108 – 111

You know what helps fight off cold weather chill?

 

Chilis

 

 

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I put two in when I made the curry…then pretty much said “To Hell with it” and added another

 

I feel like today is the first day I’ve really had to just sit and do nothing – recharge, if you will – from my trip. Considering I pretty much hit the ground running with teaching right when I got back (including back-to-back 8:00am classes on Wednesday and Thursday…oy), it’s a wonder I hadn’t collapsed yet.

 

 

Given my teaching schedule, I’ve had to push my market days from Wednesday to Saturday, meaning there was a point during the end of this week where I had to get a bit…creative with my meals. This is what happens when you’ve got almost no food in your house, save for a few things  in the freezer, and you’re just too damn tired from jet-lag mixed with incredibly early mornings (because yes, I still insist on sticking to my workout routine) to really care.

 

 

Maybe it’s just that time of year, but I’m also starting to get into that mindset of  feeling as though I really need to expand my social circle. Funny how you don’t really think about these sorts of things until you are knee-deep in a professional track that, for the lack of a better word, can feel somewhat isolating from time to time. This could also have something to do with the fact that…and this is something I started to realize right before I left for California…I actually miss being in classes with people. Like seminar-style classes. Even if I never see those people again afterwards, something about that kind of intellectual exchange never ceases to stimulate me. I was too wrapped up in figuring things out (and in tutoring gigs…if we’re being honest) this fall to really take advantage of the fact that I legitimately could go sit in on any seminar that interested me at pretty much any university here (point to you, Paris, for that bit of intellectual accessibility), but I am set to take one starting in a couple of weeks. If nothing else, at least it’ll keep my mind busy. I find I work best under pressure.

 

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Took me until two days ago to finally have a jambon-beurre again since I moved back…

 

96 – 97

 

This is a map of UC Irvine.

 

For those unfamiliar with the campus, let me briefly break this down for you. Built in the mid-1960s (right around the time when student demonstrations on other UC campuses – notably Berkeley – were at their peak) UC Irvine is located in what was once a lot of open land. As such, the good people of the Irvine company had the freedom to construct not just the university but also its immediate surroundings in a way that, to a certain extent, responded to a growing need for a restoration of order on otherwise fraught college campuses.

 

Organized in a ring, the different departments and schools of UCI are notable for their detachment from each other. Indeed, rather than evoking an image of unity, the ‘rings’ of Irvine’s campus give more the impression of a panopticon than anything else. Although there is no looming tower in the center of this circle – as one would find in Foucault’s description of the panopticon in Discipline and Punish – the park at the center of campus presents its own set of conundrums. Although it is quite sizeable and provides plenty of space for picnicking and other outdoor activities, it is also very hilly. The walking paths shown in the picture kind of suggest this, but what this essentially leads to is a park with no ‘center’, that is, no point of convergence. I remember when I took my first tour of the campus before becoming a student back in 2008, our guide evoked the image of the campus layout resembling a bike wheel (a reference more to the fact that the school really, really wanted people to bike more, rather than to its having an actual cycling culture). Thing is, though, even the spokes on a bike wheel – what keeps its structural integrity intact – have a central point where they all cross.

 

The problem of the lack of centrality on this campus became very clear during the recession and the resulting exhorbitant rise in tuition fees. As with the other UCs, there was a mobilization effort on campus, but unfortunately, our efforts never took off to the extent of those in Berkeley or, memorably, UC Davis. This could be attributed to several factors, but here are a few I stand by:

1. The isolation of the different departments in distinct buildings, although common on many American campuses, created here a sense of ‘each department as its own island’, further emphasized by the fact that, given the circular structure of the campus, there was always a sentiment of someone watching.

2. Returning back to the park, the lack of centrality meant that there really was no natural ‘meeting point’ for students (and some faculty) to gather during demonstrations. Demonstrating on the steps of the admin building worked fine for a bit, but its location as a sort of offshoot of the greater ‘Ring Road’ made it a somewhat inconvenient place to get to for students in classes on the other side of campus.

3. What the Irvine company decided to build in the immediate surrounding area. Although we had a small shopping center just across one of the bridges leading to campus, the immediate area around UC Irvine was taken up by residential developments. Condos. Apartment complexes. Not occupied solely by students, but by private families as well. There were no student bars (the exception being the on-campus pub, but even they had to defer somewhat to campus rules regarding opening/closing times), coffee houses were pretty much various locations of impersonal Starbucks and Peet’s coffee, and in order to get anywhere of interest, one had to drive. In short, this was the anti-college-campus campus.

