help. It took me almost a year to come back to myself. To start reclaiming my life. To stop ducking at the changes that life was throwing at me. To stop feeling sorry for myself. To stop victimising myself.

A year is a long time to be away from yourself. I missed myself and I am happy to be back home. I was gone for so long what the wooden floors now creak differently that what I remember. And sometimes I cannot even tell where the switchboard is. Everything feels new and different. But my rose-rimmed glasses were exactly where I had left them. And Honestly, I haven’t stopped smiling since I picked them up and put them on again.

I realise now how I see the world matters. How I react to circumstances matters. How I see my life matters. The difference between a broken heart and a broken bone is that I decide how and when my heart heals. A broken heart doesn’t have to hurt forever and hard lessons do not have to leave me hardened. I possess the power to take the fragments of my broken heart and plant flowers wherever I go. I am not a product of the circumstances I find myself in.

It sounds farfetched and preachy but it is true- we can find happiness in the direst of circumstances. We can always choose to be happy. And once we consciously choose to be happy, there’s no power in the world that can tell you otherwise.

I don’t mean to say that we should give up grieving. It’s an emotion that needs to be felt from time to time. But when you’re done grieving, choose to be happy. When I decided to stop playing the victim, I made one promise to myself: never to go down that road again. Never to feel sorry for myself. Because it’s okay to be lost, but never to feel helpless.

Never again.

I learned that hopelessness is not the end. It is the beginning of change. It is the stimulus you need to let go of the inertia and step out of your self-imposed exile. There are demons in all of us, we all suffer from insecurities. And it takes immense courage to silence them. But once you do, angels will dance.


Have you ever found yourself caught in a bad situation you thought would last forever? How did you come out of it?

Make an exit

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The view from my room

You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.

—Alan Alda

After days and days of gloomy weather and rainfall, the sun finally shone through the clear blue sky for a whole blessed day. What a coincidence that the sombre Parisian clouds and my own suffocating blanket of gloom dispersed around the same time…

Gosh, ain’t I dramatic?


 

À Paris

I’ve been living close to Paris for half a year now, and apart from writing about feeling like an outsider, I’ve hardly shared my experience here at all. It’s not like in the past 6 months the city had nothing good to offer. The problem is that my view of city was clouded by the emotional drama unfolding within me. In short, Paris didn’t change for the worse since the last time I visited it in 2015—my view of it did. I started associating Paris with the negativity I was feeling at the time and sometimes still do.

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Almost exactly 6 months ago, I was springing with joy just thinking about moving to my favorite place in the world. And then I set foot here in Paris and wondered why I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would. Why did the City of Lights, adored by millions, not captivate my heart as it should have? I felt ridiculous and unsettled—how could I feel out of depth in a city as beautiful as Paris? I wanted to tell everyone how much I loved the city. Several times I opened my mouth but the words stayed on the tips of my tongue. If I wasn’t happy in Paris I surely couldn’t admit to love it.

And then today, Paris handed over my little rose rimmed glasses to me in a tray.

Today, I took the 300 steps to Sacré-Coeur, in addition to the ninety steps I took to come out of the Abbesses Station (my fault, I should’ve paid attention to the signs at the base of the staircase). But it doesn’t really matter, because the view from the top was totally worth the hike. With its pastel coloured boutiques, cute streets and cozy roadside restaurants, Montmartre is astoundingly beautiful. As I walked through a picturesque labyrinth of cobbled streets to arrive at the beautiful white église, I realised how happy Paris makes me.

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Hanging from the railing and looking over Notre-Dame from Sacré-Coeur, I realised how incredible this city is and how wrong I was to associate it with the negative things going on in my life. The moment this truth was revealed to me was so satisfying and the view so magical that I could’ve stayed in that spot forever. I felt I could stay in Paris forever.

Walking past the charming bouquinistes and occasionally stopping to admire La Seine, I thought about the good things in life. After a long time, I felt an urgency in my step. I felt the urge to walk around the city till my body gave up. I felt the need to explore Paris as much as I could before I took the bus back to Jouy. I breathed in the city and almost wished to be lost in it. It’s like I met my true, buoyant self today after months of separation and I know that I will cherish this homecoming for years to come.

Paris, I hope you know how much these little moments with you matter to me. Thank you for being so patient with me. I now understand why Thomas Jefferson said that a walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life.

Even if tomorrow I have nothing to call my own in this city, I’ll have this city itself, and that will be enough.


 

That Kind of Love

Look for the man who calls you a clumsy eater and giggles every time you soil your clothes. The man who ridicules your non-existent fashion sense but calls you beautiful in the same breath. Find the man who’s not ashamed to call you cute names. Find him—he who buys you precious little trinkets even when you ask him not to—because he knows you’ll like it.

Find the man who will go out with you for a movie just because you want to, even though he knows he’ll hate it. Find him—the one who’ll make a long to-do list and then ditch the list because he’s just too full of chatter. The man you’ll love so much, that your eyes will light up into a million stars when you see him. Someone you’d dance with in the middle of a busy road if he asked you to.

He’s the man who calls you pretty even though you look like a groggy mammoth with oil oozing out of your face and hair. The one who doesn’t think FaceTime dates are silly and looks forward to them, even though the dates are mostly you ranting and complaining for hours on end. He’s without any regard for time zone differences—you, the princess—can call him anytime, even at 4 in the morning. Find him— the man who writes for you even though he’s not a writer, and sings for you even though he’s not a singer. Importantly, find the one who asks you to sing for him even though you’re not a singer. The one who makes you want to write about him.

