Did you say immigration? How a thirst for adventure turned into a star-rated play

I’ve always wanted to travel the world.

Throughout high school and my first 3 years at uni in a small French town, I was impatiently waiting for the moment I could step on a plane and discover the world.

And once I started, I never looked back.

But not as a traveler, no. I had no interest in being a tourist. I wanted to be A Local.

To know the roads, discover the culture, understand the jokes, speak the language, decipher the local politics. I wanted to soak in the culture from the inside. To gorge on it.

I longed to feast on the thrill of exploration.

I’d look up from the memoirs of some extraordinary adventurer, gazing out the window into the grey, low sky of Parisians suburbs and imagine the excitement of a life under the Indian Sun, of speaking Mandarin or exploring the Baleares Islands.

How I longed for it… Dreaming of absorbing cultures to add spices, salt, pepper to my bland daily life.

How do you move to a new country when you have no contact, no experience, know only basic English, and can only bring to the table a burning desire to keep moving?

Any excuse would do.

I became an international student, then a clerk, an NGO-worker, even a banker. Mexico, Madrid, Kolkatta, Manila, Hong-Kong, I could never stop. 3 months, 6 months, a year… every time a bit longer, but just enough for me not to get bored, and be ready to fly again.

You see, I wanted to have the thrill of discovery, but without the blandness of familiarity.

I was a fish. The girl with a thousand stamps on her passport, which I exhibited proudly at customs, and wherever I landed next.

Until one train ride I’ll remember forever.

The closest country. France’s frenemy. A 2-hour train ride. But no return ticket.

It was time to ‘grow up’, and settle down.

Live in one place.

Re-create daily life. In a new country, true, but the same life my parents had created for us and that I’d been running away from all that time.

A life where the flavors are familiar, where you know the streets like the back of your hands, where the local barista knows your coffee order.

Where you don’t get the thrill of being A Foreigner.

How I dreaded that life.

And yet, how I needed that life.

Years of travels and constant uprooting had left me penniless. I was more connected than ever, with friends across all the continents and an exciting facebook feed. Pictures of NY, HK, sunny beaches in Thailand and match games in Sweden… Yet I had never been more lonely.

The friends I’d grown up with joked about my latest travels, but didn’t invite me to birthday parties and baby showers anymore. Why would they, if I never could make it? They were lucky, if I showed up for weddings at all.

And, especially, my mind was going round in cycles.

The thousand flavors of constant travel had left me mentally exhausted. I didn’t know what I liked anymore. And I couldn’t sit in silence in a room for one evening. Like a junkie, I always needed more. More excitement, more new names, more new roads. To the point where I didn’t know who I was.

Taking a full-time position in London meant settling down.

Meeting people. Meeting them again, one year, two years from now. Properly discovering them. And letting them see who I was.

Letting go of the exciting new-girl-in-town-identity and becoming a woman who can give directions to tourists, visits counties twice, has a network and a career and has never properly set foot in the British Museum. Becoming a true local.

With all the blandness and the familiarity it implies.

And God knows that wasn’t easy. Past the excitement of the first few months, you discover that your life is your life, the same life, wherever you are.

I learned to enjoy the contrast between a fast-paced week, and the slowness of a Sunday spent in a pub. My co-workers let their guards down and became friends. I found my favorite city escape (Brighton), and started going there every couple of months. I discovered I could predict when it would rain, and finally, a few years in, bought practical shoes.

I truly was A Local.

But, especially, I discovered that life on the slower side has one advantage: it allowed me to create deeper connections than I’d ever had.

With people who’ve seen me change and grow. Who’ve seen me at my best but also at my worst. Who’ve forgiven me for stuff, like I’ve forgiven them. Close friends who’ve consoled me on the dark winter nights or neighbors who smile at me when they see me on the street.

I’ve exchanged the anonymity of the traveler’s life for one of tighter bonds and deeper connections.

Recently I went to France to renew my passport.

My heart tightened a bit when I handed over the old fully-stamped one.

But I received a new one instead. Whose serene blank pages are inviting me to keep traveling. But by going deeper instead of going wider. 

And so to share my experience I’ve co-written Behind Our Skin, a fast-paced and visceral play where two stories of immigration merge and diverge. Our show opened in August last year to great reviews in Edinburgh.

If you are at Brighton Fringe on the first weekend of May join us for a fast-moving drama. You won’t regret it. And in true British fashion, we do drinks after 😉

#rejoice

There’s gold everywhere.

Luxurious red curtains.