 

I bring this up because I could not help but think back to this last night after the show I saw (the title is actually a quote from architect Emile Aillaud and is rather long, so I’ll just let the photo speak for itself):

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Much like the last show I saw at Le 104, this show centered around a group of three ‘researchers’, this time interested in the architecture of the grands-ensembles – also known as the ‘cities’ of the Paris suburbs (banlieu) built starting in the early/mid-1960s as a response to a need for more housing (because, surprise, when your government starts calling for people to make more and more babies, eventually, these babies and their families will need homes). Originally populated by working class families, including a large number from Southern Europe (Italians especially made up large portions of the construction crews) and designed to be close to whatever factory the men of these families worked in, the reputation of the grands-ensembles did not take long to deteriorate. Instead of being heralds of the future, the cities were cold, impersonal, lacking life, isolated from the hustle and bustle of the city. As the years passed, the conversation around the banlieues shifted to them being sites of urban tension, of violence, of upheaval (and yes, there is a racial element associated with this, in case you were wondering).

 

Anyway, back to the show. The first thing that was remarkable about this performance was that, for once, it was not frontal. Instead, it was a theatre in the round (well, 3/4 around) with the playing space in the center containing a set of white cubes (seen in the picture above). During the opening of the show, the cubes were organized in a way that four of them made a center ‘block’ and the rest were posted in sort of ‘tower’ formations in the four corners of the space. In other words, the space was centered, organized, we could easily create a relationship with it.

 

Then the actors start recreating, rebuilding, reconstructing, deconstructing, the various evolutions of one of Aillaud’s designs for the grands-ensembles. Suddenly, the center exploded. No longer stable, the blocks were set in serpentine positions, creating a sort of labyrinth on the stage that, to those of us in the audience, changed the way we related to the space in front of us. No longer part of a shared ‘laboratory’/research space as in the beginning, we were now almost god-like, looking down on this aesthetic achievement below us. Meanwhile, the actors themselves weaved around not only the blocks in the center of the room, but the spaces, the gaps between the banks of seats, the sound design at times making it difficult to pinpoint exactly where one of them was at any moment. And as they, with their literal and figurative acts of destruction and construction, traversed through time to try to puzzle over how or what to make of these constructions today, the absence of the voices, the bodies, of those living in the grands-ensembles became more and more evident. For once, I think the deliberate exclusion of certain bodies (not just voices, but physical, present bodies) worked very effectively here. Indeed, at the end of the play, we see the actors in the process of creating their own ‘micro city’, designating certain blocks as community centers, pharmacies, cultural centers, parks, etc., when one of them, in the closing lines, asks:

 

“And what about the residents?”

 

That, I think got to the crux of the matter. These cities were designed with aesthetics, rather than livability in mind. Is this not what happens, though, when urban spaces are designed entirely artificially instead of allowed to grow somewhat organically, when space overly tries to dictate what its inhabitants do and how? This search for an architectural utopia lead to the sacrifice of the human, the mortal, lived element. Despite what is implied in their name, these grands-ensembles were not designed for community, neighborly living (then again, when one thinks about when they were built and who they were originally built for – to say nothing of who is “relegated” to live there now – it is not hard to see why a more divided, sequestered population would be ideal).

 

This, really, is what brought me back to my days at Irvine, and I’m pretty sure I talked the ear off the friend I went to see the show with about that! Otherwise, I don’t know if I can say enough how positively refreshing it was to see a troupe propose a different interpretation of the playing space, not just in terms of simply not being frontal, but something that finds the gaps in the structure, that makes the space almost alien, strange, uncanny.

 

Tonight I saw another show, Tue, hais quelqu’un. It was fine. There was a point where they overlaid images of the actors over their bodies, which created a really cool painterly effect, further amplified when the actors began ‘manipulating’ their images through gesture.

 

Clearly, however, my mind is occupied by other things.

 

 

 

 

Project changes (81)

A few posts back, I mentioned how I had been feeling a bit adrift lately with regards to my research, how I was unsure about whether or not there was any point in what I was doing, whether I was just grasping at air.

 

Thankfully, after a very productive meeting today, I’m back to feeling somewhat grounded in something. To be honest, I think some of the unease I had been feeling these past few days had something to do with fear of plunging into another unknown.

