Sunday, September 28, 2008

Believe it and make it happen

This past Thursday started out pretty much as planned. I'd arisen on time and was feeling so energized as it was a 'school' day. I quickly showered and dressed in my jeans and sneakers, and arrived at Gare de Cornavin with ample time to catch the 7:17 am TGV to Paris. No sweat I thought...I am loving this! Little did I know, the sweat part would come later that morning!

We'd left Geneva on time and reached our first stop....Bellegarde. Just over the French border from Geneva and normally a 2 minute stop to allow boarding passengers. At the point we'd left Geneva, I'd eaten the fruit & yogurt I'd packed for breakfast, then became pretty engrossed in some work I'd brought briefs and style guides that I was working on, reviewing some packaging layouts as well. I was busy reading these and feverishly making some notes when I suddenly had the sense that something was different. We weren't actually moving. I looked at my was nearly 8am and we'd been standing still at the platform for some time now. Not good I thought...we should have left about 15 minutes ago. Something's wrong...

The voice of the conductrice crackled over the speaker. "Mesdames et Messieurs," she began. "Oh boy, here it comes" I thought. "I am sorry to announce we have an electrical failure on the train lines this morning between Clusoz & Macon. This means we have lost power and will have to re-route the train via Chambery. We expect, at minimum, a 1 hour and a quarter delay for our arrival into Paris. First class passengers are invited to book their taxis now for Gare de Lyon." She repeated the message, evidently for some half-asleep passengers or those like me who may not have even noticed that we'd been stopped for quite some time.

On these last words, I could feel myself getting stressed. I was trying to get to the Eclairs demo starting at 12:30pm in Paris. Normally the 7:17 am train is ample time, since it arrives at Gare de Lyon at 10:49am, and I can reach the school by 11:45am to noon at the latest. This gives me a comfortable amount of time to change into my uniform, gather my notes and get a good seat in the demo room. With the forecasted delay, I'd only be arriving at Gare de Lyon around noon, then I would only have 30 minutes to transfer through 15 metro stops and 3 train changes to reach the school. And then I would still have to change into my uniform and find a seat...aaargh! It felt like failure was eminent.

My mind continued racing into the negative spiral of emotions and the domino-effect this little incident could have on my plans. If I'm more than 10 minutes late, I won't be admitted to the demo. If I don't get in the demo, then I cannot participate in the practical on Friday. And if I can't do either, then this whole round trip to Paris this week will be a waste of time and money...and I will have accrued 2 of the 5 allowed absences as a result. Any way I looked at it, it just seemed bad.

Of course, none of this was in my scope of control...nor was it even my fault. Which made it seem even more frustrating. I got up from my seat and took a walk towards the cafeteria car. Maybe a coffee would clear my head...or at least distract me for a moment.

I've been sporadically reading a spiritual book called "The Miracle of Change" by Marianne Williamson and for some reason it came to mind as I lumbered down the corridor. Some of this book's best teaching advises about the power of positive thinking and how this attracts the positive into your life. Also to avoid letting your ego get in the way of your own happiness. Simply put, the human ego prevents us from loving fully and achieving greatness in our lives because it imposes conditions, or in some cases barriers, to defining our own happiness and sense of fulfillment. I realized that this is what was happening right now...and I could either succumb to the negativity of the situation or rise above it. And if I couldn't rise above it, maybe I could at least learn from it.

I sipped the coffee that was served to me. It was dreadful...but in swallowing a burning mouthful I was jolted to the realization that this situation would be what I chose to make of it. I asked myself, "How bad do you want to be here?" (here of course being Le Cordon Bleu Paris, not on this bloody re-routed TGV drinking bad coffee.) "Right now, I want it more than anything else, "I said to myself. "I really need this, this is something that makes me feel so happy. " My dialogue continued, "So are you gonna let something as superficial as a late train prevent you from enjoying that??!" Without hesitation I thought, "HELL NO!!" Then I settled back on my bar stool, feeling somehow better even while sipping the rest of the toxic coffee. I decided that if I held out for the positive, the positive would happen. And with nothing short of a miracle, maybe even the TGV coffee would improve!

Positive re-enforcement to my choice arrived almost immediately. The speaker overhead crackled and the conductrice was announcing that our arrival in Paris would only be a 1hour and 5 minute delay. So I just gained 10 minutes of valuable time. "YES!!" I cheered to myself.

