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Writing

I like to write what I think most people call "personal essays." Others call it, "personal creative non-fiction." I tend to think of it as autobiographical magical realism whodunnit farce.

Enjoy below and on Medium

A Moveable Feast

Michael John Ciszewski

Cardiomegaly is the medical condition of an enlarged heart. Caused by high blood pressure or coronary artery disease, this heart disease can prevent the heart from pumping blood properly, resulting in congestive heart failure.

I stumbled upon the condition after googling “enlarged heart.” I was in the process of killing the main character of a new play with an enlarged heart. I was sixteen and trying my hand at embittered absurdism, so I appropriated cardiomegaly for the sake of my play, which I called Lifetime Achievement, and my burgeoning career as a dramatist. 

I rediscovered the play two years later when I was sharing old writing with a new friend, and my amateur choice to use cardiomegaly as a cause of death stood out. I haven’t forgotten that. I was a very clever and conniving little teenage playwright. I am probably still very clever, but I’ll need another five years before I allow this approximation any due hindsight.

On April 18, I woke up feeling a bit like death myself, but I woke up with a smile. My body ached all over as a combined result of an intensive two-day devising project done with my physical theatre tutor for my last day at LAMDA and the ensuing celebrations of said graduation day. I was sore and tired and I had a miserable headache, but I had six hours before I was sitting on an AirFrance flight to Paris. 

My term at LAMDA had come to a most magnificent close. Fulfilled and further inspired by my final projects, encouraged by my tutors, and feeling generally fabulous, it was time for my victory lap. I dreamed of this for quite some time: if I could make it through a semester studying abroad without falling apart, I would endeavor to see Europe with my vest, my weathered black leather shoes, and my closest friends. In the early, opaque weeks of the semester, we would gather in Teresa and Sarah’s room after exhausting days of studio class and rehearsal to attempt booking a cost-efficient dream tour of several European cities. Sometimes, I’d book on an empty stomach and transform into a curt, aggressive, stone cold taskmaster version of myself. Other times, I’d book on a bottle of wine and transform into a curt, aggressive, lukewarm taskmaster version of myself. Regardless, we managed to book our distant Eurotrip and we marked the calendar. For the longest time after we had competed booking, I couldn’t remember all the cities we were to see or the order in which we’d be seeing them. For the longest time, all I knew of my Eurotrip was its commencement date. 

And on April 18, I woke up in my top bunk in South Kensington for the last time. I did laundry, I cleaned my space, and I rather unceremoniously bid my temporary home adieu. I had a large glass of red at a bar at Heathrow and so it began. 

Paris had a significant amount of pressure. I have so long dreamed of this city of love and lights. I have so long had the lights of the Eiffel Tower seared into the back of my eyelids from when I was a boy and I would spend hours rendering the iron lady in Crayola washable marker while coloring with my aunt Zoe. I have so long held Paris to be this foreign city of art, wine, culture, and temperament unrivaled in its full-hearted French attitude. And I have been walking the streets of Paris, my weathered black leather shoes ambling along the banks of the most stunning Seine, for five days. I have climbed the steps of Notre Dame and the Eiffel. I have descended Montmarte after my first (and second) drink of absinthe. My body converted sore to strong for the sake of my wild romantic’s heart, arrhythmic since it first skipped a beat off my train from Charles de Gaulle to Châtelet-Les Halles, and I have seen Paris. 

Last night, the most relaxing sheet of dusk fell over the city as we finished our absinthe. We had fairly straightforward plans for our last night in town: buy some brie, a few baguettes, a lot of wine, and picnic on the Seine by the glistening light of the nearby Eiffel. Teresa and I were to walk to the Seine and find a spot while Christian, Caleb, and Sarah would meet us via metro after returning to the hostel. 

Paris, however, is not too straightforward a city. Out of the bar and into the periwinkle twilight, Teresa and I were soon swept off our feet into a conversation that sparkled with an innocence of heart reserved exclusively for two tipsy friends with penchants for romance. We two water signs guessed our way towards the river, waxing poetic like a rising river tide. The city sighed smoky exhalations and brisk breezes as Paris opened itself to spring and we were gently blown along like the cherry blossoms that lightly rouged the cityscape. Before long, we were lost wandering the streets of Paris, but we kept going.

With each step, we would fancy ourselves another new fantasy of life beyond the foreseeable future. Where would we one day lay our relentlessly inspired heads to nightly rest? With what would we exhaust ourselves after an education in the arts had completely rearranged our genetic, spiritual make up? Who would keep us company? What would it mean to bravely dare to love? How would we!? 

