I try to perfect
How I look for you.
I tousle my hair,
And make sure
That the crease in my forehead
Is not so predominately there.
I try to look unstressed,
As if nothing
But I suppose you understand,
For we all do the same.
Death is nothing new to me, although this year has presented to me the cold truth about the entire concept. It is strange, isn’t it, to view death as a concept? But it is one, while also being a fact of life. Some may roll their eyes and say that death is not a part of life, but I believe it is, for it is through life that we witness and come to understand death.
Only one thing can be compared with death, and that is life.
We have the ability to reflect on the deaths of others. It is a gift to be alive, but, at times, the ability of sentience seems to be a curse, especially in the face of news regarding the slaughtering of hundreds, and the quiet slipping aways of those we have deemed worthy of the crown of celebrity.
I write this on the day of my reflection on the death of Carrie Fisher. While I have seen her in a limited number of films, I understand that she inhabited a spirit of varying mediums. On the day of her death, I became aware of her place in the literary community. Her work has been described, albeit in this case briefly, as a voice in the genre of memoir, self-deprecation, and writing on mental illness. While I knew of her experiences with bipolar disorder and use of drugs, I did not know to what extent she had expressed knowledge of these subjects.
It amazed and interested me, in the hours following the news of her death, that there were but a few posts about Ms. Fisher’s involvement in the conversation about mental illness in the midst of hundreds of articles about her place in the canon of Star Wars. The posts about her personal work came later. That, of course, is not a problem, per se. The concept of celebrity is an interesting one. How does one effectively honor anyone, for that matter? Is it possible to understand every action of a person you, most likely, have never met? How well do you know those that you have?
On a different note, a more critical one, the concept and ensuing conversation of mental illness is one that takes precedence in niche forms of expression. To the general public, it is still something to be hidden. We see it everywhere, but are truly unaware of its manifestations, its causes, and effects.
It is difficult to imagine a world where ignorance is more revealing than knowledge. It is not easy to admit that we, in our nature, are not knowledgeable about everything.
Death has touched the lives of those I know, those I will never meet, and those I do not yet know. Earlier this year, a group of people I knew mainly in high school lost a close friend. Her name was Amy. I, along with a friend and several others close to her, attended her wake. Numbed – perhaps from anxiety, or from the sheer vividness -, I witnessed the grief of those I had once known to be nearly entirely happy. In high school, the good outperformed the bad, even its darkest manifestations. Amy’s death was one that affected me wholeheartedly. Perhaps it is was witnessing the reactions of those I knew were close to her. Perhaps it was seeing her once in life and once more, in person, in death. I was touched by the testimonial confessions which arose from those who came to honor her. I pray for their strength and respect their resolve, their posterity.
The shooting in Orlando left a dark impression on my heart. I probably will never view certain things the same way again. I do not have the stomach to envision the horrors of that night too much. It brings to mind all of the horrors of the past 20 years – the years my generation were born to witness. I have vague memories of 9/11. I have memories of reacting to the various shootings and attacks that have occurred throughout our country, and in many others. The number of souls gathered this year was tremendous.
I have become more aware than ever about death itself, as a concept… or perhaps as a fact. I do not believe we are properly trained to deal with death, or to talk about it, and I view the grieving process as a beautiful, mysterious thing.
This year has made me thankful for all I have and for all of the lives of which I am a part. I do my best to take none of it for granted, for I see how delicate life is, and how easily the path of life is ended.
Be thankful, not just on holidays, for all of the gifts of life. But also, even in these times, be thankful for the knowledge of death. It has humbled me and allowed me to see through different eyes.
I am saddened by the losses experienced by all. However, this is not the end.
You are a coach;
The woman at the bookstore
Described you perfectly,
With a single word.
It is not a bad thing;
You are the one who guides
Me when I make bad decisions,
When I bite my nails,
When I choose to hide
When all else fails.
You are the coach,
And I am the team player,
Waiting for the moment
The funny thing about life,
Is that it is all about experience.
You learn from pain,
In love, work, friendship,
There are those who weld themselves
To the appeal of experience;
The ‘mine is better’ attitude.
But I sit here, with my legs up,
Resting on the spine of a deck,
Drying off in the wind,
And I think of what it took me
To get where I am.
How many things have I lost?
How many people have I known,
And at what cost to me?
The wind is gentle,
The air clear,
The sky a gray haze,
Which I do not fear,
Because in my experience
As a human, a boy, then a young man,
A gay man,
On the edge of adult life,
Not all gray skies
MEMORIES OF PARIS
I remember leaving Paris feeling an emptiness in the air.
