Visualizing Success

In undergrad when I was supposed to be building little stereochemical models using plastic balls and sticks, I read a lot of self-development books instead. Many of them spoke to the power of visualization and its simple three steps:

1) Visualize one’s goals with as much details as possible as if they have already been achieved. Note how it feels, what it looks like and heck, even how it smells if you can swing it.

2) Write down those details then put the paper away and forget about it.

3) Accidentally happen upon that piece of paper some time later and recognize with shock that you managed to realize your heart’s desires without even “trying”.

The secret lies with the subconscious: once you defined what success is in the most primordial way (that is, what it feels like to each of your senses), the subconscious then knows what to work towards and guides your subsequent decisions in a way conducive to the realization of those sensations.

As I’m cleaning out my “treasure trunk” (a Hudson’s Bay Company limited edition metal popcorn tin) in preparation for my upcoming move, I came upon such a list I wrote on Feb 3, 2007, titled “No limitations 5 year goal”.

I guess it was one of my earlier attempts at visualization because most of the list read like a Christmas wish list (“Chanel quilted purse, Burberry trench and Louboutin red-soled shoes”) with no details of the sensations I expect to experience when those “goals” are realized. Consequently, I’m still sadly lacking those wardrobe essentials.

A slightly better one was “Working well-paid Parisian science plant-related research job” (although the grammar was admittedly shitty). Nevertheless, this attempt at visualization was better because I did end up doing research on genetically-modified tobacco plants that summer, albeit in Germany and only for a living stipend. I think I could’ve visualized with more feeling.

However, there was one winner in this list that made my skin tingle and my jaw drop. It was also the longest and the most emotionally-involved visualization: “Live in traditional but in great condition old Parisian apartment with Eiffel Tower view, on same side of the river, in cluster with other such apartments”. Bam! Five years later in 2012, I spent my February (as well as January, March and April) in precisely such a flat on rive gauche. During the five years in between the time I wrote down that goal on lined, three-ring binder paper to when I looked out my window at the Eiffel, life took me down paths I wasn’t even capable of fathoming back in 2007. Yet in spite of it all, the power of visualization still got me to that Parisian rooftop apartment.

So basically what I’m getting to is this, it’s time to get back to dreaming.

Auctions and Ateliers

I am probably the only person my age that has a silver (-plated) tea service. I am probably also the only person my age that spends Saturday afternoons polishing said tea service. What can I say? I love things of quality and the workmanship of yesteryear triumph IKEA’s cardboard furniture any day. So last week, when the ambassador’s mother-in-law (who first appeared in A Weekend in Paris and who shall be known in Penning an Image as AMIL) said she was taking me somewhere she thinks I’d really like, I was delighted to find myself in an antique auction tucked behind the former Parisian stock exchange.

The size of the operation was surprising for a city that is so stingy with space. Yet in the heart of the former financial district, the auction house had several floors of halls painted in rich red, displaying all the fineries people had tucked away in their Haussmann apartments. Just like on TV, there was an announcer who spewed off the specs of the item, a man with white gloves who displayed it (turning it this way and that to capture the light) and bidders with numbered paddles in their hands. I got so excited upon seeing this that I started gesticulating to AMIL. She had to grab the hand I was wildly waving around, so I would not be perceived by the auctioneer to be bidding for the 40,000 euro (starting) Ming dynasty plate. As I walked around the halls with this former antique dealer (and her cousin, whom we ran into and who “dabbles” in antiques), I learned how speculative the art of antiquing can be:

Parisian antique auction house

Me: “So how much would that chair cost?” (*Pointing to one that looks like it was taken right out of Versailles. My landlady has something similar in green in which she sits to type on her super thin Mac Air, positioned above her very modern, glass bureau)

AMIL: “That little thing?” (*A very French combination of pout, exhalation, eye brow raise and shrug) “Not very much, you can easily get it for 400 euros.”

Me: (*Gulp) Hmm…

Five minutes of AMIL explaining how to tell a Louis XV chair apart from a Louise XVI one (the older one has curvier legs).

AMIL: “Actually, now that we’ve been looking at the chair for a while, (*Tilting her head) I think it’s worth more than I first thought. One really has to have a closer look with these things.” (*Eyes the velvet lounge chairs, mother-of-pearl opera glasses and Dior silk scarves between us and the chair)

Me: (*Breaks into a large grin…in my mind)

After antiquing, AMIL took me to his son’s atelier in Saint-Germain-de-Près. It was in a courtyard off of the main arts strip (according to the history book on the neighbourhood she gave me). I must admit I’m a little suspicious of art as a profession. Most Chinese (at least, most Chinese I know) were raised to have a defined career and the unpredictability of an artist’s life is too frivolous for our culture. If I dig a little deeper, I dare say we only revere the grand masters because they made it “big”. Even behind all the prohibited picture-taking of their seminal works (“Pas de photos Madame! Pas de photos SVP!” “Mais je n’ai pas utilisé flash!”), we still slightly frown upon how capricious their fortunes were. All this to say I had a quick look around the workshop, decided it was too “artsy” for me and mentally moved on before AMIL even set down the monthly arts review she brought for her son. So I was all eager when it was finally suggested that we hit a café, but I was stopped in my tracks by the son’s voice.