And food. Treat food. Gluten-free spiced chocolate. Himalayan herbal tea. Organic orange juice pressed and served in individual glasses.

And among all this, He sits, beatifically smiling. Big, majestuous, his palm turned upwards, golden from head to toe.

Budha.

Since I’ve arrived in Paris, I have missed my beloved London Buddhist Center… until I found the Kadampa meditation center just 10 minutes away from my Paris flat.

I barely know that different schools of Buddhism, but love how both feel so serene… and the contrast between the understated mood and the gold exuberance of the altars.

The colors, the smells, the kindness of people in both places. Love it.

So I go whenever I can, not to learn, more to soak in the quietness.

Until last week, when I ended up in a teaching class. We’d started with an opening meditation, and it had been bringing my mind to the brink of madness. As if I was going to explode.

With my limbs taking turns to drive me crazy, one by one getting hot, tense and itchy…

When the teacher monk finally invited us to open our eyes and started teaching I was so relieved. But also so high from my meditation efforts that I barely registered what he had to say.

He looked so happy, so relaxed, so generous, though, that he was a Teaching in himself.

I do remember that he gave us the 4 keys to happiness. Bam. Just like that, on a silver tray, the 4 things that will make us happy in this life if we practice them.

So let’s see…

First, you need to practice patience. 

Then, love.

Also, consideration.

And, finally, the ability to rejoice at any moment.

Stuck in the tube with your neighbour’s smelly armpit up your nose?

Easy.

Be patient, the ride won’t last forever. Find a way to love him with all your heart. Be considerate with those around you. And, finally, rejoice at… something… the proximity of human touch if you’ve been contact-deprived, the humming of the train, the fact that you have great podcasts on your phone… Anything.

Do this, he said, and you’ll be happy.

Does it work?

Well, he looked like one hell of a happy monk, so I’ll have whatever he’s having.

The mediums in my life

I’ve always been curious about mediums.

It always seemed so cool, this idea that you could speak with some spiritual guide and see the future. Like a real life super power.

Also, how convenient.

Not sure where to take your next play?

Not clear on what you should do next?

Not sure if spending all of your money in registering for that festival is the right thing for you?

Ask your guides.

With my paralysing fear of decisions-making, getting some straight answers from heaven would have helped me sort out my messy life.

No more tossing and turning at night over whether or not I was making the right decision: some omnisicent invisible witch would be guiding me step by step towards success, money and love. Magical….

And then there’s the fierce mistrust of charlatans, which in France is deeply rooted in our pride of separating the spiritual and the secular.

With a medium jokingly referred to a “Madame Irma”, an ageless, tootheless gypsie waiting for you on the steps of their trailers with a crystal ball, while she presses you with questions and tells you what you want to hear. For the delicious sum of EUR500.

And as I spoke to people around me about it, it doesn’t seem to be a French thing only.

And that’s where I was on the subject.

Until life sent me a medium.

No, 2 mediums.

Over the course of 2 days.

No crystal ball, no chiffon, no heavy make up, no tarot card.

Just a straightforward woman on a skype call with plain language and a little buddha statue behind her. She’s been studying mediumship for years, even has degrees (who knew psychic-mediumship training existed?)

She starts straight away.

She asks if I have question and when I say no, she replies “Ok, I’ll just tell you what I see then”.

And off she goes.

Bam.

A deep, profound discussion about my life. My job. My relationships. The next three months. My family. No question unanswered, no stone left unturned, some uneasy responses….

I hang up the phone with a feeling that I’ve had a deep, much-needed discussion with one of my best friends.

Except that my best friends have known me for years, and that this woman, despite everything she’s said about my life and that felt so right, barely knows me.

And yes, maybe she’s so receptive that she simply told me what I wanted to hear, but that doesn’t matter.

The greatest gift from that call was how calm I felt afterwards.

Maybe it was indeed the perfect message from an omniscient force who knows what’s best for me.

Maybe, I guided the conversation towards what I really wanted.

Maybe, just by telling me that her guides recommend I take a specific path, she’s helped me imagine a future life where it is already happening, where the decision is made, where there’s no drama about it.

But it looks like I wasn’t convinced enough.

Because 2 days later, on the small and dark terrace of a crowded Parisian cafe a man comes to me and says “You like to sing, don’t you?”.

Turns out he’s a medium too.

And again, we are off. As the evening advances, surrounded with smoke and the laughter of drunk couples around us slowly moving closer to each other, he speaks to me. My childhood, my parents, my loves, my dreams, the person who’s protected me…

Do mediums flirt?

Is it their easiest way to pick up naive and lonely girls?