In the car, driving out of the city, I saw through the window
Places I had not known existed less than ten days before.
My mother and I meandered through Paris,
The weather variant above us; it rained only once or twice that week.
I had lived in New York for four years prior to visiting Paris,
For school, a place I honestly miss.
My classes mainly focused on writings from England and Ireland.
Here and there I’d read a French or Russian writer,
But their works were never about Russia or France.
My preconceived memories of Paris came from books and TV,
Movies like Blue is the Warmest Color and Amelie. I came to France with the grit of New York on the soles of my shoes,
But I felt like I was walking on gold.
When I worked on the newspaper at school,
An article was published about Charlie Hebdo. As I walked around Paris, seeing the hustle and bustle of people and cars,
I thought about how the world turns.
It is true, however, that I lived in a city where such things have happened,
And when I think of all the people and cars, bicycles, and backpacks, street signs,
and the most beautiful display windows, I wonder if it is we
Who turn the world.
CHOICES AND EXCUSES
There are rumors, jealous in nature, that, with a bite of anger
Tear through the fabrics of our lives.
Look how powerful words are.
HEARD IT ALL
(A poem of regret.)
I’ve walked this road,
Done what I’m told,
And heard it all.
I’ve wasted time,
I’ve stood in line,
And felt it all.
I’ve lost my voice,
I have no choice,
but to say it all.
I’ll walk this road,
Through winter cold,
And find an answer to it all.
PLOT TWIST: A DILEMMA
All I’ve got.
THE ISSUE AT HAND
What is the current issue at hand?
Not all at once. One at a time.
Raise your hands.
No, I don’t think it’s feminism today.
We’ve already said it’s okay to be gay.
Well, I know not everyone agrees,
But we’ll get to that one soon enough.
Racism? We’re working on it.
Oh! Drugs? Terrorism. Right. –
– What was that?
Oh, what can’t be said about the election?
This year, truly, nothing.
It’s quite the event.
Who did you vote for?
Who do you think will win?
Have you seen Hamilton?
So, my life is in a transitory phase. As many of you know, I began writing my first novel Black Cat on a White Porch in August of this year. Around the same time, I founded the company Chormeri Books with my close friend Chikodili Agwuna and soon brought on our graphic designer and artist, Hannah Korangkool. I’ve had a lot on my plate with creating and writing a book, to supervising and participating in editing, design workshops, all while working part-time, and barely finding time to sleep or catch up on How To Get Away With Murder. I’m still on episode five of season one.
Anyway, to add to the excitement of the release of Black Cat on a White Porch, I had the opportunity to be interviewed by a lifestyle and overall wonderful site called The Review from Saturday. It was started by two sisters and the one I spoke to, named Elle, was so kind, understanding, and excited to help me take this huge step. So here it is: my first interview. Please click the link below.
On our second day in Paris, I fulfilled one of my childhood dreams: to go to Notre Dame. Yes, I am one of those strange people who says that you are weak for thinking that one of Disney’s best films, 1996’s (Holy merde, is it that old?) The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which I classically – to my mother alone – used to call Lunchback. Why? I do not know. I also used to think that the whole demon fire kill Esmeralda thing was pretty interesting. And here we are!
My mother and I have started a little tradition before we leave the house – and it is not that we make espresso, eat croissants, quiche, and yogurt. We start our day by always going the wrong way. Our first full day in Paris, I led us across the wrong bridge (actually, we did not have to go across any bridge it turns out). I looked up at the sky and saw a tower, a single tower, and thought that it was two that looked like one (perspective, you know, all that stuff you were taught in art class years ago). We walked to it and I said, “Well, that’s not it!” My mother, already huffing at me, steered us away, as a group of police motorcycles passed us in the street.
We crossed the bridge and we saw the most Parisian woman I have ever seen.
She honestly, thinking of it now, reminds me of Mary Poppins, or – if you can remember – Miss Gulch from The Wizard of Oz. Anyway, she was handsome – if I may use that term, Ms. Austen – and her makeup was so dense, one could actually see where her face stopped, and her actual self began (literally at the ridge of her jaw). Perhaps my description of Mary Poppins was unwarranted. Perhaps…Marie Antoinette in Mary Poppins’ clothing.
Once we crossed the bridge and made a few more turns toward nowhere, we found ourselves in the courtyard in front of Notre Dame.
