Episode 540: I’m Mostly Here to Enjoy Myself (with Glynnis MacNicol)

“When you’re a woman of a certain age, you are only promised that everything will get worse. But what if everything you’ve been told is a lie?”

This is the leading question of Glynnis MacNicol’s dazzling new memoir, I’m Mostly Here to Enjoy Myself. The acclaimed author joins us this week for a personal, intimate and delightful interview that explores her unabashed pursuit of pleasure—and why she decided to write a book about it.

After spending 16 excruciating months isolated and alone in her tiny Manhattan apartment, 46-year-old MacNicol did something that some would consider daring but to her, felt like necessity: she moved to Paris. Her memoir recounts the “decadent, joyful, unexpected journey into one woman’s pursuit of radical enjoyment.”

“The pursuit of enjoyment is a political act,” the book declares, “both a right and a responsibility. Enjoying yourself—as you are—is not something the world tells you is possible, but it is.”

You can listen right here, or find the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, and elsewhere.

Related Episodes:

Braving International Travel—during Covid

Paris By The Book (with Liam Callanan)

Living Alone during Lockdown

Full Episode Transcript:

Katy

Hello. This is The Bittersweet Life. I’m Katy Sewall. Tiffany is away this week, but I am joined by Glynnis MacNicol. She is the author of the memoir No One Tells You This, and she hosted the podcast Wilder. Her newest book is I’m Mostly Here to Enjoy Myself: One Woman’s Pursuit of Pleasure in Paris. Thanks so much for being here.

Glynnis MacNicol

Thank you for having me.

Katy

Well, wide ranging book, not going to get to everything I want to talk to you about. However, I think since this book is a recounting of your life experience that grew out of the pandemic, I think, as a baseline, why don’t you just lay out for us? What was your life? What was your situation when the pandemic began?

Glynnis MacNicol

So I live in Manhattan on the upper west side, and when we went into lockdown, I live in a very small apartment, a delightful but small apartment. So we went into lockdown. I was, Manhattan cleared out pretty immediately, and I stayed and was very alone for the better part of 14 months. I mean, I saw people. I had friends who stayed in the city. I saw people at a distance, of course, once we sort of moved back outside, but masked. But it was a pretty solitary existence for that period of time. My building emptied out to the point where there was mice running across the halls at one point, but everyone took their cats with them, was what the exterminator told me.

So, yeah. So when it ended, it didn’t end. I mean, obviously it didn’t end, but in June 2021, when the vaccine started rolling out and there was a sense that we would be returning to normalcy that summer, to some degree, I bought a plane ticket to Paris. I’d spent summers passed in Paris. I had a very close friend group there, and the apartment that I often stayed in was available. So I bought a ticket and thought, well, if the plane takes off in the next four weeks, I’ll be on it. And if it doesn’t, then that’s just one more thing in life that has proven to be unreliable. In this last year and a half of experience, the plane did take off, and I went to Paris for five months. I did sort of take off just as the delta variant was rolling in.

So it was like this. It felt a little bit like “escape from New York” a little bit. But Paris was also empty. So in a delightful way, for the most part. But I landed in Paris and spent the next five weeks behaving very hedonistically, I would say is an accurate description of what I was up to.

Katy

Yeah. And you were there for five weeks, not five months, right. Because you said five.

Glynnis MacNicol

No, five weeks.

Katy

Yeah, five weeks.

Glynnis MacNicol

Oh, yeah. No, no, no, five weeks.

Katy

Five weeks. So did you have any, given the Delta variant coming on, did you have any sort of hesitation that maybe this is a dangerous thing I’m doing? Or were you just so fed up with being alone that you were ready to go?

Glynnis MacNicol

I think. I mean, it’s funny to think about now, but at the time, I think I felt that staying was. First of all, we’d all been shouldering enormous risk for however long that was. And having been in New York, sort of at the epicenter of it for a while, I think I felt that it was riskier for me to stay. That degree of isolation for that long was starting to feel punishing in a way that was becoming untenable.

And it was more like I was willing to take the risk. I thought the risk was more along the lines of, are the borders going to shut down? Will I get caught there? Will I be able to afford to stay? I was willing to take that risk, yeah, I would just. Yeah, I think I say this in the book, somewhere to be outside of partnership, essentially, or family support is a risky way to live, just generally. And so I think on some degree, I’m comfortable shouldering a significant amount of risk.

And I also have benefited in my life, as I always want to follow that up with, by saying, like, knock on wood, reasonably good health for, I’m turning 50 at the end of the summer. So all of those things sort of conspired together. But really, in that moment, I was just like, let’s. I’m just getting on the plane, and whatever happens, I will deal with it, because I know what’s gonna happen if I stay here. And I’m sort of at the end of my ability to deal with that.

