I was reading in my hotel room after a conference last week when a passage made me gasp. It was one of those moments when you see your thoughts spelled out on a page of another writer’s book, expressed so beautifully that you just have to tell someone about it. I’ve included some photos from my own wanderings.
“You are drinking your coffee alone at a sidewalk cafe.
You are watching the people around you, families, children playing, a young woman engrossed in a book, a lost tourist trying to find his way, a man in a hurry, running to catch his bus, the leaves of the cherry tree above your head.
You have no real reason to be there: you’re not meeting anyone, and no one is waiting for you elsewhere. You will stay as long as you like, and leave only when you’re ready. On a whim you can decide what to do and how to do it: there is something a bit dangerous and yet delicious about freedom.
You are anonymous in your own city; no one knows your age, who you are, or what you do for a living. In this moment, you can regain control of your life. Feel the beating of your heart, take a deep breath and listen to yourself. Do nothing. Absolutely nothing. Savor these stolen moments. They help you regroup, and belong to no one else. You alone are responsible for what happens to you.
Nowadays more than ever your life is organized like clockwork, everything’s planned, you go from A to B, yet at this instant your phone is turned off, no one knows what you’re doing; you’re cheating on yourself, expanding the scope of your possibilities.
You could just disappear. Jump in a cab and take a plane to Caracas or Ulan Bator, or simply spend all day at the movies. Or you could strike up a conversation with the woman siting next to you in the cafe, even though you’d normally be too shy, and you could ask her about her book, say ‘Oh, no, I’ve never read Turgenev,” and then talk about how the neighborhood has changed. Resume your wander, stop in a park; answer when a stranger chats you up. Why not? You’ll never see him again. He won’t know your name, where you come from, your brothers’ or your sisters’ names, how much you hate your ears, why you once cheated on an important math exam, or why you prefer making love in the morning. Just share this moment, suspended in time, before slowly heading home.
You turn your phone back on, read your messages, and send word to reassure the people in your life who were worried when you become momentarily silent.
Ennui is your secret garden.
And solitude can be a luxury.”
– An excerpt from “How To Be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style, and Bad Habits” By Anne Berest, Audrey Diwan, Caroline de Maigret, and Sophie Mas
The photos above were all taken in downtown Fargo, except for the bridge in Valley City and the peeling ceiling from inside a historic building at Fort Totten.
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The #PrairiePeople, #PrairiePlaces project is sponsored in part by a grant from North Dakota Tourism.