My Favorite Parks are Cemeteries

I was on my fourth or fifth visit to Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris when I overheard another American tourist, a young woman in her twenties, make this statement about the cemetery to her friends:

“I guess it’s a park…if you’re morbid.”

I didn’t know whether to fight her on it or thank her for her observation. Because I’m not sure whether I’m morbid.

The dictionary that pops up on my Google search defines morbid as “characterized by or appealing to an abnormal and unhealthy interest in disturbing and unpleasant subjects, especially death and disease.”

I’m definitely interested in death. I wrote a dissertation about it. And I’ve made no secret about my love of cemeteries. Check out my updated cemetery recommendations page that now includes Père Lachaise!

But I wouldn’t I characterize my interest as unhealthy or abnormal. I think that I think about death a healthy amount. An amount that lets me reflect upon what I want to do with my life and how I will handle change. An amount that lets me better understand the past by studying the lives of the deceased.

My favorite parks are cemeteries. And cemeteries are often the places I am happiest and the most at peace.

Riding the Waves of Popularity

We stood in a line in the street waiting to order crepes for about twenty minutes while the neighboring crepe maker watched us from his vacant window. David had warned me about this aspect of his favorite crepe shop–that there was a less popular one right by it. But knowing it in advance didn’t make the situation easier for me. I still felt a great deal of sympathy for the lonely crepe maker, which made the delicious crepe we eventually ate slightly less delicious.

I’ve had a deep respect for popularity ever since I became aware of its existence around fifth grade. Over the course of my life, I’ve found myself both high and low on the ladder, and while I’m generally more comfortable at the bottom and have found lasting friendships there, I like the magnetism I feel when I’m on top–the way people seem attracted to me.

I’ve been to a number of museums this summer, and at them, I read a lot of signs because I’m a fan of information. I’ve found myself particularly attracted to stories of artists and political figures who traverse both the fringes and the heights of popularity during their lives. For example, Winston Churchill, who despite having enjoyed political success in the early 20th century, spent a decade in political isolation before becoming Britain’s prime minister during World War II. This isolated period in Churchill’s life is referred to as his “wilderness years” and during it he sought comfort through painting.

At the Louvre, I’ve learned about artists who encountered criticism and censorship but were ultimately revered (e.g., Delacroix), artists who achieved fame and then fell out of favor during their lifetime (e.g., Gros), and artists who lived their lives in relative obscurity only to be rediscovered and heralded in a later period (e.g., Vermeer).

These stories comfort me because they’re a reminder of how much is out of my control in terms of the reception of my work. This in turn reminds me of a quote from the dancer and choreographer Martha Graham on the responsibility of an artist:

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.

-Martha Graham*

A friend shared a printed copy of this quote with me last year advising me to put it somewhere I could read it often. I chose my bedroom mirror. It’s good advice for weathering troughs in the waves of popularity and a reminder of the effort needed to reach the crests.

*Source: Wikiquote’s Martha Graham page

All the World’s a Stage…But Where’s Mine?

The closest I’ve come to really liking social media is when I view it as a platform for myself and others to create art, share our stories, promote our work, and be audiences for one another.

This past March I gave up on it because I’d become a bad audience member and a blocked creator. A bad audience member because I felt jealous all the time of what I saw others accomplishing and a blocked creator because I felt pressure to express outrage at what was going on in the world but was scared to share it.

So I retreated. And this retreat coincided with a retreat from the literal stages I’d been performing on as well.


My future in theatrical performance is uncertain. I’m not sure what I’ll do next or even what I want. It’s a time of change that feels similar to when I left academia but then I knew I was ready to leave completely. And now I feel like I’m not yet done with performing.

I saw a show this past week in London that confirmed these feelings—The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Globe Theatre. I’d seen As You Like It at the Globe a year before. And it was to my absolute delight (a phrase I don’t use often) that the actor who I’d loved as Jaques in the prior year’s production was playing Falstaff in the show I saw this year. Seeing this actor (Pearce Quigley) on stage and witnessing his ability to send the audience roaring with laughter at seemingly simple moves rekindled everything I love about being on stage (and being a good audience member as well). It was a privilege to see him play once but to have the opportunity to see him twice in two different roles was incredible.


We all play parts, and those parts change over the course of our lives (as Jaques details in his “All the world’s a stage” monologue in As You Like It). What’s weird about social media is how much it calls upon us to capture and reflect on the part we’re playing. I see it everywhere I go on my travels—people taking pictures that define them in some way: sexy world traveler in front of a skyline, funny guy next to a nude statue, person with their hand on top of the Louvre pyramid (it’s an angle thing).