Katy

Right. And what. So what were you when you thought about going to Paris? You’re on the plane. Do you have objectives in your head beyond, see this great friend group of yours that you have?

Glynnis MacNicol

I think I was so. I mean, sitting here, I’m sitting at the same window I sat at for that whole time. And there was a period of time where I remember looking up at the sky and wondering if I’d ever see a plane fly by again, because so travel had, like, been shut down. So severely. I think I was high on the sensation of movement, actually. Like, just the plane rolling down the Runway. Just the sense that I had a destination, just the sense that I was, like, not stagnant, and that things were going to change.

Being in a different place, like, seeing something different, even though I’m very familiar with Paris, like, just being out of this exact same tiny location I’d been in for so long. And the sense of being, like, in community with a friend group was, I think, all that was going through my mind. I literally, when I think of that summer, I picture those videos of animals in captivity who’ve been, like, released back to their natural environment. That’s what it felt like to me. Like, I just was sort of, like, on instinct, only out of the cage.

Katy

Well, and you say, too, in the book, that you point out that touch itself is something that is, like, the one sense that we all have that you actually need to survive. I think you give the example that an animal will forego food if touch or food is an option, like one or the other, and they’re so touch starved, they will rather be touched than have food.

Glynnis MacNicol

Yeah. That is what the scientists say, that they’ve done experiments, and that touches such a fundamental need in living creatures that animals will eventually go for touch before they go for food. I went for all of it simultaneously, but by the time I left New York, it was touch that I was craving most. And I think it’s important. Like, listen, we can talk about sex as much as anyone wants, but, like, it was the physicality of being in a real space with people and being around a table with people and in community.

I always say that, like, my bike is the great love of my life. Like, the sensation of being on a bike in motion. I think that this book is a lot about the ability to be in motion, and particularly as a woman, and how significant that is. And also, I took my clothes off a lot, so there’s, like, all of those things together.

Katy

Liberation. Yeah. During the pandemic, we did interview a woman named Nicole, who’s another writer, Nicole Hardy, who was also living by herself. And we. I interviewed her, like, in the midst of it, when she’s all alone, after. I don’t even remember how many months, but it had been a while.

Glynnis MacNicol

Yeah.

Katy

And she had just said, you know, when this is over, I just. I want to be at the bottom of a pig pile of everyone I’ve ever known. You know, I just want to be completely buried in everybody I’ve ever met.

Glynnis MacNicol

It starts to make you feel. The truth is, I don’t know. I knew that I was willing to risk it to go. It didn’t actually feel like such a big risk at that time, but I don’t think I knew how starved I was for it until I got a taste of it. You know, it was almost like, you don’t know how thirsty you are until you have your first sip of water. You don’t know how hungry you are until, like, I got.

I think I went thinking, oh, I just need a bit of a shift, or I just need to see people again. And when I got there and sort of had that first meal or that first dance, I was like, oh, I want as much of this as possible. Like, I want, like, I want more and more and more and more and more. Like, literally could not get enough.

Katy

So you are. I mean, part of the focus of this book is the fact that you made this big decision to go to Paris, that you let yourself go free, but also that you are what you would think of, I guess. I don’t even know how to put it because I guess kind of the way you refer to it is like an atypical woman. Like, the woman that.

Glynnis MacNicol

I don’t. I don’t actually think I’m atypical. I actually think I’m fairly typical. And the reason atypical labels get applied, or is it sort of an indictment of the culture more than just, like, an accurate description of where I fit into it?

Katy

Right. It’s sort of more about the narrative, the general narratives we always see on television in movies. I mean, you yourself, in the book point out that most tv plots, most movie plots, if it is centered around a woman, it generally has something to do with her family, her falling in love. I think even at one point, you say, you know, if you’re looking at the narrative of my life, what’s the moment of incitement? Or, like, what is.

Glynnis MacNicol

Yeah. With the last book, in selling this book, it was a lot of, like, what is the inciting incident? And how do we, you know, know that she’s made the right decisions, or what’s the resolution? And I think you don’t even need one hand to count the stories about women’s lives that don’t end with a wedding or a child or love. Do you know what I mean? It’s just the only way we understand resolution when it comes to women.

And subsequently having a life where people don’t apply narratives is like traveling without any map. It can become scary or overwhelming, or it just makes you feel invisible. Or it’s frustrating, or, you know, you end up trying to describe your life to people, and it’s like you’re speaking a different language sometimes.