He assured me it’s not – and that the life of a medium is not easy, between those who see you as freak show, and those who mistrust you.

So if we follow the reasoning to the end, despite never being in contact with the medium world before, in the course of 2 days I had 2 people coming to me with messages from beyond.

Apparently there was a very pressing message that I needed to hear.

I guess the best way to close that adventure would to find my own way to communicate with myself. To find answers from within, and not delegate my decision making powers to someone else.

Maybe that will come later on.

I feel calmer though. It was nice, the feeling of being deeply loved and understood by those 2 people.

So if you’re an artist faced with the dark purgatory of indecision, why not ask for guidance from someone whose job it is to connect you with your higher self.

Then you can decide what you leave and what you keep.

The Jump

Something strange has been happening.

Pablo and I went skydiving on Sunday.

The goal for me was to face one of my biggest fears. I didn’t do it for the fun, like most thrill seekers. I didn’t even know it was supposed to Be fun.

My main motivation, and the reason why I thought most people jumped, was to Feel the Fear and Jump Anyway. And, that way expand my comfort zone.

And Pablo who is a sweetheart followed me in this adventure, even though it had never been on his bucket list ever.

As it turns out, skydiving is incredibly fun. 

And it’s true, past the moment of jumping, even during the free fall, the fear goes away.

I won’t say it was pure fun but rather an incredible experience with new unexplored sensations.

As we were falling my mind was incredibly focused, conscious; thinking “uh this is not too bad” and “I could even enjoy this” and “this is lasting much longer than I thought…”

And then your instructor opens the parachute and the contrast is wonderful. After the intensity and pressure of the free fall (200 km per hour), suddenly you’re floating in the air.

It’s beautiful, soft, easy, gentle… 

Then you land, and you realise how elated you are.

The high is incredible 

On the way back we couldn’t stop chatting, and comparing, and exclaiming at how much of a rollercoaster- (no, 100 rollercoasters-) experience it had been.

Us, who speak about tango all the time, suddenly couldn’t shut up about freefalling, and jumping, and the position, and how scary, and how intense, and how unique etc…

It lasts for about 10 minutes but there’s the adrenaline rush and the pressure on the body.

So by the time we got home on Sunday night, we were absolutely knackered.

Like marathon-knackered (I’ve never run a marathon but I’ve run a 10k race once, so I’m guessing…:)).

I expected to sleep like a baby that night. 

And that’s when the strange thing happened.

Instead of the night of deep sleep; my mind kept waking me up. 

In fact, it was replaying the moment when we jumped off the plane.

You are lying on your instructor. Your body is hanging out in the air, while the instructor is getting into position, still holding himself or herself to the door of the plane… When he or she jumps your bodies rotate to get to the horizontal freefall position.

Once you’re in freefall the feelings are amazing.

But That Moment. Those 2 seconds of your body leaving the plane and rotating towards the earth…

That Moment feels Very wrong.

Like Death Wrong.

Like “This Is Not Okay-I Never Okayed This-I Have To Be Not Here-Where’s Ctrl-V”-Wrong.

It’s not the same as stepping on stage the first time, opening a new show, moving to the other side of the world, or speaking in front of a group, etc…

In these situations, even if you’re petrified and the world has stopped around you, unconsciously you know that however awful it goes you’re going step off that stage alive. Maybe not emotionally but at least physically.

I’ve gone through many of those moments in the past years because my focus had been on expanding my comfort zone.

And I am learning now that there was a kind of tacit agreement between the monkey in my mind and I.

That no matter how hell she made my life at those times (“nooo I’m scared”, “I’m not good enough”, “who do you think you are”, “you don’t deserve this”…) we’d always celebrate together afterward:  Yaaaay, we made it! It wasn’t so scary in the end! Who’s the boss!?! etc…

But this is not that kind of situation.

This was the first time Apo (yes the monkey had a name) was actually faced with something that was truly threatening her.

Because as Pablo put it, in that jump is a bit like Dying to be Reborn again. 

And Apo didn’t like the joke.

She’s angry, very angry.

Since then, she has been replaying that moment in my (our) mind.

Those incredible 2 seconds that were a true Life or Death situation.

She’s been profoundly shattered.

I’ve played a dirty trick on her and she’s not forgiving me for that.

So there you go.

Now I have a sulking monkey in my mind refusing to engage in anything else than images of my body rotating in the air.

Finally understanding what it means to take real risks and truly put everything at stakes. 

Because you know, Apo, I’ve been doing that all the time in the past 4 years and you and your negative chatter haven’t helped.

So get a grip, will you?