It’s not that I don’t want to share myself anymore. It’s more that I’ve become hyper aware of the ways that I’m constructing my part, especially as my identity is shifting. I want to know more about who I am now and what venues make sense for me to share my work before I put myself out there again—both in the world of performance and on social media.

For now, I’ll stick with what’s comfortable. Posting weekly on this website and sharing an image of myself with Shakespeare (of whom I’m a big fan).


Technical Difficulties

The tour van wouldn’t start for the first twenty minutes of our D-Day tour. A technical malfunction of a small piece of equipment had caused it to lock up.

This gave me time to try to use one bathroom and finding it unsatisfactory to search out another and return back to the van in plenty of time.

Later during the tour, when we talked about the obstacles the Allied D-Day forces faced, the guide would humorously point out that they had encountered difficulties like we had that morning with the van.

Our problems were so small in comparison.

Today I have a technical trouble to report too. I’d hoped to share a couple of new photo albums. But slow upload times and a busy day ahead mean these will have to wait.

In the meantime, here’s a picture of me taking pictures during our D-Day tour. I was having some troubles with my camera (again so small in comparison to the events of D-Day but a problem that weighed on me nonetheless) which may explain my scrunched up face. Or perhaps that’s how I look when I photograph things.


A Cough From Above

A cough. It’s become a trigger for me on my travels. I hear one, and I move to avert it.

I was in Clermont-Ferrand, France a couple weeks ago when I heard a loud, man sounding cough–the kind designed to clear phlegm from the lungs. I scanned right and left trying to place it.

Eventually I discovered the source–above me–a man on the boundary of middle and older age with his head out the window of a second story apartment (first story in Europe).

We locked eyes, and he nudged his neck toward me as if to say, “Yeah, I’m coughing at you. What are you going to do about it?”

I grimaced and made quick steps down the hill away from him.

A couple days later I woke with my own summer cold–a sore throat and phlegm lodged deep in my chest cavity where it remained for a day or two before I was able to start hacking it out.

Whether my sickness came from the cough from above or another of the many open mouth coughers I’ve tried to avoid on my travels, whose to say.

All I know is that having been coughed upon, I became a cougher. And so it goes.

Preparing for Normandy

I had a lot in common with the man sitting beside me on the plane to Paris this summer. We were both Midwest transplants now living in the South, we were both wearing compression socks, and we were both highly anticipating our upcoming trips to Normandy.

He would depart for his shortly after we arrived in Paris, and his tour would take him to several sites culminating in Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest. I still have some time before I make my way to Normandy for a day long tour of the five D-Day beaches, but I’ve been preparing for awhile now.

Like my general understanding of French history, my knowledge of what happened on D-Day has come and gone a few times over my lifetime. I’m sure I knew something about it in high school when I took AP US History and the movie Saving Private Ryan premiered (although I didn’t see it). I probably touched on it again in college when I studied abroad in Europe.

But most of what I knew then has been lost. So to prepare for myself for my Normandy tour, I’ve watched the first few episodes of Band of Brothers, I’ve listened to an abridged version of Stephen Ambrose’s D-Day audiobook, and I’ve visited the French Army Museum in Paris. On the plane, along with the man beside me, I watched The Longest Day, a 1962 film about the Normandy landings.

The films and the audiobook tend to jump around between different units, and my lack of knowledge of military terms (e.g., division, regiment, etc.) has kept me from following the storylines of any individual or group very well. But I have a sense of the larger picture now.

Here’s what I’ll be thinking about when I make my trip to Normandy and what I’m thinking about today on the 75th anniversary of D-Day:

  • The extent of the physical obstacles the Allied soldiers faced on the beaches like land mines, barbed wire, barriers, the terrain, and the sea itself. Laden down with equipment, the troops navigated these obstacles while under intense fire from Germans positioned above them. They had to pass fellow soldiers lying dead or wounded on the ground.
  • The magnitude of the Allied fleet that came to launch the attack: 7000 ships and landing craft with 156,000 Allied soldiers landing at Normandy.* There’s a scene in The Longest Day (that my seat mate on the plane had me watch for) where a German officer in a beach front barricade looks out to the horizon through binoculars and a wall of Allied ships appears before him.
  • The French citizens in the towns behind the beaches who were waiting to be liberated after four years of German occupation.
  • The problems that clouds and the weather introduced, making it difficult for the Allied air fleet to drop the paratroopers in their designated zones and to carry out an aerial bombing of the German defenses along the beaches before the infantry troops came ashore.
  • The extent of the casualties among the Allied troops: over 10,000 with 4,414 of these confirmed deaths.**

As overwhelming as they are, these numbers represent one day in a war that lasted years. Learning about D-Day has reminded me of all the things I don’t know yet about World War II. Like what else happened on the Western front and what happened on the Eastern front, in North Africa, and in the Pacific theater.