Katy

Yeah. Yeah. There’s one point in the book when you say that, you know, we kind of need a narrative to. There’s this driving need within us to want to have some sort of narrative to put up against our lives.

Glynnis MacNicol

Absolutely. I think. I’m certainly not the first person to say this, but I think we’re, like narrative junkies. We need to understand. We need to understand our lives as a narrative arc, whether or not our lives actually fit any sort of arc, I think that they often don’t. And that contributes to sadness, grief, joy, frustration, whatever it happens to be, or shock.

But we understand everything through a narrative. And those narratives, I think, can be very punishing for people who don’t fit into them. And, by the way, I think they can be very punishing for people who do fit them, because I don’t think that they’re satisfying or accurate in any way, just in a small way. I’m always trying to provide a blueprint for other ways to live and just sort of, like, witness. I always think of it as, like, sending back a dispatch. I’m like, this is what I’m seeing, and this is what I’m experiencing. And, like, maybe some of it will be useful or applicable, and maybe some of it won’t. It’s certainly not prescriptive, but laws are narrative, and religion is narrative. We all. So when you fall outside of that, so it can be easy to lose a sense of self sometimes.

Or it can also feel, like, when the narrative that has been applied to your life and for women who are outside of partnership or outside of parenting, I think that narrative is often one of pity or tragedy or invisibility. And you are finding that your life is so fulfilling and complex and enjoyable, it can feel a little bit like gaslighting because you’re like, I am having such a good time, but I don’t ever see, like, there’s no language for it. There’s nothing I can point to and say, I’m having a really good time, like, this person. And so you can. It can often be like, am I having a good time? Like, can I possibly be having, like, you have to really learn to trust yourself and your own experience to a pretty significant degree, I think.

Katy

Yeah, yeah, I. It’s funny, because I. My mother used to always, you know, if she was recounting somebody’s life, she would, you know, let’s say someone had passed away. And she would say, oh, this and this and this and this. And then she’d say, they never had any children. She never had any children. And I said, or you could say it. She never had any children, you know?

Glynnis MacNicol

Yeah, exactly. Exactly. I mean, the ability to. Not as a woman, to a. I wrote a New York Times op ed about this a few weeks ago, but, like, the ability to have control over your own reproductive system, which we’re moving at a lightning fast away from that ability, clearly, in this country, and the ability to have some control over your own finances is less than 50 years old. So the idea that we don’t have sort of like, an excited language around it or a ritual or. It’s like, it’s not that shocking because, of course, like, of course, it’s so. It’s so new.

And I can understand why I really. I try to, like, deal with empathy when I. When I’m on the receiving end of stuff like that, because I think I. I don’t know. Like, of course that’s people’s idea. Because there was no other options. Right? Like, there was no. Even if you didn’t want. I just think of all the women in history who would have, like, killed to not have any children or, like, given a limb to be able to travel somewhere without a chaperone. And I just think, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that you weren’t able to.

And I understand why it’s hard sometimes to understand this is a good thing when women have only been rewarded for sort of narrow ideas of existence.

Katy

Yeah.

Glynnis MacNicol

I mean, which are rewarding for some people, just not everyone.

Katy

Yeah.

Glynnis MacNicol

Yeah.

Katy

I mean, you even point out that you recognize that this is a unique time of history and that your agency as a, you know, unmarried, childless person is something that might be a blip in history. You never.

Glynnis MacNicol

Yes.

Katy

You never really know. Yeah.

Glynnis MacNicol

Yeah.

Katy

So let’s talk about some of the enjoyment, because the title is, you know, I’m mostly here to enjoy myself. You know, what does enjoyment mean to you? I mean, meals with friends, you know, do you have, like, the. What you were hoping for, what you were looking for?

Glynnis MacNicol

I should say that I didn’t go into this trip with any sense that I was going to write about it or record it or any sort of idea that I might turn this into something. I didn’t. That didn’t occur to me until a month or two after I got back and was rereading my own journals. And I thought, this is really fun.

Katy

What an invention.

Glynnis MacNicol

I was like, I should turn this into something, which is reason the book is in present tense because I was sort of trying to capture that immediacy that I found in my own journals. But enjoyment in those five weeks, I often think the way we measure enjoyment or satisfaction is so skewed to how men experience it because, of course, men have been the majority of the storytellers. So sometimes I think you can women, and I’ll just speak for myself, can fall into the thing of like, oh, it doesn’t sound like a big deal. And then I think, actually it is a big deal. It’s a big deal for most women. It’s just that we don’t understand it as sort of having that significance because it is never granted that in the stories we have had access to.