Him (Slightly begrudged): “Alors Rose, aren’t you going to ask me about my art?”

Me (*Retracting the foot that was already outside the door): “Mais oui!” (Scourging my brain in search of a vague enough question that I heard people utter at vernissages that is difficult for outsiders to gauge the speaker’s level of knowledge) “What kinds of, um, criteria, do you apply when selecting the material you work with?” (*Seeing the appreciative smile breaking out on his face, I knew I was on the right track) “I mean, it’s not like there are too many trees in Paris.” (I dipped my voice while conspiratorially cocking an eyebrow)

Him: “Trees speak you see, (*Oscillating his fingers as if words were raining from them) “different branches carry different emotions.”

Me (*Blink. Okaaay, I can roll with this): “So do you have different locations for the collection of branches with different emotions? Such as the cemetery for branches of sadness?”

Him (eagerly explains on): “Well each branch is unique. They speak to me, you see.”

Me (*Stopped blinking and just gawked. The kind of art experience I tried so hard to avoid was unfolding right in front of me): …

Him (Upon seeing the cracks in my façade, quickly adds): “It takes a different way of thinking I know.”

Me (Changing the subject): “I also noticed a recurring star in this series of work. Is there any significance to it”

Him (*Runs his hand through his hair as he looks at those works with love but also frustration): “I’m glad you noticed that…”

In conclusion, I earned an invitation to the vernissage of his solo exposition at the end of March in an abbey outside of Paris (to which one could only access by boat). *Rose smiles a Mono Lisa like smile.

This Is It

I have in my possession a Canadian passport (with the long-awaited French visa), an open jaw plane ticket and an unlocked iPhone. In other words, I’ve got everything I need to go anywhere I want to go and do anything I want to do.

I’ve known my acceptance to Sciences Po for almost a year now. In the year since, I made significant decisions that could’ve taken my life in dramatically different directions (and on different continents). It’s amazing how far one sometimes travel just to return to the same place, albeit with a much different perspective. No wonder the status quo is a valid choice in policy analysis. This is it, this is happening, how many girls get to spend a spring in Paris in their 20s?!

Next week this time, I will be in Paris preparing for New Year’s Eve in the City of Lights, Love and Dreams! There is the slight problem of not yet having a place to live, not having figured out Sciences Po’s registration system and not having anyone to check in with upon arrival. However, as the marketing guru at MasterCard wisely said “There are things in life money can’t buy. For everything else there’s MasterCard.” Plus, I just downloaded the Lonely Planet app for Paris whose map functions without Wi-Fi so I’m feeling pretty invincible (Note to self, just don’t forget the charger).

The truth is, the reality has not sunk in with me because I have been so preoccupied. It’s been a busy year academically, professionally and personally. The end of the term only got busier. I was in my office at the Department of Justice within half an hour after my last exam, pulling long hours to help my supervisor get the office in order prior to our respective departures.

Yes, this is the actual view from my office (eat your heart out). Most of the time I’m humbled by the gravity of the institution I serve. Sometimes however, I just unabashedly think “Winning”. I’m not even gonna lie.

Lunch and after work hours are frantic times to meet everyone I wanted to see before I leave. I even squeezed in an out-of-town trip to see our family dentist/friend (need to make sure my choppers are in tiptop shape for all the French food!). Enroute back to Ottawa, I caught up with a friend who’s now living in a city along the way at a highway pit stop! (Okay, fine. It was Yorkdale Shopping Centre but I wanted to heighten the drama.) After activities like “A sad girl walked into an (expensive) bar” and blessing a new condo, Sri Lankan-style, I’m crawling home these days when birds are waking up. On that note, I would like to thank Anna for the surprise outing last night. It started out at the very elegant Eighteen 18 (appealing to my classy side) and ended at a place where cameras aren’t allowed (appealing to my…well, I’m multi-faceted). To those who were there (you know who you are), I could not have imagined sharing the experience with anyone else.

We were dressed for classy…then we went somewhere where we were considered to be wearing too much.

I feel like I’m preparing for a long journey away because I really don’t know what life has in store for me. I may very well be back in town for Canada Day but I feel like as long as I’m true to what my heart really yearns for, this journey could change the course of my life. My intuition is that something big is bubbling beneath the surface. After all, Sciences Po will be my most “elite” academic institution yet. My Ottawa network has already put me in touch with their surprisingly established network in Paris. As well, a shocking number of my Ottawa contacts will be passing through Paris during my stay there. I might see them more often than I would if I stayed in town.

Until then, I need to:

  • Sit on my one allotted suitcase until all my 28 pairs of shoes, three ball gowns and a collection of Kate Spades fit.
  • Finish (ahem, start) my project with the  Centre for Women in Politics and Public Leadership.
  • Prepare for tax filing 2011 to avoid inadvertently becoming a tax evader while out of the country.
  • Spend more time staring at my parents in real life instead of staring at them through Skype later (Eyes focusing everywhere except at the webcam and face unflatteringly distorted at the cheeks).

I’m ready to go anywhere after Paris! After all, my new 4S is unlocked, my return ticket is flexible and my only “contract” is being true to myself. This is it.