to do, and done


Things that I still want to do in the near future even though I have taken little to no action on them to date:

  • Spend at least two weeks and preferably two months doing Spanish immersion in Spain or South America.
  • Take a tour of the South of France.
  • Visit a bunch of Europe’s tiny states and principalities: Luxembourg, San Marino, Monaco, Andorra, and Lichtenstein, to be exact.
  • Practice my French conjugation the way I used to in school, with drills and tables and such.
  • Convert my ever-growing French vocab list (2,661 words and counting!) into an Anki deck.
  • Read more than five pages of a book at any one time.
  • Get back to running two or three times a week.
  • Earn an income.

On the other hand…

Things that I have done in the recent past and/or am continuing to do in the present:

  • Committed hundreds of new French words to memory.
  • Learned my way around Paris. Though I still can’t keep the arrondissements straight and probably never will.
  • Got out of town more than once, to bucket list places both near and far.
  • Met a ton of new people.
  • Started taking photographs with my video camera.
  • Finished my first (small) paid assignment in Europe.
  • Started my own documentary project, which can only be described as Grey Gardens, in Paris, with British people.
  • Ate my weight in cheese.

Eight for eight: proof that for everything I have not done (yet!), I have done something else worthy. Because you know that my annoying brain is keeping score.

[The photo is from my documentary project.]

what I was up to in Liberia

Before I post pictures from Liberia, I want to share the video that I made there, which was the reason for my trip:

If you lack the attention span for a 14-minute video on reproductive health, here’s a 4-minute version. And here’s an even shorter cut that AJ+ did using my footage. Documentaries / non-fiction videos are often trees falling in forests, but AJ+ has a really big audience and their piece has gotten over 300,000 views so far, which makes me very, very happy.

It was such a privilege to see Liberia in the way that I did through this project. While I love dropping into a place as a tourist and observing on a surface level, it’s a different and deeper kind of enrichment to spend time in a country where your primary purpose is to document some facet of humanity. Criss-crossing the country from Monrovia to the most remote villages, I got up close and personal with people – mostly women – whose lives and experiences have been about as different from my own as you can get. Strangers afforded me access to their private lives, thoughts, and feelings, and they entrusted me to portray them sensitively to the public. It always amazes me when that happens, considering how guarded I personally am in front of a camera.

I would never claim to “know” Liberia or Liberians after only two weeks… but I will say that what I experienced there has made a huge impact on how I “know” and see and feel about myself and the world. I think that is the greatest gift that travel – and this line of work – can give you.

français three ways


SUNDAY: At any given time, my ease with French varies wildly, with seemingly no rhyme or reason. Sometimes I’m faltering and incomprehensible, other times I’m confident and zippy. During my weekly Skype conversation with Philippe on Sunday, I was in my better mode, which I took as an encouraging sign (even though historically it has not indicated anything like linear progress).

MONDAY: The next day, I went to my weekly French Meetup and again, found myself able to warm up quickly and understand and speak a lot. I had what is probably my most high level, esoteric and interesting French conversation ever, with a neuroscientist from Nancy (in northeastern France), who is in New York to do a post-doc focusing on memory. I told him, fully in French, about an experimental film I had seen at the Whitney Biennial and then again at MOMA* that is actually more like a performance. The film is about a man who, as a result of a botched operation to relieve his epilepsy, lost all his long-term memory and can only remember the last 20 seconds of his life. Kerry Tribe specially designed the documentary to be screened through two side by side projectors. One reel of film runs on a loop between the two projectors so that the first screen shows the “present” moment in the film and the second screen shows the moment in the film 20 seconds prior. It’s such a creative and impactful way to tell the man’s story and beyond that, to convey a little bit of what it was like to live in his head.

The neuroscientist knew exactly who I was talking about even though I couldn’t remember his name (speaking of bad memory). He is Henry Molaison and apparently he is the most studied patient in the history of neuroscience.

He then told me, again fully in French, a rather tragic tale about another person whose brain injury was the first proof that damage to the frontal lobe can affect personality. Phineas Gage was a kind and upstanding guy until a freak accident blasted a piece of iron through his skull. He miraculously lived and at first seemed to make a full mental recovery, but then he started becoming a bit of a dick, to put it bluntly. His wife left him, he lost his job and he died penniless and alone. A sad story for Phineas, but a happy one for me because I actually understood it.

TUESDAY: I went to see Truffaut’s “The Man Who Loved Women” at the French Institute. It was the last of their CineSalon series, “The Art of Sex and Seduction,” and I liked it a lot…. though I tried to go “off-subtitle” and failed miserably. I gave up averting my eyes from the titles at about twenty minutes in and allowed myself to just enjoy the film without treating it as a learning exercise, but it was a little dejecting after two days of thinking I was actually getting somewhere.

Oh well, if it’s got to be this way I hope it’s at least two steps forward, one step back instead of the other way around.

*(where it is in the permanent collection – go see it!)

[Photo: Lisa T.]