I knew I would make the most of the situation at hand. I sat in the cafeteria car for a while, looking at the reversed landscapes reflecting in the mirrors and also reflecting about all the things I needed to do to rescue this situation. About40 minutes before the scheduled arrival, I went back to my seat which was way towards the back of the train, far from the engine and the cafeteria. I gathered my belongings. I realized that I would stand the best chance of making up for lost time if I got as close to the front of the train as possible. Fortunately not much luggage today...just the cake box in an ugly Champion supermarket bag made of some Tyvek type material, my jacket & handbag, and my laptop. I wished my co-passenger a good day, then walked back towards the cafeteria. There were some unoccupied seats in the connecting section between the rail cars, so I took a folding seat and sat down.

I don't ever carry a laptop bag. Draping one of these over my shoulder tends to put my whole body out of joint, and I find it easier to carry the laptop when its weight is close to my chest...the same way a school girl might carry her text books. But today I decided it might be easiest if I had just one item in my hands for the race I was starting. That would give me one extra arm or hand to balance myself for stairs, etc. So I put the laptop in its neoprene case at the bottom of the Champion bag, then the cake box, then my jacket on the top.

I mentally retraced the metro connections I learned so far, and where to position myself at each metro platform so I could optimize my connection times. For Lines 1 & 4, sticking to the middle or back of the plaform would be best. For the last connection, Line 12 toward Mairie d'Issey, I remembered that it would be fastest to be at the front of the train if possible, as this was nearest to the station exit.

The train was slowing towards arrival into Gare de Lyon, true to the 1hour 5minute delay, and I noticed a few (but not many) other passengers who like me had made their way to the front of the train for arrival. We reached a full stop, and I was second person off the train (the first was some Army guy and I sensed his penalties for tardiness might be stricter than mine). The shopping bag was so heavy due to the laptop, and I noticed the scratchy woven handles were cutting into my hands a bit, but I sprinted down the TGV platform towards the exit.

The taxi drivers who were awaiting their first class patrons watched from the end of the platform. As I neared, one of them sniggered as I ran in a ungaitely manner. "Bonne chance," he remarked as I passed. As if to say, 'good luck're never gonna make it." "Oh yeah," I thought defiantly...'you just watch me!"

The metro was surprisingly uncrowded and I made it to Line 1 La Defense just before the doors slammed shut. It was only 12 pm and I was already underway with my first connection. "YES!" I cheered to myself again.

I proceeded to connect to Line 4 at Chatelet, although running a bit of an obstacle course as the station was crowded with plenty of folks moving much slower than me. My arms and shoulders ached and I was breaking a good sweat now...I kept running. "You won't miss this class...remember how bad you want this!" I told myself over and over.

For the last metro connection at Montparnasse-Bienvenue to Line 12, I couldn't reach the front of the train. No matter, I hopped on the last car of the train serendipitously awaiting at the platform just before the doors slammed shut. I wiped my brow. It was about 12:15pm by this point, and I was on the final metro connection to my destination. Very few passengers embarking or disembarking at stops Pasteur, Falguiere or Volontaires. Next stop, stop.

It was now nearly 12:20pm. I was 2 1/2 blocks away from the school. I bolted up the stairs of the station, the last gust of caffeine fueling me. I smiled like a loon. I could practically taste my own arrival and it was delicious. Or maybe the loss of circulation in my arms and hands was causing a nirvana-like state in my brain! Pedestrians approaching me on the street literally parted as if they were the Red Sea and I was Moses...or maybe they just thought I was some deranged woman who was fleeing after just robbing the local Champion. It didn't matter. I could see the school entrance. It was the last bit of reassurance I needed.

I entered and raced past the reception desk looking flushed and smiling "bon jour". Fortunately, the vestiare was empty...this is rarely the case. It was the fastest clothing change of my life. Not even Chippendale dancers earning big tips could have done a faster disrobing. I wadded my street clothes into a big ball and crammed them in the locker. "Not the day to worry about ironing," I thought. I more or less had my uniform & shoes on but was still in various stages of fastening up...buttoning, zipping and tying laces as I made my way to the demo room. As I did, I could see the door was still open...good sign! This meant that roll call had not begun and that I was still officially not late.

I stepped into the demo room. Only two seats left, both of them way over against the wall with an obstructed view. It didn't matter; we'd learned choux technique last week and this was just a different form of the same dough. I scurried down the long aisle, avoiding the toes of those already seated and greeting folks I recognized. I settled into my seat and began blotting my brow and fanning myself with the recipe sheets. At that point, the door shut and roll call began. I couldn't erase the smile from my face. Against the odds, I had triumphed. It felt great! Positive thinking and some extra planning had paid least to get me to class. Looking down at my uniform halfway through the demo, I realized the snap of my jacket which sits just below my breasts was undone! Discreetly I fixed this. Besides, no one but the wall to peek in the gap this time.

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