For the last seven or eight years, I’ve always gone for a run on my birthday. And on these ritual runs, I’ve always had the same idea jump around, exciting the membranes, spurring my legs to go faster and faster: What if I moved to Paris right now?*
It sounds like a hypothetical, and I suppose it is, but it always gets posed as a serious question in my mind. What if I got home from my run, booked a ticket, packed my bags, and left for good? Because the thing is, I could. There’d be a few annoyances and some awkward phone calls, but technically I could do it. I could go live in my dream city.
A couple of the years I felt THISCLOSE to actually acting upon my flight of French fancy.** The Great Escape, I’d title the chapter in my memoir. Or maybe it would be the title of the memoir itself. It sounded positively romantic, the thing that grand adventure stories are made of: “Girl turns 25, leaves her entire life behind and starts afresh in the place she wishes she were born.” Sounds rather Joycian, no?
But I’ve never done it. I’ve always finished my run, sprinting the last two blocks to my house, and returned to the life I’ve been living. The one in Los Angeles, with my quaint little cottage, my comfortable job, my lovely friends, and the permanent sunshine. And the dreams of being a Parisian return to the nocturnal world of sleep.
Today I turned 29. And for the first time in many years, I did not go for a run on my birthday. Nor did I dream of running away. Because really, that’s what I was doing. I can sugar coat it all I want – “Paris is my favorite city! Only natural for me to want to move there!” or “It’s just the adventurer in me!” – but my fantasies weren’t about Paris. Not really. They were, as my memoir title nails so beautifully on the head, about escape.
But from what?
I have a great life. A wonderful, blessed, privileged life. I know this. I’ve always known this. And I do not want to sound ungrateful. Because I am very grateful. I often break down in tears for no reason at all except an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my experience of this world. In fact, it happened several times today. Like while I’m typing this sentence.
So again, what was I trying to run away from?
Well, myself. That sounds really harsh and overblown, and it is, but it’s really the core of what was keeping me so unsettled, so ready to shed this skin and put on un autre. Because I was afraid.
I was afraid of embracing this self, this version of me that lives and loves and cries and drinks and stumbles my way through Los Angeles. Through Hollywood Blvd and along the coast and up Runyon Canyon and into casting offices and at home on my computer. The self that has wanted to tell stories since I learned how to speak, but has for so long feared that I had nothing to say. That felt I needed to do something crazy and rash and become someone else in order to earn that right.
And in a super ironic way, that’s exactly what I did that made me finally stop being afraid of myself. I made up a fake name, set a crazy 40 day goal, and then blogged about it. And while it was very much autobiographical and pretty much like an online literary version of The Bachelorette, it helped me recognize my own voice. And in doing that, I finally gave myself permission. Permission to create. Permission to write. Permission to imagine. Permission to live in Paris without having to move there. Or I could move there if I wanted, but not because this me wasn’t enough.
“Why are you sitting there when you can go anywhere?” my amazing friend and SoulCycle instructor Jenny said to the class during today’s ride.*** She was referring to a meme of a bird perched on a tree with the caption I always wonder why birds stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere.
In years past, this naturally would have ignited my French fantasy. But today I felt something different. It’s not about literally going somewhere (although you all know how much I LOVE to travel.) If it was about that, Jenny never would have said it to a bunch of people on stationary bikes. No, it’s about transcending that part of you that keeps you stuck. That part that’s afraid. That part that says “You can’t go there. You’re not an artist. You’re not a writer.” That part that holds you back and makes you want to become someone else.
I felt my legs go faster and faster, picking up speed with the rhythm of the music, the pulsing of room. I’m 29! I beamed, tears streaking my face alongside the sweat. This is my life! I’m breathing! I’m flying! And I was. I am.
*One year it was New York. And another it was Tuscany. But usually it’s Paris.
**I may have been a little less happy these years. Or perhaps the opposite.
***You didn’t think I wasn’t going to exercise at all today, did you?