My days in France are numbered (officially in the single digits), and I am a hurricane of emotion.
For the most part, I have been happier, and less anxious over the past few months than I can remember being in quite a while. I worry that going back will break the spell.
This week at work was awesome. I am so passionate about this podcast project and I feel like I could work on it 24/7. I love the team I am working with and the way our ideas feed off each other’s. I also love the producing aspect of the job. I love imagining the interview and strategically ordering questions. I love sitting in the studio with Ida and Manu (the tech genius on our team!) and listening to George chat with our guests.
We had a meeting on Monday in the basement studio that left me feeling energized and eager to continue working.
I nervously suggested that we provide transcriptions of each podcast episode, and was met with nothing but support. I have been challenging myself to think more critically about accessibility, and providing a transcript will make Many Voices, One World available to people who suffer from hearing loss, have aversions to sound, or are simply in a situation where they would rather read than listen. As someone who struggles with anxiety and is extremely sensitive to sound, I am acutely aware of the difference it can make in someone’s day if there is a transcript available. I often do not like to wear headphones, or have any audio playing, but I often still want to consume the media. Podcasts and radio shows that provide a transcript have been such a blessing to me, and I know that this will also make Many Voices, One World accessible to so many more people.
Providing the transcript also makes the podcast, produced in English, much easier for us to translate into other languages. Boom. Another way to multiply our audience, and invite more people into the exciting and important conversations that we are having on this podcast.
We also got to thinking about the podcast cover art, an exciting phase of development for my crafty soul.
Ida and I both stayed in the office late on Monday working on options for the podcast cover art. This quest presented a welcome creative challenge and we spent hours scrolling through Getty Images and brainstorming about design.
Like I mentioned in a previous post, I am shocked by how much I am enjoying this work. But now that I’ve started, I don’t want to stop. The idea of handing this project off makes my heart sink.
On Wednesday during a rare lull after lunch I scrolling through my email, and ended up reading an all-staff email that I probably otherwise would have barely glanced at. It was a general invitation to a “Gender Views” lecture and that intrigued me, so I read on. The talk would feature guest Dr. Eliza Byard, the executive director of GLSEN. I read this sentence three times to be sure I was understanding correctly. GLSEN, formerly known as the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, is an American nonprofit that advocates for LGBTQ+ protection in K-12 schools. It is widely known and appreciated throughout the queer community and that the executive director would be at UNESCO was a very exciting discovery for me.
Ida was in a meeting relating to her other work, and so I zoomed down the stairs to see if George was in his office. He wasn’t. But I needed, at least, his approval to invite her to be a guest on our podcast. I zoomed back up the stairs and scrambled to draft an email asking for his approval, and promising I was capable of adequately preparing for this podcast in less than 48 hours. George replied 52 minutes later, “Sure.”
I realize now that this doesn’t sound like a very exciting response, but I was thrilled. I emailed her with high hopes and low expectations. In my experience when you email important people, you are lucky if their secretary sends you a brief rejection. But… She replied in a matter of minutes! She “would be delighted”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The talk she was giving at UNESCO was called “Promising new directions for ending anti-LGBT bias and violence in schools.” And although I can pretty safely say I keep up with the news, specifically LGBTQ+ news in the United States, I am less familiar with this on a global scale. Although Dr. Byard is also focused on the United States, I felt strongly from the beginning that we needed to have a conversation about the the LGBTQ+ community and education all over the world. And there is great variety. I mean, there are still a handful of countries where same-sex relations are punishable by death.
I had a very short period of time to become an expert, which sounds terrifying, but is what I love about journalism. I work best on a deadline.
Ida and I read everything we could get our hands on. We watched every interview listened to every interview of her, and any video we could find of her speaking. A lot of what I learned broke my heart. But a lot of it made me feel really proud to be among such strong people fighting against violence and advocating for justice.
We did the podcast on Friday morning and it went wonderfully.