 

In short: I’m abandoning my research on Genet to focus on something I have been mentally obsessing over for a while, the notion/dynamics of ‘space’ in relation to contemporary theatre. It feels weird to cast off something that has been a part of my academic journey for the past 5 or 6 years, but at one point it had started to weigh down on me more than anything. That’s the thing about this kind of work: we attach ourselves to certain elements, authors, concepts, ideas, and we wear them down until they are transformed into a burden, forward propulsion turned dead weight. I found myself trying to twist things to fit a contrived thought process that would have included his work for the sake of feeling that I thought it needed to be there rather than that it should, or that it added to anything in particular.

 

 

Besides, enough people have written on him, and I’ve never been one to retread someone else’s footsteps.

 

 

So I’m finally where I want to be, in theatre, in the now of theatre, at least with regards to theatre in Paris.

 

Reading is going to be infinitely more bearable from now on.

 

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A golden latté from the café at Shakespeare and Co.

 

 

74 – 75

There are always those points when researching a (major, defining, all-consuming) project where you feel stuck.

 

Overwhelmed

 

 

Blocked

 

Unsure of where to go/what to do/what happens next

 

 

Feeling as if you’re not doing enough of what you should be doing. That you’re not reading enough – or worse, that you’re reading the wrong things for what you eventually want to produce. So would all that just be time wasted?

 

 

My project went through a bit of a much-needed house cleaning when I was in Boston, and while I am incredibly happy for that, there’s that unmistakable rush of stepping back into the wide expanse that is ‘research’ that is staring me in the face. I want to read everything but almost don’t know where or what to start with. I’m casting off some things – or actually, a certain writer – that have been my ‘anchors’ for a while, but maybe it would be more accurate to call them ‘crutches’.

 

 

Sometimes I do wonder about my capabilities to do this…thing. Whatever it ends up being. Then I remember that these sort of crises are normal – I experienced at least one during both years of my Masters programs as well as right before my Generals last year. Somewhere in the bowels of the BNF is the book/journal/text I need that will relaunch me on one of my reading ‘kicks’. I just need to find it.

 

 

Until then, there are walks at night, tacos for dinner at Candelaria (because it, unlike many other places, is actually open on Mondays) and conversations that get you to probe back into your thoughts, rehash them, remake, refresh them, bring them back into process.

 

 

I am a lioness. Hear me roar.

A post on affirmation (60 – 62)

Cocktails last night at Le Capsule

First things first: I finally finished writing that conference paper (hence the lack, in part, of posting here).

Second, I’ve been wanting to post something like this for a while, but wasn’t sure how. Partly because I didn’t quite have the words yet to fully express how I am feeling right now, partly because I felt almost self-conscious about it.

Let’s backtrack: not that long ago, I wrote about how I hit another low point in my recovery, a post which ended with a sort of affirmation of my presence here, and why that more than anything was pushing me along this strange, winding road to recovery.

In theatre, we often talk about catharsis, this purge or cleansing of emotion that often occurs in the midst of tragedy. Well, I don’t know if the travails of my personal life can compare to those found in classical drama, but to be completely honest, ever since that day, I have been feeling increasingly better, more myself, about everything.

The reason why I’ve been hesitant to talk about this, though, is that I feel sometimes to say that I am genuinely doing fine – actually more than fine, I feel pretty great right now – would be interpreted as doing a disservice to my past relationship, as though I hadn’t mourned enough. But if part of my goal with this blog is to be honest both about my journey through the dissertation nonsense, as well as my recovery process, did I not owe it to myself to embrace this happiness, this self-assuredness, this confidence that’s steadily and strongly been coming back to me? Everyone heals and recovers differently. One person’s timeline does not necessarily equate another’s. And to be frank, I think the reason I’ve been feeling this strong confidence is because I have – before and since the move – actively put myself in situations where I had to make choices about what I wanted to do because I wanted to do them. I can spontaneously buy that ticket to that show I want to see, for example, something I haven’t done in a long time, least of all here, because before I had a language-barrier issue (not mine, the ex’s) to take into consideration. The choice for me personally to be happy was right in front of me, so, since I have the privilege to make this choice, why wasn’t I taking it?

So last night when I met up with a friend for drinks and she asked me how I was doing, instead of doing my usual rundown of “yes, I’m doing alright. It’s been difficult. I’m getting by, etc.” I just flat out said that I was doing great. And it felt pretty fucking good because I meant it. And I understand I am very lucky to be able to say this and mean it. But I think the point I want to try and make here is that it is absolute shit that anyone has to question their recovery story/process, whether it be slow, fast, or somewhere in between. There is no right or wrong way to do this; it’s just a matter of working to a point where you can let yourself be honest (and what the hell, a little selfish) about what you want, what you need, and damn the rest.