But enjoyment for me started literally when I walked out my front door and a cab picked me up and there was no traffic to JFK. I got to JFK. Normally getting to JFK from the upper west side is like. It’s like a twelve mile ride that takes an hour and a half. So I got there in something like 25 minutes, and then the plane took off early. It was half empty. I think I say this in the book, we had a tailwind. We got there on time. All the transportation was fine. I was like, I went door to door in something like, I want to say it was like eight and a half hours.

It was bananas. And I was like, and when you travel, and I’m sure, I mean, maybe you’ve encountered this, too, but I think often when you’re a woman traveling alone, you’re so keyed to, like, on guard and, like, what could go wrong? And I was like, wow, everything just went right. Like, literally everything went right. And then I got into the apartment and I was like, wow, everything went right. And then everything proceeded to go right for the next five weeks without fail. Like, I just. And at one point I think in the book, I say, I’m just going to lean into it.

Like, I’m just going to stop expecting the other shoe to drop. I was just like, everything is going right. Just run with it. You clearly are, like, in the wave. The dominoes are going in your direction, whatever it is. So that was enjoyable. Just being around a table with my friends who all lead similar lives to mine so that it requires no translation or explanation is so satisfying. I mean, English is my first language and basically my only language. My other languages are so abysmal. But I imagine it must be like living in a foreign country and then finding a group who speaks your native tongue fluently.

And, like, the relief of that is so extraordinary. And then France, and Paris in particular, prioritizes pleasure as a human right, I would say. I think in America, we understand it as something that needs to be earned sort of financially or success. But there, it’s very much built into day to day existence, so it was fairly accessible. So there’s, like, the pleasure of just being around a table with my friends in community, and then there’s, like, the literal pleasure of, like, seven types of cheese and butter on the plate in front of you, and, like, that normal, the pleasure of Paris and food.

And I’m so grateful that I’d spent enough time in Paris in the years prior to this that I also understood what a gift it was to have the city empty of tourists, that it was a rare. I felt like that in New York in much different ways, because at the beginning it was so fraught. But to have Paris be sort of released from visitors, although I myself am obviously a visitor. It was such a gift, and I was so grateful that I understood it as a gift. And then, of course, there was the pleasure of literally just like so many, after being alone for a year and a half and entering the pandemic, still a little bit in my early forties and coming out at the age, middle age, when you are really conditioned,

I think, as a woman, to expect, like, invisibility, or things are going to get worse or you’re going to have less options. And it was the complete opposite experience. And I was just like, all this attention is amazing. How quickly can I get my clothes off? Let’s find out. So I think I was really, in this book, really interested in tapping into the sex is what’s getting the coverage so far, which is totally fine. I get it. And it’s really interesting to hear from people who think the sex is like, oh, it’s so spicy. And then the people who are like, ah, it’s very vanilla. And I’m like, there’s a funny divide happening there, too.

But I really wanted to be like, this is. I wanted to just recount, like, all the different ways women access pleasure, and particularly at this age, and how much is available to us and what that looks like, because I don’t think we really see that culturally in the world in a way that feels true to me. It might not be true for everyone, what I was doing, but I was more interested in just being, like, the pleasure of being able to bike around the city in the middle of the night and the pleasure of motion. As I said, the pleasure of five types of butter for breakfast. That’s very pleasurable.

Katy

One of the things you write about is about this woman that you saw in Paris, and this is years prior to this trip. She’s riding her bike, she’s got groceries. You describe her as slim, erect, and probably in her forties, and you see something in her. What do you think you saw in her at that time that made her stick with you for so long?

Glynnis MacNicol

Very interesting. To me, you’re the second or third person to bring that scene up. And it makes me really happy because I think someone had told me that it was hard to make pornography for women successful, because what women fantasize about is freedom. And to me, the bike represents that.

And the bike, just a little backstory, which I always find amusing and very, very true, is that when the bike was first introduced at the turn of the last century, it had a huge impact on women’s rights movements simply because it was the first time women could move around without a chaperone. It offered them access to different places and solitary sort of travel. And it changed fashion significantly in the moment, of course, because we had the huge bustle skirts and that’s how sort of us sporty clothes for women first merge.

But the big concern when the bike was introduced was that bicycle seats would inadvertently give particularly young women unexpected orgasms, and that perhaps we should not be inflicting that on young women and it was not safe to do so. And I just remember reading that and thinking, like, listen, the orgasm women experience on bikes is not physical, of, like, just being able to go on your own when you want. And so to your point, I think I remember exactly where I was standing. I remember that woman so clearly and I think she just looked so self possessed and so sailing through to a destination of her own choosing and completely unencumbered by expectation, I suppose. And so chic.