I think it was a learning experience for everyone involved. George is a great boss and an incredible mentor to me, and he will be the first to tell you that he is not the most “woke,” but he is eager to learn.
We advised him to begin the interview by asking Dr. Byard for her pronouns, a practice that I have advocated for since my time at The Beacon. And she really appreciated it! Although we already knew (they are listed in her Twitter bio!), it was a great way to start the conversation about gender and sexuality inclusion in all different kinds of spaces.
I feel proud of our work and very excited for the podcast to be posted so that I can share it. There is a lot we can all learn.
This week outside of work I felt the strong urge to take advantage of everything waking moment in this magical city that I love. Like I said before, I feel viscerally aware that I have to fly back so soon.
Despite the fact that my anxiety has reared its ugly head in the familiar form of sleeping problems, I got up early on Saturday and worked on my journal. If you’re thinking, Olivia, you already do that normally… You’re right, this is something I would do regardless of what city I am living in, but is very important for me to document my experiences (this helps me process my roller coaster of emotions!), so this was good.
And then I went to Musée d’Orsay with my friend Mariam from dance class.
Mariam is awesome. We have so much in common (it’s almost scary!) and we clicked instantly.
We had a great day wandering around the giant maze of masterpieces. And I think I have decided that this is my favorite museum in Paris. Yes, it’s better than the Louvre. (But I still have to go to the Picasso museum this week, so I will let you know which one wins next week!)
I followed the curves of the river to get home, only stopping to take pictures of Paris in the warm spring light, and to buy salad ingredients for dinner.
It was the perfect Saturday.
On Sunday I woke up before the sun, sat at the kitchen table with a big mug of coffee, and started writing. It was hours before anyone else woke up, and the kind of quiet that feeds my introvert soul.
Eventually, I showered and prepared to face the world. I had the brilliant* idea to bike along the river to Musée de l’Orangerie, the home of Claude Monet’s magnificent Water Lilies.
*Please note that I did not check the weather or wear a jacket (it was a blue sky and I was trying to be optimistic) or wear my hair in a ponytail or wear a helmet.
So I was very unpleasantly surprised when I was suddenly being slapped in the face by my own hair in the aggressive wind, and then it began to hail while I was crossing a bridge. It was terrifying and more dangerous than I would like my parents to know.
But once I returned the rental bike I tried to laugh it off and make the best of it. I was nearly being blown off my feet but I was walking through Jardin de Tuileries in Paris. I stopped for a while to watch some Mallard ducks playing in a fountain and I loved it.
The museum was great, of course. I would have preferred to have enjoyed it without the dozens of Americans on spring break taking selfies with the artwork, but it was great. Nothing can ruin something that grand.
I wandered around with my headphones in (my “slow down” playlist on), and wrote down the name of every painting that made me feel something. I especially loved the work of August Macke, a German expressionist painter. The colors he used evoked in me the same thing I feel when I look at the work of Frida Kahlo, who we all know by now is mi Reina.
I went from the museum to dance class by metro and I read the whole way there. Until 5 p.m. I spoke fewer than 10 words and I think that days like this are important.
Dance class today was led by a guest teacher, Sabrina, who specializes in African dance. I knew that going in, and I was excited. What I did not know was that Sabrina focused in African fitness dance. So, the two hours were much more sweaty than I had imagined, but it was still great. Because some girls can only come to Sunday workshops and not Thursday classes, I had to say goodbye to some of my little amigas and it made me so sad.
This dance class and these girls are my favorite thing that happened to me since I have been in Paris. And most of them I will probably never see again.
I’m still processing this, and everything. As I write this I am heading into my final week of work at UNESCO. Honestly, I will probably still be processing it all when I write to you next, but stay tuned to find out!
My fellowship at The UNESCO Courier was arranged through the University of Oregon Crossings Institute for Intercultural Dialogue and Conflict Sensitive Reporting. My weekly blog posts are also published on the Institute’s website.