I was literally singing songs from The Hunchback of Notre Dame the entire time we were in the cathedral and when we went up in the towers. But that’s just a sidenote. The actual cathedral is wonderful. It is grand, I suppose is the best way to describe it. Stained glass is something I truly appreciate, but, while it is the most beautiful aspect of Notre Dame, it is not the most impressive. I know, throw me from les tours. The architecture alone is enough to make you want to sit there for hours (ten minutes, at the most) and take it all in: the gargoyles, the angelic Saints, and even the little words that you can’t really make out. The stone basin of (I’m assuming) Holy Water was nice as well.
There was one thing I noticed though, that I haven’t truly experienced before: the pressures of tourism. I do not like being a tourist, but I know that I am one, if we are being technical. I tour, and I ist about the city, taking in the sights, eating the food, intaking the carbs, the wine, etc. I take too many pictures, when I should be eating more, drinking more wine, perhaps reading the signs more often. However, like everything in my mental list of personal philosophies, tourism is an experience different for all persons. When I tell you about my later endeavors, I’ll let you in on a little bit of what their experiences were and how mine, experienced while watching theirs, feel much more rewarding.
We walked through the cathedral, capturing the moments and aesthetics on our phones’ cameras. It wasn’t horribly crowded and the cathedral itself was still peaceful. People gathered around several figurines, taking pictures of literally nothing, and pushing into each other for no other reason than to the pictures of literally nothing. My mother, the polite person she is, was separated from me because of a few people who just had to take a picture of the wooden figurine of Notre Dame that sat at the back of Notre Dame. Also, to the left, was a grotesque little mock-up of the initial construction of the cathedral. I say grotesque in a loving way, the same way you sometimes refer to people you don’t like as acquaintances. It was rough, but was a cute little thing, and it proved the grandeur of the work that is the cathedral.
My mother and I agreed that we were not the type that would fare well in those days. Oh! You’re confused! I mean, the days when that type of labor was absolutely necessary -not the days when art was truly refined.
Oh calm down, I’m just joking. Little Quasi is cute over there, isn’t he? But I digress, again!
After we walked around the cathedral and poked around the gift shop and remembering that we were travellers, not tourists, we stood in line for an hour to go up to the towers. While we were in line, my mother voiced her opinion to get some food (classic mother) and originally I said no. Then she came back with a sandwich in hand and I just had to get something as well.
I was still growing back into my high school French (I absolutely loathed my middle and high school French teachers – both overly strict with no real reason to be!) and offered a fair, “Bonjour” to the woman behind the little stand. I decided to order a Croque-Monsieur because it apparently looked the most fattening, and loved every bite. Bread, cheese, ham. The American Dream!
The line took a fair amount of time (what did I say earlier? An hour? Yes, too long), although I did speak to some nice girls, one of whom was wearing a shirt featuring a character from the show Parks & Recreation, which is amazing and if you don’t watch it, close this tab. They were nice, although they were really into Tumblr and cursing at odd intervals. I’m sorry, children, just where are your parents?
I suppose it is time I tell you about the exercise I attempted to achieve at Notre Dame. The stairs are something else, believe me. Small, awkward, narrow, and a little maddening, the stairs leading up to Les tours de Notre Dame are une chienne. I attempted to go at a fast pace, while my mother trailed behind. Halfway up (I thought! Actually, it was halfway up to the gift shop. Those clever, clever clergymen) I thought I had actually achieved something. But then I saw the other stairs that I would later have to climb and, a little annoyed, felt a challenge coming on. Oh, I know, I sound quite lazy, but even the most fit people in the bunch were hustling, heaving, and huffing up the stairs. It was a great time, for all of us.
The gift shop was alright and was, no surprise, the first place I saw the title The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I did not go there thinking it would be like a Hunchback ride or something, but I did appreciate this. It made me feel like I was still in a church and not the bathroom at Disneyland. It had class. Not like “classy,” but more like “classique.” I then bought a little gift for a friend (nice try, you. You don’t get to know if it’s for you or not!) and my mother bought tickets to go into the towers. Isn’t that just wonderful? You stand in line for an hour and then buy tickets. Wouldn’t that be nice for something like a concert? But alas, no. Only one of the most famous churches in the world.
We ascended the stairs once more, this time feeling confident. As the winds blew down in a spiral in the passageway, we knew we were getting close. Then, all of a sudden, we were able to see this: Isn’t that just marvelous? I felt so humbled. I have wanted to see this view for so long and I was finally able to.