If you find the man who makes you presents one night before your birthday— not because he has to but because he wants to, keep him close. If he’s someone who buys you red and pink heart-shaped helium balloons and ties them to your wrist, keep him closer. And if you catch him staring at you in awe, even though you’ve been together for months now, hold him tight. I say find the man who ferociously condemns talking on phone, but at the risk of being called a hypocrite, facetimes you for hours because he misses you as much as you miss him. The man who sometimes video-calls you in the background and lets you go on with your daily chores because he wants to see you but doesn’t want to interrupt your work.

Find the man who’s crazy enough to pick you up from home and drop you back to just so he gets to spend a few more minutes with you. The man who enjoys red lights and traffic jams because, again, he gets some extra minutes with you. The man who’s willing to drive halfway across the city just to go on a walk with you. The man who makes himself available to you 24/7 because you’re only visiting for 18 days.

Keep your eye open for the man who encourages you at every step in life, who makes you to look at the brighter side and fills you with positivity. Someone who tells you that you can reach the stars if you wish to, someone who motivates you to become the best version of yourself. Go find the man who believes in you so much that you’re forced to believe in yourself.

Please find the one man who makes you forget there are 7000 miles between you and him. The one who sends you letters from halfway across the world in this day and age of instant messaging. The man who cares enough to celebrate your homecoming with roses and garlands. The man who lets you have chocolate from his ice cream. Settle for nothing less.

And when you find him, remember to do the same for him. Because he deserves nothing less.


Found: Courage

Found: Courage

In a beautiful city far, far away

A young woman is trying to find her way

She’s come a long way from home

carrying a map of the new city

she’s only begun to know

She looks towards the swollen sky

At a blackness that’s darker than death

“Where are the stars they keep talking about?

Was it all a cruel joke?” Her heart bled

Looking around she’s suddenly aware

Unknown faces looking at her with a strange air

Overwhelmed, she thinks again

“Why did I come here? Was it all in vain?”

It’s so different out here

Much more difficult than she thought

Now she understands why in school

Darwin’s survival of the fittest was taught

Lost, confused and perplexed

She stares ahead and thinks aloud

“What—what was I thinking?

What could I have possibly found?”

Yet in her heart she knows

She’s found something to keep

that would help her tide o’er the lows

Something that in her heart would forever glow

It’s the strength of knowing

That she can survive

That she’s a fighter, she’s got the light

Well now,

She’s glad to have come to this city

She wouldn’t have found it otherwise

But the best thing that’s happened to her—

the best thing is that she’s realised

that the stars she keeps looking for everywhere?

Well, the stars are in her eyes

So… I am in Paris!

…Well not exactly in Paris. I am in Jouy, a teensy suburb in the south of Paris. If I didn’t have to spend an entire year in this little village I would’ve said it’s straight out of a fairytale, with its tiny roads and pretty creeper covered houses. But I’m here to stay and just the thought of it freaks me out.

Jouy has been my home for three months now, but I am yet to feel at home. In fact, I am not sure if I will ever feel at home here… if I will ever be able to walk down its quite lanes without feeling like an intruder, an outsider. I don’t know if I will ever be able to strut down the aisle at Simply, happy to be grocery shopping. I don’t know if I will ever be thankful for Sundays, happy to be sipping coffee and reading a good book. I don’t know if I will ever be able to enjoy the snow.

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I’ve had these thoughts in my head for such a long time now that I don’t even have to pause to think what I should write about next. My fingers are effortlessly chapping away at the keyboard, furiously typing the words that are flowing out of my head. Its strange because coherent expression doesn’t come naturally to me. But then, what do I know about myself?

In the beginning I thought the feeling of being away from home would fade away with time. That I would grow to love this beautiful place, with all its trees and lovely flowers. I have to admit that I am disappointed with myself for having failed to adjust to my new surroundings. I never thought that adapting to my new life would be such a monumental task that it would take every ounce of energy that I have.

I have never been on my own before. I always knew that leaving my home and people behind is going to be tough, but I never imagined that I would have to fight my way to get through every single day. The feeling of not being good enough, of not being cut out for this place keeps gnawing at me. Half of my day goes in wondering whether I would’ve been better off someplace else.

I miss home, I miss my friends. I miss feeling secure and protected. It’s so competitive out here— its like everybody is competing to get ahead of you—not pausing for a moment to look at your swollen eyes and broody face—not realising that you’re not okay—that you’re finding it hard to adapt to this rat race. I am yet to fall in love with the people here. Of course it’s not their fault, they’re who they are.

I know I shouldn’t feel this way. I am 22 and I need to learn to live on my own. I know I need to get comfortable in my own skin and not depend on anyone to feel engaged or happy. I know I need to organise my time during the week so that I can go to the city more often and enjoy Paris as I always imagined I would. I know I need to smile more often and stress a little less. I know I need to involve myself in activities, focus on learning learning new things and on becoming a better version of myself.

I know all this and yet I know nothing. I know that I will eventually be fine and look back at how everything turned out well in the end. But right now my head is not in the right place.

Right now, I just want to survive.