Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Being interesting

One of the great catastrophes of life as we know it is the feeling of being less interesting, both to yourself and to others. The abrasive effect of repetition renders almost any activity dull. For example, swimming in the San Francisco bay is thrilling the first time, and always retains the dark fantasy of encountering something with big teeth, but with enough iterations inevitably takes on a mundane aspect something like a chore.

Even the parts we like best about ourselves become suffocating after almost a half a century of admiring them in the mirror, expressed eloquently in the Christine Lavine song about Elvis being “a prisoner of his own hairstyle.”

So why is it that simply changing location is enough to make you interesting? In San Francisco, we were flies caught in our own web of self-imposed constraints, but in Paris (although we have immediately overscheduled ourselves) the strands are all more more malleable, have an entirely different quality.

Not only do we have the opportunity to be more interesting to ourselves (and each other) we find that people are interested in us here too. In San Francisco, we are run of the mill software yuppies, but in Paris we are exotic. We meet actors, art historians, dancers, artists – all of whom are as intrigued by us as we are by them.

Within the ex-patriot community in Paris, nobody has a feeling of belonging or permanence. Everybody is to some extent a misfit and everyone has an interesting story to tell about choosing to be a colorful misfit rather than fading into the woodwork of their own lives.

Austen may have summed it up best when he was describing how he has gotten so many friends at his new school, “I knew I was only going to be here for a year so I decided that if I wanted to have any friends, I would have to try harder.”