Oh, and these guys:
After we took a few pictures, my mother and I turned left on the second tower, and entered the belfry. This is when I truly began to feel nostalgic. While I understand that Hunchback is far more than a Disney film, that movie was a part of my childhood, and to climb up there, where the troubled Quasimodo became a legend…it was beautiful. Here are some pictures of that
It was a bit disheartening – although oddly comforting – that there was a little, rocking bed in the corner of the room. In the picture above, you can just see the head of it. The reason it caught my attention was because it makes it seem like someone actually lived or lives up there. I suppose that in such a beautiful city, famed for its art, its history, and its culture there is no room for Disney. All I needed to know that my childhood dreams were once a reality is the bell itself and that little bed in the corner.
After we excited the belfry, we had to stand in line with people (quite pushy ones at that) to exit the towers. We had to stand in line to exit the towers. I was a little worried that something had happened, but I erased those thoughts when a man in line began to speak to my mother and I. We told him that this trip was occurring because I recently graduated college and he retorted by asking what I majored in.
Let me tell you a little something. People are truly truly ungrateful toward writers and creative people in general. For some reason – perhaps one that is perpetuated by the media – everyone believes creative people are destined for the chair. No, not that chair, but the one behind the desk, in front of a classroom, teaching. I have absolutely nothing against teaching or teachers. However, I think other people do. Every time I am asked if I want to be a teacher with my major in hand, I want to say, “Would that be so bad?” While teaching is not my first choice of a career, I have not ruled it out for the far future. I know I have the social and mental abilities to teach and would do a decent (better) job compared to the man – who ironically majored in the job-heavy philosophy – who, like countless people before him, offended me.
I’ll tell you something else. You talk badly to me, I write about it. Has no one learned anything from Taylor Swift? Perhaps they’ll learn now. Never insult an English major, because all of the English majors that I went to school with are at startup companies, going to law school, or working at publishing companies, like me. So the next time you, dear reader, choose to question what a person wants to do with their major, perhaps ask, “What are your plans?” Do not tell us what you think we should do, because we can, and apparently will, make you look like a fool. We are as accomplished as math majors and can change the world just as much as a scientist. And, my final point, who would write about these scientists if not for writers?
After we got down from the towers – we climbed a flight up to see the actual top of the right tower (it was okay…they make you move in one direction and you are squished with even more people. Also, the 360 degree view is obscured by a huge peak at the center of the tower so forget those panoramic shots!) – we walked toward the back of the cathedral and stopped at a cafe, named after the gypsy from Hunchback, Esmeralda.
After eating Here, if you go, is a little park. It has free WiFi, which is a plus. A chance to send all of my Snapchats to people, to check email, to use Google Maps to show where we’re going next.
Then, by chance perhaps, we stumbled upon a bridge. On the bridge were locks. I had heard about the Love Lock Bridge in various ways – online, Parks & Recreation, etc. – and was very excited to add my lock – for my boyfriend and me – over the Seine. Now, we went into this not knowing anything about the whole, “Anti-Love Lock” campaign, or the environmental consequences. In fact, we would find out the next day. Literally the next day. But that day, we did what we believed was the best, and the most happy. We also put one on for my sister and her boyfriend.
It was very meaningful thing for me, just as I believe it has been for other people. I am sorry that it is horrible for the environment and the bridges of Paris. It is so symbolic and I even wrote a little message on the back of the lock so that – luck permitting – when my boyfriend and I returned to the city, he could read it. It probably will not happen now, however we did find the actual Love Lock Bridge. That’s right. We went to the not-so-real bridge. Which is fine. I am content with that, for now. If it is destroyed, let it be. My mother relaxed my mind about that part and I am just happy that I was able to do it in the first place. But, here’s hoping.
It was such a beautiful day, but the days continue to get increasingly better and better. I am so happy here in Paris. So relaxed and so amazed at everything I see. I hope that is coming across.
We finished the night with crêpes – very very amazing crêpes at a place called Josselin’s, I believe. It was a hearty meal and we went away from the restaurant planning when we would return.
Thank you for being patient on this one. I am going to take a little break to eat and then return to writing.
Thank you to all of my new followers, as well as my family and friends for supporting me on this journey. I assure you, the blog will not die after the trip.
This marks the end of chapter three of 10 Days In Paris.
In the next chapter, Erik and his mother go to a few cemeteries, drink too much wine at lunch, and call it an early night.