I mean, there is something to the way, how chic french women are. And also how old was I when I saw that? I was maybe in my early thirties, maybe a little bit younger. And I think, too, it was only beginning to occur to me that age was not a punishment. And I think there was something in this way of. It can be hard to find examples of living well as you age, although I think that is changing rapidly in the last few years. And I think when I saw her, it gave me just a small snapshot of what the future could hold in that moment of, oh, she’s just biking calmly through this chaos in Paris with her basket. And it was just so chic and, like, magical and powerful, too. I mean, it’s powerful to see women on the move.

Katy

Yeah. So when you think, well, that 30 year old something self that saw her, I mean, it’s hard to sometimes remember exactly what our thinking was at that time. But were you worried about, like, the fact that you weren’t fitting into these certain scripts at that point in your life?

Glynnis MacNicol

I think at that point I probably was. I mean, at 30, what was I worried about at 30? I feel like I was probably worried that I wasn’t successful enough. I think it wasn’t until my late thirties I started feeling that sense of, like, not so much I should be married or I should have children. But, like, what did it mean if neither of those things came to pass and really interrogating it? So I think at that point it was just like the excitement of seeing some version, some future version of life that you could see yourself occupying.

Katy

Yeah. What do you make of the fact that everybody who interviews you tends to be focused on the sex?

Glynnis MacNicol

I mean, listen, I’ve worked in media for a long time, so I understand that. I think it’s twofold. I think one, sex sells. So I get it. When I was on CBS Mornings the other day, I was joking with Gail beforehand. She’s like, is there anything else you want to talk about? And I said, oh, you know what? My friendships are core to my life. And I always like to make that point. She’s like, now we’re going to talk about the sex. And that’s fine because it’s fun. I also honestly think that we have, and this, again, is shifting,

I think, of Miranda July’s novel All Fours that just came out. We have very little representation of middle aged women, for lack of a better term, because there isn’t yet a better term. And I, hopefully I’m middle aged because I hope I get to another 50 years. But, like, who’s to say we have very little representation of women of a certain age being, like, sexually viable creatures? I feel very powerful, and not just sexually. And I think many, many, many women are feeling like this. And because you don’t see any representation of it, the first time you get a hint of it, it’s very compelling.

And I think it really upends the manner in which we talk about sex because sex, particularly in America, which is still very puritan in many ways, sex is often attached to fertility. Right. And detaching it from that, I think, can be unnerving a little bit and also extremely exciting and also new. And so I think that’s part of it, too, is like, it’s hard to shame someone. It removes some of the guardrails that we tend to place around sex. And I think that can be both very compelling and a little scary.

So I imagine there’s part of that, too. And also, I think it’s part of it is not just women. I’ve heard from many, many men and nice emails, or a lot of emails asking me on dates, but in a very respectful way. I feel like my inbox is 1980s personal ads in the back of a magazine right now. But it’s exciting to think that this much enjoyment is possible. Right? Like, it’s just, it’s fun. It’s like, oh, great, you mean I could do that? Like, I could go and take my clothes off, too, and people will be happy to see me naked. Like, yeah, I think you’ll have to.

Katy

Like, give your secret because I know there’s a lot of people listening who do the online dating and feel like they don’t ever meet anybody. And you have such a great success rate of meeting interesting people when you’re in Paris, and I don’t know how you do when you’re back home in New York, but, you know, how does she do it?

Glynnis MacNicol

Yeah. Well, I’ll say two things. I’m certainly not a dating coach, and every city is different. And also, when I’m with friends who live in more rural parts of the country. I notice that the only men that sort of pop up are my age or older, and I think there’s many cultural conversations to have around that. I would say this, though, I’m not on these apps looking for love or a long term relationship. If not, if either of those things falls in my lap, I’m certainly not against it, but that is not my motivation. And that releases you from a lot. It releases you from looking for someone who I don’t just casually meet with people.

I think that we also misinterpret casual as meaningless. But a lot of these things is because I’ve removed some of the weight of expectation in these scenarios. I don’t get that disappointed if it doesn’t work out. I think to be in your late forties when many of your friends are married is to demystify marriage as the only satisfying way to live or a solution. It’s just another way to live. So as the emotional support system for many of my married friends, and as a person who has many decade long intimate friendships, I don’t sort of go forth into the world being like, swipe right. I wonder if this is the one. I don’t think there’s the one. I don’t particularly interested in there being the one that would require me to restructure my life, which I don’t think it sounds so great.

