Paris Journal #4: Where Nobody Knows Your Name


There is something to be said for moving to a place where nobody knows who you are. You can be whomever you want — even if that’s just being who you really are. When you think about it, it’s a rare opportunity.

From the moment we are born, someone is always telling us how we are supposed to be. Our parents tell us we should be like our “good” little brother (the pain in the ass), our teachers tell us we must walk, not run, in the halls, lest they make us go back and start over; I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had to go back and start over. Our lovers tell us how loved we are, but only as long as nothing about us changes.

Have you ever gone home to your parents for a family holiday, perhaps decades after you have lived there, and found your room still the same? Your school awards still displayed prominently on your dresser, the poster of the teen heartthrob you were obsessed with still hanging on the wall. Suddenly, you’re 13 again, and you realize that this is how your parents still see you. It can be hard to break out of others’ preconceived notions of who you are, even if it was who you once were. But that person has long ago moved and left no forwarding address.

I came to Paris knowing nobody here, with the exception of a couple of people I had made prior contact with via e-mail. It was the psychological equivalent of bungee jumping, but with fewer changes of underwear required. In the few weeks I have been living in Paris, however, I have felt the most like my true self than at any other point in my life. I feel pliant, like soft wax without a mold.

So I now have a troubling dilemma: one of my oldest and dearest friends is coming to Paris, like me, to see what living here might be like — someone who has known me since I was 23 years old. The question is whether I have ultimately developed enough strength of character to stay true to the person I have become.

Too often, I have tried to be someone who I thought another person wanted me to be, whether that was my mother, my boyfriend, or simply the neighbors next door. My fear of judgment and rejection helped ensure the real me always remained hidden. The great thing about Paris is that it’s a place that accepts many different types of people. And they especially love eccentric artist-types, one of which I would like to eventually become.

Paris was my chosen destination for a couple of reasons. First, I have wanted to live here for close to 15 years. I’ve just loved this place since the first time I visited it while backpacking across Europe, staying in hostels and eating plain couscous every night for dinner because it was all I could afford (ramen noodles hadn’t yet caught on).

You might think that after 15 years of visiting France nearly annually I would have picked up the language by now; for instance, I should be able to have a deep philosophical conversation with a professor from the Sorbonne. Sadly, not so. I can manage to order things in restaurants that won’t make me ill, and ask where the toilet is (just in case they do), but my command of the language is sorely lacking — something I hope to rectify within a few months.

The second and most important reason for moving to Paris, however, is to see if I can really create art here. The few pieces I managed to complete in Santa Fe are not half bad, but I have had a crippling artist’s block for a number of years. One of the wonderful things about Paris is that there is inspiration everywhere you look, and I am already inspired to create new things.

So for those of you who really want to try something different, and perhaps to discover your true nature, go someplace where nobody knows you for a while and see what happens.

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