55-57

Yep. So slow.

Friday. Reading. Reading and realizing I need to actually write this presentation for a conference in New Jersey in a couple weeks (literally) that I’ve been putting off. Eeep.

Saturday was much more fun though.

It’s always such a delight to me to meet up with friends/former classmates/former students (still cannot believe I can write this last one) when I’m in Paris, and yesterday was no exception. First up was coffee with a former student (who herself was also a grad student during her time in the course I was TFing, and yes, before you ask, that is a very strange thing to encounter) at La Fontaine de Belleville, which is quickly becoming my favorite spot in the city if for no reason other than the live jazz on Saturdays. I’m also kind of determined at this point to go there enough times that they start to recognize me and can predict my order of a café noisette with optional sablé cookie right away. Will update if/when that moment ever happens.

After enjoying the music for a while, we headed out for a bit of a stroll, during which we stumbled across what I am starting to consider as the new manifestation of the theatre of the absurd.

A suitcase was abandoned near rue Montorgeuil. Seeing that the state of emergency that followed November 2015 – and that Macron has pretty much signed into law – is still in full force, this seemingly innocuous navy blue object was treated with all the care of a live land mine. There was the cordoned off perimeter – which, let’s be honest, would have been about as useful as a paper umbrella in a blizzard if there actually was anything dangerous in the suitcase –, policemen announcing that passerby were to stay back, and a little robot poling and prodding the offending object, confirming what the exasperated crowd of onlookers already suspected: there was nothing inside. I think though what solidified the theatricality of the whole thing was what happened immediately afterwards. As pedestrians were allowed to move freely again, a small crowd of people gathered around the suitcase to stare at it, poke it, turn it upside down, take photographs of it, simultaneously elevating its status to ‘sacred object’ while debasing and destroying it even further.

Hyper-security can produce such strange spectacle sometimes.

Later that evening, I met up with another member of my cohort who is also living in Paris at the moment, and I finally tried Da Vito, the pizzeria that’s a front for that one speakeasy bar (Moonshiner) behind a fridge that I think I have written about here before. Honestly, not bad at all.

And finally, today was the last day of that Shakespeare monologue workshop/meetup I signed up for a few weeks back. As it was the final class, it mostly consisted of everyone presenting their monologues, getting a bit of feedback, and then heading out to a pub for some drinks to celebrate the end of the course. I think I’m going to try and keep a foot in this group somehow, if not just as a good resource to refresh some of the more ‘classical’ elements of my technique a bit (plus, it’s not like I’m actively hustling for auditions anyway).

The weather has started to turn a bit, and soon I think my walking habit will be tested. I’m going to try and hold out as long as I can. Wish me luck.

Another post on recovering (47)

So, a week ago, during one of my (thankfully rarer) low points, I decided to download this app called Mend, which labels itself as a kind of personal trainer for heartbreak. Given the ‘cleanse’ style of this first week on the app, I think the idea is to download and start using it not long after a breakup, but honestly, sometimes three-ish months (holy shit) after is better than nothing.
Using the app has been alright. Sometimes the ‘training’ it provides can feel a little too…simplistic? Surface level? I’m not sure how to describe it because it’s clearly designed in such a way that it can be applicable to a variety of situations, and which can kind of leave you feeling like you want to probe deeper, while knowing that you can’t because you’d be talking to a recording.

Anyway, what I have liked about the app are the journal prompts. I’ve started refocusing my thoughts more on myself than solely on the breakup and all that came with it, and although I’m still not quite where I want to be mentally/emotionally speaking, I feel like I’m slowly getting back there. The key word being slowly.

As I had finished the first week of using the app today – and as my mood was a bit shaky from all the wandering my mind inevitably does when I’ve been reading/studying for a while – I decided to take up the app’s prompt to ‘treat myself’ this afternoon. So I got an ice cream cone from Berthillon.

Perfect lil’ scoop

I’ve mentioned before how much I like black sesame, so you can bet that when I saw it listed as one of their available flavors, there was no way I was changing my mind. And yes, I am aware the scoop is a bit on the smaller end, but you’re paying for quality here. For a treat, I think it did just fine.

I actually could have treated myself a bit more as well, had I left the BNF a bit earlier, but fortunately for my wallet, the bouquinistes were closing up shop for the day by the time I got to the Île St Louis/ Hôtel de Ville area.

