Earlier this month, Mac and I spent a long weekend in Lyon, France.
We took the train through Geneva with big plans to see a soccer game, and then to spend a few days exploring the historic city.
The first afternoon we took a walk in the old square, and I was surprised when he asked if I wanted to ride on the ferris wheel, because that’s not usually his kind of thing. I declined, but now I wish I’d said yes.
Because it was so charming and old-fashioned, painted blue with a lion at the axis, and the view from the top would have been spectacular.
The week before I’d been lonely because Mac was working in Boston. I didn’t want to admit it, but I’d let myself spiral down, and my emotions were still tangled up, disorganized. I felt disconnected – from my kids, from anything familiar. I was ruminating on mistakes made, stuff I felt helpless to change. But why was I mad at him?
I realize now that loneliness is just a tough thing. It’s not an emotion that is very well received. It’s hard to experience, and even harder to share with others.
To feel lonely is to feel deeply vulnerable. And we cover up what feels most tender inside of us, wanting to appear strong, resilient, courageous. But what takes the most courage is simply being honest.
I’m working on it, but it’s not easy.
Anyway, later that evening in Lyon, after we had dinner, we wandered around the city center, a UNESCO world heritage site. We admired the contemporary sculpture, and the classical opera house with its stone muses spotlighted on the crest of the façade.
And I stood looking up at the rusty ferris wheel, gracefully arcing above the entire city. From the pavement, I tried to imagine what the people were seeing in their bucket seats up high. I pictured an exquisite view of the medieval castle just across the banks of the Rhône river.
And the tiny thought came to me – that all of us are on that wheel, and sometimes we’re up at the top, high enough to get a good sense of things. And other times we are simply trying to orient ourselves. Up and then down, our view shifts and changes, like flipping flashcards.
And we gain perspective for only brief, teetering moments, before we swing back to the ground. And the next time around, we try again to fix our vision, to take in the panorama, but we can only hold it for a few seconds.
Over the weekend I learned that Lyon is where the famous Lumière brothers – Auguste and Louis – invented the CinemaScope. Between 1895 and 1897, they experimented with film and developed the first recorded motion picture. Like our Thomas Edison, who created the Kinetoscope box, they were gifted inventors, scientists of a sort, but more.
They saw their work in a different way. Where Edison always filmed a static, full-frontal view, the Lumières looked for the diagonal. Louis was a professional photographer, and he brought an artistic sense to the composition.
The brothers claimed to be filming “realistically”, but experts note the signature elegance and artistry of their films. It was said that they essentially brought the image “out of the box”.
As Bertrand Tavernier, the famous narrator of the old Lumière films, noted: “their movement is not frontal, is not lateral, there is always a sense of the perspective, the composition of the diagonal.”
The significance of perspective, like simply seeing something on the diagonal, is art. It’s the invention of motion pictures, not just moving photographs. An expression of something complex, more true. A new way of seeing the same old thing.
We all want to interpret things afresh, to re-frame our stories in new light. For me it’s the pain and the shame that goes around and around. But that’s the beauty – we can change, and re-create, in every moment. If we have the guts to do it.
I just want to believe that even in my depression, when I’m feeling the most unlovable – that even then, I am the most worthy of love.
In my writing, I’m trying to be honest, and to be more vulnerable. I’m flipping through the pictures from my past, the stories that I knew, or that I thought I knew.
And it’s like I’m at some critical place where the memories replay differently, not exactly how I wanted. I wake up at night and wonder how I’ve lived half a century, and still struggle to understand and accept who I am.
I have a long way to go, but every time I come back to write, I think I’m getting closer.
Maybe it wasn’t a “perfect” weekend in France, I probably wasn’t at my “best,” and neither was my husband. But we had a good time anyway. And the last night in Lyon, walking back to the hotel after dinner, we laughed and held hands.
There was a cute kid playing Coldplay on guitar, and couples relaxing at outdoor cafés, talking loudly over glasses of wine. And I inhaled the scents of the street, the crêpes with burned cinnamon sugar and the mildewy smell rising up from the riverbank.
I didn’t use my new camera – I knew I couldn’t get even a Facebook worthy shot. It was too dark, and neither of our faces would show up.
So, as we walked away, I just squinted my eyes and looked back at the huge disk, throbbing in a smeary palette of drunken color. From a distance it looked like an exploding firework pinned to the velvet sky.
And I felt my stubbornness pricked by the cold beauty of the night, and the air in all of my arguments gently deflating. And looking up at the bright, twinkly, carnival lights again – I felt both empty and full at the same time.