So I think that that removes some of the restrictions on who I match up with or who I have conversations with, and that in and of itself, that sort of mentality of I’m here to have more fun, I think can expose you to a little bit more of an enjoyable experience. Listen, if I was looking for a partner, I don’t know. I think if that’s what people are looking for, then there’s no shame in that. Like, you should never have to apologize for that. I don’t think it’s easy. No matter what, I don’t think it’s easy.

I think that when you do it, when you’re 22 and you know a lot less about how the world works, you just also know a lot less about yourself. You have a much higher tolerance. Like, my tolerance level for nonsense. When I was 22, Washington sky high, and now I’m just like, why would I put up with any of this? Like, then that’s across the board. That’s not just in, like, romantic relationships. That’s just on planet Earth, you know? Yeah.

Katy

So you have this amazing five weeks in Paris. I don’t know how much you’ve actually listened to this particular show, but it started ten years ago when I lived for a year in Rome, and now I don’t live in Rome, and my co host does still live in Rome. And I often get the question, why didn’t you stay? And I know that you probably have that same question lobbed at you from your friends that were under the Delta wave in New York of here you are having this wonderful time. Why didn’t you stay for longer?

Glynnis MacNicol

I’m also Canadian, so I get the question of, “why do you live in America?” quite frequently.

Katy

That’s another fair question.

Glynnis MacNicol

Because life is nothing. Paris is not a vacation spot for me. I’ve established sort of a secondary life there that I’m fortunate to be able to access, you know, with some frequency and for lengthy periods of time. New York is my home, and when people ask questions like that, all I hear is a person who’s not spent a significant amount of time in other places revealing themselves. There are realities. Rome is, for one example, and Paris included in this, and Toronto included this wherever. And New York, for people who come here and visit, like, there is a reality to living these places that you don’t experience as a tourist.

So I also like to visit Rome. Rome was not the best example. I mean, I was just there for a couple of weeks last summer. But take Paris for an example. I could live in Paris. I have the network. I have the understanding of the city. My French would need work. But the reality of living in Paris, I understand the reality and the restrictions and the things that I would have to give up and say goodbye to. And that’s not to say it wouldn’t ever happen, but the ratio has not tipped far enough in that direction that I would relinquish my home.

I’ve been in New York for 27 years. I think when people speak casually about things like that, I really do think you have not spent a lot of time away from your comfort zone, because these are not small considerations. And America is a very complicated country right now, and very, very fraught. But there is a reason to be quite serious. There is a reason people want to come and live here. We have a justice system that is not fair to everyone, but is more fair than most justice systems. And we have, you know, we have a lot. And so I do get a little frustrated with that sort of flippant sometimes, it sounds like to me, and I think, hey, you should be leaving the country more because we’re driving across it maybe a little bit, because these are not easy questions, and it’s not an accident that people want to come here.

That America doesn’t live up to its own ideals does not mean that America is not ideal in comparison to many other places. In many ways, that was more serious. But I do, especially in this moment, find that sort of question to be frustrating and a little irresponsible from the question asker. Just because I, like, I want to say, like, think more, do more, like, like, avail yourself a little bit more. And if you are going to go move to another place, then you become. You don’t sort of like, lay on top of it. You become involved in it. And that is a much different experience than three weeks or my five weeks. Weeks in Paris. Those five weeks in Paris are informed by years there and they’re informed by community. And I still could not call myself anything but a new worker.

Katy

Yeah, it’s those kind of comments, especially in the run up to the election, and we certainly heard it at the last election and the election before that. You know that if things go a certain way, then I’m going to have to leave the country. We always.

Glynnis MacNicol

Yeah, people should read the news more. And I mean, right now, they should read the news of what’s going on in Europe more. But I also, as a Canadian who’s been hearing that for years, I just want to say to people, have you ever been to Canada?

But also, like, it reveals an ignorance over the degree of influence America has globally. This idea that if America becomes. Sorry, this conversation took a turn, but we are in serious times, I think. And that was something I was also trying to convey in this book, that it’s taking place against a backdrop of pretty, you know, a very serious backdrop. And these things are not casual. The ability of. I have to do this is not a casual thing. But America becoming unstable is like, there’s not, like a safe place to go. Right. And America has not been a safe place for many people who’ve lived here for a very long time. But, like, there’s not like a—there’s not somewhere else to go to get away from this. It’s like, you’re American. Gotta deal with it.

Katy

Yeah. And you’ll be American if you move to France. It’s true.

Glynnis MacNicol

France right now is having a snap election because the EU just lost all the seats to the far right party in the EU. So if France is your safe bet, I think you should maybe read some more global news. You know, like, it’s not. There is not like a happy utopia just because they have great cheese and a social net and both things are wonderful, and I wish we had a social net here, but, you know, is not a solution.