Honestly, when books can cost as little as 2eu, there’s precious little that can be done to keep me away.

Overall right now? The ups and downs still happen, but slightly less. At times it gets hard being alone – especially when you’re so used to having someone around to share your day with -, but I’m readjusting I think. And when the days get particularly hard, all I have to do is go outside and see this :
And remember that I’m here.

They say exercise is good for a cold (40)

Another marathon study session – this one in the reading room of the Arts de Spectacle department at the Richelieu site of the BNF – another burst of energy that must be walked off. 

And honestly, the timing could not have been better.

I think one of the things that really cemented my love for Paris was how easily walkable it is. Now, some people after hearing that I don’t really mind regular crosstown walks tend to look at me like I’ve lost my mind. After all, why would anyone choose to walk when there is an extensive metro system? 
My thoughts tend to clutter me though, especially after several hours of thinking. Rooms start feeling stuffier, and with that comes an almost uncontrollable itch to clear out, find something more open and just let a part of me other than my brain do the heavy work. 

Sun is fine, but Paris is really lovely under grey skies.

One thing about my walking habits has changed recently, however. Normally, if you see me walking down the street, I’ve got headphones plastered to my ears, listening either to a podcast or one of my many Spotify playlists. As much as I have mentioned regaining a sense of ‘ownership’ over the media I consume post-breakup, music has, so far at least, been the one thing that has evaded me. It’s not just the (very strong) memories associated with almost every song that comes up that affect me; it’s just all too orderly. Too rhythmic when I want the sounds I take into myself to be as random, disordered, chaotic, scattered as my current state of mind sometimes is. Besides, I like taking in the city more, and not just all the traffic noises. Yesterday, for instance, I walked past a nondescript building and heard a woman praticing an aria a few floors above me. 

Hello again.

I closed out my walk with a visit to Shakespeare and Co, partly to browse around the theatre section, partly because I’m still getting over a cold and needed to find somewhere a bit less damp for a while. Having not been inside for a couple of years, I was a bit lost initially, given that they moved the theatre section from where I remembered it was, but in the end I was able to get a decent bit of browsing in (honestly, the fact that I went into a bookstore and resisted buying something is like a new record for me). 

37 – 38

A question to think on : Que perdrait-on si l’on perdait le théâtre? / What would we lose if we lost theatre ?This is the question that’s been nagging at me for ages (thanks Genet…), and will probably continue to nag at me for the rest of my life. When Genet first posed this question in his essay L’étrange mot d’… / The strange word urb[anism]…, theatre was up against film and television, and consequently, just as painting did with the advent of photography, had to adapt, reassess itself, find what it was that made it…theatre. I wonder though, with the popularity of virtual media and all it encompasses in terms of spatial/communal dynamics, if theatre still has a chance for renewal, for a redefinition of its necessity, or if those of us who practice it only continue to defend it so ardently in part due to sentimental reasons or attachments. 
Anyway, these are things I think about after reading Derrida in coffee shops. 

I blame this chai tea latte

Coffee hunts (day 16)

Sometimes I do things that others might deem irrational. 
Today for instance, after a meeting, I stopped by Ten Belles for some lunch as well as to pick up some coffee beans, as this morning I realized I would only barely have enough for tomorrow. Unfortunately for me, they were not selling any beans that day, as they were not expecting new stock from Belleville Brûlerie until Friday. I was, somehow, fine with this, until I remembered that contrary to what my brain was telling me, no it was not Thursday today but Monday, and thus I voluntarily placed myself in a dilemma. Or set myself a challenge, if you will, by knowingly skewing my priorities for the day. 

Now, a normal person would have just chalked this up to bad timing and simply picked something else up from the Franprix that was literally two minutes away, but I apparently have a certain affinity for taking on ridiculous side-quests. And so I began trekking around the Marais, handbag heavy with SAT prep books for a course I’m teaching (speaking of : they really haven’t found a way to make these things not weigh 500 pounds, considering how much paper is wasted on these things that always become ‘obsolete’ within the year?), wondering why the hell every shop (all 5 of them) I stopped at that I knew stocked the coffee brand I was looking for was closed on a Monday. Granted, I did finally find what I was looking for, but upon finding it, I couldn’t help but think to myself that maybe this was all a bit too much nonsense. 

Then again, maybe this is another manifestation of me trying to get full control back over my life after things got somewhat upended. It would make sense, wouldn’t it, to try and give even a small f**k you to the universe?