As I mentioned in my Amsterdam post, I’m going home in a few days. It will be the first time I’ve been in the UK for more than a weekend since I moved to Paris. I anticipate that it’s going to be one of the strangest experiences of my life.
I have a friend who emigrated when she was younger, and she says that the oddest thing for her was not the going away and finding a new country different from her own, but the fact that for all that her experiences abroad changed her, she arrived home to find the place where she grew up completely unaltered.
My family and my homeland are certainly not vacuum-packed, and I’m sure that there are things which have shifted since I’ve been gone, but not my room at my parents’ house, or the old streets of the city where I studied and worked, and which is so familiar to me that I can close my eyes and walk the high street from end to end.
I’m going home to a city which has started to forget me, but which remains stamped on my character like a iron-wrought brand. I think if there’s an appropriate time to reflect on my first four months of Parisian life, this is it.
It’s nothing original to say, but I’ve learnt so much. I’ve made a friend not just from another culture, but another continent. I’ve danced by the Seine under the light of the moon. I’ve worked with children, some of them terrible, one of them the loveliest little boy, who made me feel better about everything. I’ve had my first date with a foreigner, and I did it in French. I was misread, and got fired, something I never imagined would happen to me. I left my friends in the UK behind, and in doing so I found out just how much I am loved. I forgot who I was, but then I started writing again. My life in Paris has not been perfect, but it has been my life, to live selfishly, with passion, and in complete freedom.
The most important lesson has been one about myself: I am stronger than I thought.
Paris, like all big cities, is a place where dreams are made or broken, where every day someone finds inspiration, and another person gives up. I have experienced both ends of the spectrum during the past four months.
It’s really difficult to admit that you’re on the wrong path. Harder still when you’ve spent time and money, and made greater sacrifices, just to get so far. But I was not where I was meant to be, and I see that now. I wanted to become a writer because I thought that would be enough for me to express myself. I know now that it isn’t, and I know also that before I wasn’t brave enough to admit what I really wanted to do.
Of course I’m going to continue writing until I’m dead or dribbling, but my aspirations have changed. No longer is writing my be-all-and-end-all goal, and my motives for lifting the pen have changed. These day, I want to use my writing to humanitarian ends, by writing serious novels that aren’t just about action and romance, and by making a switch from a creative career into the hard, analytical world of law.
I’ve been slow off the mark. I know that. 22 is not the ideal age to discover what it is you really want to do. The next couple of years are going to be tough, not just in terms of catching up academically, but also adjusting to exams instead of coursework, providing for myself financially, and proving myself as worthy of a law career as those who knew it was what they wanted from the get-go.
But it won’t be impossible. Paris has given me the confidence that comes with independence. It might take me a while to get there, but in a few years I will be working in London, and hopefully around the world. I just have to maintain my conviction, work hard, and see it through.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m grateful, for being here, living this life, and having the chances I’ve had. My French is getting there slowly, and though I’m still as useless as I ever was when it comes to men, I am freer than I ever was. I have managed, at last, to ‘find myself’, and experience all that cliché gap year personal growth that has made some for cringey writing, and a better relationship with my own soul.