Katy

Well, everybody go out and vote. Yeah. Even those of you expats abroad. You better get that distance ballot in.

Glynnis MacNicol

Right. Exactly.

Katy

Well, so bringing you back, though. So this adventure, of course, now is a few years in the rearview mirror. Would you say that there are things that you learned during this or that were awakened in you that have continued forward now that you’re back home?

Glynnis MacNicol

Absolutely. I think two things. If you had asked me in October of 2021, sort of a month after I got back, I would have told you I had come out of that summer being very proud of myself, that I had known exactly what I needed and that I known exactly how to get it for myself. I felt really powerful and like, I exhibited enormous amount of agency on my own behalf, particularly after such a long period of time of feeling so confined now that I guess we’re almost three years, a little bit less out from that, I think I have come to understand it of, like, the overlap of heading into sort of the second half, heading into my late forties, headed into middle age and aging, like, real aging.

I think 40 has been used as a benchmark, but I don’t really think, you know, combination of, like, we’re healthier skincare or whatever it is. Like, I actually think aging starts to, your body starts to feel it now a little bit more. I think what happened is Paris, after actually being invisible for that year and a half and actually, you know, finding that I’d fallen off the earth and had no one to speak to, I came through that doorway of that trip into the second half feeling extraordinarily powerful, extraordinarily optimistic.

The horizons are broadening and fully questioning every narrative we have around age in a way that, I’m not saying that it’s all not true, but you have to convince me it’s true now versus I’m worried it’s true. I’m like, so far, nothing has proven to be true. I’m sure some things are going to, like, my neck, I’m sure, is crumbling as I speak, but, like. But real concerns around age.

And I just feel. I just, I keep coming back to this word. I feel enormously powerful. And I think that is what I, when I came through that experience to the other side that has remained with me. So that even if, like, the following summer, my dad was dying and I was in Paris for August again, and I remember thinking, not remember thinking, but I remember landing and being like, oh, maybe it’ll be a fun party time again. But actually, what I needed the pleasure for me that summer was, like, the care of my friendships and, like, the gentleness of being able to land in a place where people would hold on to me and remember some very nice, anonymous Frenchman sending me poetry. And I was like, this is the kind of pleasure I’m into right now. Like, I just wanted it to be kind, and that was available to me.

And I recognized, you know, like, this is available to me. And then, you know, six months later, I was more interested in a different kind of pleasure again. But it’s that sense of, like, if you want it, it is available to you in some way. And feeling very empowered by that and carrying that with me and understanding that there is a resilience and joy, too, that joy and beauty are as transformative as anger and rage.

And understanding, it’s not frivolous in any way whatsoever, I think, was really key. And just also trusting myself that because I don’t experience the world in the way culture has told us it should be experienced, that doesn’t diminish my joy at all.

Katy

Have you found a way to build that into your day to day life once you’re home? Because I think it’s easy for people to imagine taking five weeks off and not off. You were working, but, you know, somewhere else and being able to kind of tap into that joy and awareness, not.

Glynnis MacNicol

Just like Paris and cheese, although I’m grateful that I have access to it, I think it is like what pleasure looks like to everyone. I think I have disengaged it from any sense of shame or any sense that it shouldn’t be, like, pivotal in my life.

And also understanding that as right as things went for those five weeks where everything went right and then not thinking, oh, oh, it’s just a matter of time if things go badly, just understanding, like, things are going to go right for as long as they’re going to go right, and then when they start going wrong, as was the case that following summer was quite difficult, they’re not going to go wrong forever. Like, this is. It’s like up waves, up and down, as opposed to the way we’re sort of conditioned to think of happy endings or finality or whatever.

And with that comes a strengthen, too, I think, and that maybe that’s partly age, too, but it’s this sense of less concern that I won’t. That these things. God, I hate to say this, because it feels like an Instagram therapy account, but, like, the abundance mindset of just having access to abundance. Nobody gets to have sex cheese in Paris every day, even in your mentality, but incorporating some degree of enjoyment every day, whether it’s like I have agency over my life, or I see people, or I know that I can get this when I want it, and when I don’t want it, it doesn’t mean I’m not going to have it forever. Just moving through the world like that, I think, is more to the point than did I have five types of butter for breakfast this morning, although I would if I could. If we had better butter in America, I would absolutely have five types of butter for breakfast.

Katy

The COVID of the book is a painting, and the painting actually is not just arbitrarily chosen for you by the publishing company, which sometimes does happen. It’s one that you yourself actually connected with. Do you want to tell us the story of what the painting is and why it is that you really were drawn to this particular image?

