I’ve made it through week one of Lent. I gave up refined sugar and caffeine, which makes me a little crazy, I realize, but I consume both of those things pretty mindlessly, so I think it will be good for me. (Not that I expect to keep it going. 2 years ago I gave up meat for Lent and never looked back (except for meatcations and my summer in France) but sugar? Not going to say a permanent farewell to that.)
A friend of mine who is admittedly a hippie - a real one, the Occupy, nomadic activist environmentalist sort - came up with the idea, and told me that caffeine and sugar work hand in hand, so I should give up both. I said sure, why not?
Here’s the thing: part of the problem with sugar is that I’m a compulsive snacker. When I get home, I need a snack before dinner. I often turn to cookies, or something with Nutella. And at the start of Lent, I didn’t really prep my kitchen for this major change. So I have ended up doing compulsive snacking, as usual, but with salty carbs. So far I have gone through a box of Cheez-its, a bag of tortilla chips, a box of oyster crackers…. this really isn’t much better for me.
I also got food poisoning (I think) on Sunday, so I’ve sort of been on an unwilling detox diet for the past 2 days. I haven’t had caffeine or processed sugar in a week, and I haven’t had any rich foods in the past 24 hours, and you know what I did this mornign when I woke up? I thought, coffeeeeeeee.
I guess getting over the cravings might take more than a week.
Here’s one thing I am gaining from this: the knowledge that refined. Sugar. Is. In. Everything. I hadn’t thought about giving up vanilla soymilk, or Cheerios, or yogurt that isn’t plain. I found out I couldn’t have Chex Mix the other day. Sugar is everywhere! No wonder I’m so hooked on it.
Also, there are 2 jumbo marshmallows sitting in tupperware on my kitchen counter, and they are mocking me.
This week was an experiment in going without the morning coffee. Not because I think caffeine is evil or I’m doing a detox or anything. Mostly because my mornings were hectic this week and I could feel better about it by saying I “chose” to go without coffee.
The truth is, thanks to Santa, I have a stash of chocolate-covered espresso beans in my desk drawer. And it’s a very big stash (or at least, it was). So I pop those throughout the day. I might actually be getting more caffeine this way, since I’m a snacker and they are yummy and coated in chocolate, so I never have just 2 or 3 at a time. But the difference is, I eat them when I feel tired, not at a habitual time of day.
The result? This morning I woke up a bit more easily than I normally do, which maybe is due to a full night of sleep. Clearly I’m not being very scientific about this experiment, but all I know is that when I biked to my carpool pickup spot this morning, I had energy. I wasn’t out of it, my muscles weren’t lagging, I felt awake! I didn’t wake up in zombie mode reaching for the Mr. Coffee, and I didn’t slug begrudgingly through my morning commute. I think maybe this is the coffee change.
So today when I got to the office, I said to myself, yogurt and OJ will do! No need for coffee. And then I sat down and my coworker next door came over and said, I’m making coffee in my French press, you want some?
I have taken two big trips abroad in my life - twice, I’ve lived in Europe for a number of months. Both places have a special place in my heart. Both places are beautiful and fill me with nostalgia and longing, but neither place is my home. Neither place holds people that I am deeply connected to. With the first, Edinburgh, I had to learn this the hard way. I had to be blown off by two cherished friends I hadn’t seen in 4 years, whom I had been so looking forward to seeing. Two friends I had shared what were, for me, formative experiences. Two friends who just saw me, as it turns out, as one of a rotating crowd of visiting American students they could take or leave.
I did form close friendships in Edinburgh, but with Americans who I still see often here in the states. And I still feel a sense of home away from home, a deep longing when I’m in and far from Edinburgh. I got off the train at Waverly Station this past August and was instantly caught by the familiar scent of Cheerios that city has. The landscape, the accents, the music, the wobbly streets - I love it all, and I will always long for it. But I know I could never make a life there, because I don’t have a support system of friends and family there.
In Paris, I entered my stay knowing that I wouldn’t make friends for life there. But the French and non-French people I like approached our friendships with the same attitude as me: we can connect, and learn from each other, and have fun because this is summer, in Paris, and come on, it’s Paris. Let’s have some experiences.
Now when I correspond with my Paris friends, it’s with a warm affection, one that isn’t laced by disappointment, because I was enough of a grownup to know what to expect.
I got to look at myself closely in both settings. In Scotland, well, I learned how to drink. I learned how to be a carefree university kid, and I think I brought back a good, balanced amount of that with me, displacing the goodie-two-shoes I’d been before. In Paris, I learned to be a quiet observer, and I learned that I could live alone.
I don’t like being alone, literally or in a crowd. I had a flat to myself, which I was scared to do, but I learned to like it. And I learned to be the quiet observer in a crowd of Francophones, because my French hasn’t yet caught up to my brain. I had the language skills of a child, which was often frustrating and humbling. But I learned that I could connect with people, and try to show them part of who I am, without words, or at least with basic ones.
Paris itself is not a welcoming place. It’s like the cool kid who says, I’m never going to be nice to you, but you will still drop everything to go to my parties if you’re invited, because I’m just that great to be around. Paris is indifferent, its stereotypical denizens are harsh and critical of outsiders, newcomers. It made me hide my little plan de Metro, it made me rush home ashamed when someone on the Metro noticed the socks I wore with my flats one day. Paris made me self-conscious. That’s a topic for another rant, but the bottom line is, I knew right away I could never make Paris my home, but I was so glad I stuck it out there for 3 months. I grew so close with an American friend there that recently, in a crisis, I learned more about myself from a 10 minute gchat session with her than I have in 8 years of trying to make sense of the particular situation.
So what is it that makes us bond with fellow outsiders in a strange place? Is it that you have similarities to each other, amplified by an environment where you just don’t fit in? Is it just that other world travelers aren’t afraid to form deep, risky bonds with each other, knowing that in a matter of months they’ll be scattered from each other? Or is it that in traveling, where we’re on vacation from the responsibilities of life in our home country - even if we have a different set of responsibilities here - we’re freer to get to know someone and ourselves at a deeper, more risky, level?
Whatever it is, I am grateful not only for the beauty and fun of the places I’ve lived, but for the friends that popped up in each place - whether a willing local who volunteered to guide me through life in their city, or another traveller who offered up the day-long adventures and late-night conversations that often lead to deep, lasting friendships.
Skrillex. Coachella, what is Coachella? French people know about it, and that makes me feel like I should too…but I am not motivated enough to look it up. I do think I can learn a lot about myself from the title of the article my friend Adam sent me to teach me about Skrillex, who I am dubbing The Human Migraine: http://gawker.com/5863804/the-old-persons-guide-to-skrillex