I’ve been thinking a lot about Paris lately. I’ve never been. I don’t speak the language. I don’t have French ancestry. Well, not enough to warrant a roots tour. My father’s side claims you can tie our clan back to Napoléon Bonaparte, but I’m not convinced. Veracity aside, I’m unsure it’s something to brag about, though the Donahues have somehow found a way to do just that. If you give my family an inch, we take a mile. Hey! Maybe we are related to Napoléon.
The point is, whether I’m washing the dishes, waiting for the bus, or wandering the grocery aisles, I can’t stop imagining myself in Paris. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve become a little obsessed. Usually in these daydreams, I picture myself wearing something stylish (très chic!) and I’m always eating a stereotypical French treat: a soft cheese or a chocolate croissant. You know, basically I picture the cartoon version of Paris. Anyway, I’m sitting in my Parisian café, enjoying my snack while I read a book, something existential. Sometimes in this reverie, I’m writing a short story, probably about a lady sleuth. Yeah, she’s an American in 1920s Paris. A tourist caught up in unusual circumstance. A fish out of water — JUST LIKE ME IN THIS IMAGINARY PARIS CAFE!
My Paris dream follows me home from work and errands. It creeps into my search history: “American in Paris, “Paris Jobs for Americans,” “Traveling in France on a Budget,” “Learn French Fast.” It finds its way to my Instagram feed. I’ll spend 30, maybe 40 minutes before realizing I’ve liked four months worth of @lostncheeseland’s posts.
The company my boyfriend works for has an office in Paris. That’s my in. At least in my head it is. I picture his boss calling him to the Denver office for a Monday morning meeting. “The Paris office needs you, Brown,” he’ll say. “You’ve got two weeks to get your affairs in order.” In this particular part of my Paris daydream, his boss says things like “get your affairs in order” and calls subordinates by their last name. In reality, he’s a a very nice CU grad in his early thirties and always calls my boyfriend Austin. But a girl can dream, can’t she?
The thing is, my whole life I’ve been more of a dreamer than a doer. Even in my Paris fantasy, I’m not in charge of my own travel — I only go if my boyfriend’s boss says he has to! But whether it’s Paris or something/someplace else I’m dreaming of, I know the routine. I’ve got an overactive imagination and sometimes if I imagine something long enough and in enough detail, I eventually feel almost satisfied. I archive the dream and cross it off my to-do list, even though I never actually followed through on anything, aside from maybe creating a Pinterest board.
This worries me.
And it’s got me thinking about why we often let dreams or ambitions go by the wayside. Studies suggest announcing your goal actually makes you less motivated to follow through with it. So for example, if you want to be a lawyer and you tell your friends you’re going to be one, your brain kind of tricks you into thinking your friends now see you as a lawyer. Once you feel they see you as a lawyer, you’ve met your desired “identity goal.” And when your “identity goal” is reached, you feel so darn satisfied with yourself you may never actually wind up applying to law school. It sounds crazy, I know, but when I think back on my own announcements to friends and family over the years (I’m getting my PhD! I’m moving to Thailand! I’m hiking the Appalachian Trail!), I can’t help but notice a pattern of announcement and very little follow through. And it’s only gotten worse as I’ve gotten older. Procrastinating your homework is one thing. Procrastinating your life is another.
If there were a time to do exactly what I want, all signs point to now. I’ve got no mortgage, no kids. Is Paris what I want? I don’t know. A month ago I was daydreaming of something else. I’ve never expressed any interest in France, or even Europe really, until cliched images of me in a striped shirt chowing down on baguettes burrowed in my mind and have yet to leave. When you’re a chronic dreamer, it’s hard to pinpoint the real dreams from the passing ones. But in between my dreaming, I really do worry this tendency to announce and abandon is, in my case, somehow tied to chronic illness, to my cystic fibrosis.
One of my college English professors said Flannery O’Connor’s greatest tragedy fueled her greatest gift. After a diagnosis at 25, Lupus forced her to move back to the South and into her ancestral farmhouse with her mother. Never able to fully experience the world, she wrote about it instead. Fortunately for us, she was a pioneer of the Southern Gothic style during this time. Unfortunately for her, biographers say she lived a lonely and physically painful 14 years on the farm until her death at 39 years old.
This story devastated me. As someone with chronic illness, I’ve worried this would be my fate, forced to abandon dreams due to declining health.
In reality, I am no Flannery O’Connor. I’m not nearly as prolific, Catholic, complicated, or talented. I’m also not as sick. Not yet. Thanks to medical advancements like Orkambi, maybe I’ll never be. So why am I so afraid to follow through on things like travel? I have CF-related excuses all the time for not doing what I said I wanted to do: health insurance headaches, traveling with medicine and equipment, finding an English-speaking CF clinic. These are sometimes valid excuses. I do get tired more quickly than everyone else. My risk of infection is much higher. Staying on top of my meds is crucial to maintaining high lung function. But I have to wonder if CF isn’t really holding me back. What if my reasons for not following through are actually much less interesting? Maybe I’m just comfortable and boring like plenty of other folks who never follow through. Coming home to watch Netflix after 8 hours+ at the office is much easier than applying for a VISA, getting into grad school, moving somewhere new, or finally finishing that short story about a scrappy American female sleuth caught up in a Paris mystery.
So am I going to live in Paris? I don’t think that’s really the point. Plus I don’t want to keep falling into the “identity goal” trap so I guess I can’t really confirm anything ever again until I actually do it, right? But “the idea of Paris” seems to represent something more than a few Instagram posts of me snarfing bread and cheese. I think it could serve as a reminder to start holding myself accountable for goals unreached. It would be a real shame to get to the end of (fingers-crossed a long) life and realize I never got off the farm. Especially because unlike Ms. O’Connor, I can’t say I’ll be leaving behind quite so hefty a contribution to the American literary canon when I go. The least I could do is have one or two fewer unfulfilled dreams.