Glynnis MacNicol

I went to the Louvre that summer for the first time since 1994, because the Louvre has always got this enormous lineup around it, and it’s always packed, and there’s so many other museums in Paris. But that summer, there was no one in Paris. And I kept biking by the Louvre, and there was no lineup. And I thought, well, now’s your shot. Like, you haven’t seen, been in there since you were 19, so maybe now’s the time.

So I bought a ticket and I went in, and I, and there was like, maybe 20 people standing in front of the Mona Lisa. The rest of the museum was empty. I have photos, like, it was just empty. And I was wandering along. And you don’t realize, like, taking in all of that art is intense, but when you’re taking it in without having to navigate around other people, it’s like a very immediate experience. By the time I got up to the second floor, I was feeling a little overwhelmed, and I turned a corner, and there was that painting that’s on the COVID which, if you see it in full, so beautiful. It’s of a woman lying on a blue velvet bed, and her nightgown is pulled up so her bottom is bare, and she’s looking over her shoulder with this very sort of coy, enjoyable look. And it’s in this big gold gilt frame. And it was just such an antidote to all of the, like, people being massacred on the other floor.

And I also looked at it, and I was like, speaking of never seeing yourself reflected in culture, I looked at it, and I was like, well, that’s an accurate reflection of how I’ve been spending all my time in Paris so far, which is always nice to see some version of your life. I always joke that the only versions I see of my life in paintings are of sex workers, which is traditionally what? Odalisque star. They have a very complicated history. The name of that painting is Lodalisque. It’s by Boucher, and it’s from 1745. It’s one of the early ones. The Matisses are the most famous, but they’re complicated because they’re often portraits of sex workers. And in Matisse’s case, they were portraits of north African sex workers, but not actually of them, of other women portraying them.

So it’s a fraught history that’s worth looking into. But in this case, the painting happened to be of Boucher’s wife, who was a successful painter in her own right. And there’s something about the look on her face that you’re just like, oh, you just get a snapshot. It feels. I have no idea. None of us can know. It feels like you just get a snapshot into their relationship. They were having fun together, and I just loved it so much.

And the woman who did the cover who’s amazing, read the book as cover designers should be doing, but they don’t always. And she pulled that painting and put it on the cover and I was so thrilled because I was concerned I was going to get a cover with, like, croissant and baguettes, a bike and the whole tower. I mean, I wouldn’t have minded the bike, but the croissant, baguette, Naipaul Tower, I think, would have sent me over the edge, especially with the, you know, Emily in Paris is so popular.

So when I got that, it was over the moon. The interesting thing has been that Instagram has restricted my account because of this cover, and that there was some question whether CBS was going to be able to show it on tv. Even, like, Gail held it. Like, I went on being like, we’re not sure we’re gonna see the cover And then Gail immediately held it up, God bless her. But it’s interesting that we still. I don’t actually think it’s just the nudity on the cover It’s a 400 year old painting or a 300 year old painting. I think it’s like the nudity combined with the word pleasure that is triggering the algorithm and making people uneasy. And that, to me, is really fascinating. But I love that painting so much.

Katy

Your publicist actually sent me a picture, I think that you probably took of this picture.

Glynnis MacNicol

Yes.

Katy

We will throw it up on our instagram. All right. Well, I hope everybody goes and checks this book out. I’m mostly here to enjoy myself. Glynis MacNicol, which we should we say.

Glynnis MacNicol

That that title is? The title is the answer. I mean, because it’s a mouthful sometimes, but the title is very intentional. And it was an answer when I first got on the dating apps in Paris. And Ben would say, what are you looking for here? And I would say, well, I had to think about it at first. And I was like, well, I’m mostly here to enjoy myself.

And that eventually I became the title of the book because I thought it really summed up, I’m not entirely here to enjoy myself. I’m aware of the space of, like, what’s happening in the world, but I’m mostly here to enjoy myself. I just. So that’s why it’s a very intentional title.

Katy

It’s a good one for life, too, actually.

Glynnis MacNicol

Exactly. Precisely. And also, I think there’s a play on words, too, which is like, I’m mostly here to access enjoyment, but I’m mostly here to enjoy myself. I am enjoying the agency and the access that I myself have to things in an extreme way. Anyway, thank you for having me. This has been a delightful conversation. And thank you so much.

Katy

So much fun to have. You. All right, well, we’ll leave it there. And until next time, this is the bittersweet life. I’m Katy Sewall. We’ll talk to you next week. Bye.