The horror of D-Day is overwhelming and to continue to follow it means coming to grips with even more horror–military campaigns, concentration camps, and atomic bombings.

Knowing history can’t change it’s course, but I find I’m scared to learn it. Part of me wants to hide from the horror, but there’s another part of me, a stronger part, that wants to honor the memory of those involved by learning their stories in Normandy and beyond.

*From BBC News article “D-Day: 10 things you might not know about the Normandy invasion”
**From the Wikipedia entry on Normandy Landings

Living Inside Our Simulation

Their glasses raised in the air, the three women held their arms fixed in a cheers pose while one of them captured the moment for posterity.

Did they even toast? I thought from a few tables away in a Barcelona restaurant catering to diners looking for healthy eating options and Instagram worthy plating.

I judged them as I’ve been judging most of the photo hungry diners and sightseers I’ve encountered on this trip.

Like the tourists who cruise from room to room in the Louvre with their camera fixed in front of them seemingly snapping anything that comes into view. I judge their lack of “experiencing the art” as I listen to in depth commentary on my museum app. After I’ve learned from the audio track, I take a picture like I’ve earned it.

I’m not above it all. The morning of the simulated cheers described above I’d woken up early to run along Barcelona’s beachfront. I’d biked the path the day before, and while I was biking it, I’d thought about running it. While I was running it, I thought about when I should stop to take the best picture.

Eventually, I came across sleek outdoor adult fitness equipment free to access–basically an adult jungle gym with two long sets of monkey bars, dip bars, pull up bars, a landmine, and other things.

I’ve been working on my pull up, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to hang there for a bit. Literally hang. That’s what I do on the pull up bar since I can’t yet do a pull up.

So I hung, staring out into the ocean, hoping the setting would make what’s usually a crappy task (honing grip strength–i.e., making callouses) more fun.

But I found right away, that instead of “being in the moment”, I was caught up in the process of making the moment. While I hung, I thought about how I should take a picture. I thought about how I might write up a social media post about it. Instead of living the moment, I was creating the moment and processing it through the potential lens of others.

I was aware that I did not want to be doing this, but I couldn’t stop myself. (In general, I have a hard time stopping thoughts I’m trying not to think. Maybe you can relate.)

Today I climbed a hill in Clermont-Ferrand, France, and I faced the same problem when I arrived at the top: capture the moment versus be in the moment. I started first with capturing it. I took as many pictures as I wanted. I thought about texts I would send David describing my summit. And then I sat down and relaxed into what felt like “the moment” I should be experiencing.

Going forward I’m going to follow a similar strategy: document first then let whatever happen. Because I like taking pictures and I like sharing. And I think those are part of what make a moment and an experience now in our culture.

A toast is no longer just words and a clanking of glasses. It can also be a picture of arms held aloft accessible from anywhere if the user chooses to share it so.

Here’s my hilltop:


And my pull up bars:


Living in the Moment

It’s been a bit since I last wrote a note. I spent the last week of June and pretty much all of July traveling around Europe. While there were plenty of noteworthy things happening, a friend encouraged me to “let go of should” on my trip. So while I felt I probably should blog and write and figure out my life instead I tried to live in the moment and honor my impulses.

I’d purchased a nice camera before my trip so one way I spent my time was taking photos. I had a pretty basic knowledge of how to use my camera before I left, and it was a lot of fun learning more about photography as I explored different places: Zagreb, Amsterdam, Schiermonnikoog, Brussels, London, Paris, Heidelberg, Frankfurt, and Berlin.

I operated on a volume principle–take a lot of pictures at different angles in hopes some of them will turn out good. Below is one of my favorite photos I took in Berlin. For me, it captures the beauty of living in the moment. The moving bus, the stationary statue of the man on the horse, and the moving small speck of plane in the sky all come into alignment for a brief time. I manage to document it. Within seconds, the bus is down the street and the plane is off to who knows where and the moment has changed.