We pondered and professed, as the famous French philosophers must have. Unbridled theories of faith and fearlessness poured from us and painted the streets red like wine, red like the excited blood that hadn’t ceased pumping at pace with Paris since we arrived. 

My victory lap was well underway. In fact, I was hitting an early stride in my marathon run across Europe. By the end of the semester, I had gained a new confidence thanks to my time as a man about London, a brilliant new place I had to make home. Now, and from this moment forth, I can put that confidence firmly in practice as I pursue my most wide-eyed, big-hearted, full-bodied dreams. I was once backed into a corner by habit, fear, and laziness, and my only way out was vitality. I feel huge and alive and possible in this city, in this skin. 

Cardiomegaly is this medical condition I once fetishized for a flight of fiction. It holds fatal potential unless treated all life long. The poetry is unfortunately inherent; the metaphor writes itself. I was titillated by the image and the stakes of the condition. Perhaps I reopen the wound of my adolescent appropriation of such a dire disease only to pour salt into it, but I feel so young in thinking my heart could burst forth from my chest to beat in open air for all the world to see. It might alarm those around, but I think it would be okay. I think I would survive. Hell, I think I could live the rest of my life that way, big bloody heart on exhibition like the Eiffel Tower to my own World’s Fair. I’m sure it glitters at night just the same. 

I have spent a long time housing this huge heart, treating it with the utmost care and praying it not to hurt or cause harm if released to the world at large. But I think it will be okay. I have this overwhelming feeling, too clearly symptomatic of romanticism, that the world is a beautiful, kind place. Like everything else, myself included, it just needs the encouragement of an open, honest, willing perspective. And with that, perhaps I could build it a home as beautiful as Paris and as luxurious as the nearby Versailles. 

After my second trip up the Eiffel Tower, I parted with Sarah and Teresa so I could make the trip back to our hostel on foot. After one block, I was asked for directions by a foreign couple who spoke English. Somehow, my limited experience and increasingly acute sense of direction knew how to get them where they wished to go. I strolled along the Seine under a comfortably overcast afternoon sky, watching myriad couples gather on the banks to sit close and share wine. I passed through the shadows beneath bridges that bound opposite banks together, and beneath one, I found a makeshift disco. Michael Jackson blared over hidden speakers to synchronized, flashing colored lights, much to the delight of several admirable children who rather boldly attempted to breakdance. Off the Seine, I stopped at a pharmacy and tried to disguise my alien nature to the best of my ability when I brought my desired deodorant to the cash desk. I used six of the twelve French words I know and made it out with insurance I would smell as nice as was the clerk to my native disguise. Through the Bastille district towards our hostel, I passed countless bars and cafes, rife with Parisians having a drink and a smoke with conversation or a quiet sit and read of a book. 

To finally be immersed in this place, even for five days, has allowed me to refine the romantic ideal of “French luxury” I’ve long held dear. For starters, I’ve spent in Paris at least three times as much as any of my friends. My meal cost average is fifty three euros. By now it’s become a joke amongst my friends—”thrice as nice.” It’s certainly excessive, but I’ve hit the ground running (to the ATM) on my European adventure. I have had martinis and profiteroles at Hemingway’s favorite cafe. I have consumed duck at every terrific French restaurant at which we’ve dined. I’ve drunk champagne out of a disposable plastic flute at the top of the Eiffel Tower, for passage to which I’ve paid twice. Yesterday, I saw why the French went bankrupt building Versailles. If I’m going to spend my money like the French, I will be just as spendthrift with my time. I will spend it silly on the finest, fanciest things I can. This is a luxury I can give myself with ease. My time will be just as exquisite as the gilded halls of mirrors and apartments of the Europe’s most beautiful palace. It is, after all, mine, and I have a responsibility to do with it only what I want. 

If this moment at the onset of my trip across Europe, near the onset of this decade of my life, marks the dawn of some overblown personal renaissance, or my own Belle Epoque, so be it. 

I am far away from all the life I’ve rather exclusively known for so long. Better yet, I am in Paris, and only now might I fully realize how to commit to a lesson with which I have long been flirting. Thanks to my beautiful friend Misha, I recently encountered a quote from writer Maria Irene Fornés that summarizes this maturation better than I could: “I’ve never had any choice. When I’m not doing something that comes deeply from me, I get bored. When I get bored, I get distracted, and when I get distracted, I become depressed. It’s a natural resistance and it insures your integrity. You die when you are faking it, and you are alive when you are truthful.”

This city has been so exciting, so engaging, and so inspiring that I can see the world wants nothing of me but my truth and vitality. If a city like Paris can exist in all its beautiful antique splendor, I have nothing to worry about. 

It’s almost comforting. When the going gets tough, I must remember, there’s always Paris.