CFN – Ten years ago, as a 20-year-old art history student, I traveled to Paris for ten days. I nearly killed my mother with worry in the process, but it was a great experience all the same.
I recently resurrected my Paris memories for an essay I’m trying to write about the trip, and in the process I’ve learned quite a bit about myself. I called up the familiar memories fondly: Getting a flower from a random Frenchman on a street in Versailles. Almost puking on the top of the Arc de Triomphe. My roommate walking around our hotel room, naked from the waist down like Donald Duck. The shady trees of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood. A boat ride on the Seine. Climbing Notre Dame and seeing how gargoyles view Paris.
I took tons of pictures – with a film camera! – and diligently labeled and numbered each one for the benefit of my future, forgetful self. After looking at all these pictures, teary-eyed and nostalgic, I went through a stack of postcards. I’d half-forgotten that on most of them I’d written little stories about what I remembered and my impressions of a particular site. My 20-year-old self was a genius – she knew one day I’d appreciate the effort.
Now, you’d think reading the thoughts of your 20-year-old self would be horrifying. When I think about myself at that age, I recoil with embarrassment and sometimes regret (I won’t get into that, you’re not a therapist). But when I read the words, I was pleasantly touched.
I haven’t changed.
My favorite remembrance is one I wrote about seeing the Venus de Milo in the Louvre: “I saw her for the first time from behind as I climbed a set of stairs. From behind, her drapery is slipping down her hips so the first thing I saw was her butt crack.”
I had to laugh at this little insight because I would have noticed the same thing today. In fact, I would have pointed it out to my husband – “Hey, get a load of that – its Venus de Milo’s butt crack!”
Yes, I was – and continue to be – a little immature. Fair enough. But I’ve learned a couple lessons. First – you’re never as bad or embarrassing as you remember. And second, you – and people in general – don’t change.
We’d like to think they do – a lot of people enter marriage based on that belief – but we don’t. The world changes around us, drastically – and on the surface, we change a little, too. I’m sure I have (for one thing, I have totally different hair). After my Paris trip, my grandfather died, I worked as a reporter, a secretary, moved six times, had two bad boyfriends, got married, watched my sister get married, went back to Europe, and became an aunt. Despite all that, I would still notice a butt crack on a classical Greek statue before anything else.
But despite exterior changes, your core self – how you see the world and how you think – stays pretty constant. If you’ve ever tried to help someone change “for the better” you’ll know the effort is fruitless.
My wise mother would argue I was born with this personality. I choose to take that as a compliment. And if my mother’s right – if people are born with a pre-made persona – you certainly didn’t choose to be who you are. You were just born that way (as Lady Gaga says). And for that reason, you should just accept yourself and others and move on.
Maybe you’re not so bad after all.
JH Mae is a feature journalist and short fiction writer based in rural northern New York.
She worked for five years at a local newspaper, followed by three years as a secretary.
She recently left the office life to pursue a full-time writing career and now works in her pajamas.