Here, at my “office” in Paris, it’s very quiet. My desk partly faces a wall and partly faces a window, which looks out to a courtyard. I’m on the third floor, so I don’t get much light, which is unfortunate given the truly incredible lumiere this city is known for. I don’t have any colleagues or a water cooler to gossip at, because I am a freelancer—a pigiste, as they’re known here. I work alone from my studio apartment in Paris’ 9th arrondissement and send articles into the U.S. publications I write for via email. I revel in the freedom and flexibility my freelance life affords me by spending mornings, before the U.S. wakes up, watching an episode of Homeland that aired in the U.S. the night before, or at a museum exhibit, a produce market or a yoga class.
When I return to my “office” in the afternoon, I’m protected, if you will, by a digital door code, which almost all residential homes in Paris have. You just need to know the number-letter combination to get in.
As I write this, day is turning into night on January 7, 2015 and I feel a bit paralyzed by this five-digit door code. I am thankful for its protection, yet I feel like a coward for allowing it to keep me so guarded. Today, a dozen journalists for the satirical French newsmagazine Charlie Hebdo were not so lucky. They went to their office with the notion they’d continue working on whatever story they were working on, or drawing whatever cartoon they’d began drawing—as it is their right to do so—and leave by day’s end. Sadly, 12 of them didn’t make it out alive and others have been seriously injured.
Yet here I am, paralyzed at my desk, alone with my thoughts and my keyboard, questioning my next move—and the freedom I have to make it.
Do I continue on with my day, and finish the first blog post I started? Do I work on the two or three articles I have deadlines for? Do I download my daily French lesson? Do I get dressed for the expat drink event I signed up to attend later? Do I continue to listen to the gunshots being played over and over again on the French TV station I’ve been tuned to all day? Or, do I hit the streets to join a revolution that’s been ignited in response to this morning’s attack on freedom of the press? A freedom I, and so many others, rely on dearly each and every day.
It’s hard to think clearly when you’re being bombarded by kindhearted IMs and texts and calls on every social media platform from Facebook to Gmail to Whatsapp to Skype worried about my safety and whereabouts, and hence making me more uneasy about doing anything other than remaining in this very uncomfortable desk chair. But oh, the luxuries to be able to sit in any chair, at any desk, and continue to write and share with the world.
I want to be the kind of person who gets up from the uncomfortable chair, without question, and exits the building to go to the metro station to the meeting place where hundreds of journalists will gather in solidarity tonight. I want to be that brave.
But truth be told, I’m scared. The terrorists are still at large, looming somewhere amid or near the city I now reside in.
So what? Do I just sit here and wait until they’re captured? Holed up behind my door code, in my chair, relying on other journalists to feed me news—they themselves risking their lives to do just that? That feels wrong. Unlike me. After all, I am a journalist. Maybe not a news journalist. But a journalist, nonetheless. Je suis Charlie, as members of the press are proudly proclaiming on social media.
In the past, I’ve always been a bit of a leader—more of a cheerleader, though. The one who organizes surprise birthdays and trips to Turkey and makes the hard-to-get reservations at new restaurants. Trivial? Perhaps. But to each her own. That said, I can’t pretend to know anything about leading a powerful movement to make a powerful statement that may, in turn, incite powerful consequences.
Which is why tonight, I will be a follower. A follower of my heart; a follower of my head; a follower of my fellow journalists who I’m proud to call colleagues, whether or not I sit next to them in an office or meet them at the water cooler. Nous sommes Charlie.