Paris was good, in the end. Of course. Though I gorged on so many pastries that I swear it will take me days to recover from the decadence.
I was interested to see how I would fare, being back in France. I lived there for the better part of a year during my PhD – six years ago. I hadn’t been back since I left, so unhappy. The place, having been the object of my affections for so many years before I lived (or had even visited) there, took on a sort of awful gloss of ambivalence and angst. I wondered how, or even if, that would surface again on this visit.
It didn’t. Granted, I wasn’t in Chambéry or in Lyon, the two cities in which I lived. (I know that I will have to go back to Lyon and have a good cry and a melancholy wander by myself, someday.) But I was happy to find the points of affinity I’d found with French culture the first time, and none of the points of conflict (because I was being a tourist this time, and not trying to build a life there – it makes such a difference). So it was easy, in that sense.
My work went so well…on my second visit to the institution I’d been to the first day, I had one of those exciting moments…I found something in the never-consulted files I was looking through, something important, whose origin wasn’t discernible at all. The lovely woman who supervised the area I was working in called in one of her colleagues. The three of us did some detective work, all contributing bits to this collective effort to detect the source of the document I’d found. It was some real sleuthing. And we figured it out. It was so satisfying, I can’t tell you. I can’t wait to go back for more – probably for two-three weeks in the spring of next year.
I also found a whole bunch of books in the bookstore of the place where I was working – relevant French stuff I hadn’t known about, that is so difficult to even learn of at home…I’m going home happily weighted down with things to read.
And aside from all of that, there was my time with S, the Best Friend. He moved to London for a job almost two years ago. We’ve hardly seen each other since. The one time I was in London since he moved here, just over a year ago, he was visiting Home City – so frustrating! He stayed with ex-GF and I for about five days last summer. Through all this not-seeing-each-other, I’ve had the gnawing sense that we were growing apart…it was profoundly unsettling. This is the person I’ve been closest to in my life, who’s been my best friend since I was twelve years old, who I assumed would always, always be that person, be unconditionally there. That’s felt strained.
And on the trip in Paris, it felt even more so. Our ways of traveling – and even of being – were really in conflict. His looseness, his disorganization and passivity, grated on me. And I was bitchy and peevish. Awful. It came to a head once, and we had a talk, standing in Montmartre, looking out over the city, that cleared the air. Things built up again, though, and I got to thinking. Until yesterday, back in London, when we were out for tea.
I told him that I feel desolated, as I’ve realized over the last couple of days, because I’m not FUN anymore. It’s true that I’ve always been a pretty serious person, but seriousness doesn’t have to mean the absence of fun. Not at all. And I always had a fun streak in me – most joyfully brought out with S. Silliness has always been – until now, at least – the foundation of our relationship. Actually, this great balance between silliness and gravity.
I don’t know where that’s gone. Best I can figure, it’s kinda disappeared over the last couple of years, with me writing a dissertation and then in full-time teaching gigs last year and this year. Something’s shifted in me. I don’t get to see it much, but it became absolutely crystal clear these last few days with S. Traveling, extricating yourself from your rhythms, always does that, doesn’t it? Anyway, this horrible seriousness is what makes me irritable and impatient with this fun-partner I love so much. I don’t want to be that person, too caught up in trivia to have fun.
But when I think about it, I have a real absence of joy in my life. I don’t laugh much anymore. The closest I come to joy is when I’m teaching. But there are limits to that – my students are, after all, my students, and not my friends. I do see my friends, absolutely. But those times aren’t suffused with joy, I wouldn’t say. They are good times, but they’re all of a piece, and I wouldn’t say it’s high on the fun-o-meter: Let’s meet and spend too much money on dinner, and have lots of that very serious drink, wine, and talk about relationships and work. Gravitas/gossip.
I used to laugh more. I used to do spontaneous, odd things. I used to also feel joy in doing the Activity – a dance form – and doing it really well. And being part of its attendant community, which has connections to all sorts of other joyful things, including singing. I can’t tell you how much I feel the absence of that.
My answer is to crave extreme experience. As I’ve mentioned before recently, drugs and sex feel as if they would do the trick in a pinch, though I know they’re not an answer to the question of why I have a lack of joy in my life. Really, I need an ongoing connection to something joyful and FUN. The ballet class that meets once a week provides a bit of that, whenever we move away from exercises that are about precisely articulating the foot at the barre, for example, and into things like galloping around. And I think of camp last summer, which was dance camp, and was the best week I’ve had in a long, long time – joy all day and night. But I don’t think I can go this summer, because the timing is all wrong, with me moving so far away and not being able to afford the extravagance of flying to it. That sucks, is all I can say.
The other thing is that in this conversation with S yesterday, in which I explained this awful fact of joylessness, he gave me HIS reading of it. Which is that the way I was acting with him sometimes – which he characterized as a muting of myself, a shutting down of communication – is very like the way I was with ex-GF. She and I, he observed, were constantly butting heads, making the most trivial of issues into something huge. Daily life often seemed like a chore, for us. That seems true, yes. It is accurate. But it fucking depresses me. One, because it seems to have corrupted me – I’ve brought my part of that awful dynamic into other intimate relationships, now. Great. Also because it was just such a depressing gloss on our relationship. On what feels like its ongoing impossibility, even if I do love her so much. And she’s been making lots and lots of noises lately about thinking she made a mistake, in pushing to end the relationship. And I have been willing to entertain this idea. Have been cautious, but haven’t ruled it out. S’s picture of us made me feel as if that would be just so hard. Brings me back to the truth of things, which that unless both of us changed hugely, organically, we demand too much compromise from each other to make us each happy. Sucks.
And there are probably ways in which these two things – my overall lack of joy, my dynamic with ex-GF – are related, and that seems to be the worst of all.
Anyway. Still in London. Late Saturday afternoon. Today I went for a long run in Clapham Common, and watched a movie (Joyeux Noel, for the WWI-ophile in me) and went to the pub for a cider and a read of a great text I am teaching next week. Tonight we are going out for dinner at an apparently wonderful Japanese restaurant – S and his boyfriend and I. I leave late tomorrow, Sunday, night. Back into the world where I have to really face what it means that I have become this joyless person. And do something to counter it. Though I haven’t the faintest…