In the late 1980s I lived in Paris and ostensibly went to a Parisian university. Classes were always being cancelled or moved or rescheduled and it seemed like I was the last to know. I lived a little outside of Paris, in Boulogne, and so once I had trekked to the Latin Quarter for what I thought was a seminar but was nothing but a stale empty room with cigarette butts and an incomprehensible schedule printout on the door, I stayed in town. My housemate was Latin American, quite beautiful, ailing and always upset about something, sometimes or often, me. In retrospect I believe she suffered from chronic pain but at the time I just found her unpleasant even though our little house was so cute and so I stayed away.
As a student I could go to matinees for just a few francs and so I went to see old black and white French films or new ones with colors but no action. I walked or rode my bike all over the city and pondered immensely. Since I was bored, or aimless during those months, I made up projects for myself. I quit eating sugar for six weeks which was silly given all the pastries. Then I bought myself a chocolate croissant, devoured it and went to an art history class. I sat and watched my hands shake, it was kind of amazing to fell the sugar coursing through my veins and I tried to explain in my meager French to the professor. Je viens de manger du sucre, c’est comme les drogues.
Yesterday I was so sad about another month of confinement. If I ever get to see the Garonne again it will be as momentous as a trip to Victoria Falls. I decided it was time for another odd goal. Not running a half marathon, the sidewalks hurt my knees. Not being without internet, just too hard right now. Probably doing handstands and headstands every day and writing here too but I was looking for a different kind of goal, one that might enhance the deepening of my experience.
So my new life goal, until May 11, is to try to only do one thing at a time. This includes eating without reading, talking on the phone without looking up word etymologies that I forgot to investigate (if I ever sounded distracted that’s why), and just accepting that when I am doing homework with my son it is anathema to him for me to pick up a book. I’m not going to count listening to music as a second thing but it seems to me that the only way to make this time go faster is to completely slow it down. One thing and only one thing at a time.
There will come a time when we will look back on these days with nostalgia or regret or a gently poignancy. I am old enough to know this and have heard it from post-communist regime citizens, the parents of children no longer little and even dissertation writers. Our conscious minds know that the Stasi, whining toddlers and the solipsistic stresses of graduate school weren’t great but those times when we really couldn’t do anything else or be anywhere else become polished markers along our memory charts of how we became who we are today.