Thursday, January 2, 2014

A week into this adventure, I don't yet have my systems in order, by which I mean that I haven't gotten a French cell phone number yet, so my iphone is just a pod (no "i"), and I can't jap photos to this site.  All of this is to explain the unimpressive visual side of this blog.  Things will improve!  But...  I must confess that I have passed a lot of cell phone kiosks (and apparently you can buy sim cards at any Tabac) and opted to wait, a little longer, before converting that benign pod back into a sleek machine that allows me to work anywhere, anytime.

One of the things I knew instinctually (intuitively? in any case, I was reluctant to fully admit it) before coming here was that I had a smartphone problem.  Smartphone is just part of it, really.  Like most of us, I had an internet and appliance-driven scattered attention span.  I have a job that requires me to be available always to colleagues and students--in exchange for the freedom of not having to be at a particular desk in a particular office.  In many--most--ways, this is a well worth it trade.  I communicate quickly in writing, and love the freedom of being able to do my work where I choose to do it, on my own time.  (Damn that woman who said that we should all be slaves to offices--many of us self-manage very well and thrive outside of pens!)  However, (and now maybe I'm proving her point) I had noticed that in the months leading up to departure, as the to-do list lengthened and my anxiety level rose, so did my habit of toggling between tabs online while ostensibly at work, of logging into Facebook from my phone even though I have a sort of love/hate thing about it, checking Twitter, Googling things I didn't really need to know the definition of.  I'd read a single piece by a student, write a paragraph response, and then "reward" myself with a book purchase online.  This lengthened my alleged work sessions ridiculously.  I'd started as a freelancer/"remote" worker in order to be able to write more--but I was having the kind of days that I used to have when I did work in an office, hunched, eyes buzzing, knowing that of the 8 or however many hours I was ostensibly "working," less than half of that time had been put to any real use.  But now it was my fault--I couldn't blame the clock.  It really started to bother me when I began reading on an ipad and would toggle between my novel and email inbox.  I did the same with videos, watching something while keeping a tab open to know if I had new messages.

Note that I'm using the past tense, as if this were all so very long ago.

I don't think I'm alone here.  In fact, I suspect that this is the norm and not the exception.  Sometimes I feel sad for Max because he won't have known a time before fractured attention spans and constantly accessible everything.  No wonder there is such a mania among SF, Brooklyn (and Paris) hipsters for all things analog.  Once I was talking to the librarian at Max's school, he was asking me if I'd wanted to be a writer when I was a kid, and I said without thinking, "Yes, I guess so.  I was horrible at math and science and never really interested in anything besides reading.  I guess I had the luxury of not having any choice."  He thought that was funny, but it seemed perfectly logical to me and it still does.  In many ways, I feel like choices make us paralyzed and miserable.  Or at least they can.

So all if this is to put in words not a resolution exactly, because I'm pretty sure that if you DON'T really want to do something, the surest way to make sure it doesn't happen is to turn it into a New Year's Resolution...  But a wish, I guess--that seems lighter and more possible to fulfill in some form.  I am not Amish, and I will be loading my cell phone with a sim card at some point this week.  But I am not going to get a big data plan for it.  I am not going to have email on it, or text messaging.  Even as I would tell people (see Paragraph 1) that my job "requires" me to be available all of the time, let it be known that I am not a brain surgeon, and there is in fact no message that couldn't wait a couple of hours for a response.  No, I'm not that important, and neither is 99% of the stuff I waste time with on my phone and computer.  Over the past week without these devices binging and buzzing all of the time, I've had a greater sense not only of restfulness but also the days have seemed--have been--longer. Louis CK has this routine about how he won't let his daughters amuse themselves on his cell phone on car rides or in restaurant waits because boredom is a crucial part of the human condition and he wants them to learn to tolerate those lulls.  I'm not quite there.  (God help me if I'd ever take Max to a restaurant without some kind of device--god help the restaurant).  That said, I have noticed over the past week that the "boring" periods are becoming less so, almost as if I could feel my fractured attention span knitting back together.

Or maybe it's being here.  Every time I go outside (even inside) I want to pinch myself.  Some people say that Paris is a museum and not a city, but it doesn't feel that way to me.  I love our neighborhood, with its endless corridors of African hair salons (Jesus Cosmetiques!  Gloire A Dieu Beauty), Indian restaurants, Hallal butchers, second rate boulangeries (and second rate is still pretty damn good), fur stores, and "hipster" bars, including the one right downstairs where Matt and I watched a French man dancing by himself for a good half hour the other night, white man's overbite and all.  I love lying in bed and looking up at the whipped cream moldings on the ceiling, which are cracking in places, and wondering who exactly specializes in repairing ceilings made in the 1800s and how they would even begin to go about that.  Same for the cracks on the building that faces us across the courtyard.  It's so picturesque in its decrepitude, with these peeling gray shutters and window boxes inside iron grilles on every floor.  Will those cracks ever be filled or will the building just eventually--in another 200 years?--crumble?  I'll take a picture when I get my phone working.  Eventually...  For today (with two days of vacances to go) I'm taking Max ice skating at the temporary rink in front of City Hall.

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