Daily routines

Meditate

Exercise

Journal

Read one book a day

Affirmations

Gratitude list

 

In the past years, I feel that I’ve been bombarded by so much advice on what to do every day to lead a fulfilled life…

Not conflicting advice, but rather… advice that adds up.

 

So like a good little soldier, every time I’d read a new article praising the scientifically-proven incredible benefits of Daily Routine X I’d try and cram it into my day.

Adding morning meditation and gratitude list on top of chakra meditation, making sure I’d started the day with 10 minutes of yoga and affirmations…

By 8.30AM I was already exhausted and frustrated by how I’d dragged myself out of bed at 6AM just to still have nothing to show for myself by then.

I kept telling myself that it was just the right way to start my Most Productive Day Ever but still…I was in my pajamas repeating affirmations to my mirror. How about sending out emails?

So I changed my approach.

After reading yet another enlightening article assuring me that the only way to make something a habit was to do that one thing for 21-day in a row, I decided to tackle my daily routine 3-weeks at a time.

Yawn.

How Boring.

One day I’d want to do affirmations, the next feel a strong urge to meditate, but it was my 21-Days Of Journalling, so I couldn’t.

Fast-forward to 2 years and none of this has stuck (apart from exercise by it’s my work). I’ve been dabbling at meditation, at the most, and never got the benefit of any of this… (only the stress of falling short at having a great morning routine like successful people do)

Until recently, when I did some personal development work.

It’s so simple actually.

Here’s the real trick.

You sit down with a cup of coffee (or a glass of wine if it’s the first time you’ve ever done some introspection work). You spend some time defining your personal needs.

Personal needs?

What you need in your life to feel good.

What is it that if you don’t have it regularly you get cranky, or drained, or sad?

What gives you energy and makes you feel powerful?

What makes you feel loved?

They can be a need for physical touch. Or exercise. Or spiritual conection. Or compliments. Or signigficance…

We all have them, and yes, they can feel a bit… ridiculous, or shameful sometimes (cue my need for compliments).. but they’re just needs and the thing to remember about them is that once they are met (a little hug here and there, a word of affirmation, some time alone…), they get out of our system, and we’re a better version of ourselves.

(So, the ratio of work-in/ impact-on-the-world is huge :-))

Right. Once you find them, you can organise your daily or weekly routine around them.

Need for spiritual connection? Maybe meditate for 20 minutes in the morning

Need for laughter? Finish the day with youtube videos of your favorite comedian

Need for physical touch? Get a massage weekly, or go to a tango class… or use your imagination??

Life – and daily routines – are much simpler that way, and much nicer than frantically following the latest Fast Company article on productivity.

Don’t you think?

Off to my yoga class now…

Much love,

Anne

Finding love

Love’s been big on my list, big on my mind recently.

I’m looking for it and would like 2018 to be the year of love.

Not the love that comes from someone else (I’ve got that already).

Rather, love for myself by myself.

Living in Love. Creating from a place of love. Loving what I do and doing what I love.

I’ve spent many years trying to find it outside of myself – in the feeling of significance being on stage gives to me, the recognition of being a successful business owner, in my relationships….

And it seems that right now the need for Inner Love is catching-up with me.

It is showing up everywhere. In the talks I’m invited to (hello Elena), the books I read, the personal development work I do, the yoga studios I start working with….

It seems that everything is urging me to fill the void that’s in my heart from the inside, not from the outside.

As if the universe were whispering in my ears: “Time to get serious Anne, you know what you really have to do”. I guess the problem with outside love is that it dries out at some point?

But I have no idea where to start.

The truth is, I’m using vocabulary and dwelling on themes – universe, love, chakras, Source… – that are completely new to me.

I just sense that this is my next big project: Self Love – who would have thought? And it both puzzles and scares me… How do you prioritize self love when you’re actually lacking in it? Everything seems so much more important.

I wonder, writing these words, if I sound like I’m having a pity party. Poor little dancer, she is surrounded by friends, has a loving family and wonderful partner, and she doesn’t love herself… I’m not though, and maybe that’s a sign of how dry my heart is.

Recently in Siem Reap, Cambodia, I did a chakra restoring session – which is as crazy and wonderful as it sounds.

Adele, the woman who ‘helped me’ (I’m not sure how to call her… a healer? a spiritual teacher?) was so loving. Definitely made me realise the importance of love.

She suggested that each of our many many many lives is a lesson for our souls.

And that maybe the lesson for my life right now is to love myself.

Hopefully, it takes less than a lifetime though. I’d like to enjoy some of that.