Interview: Sandra Brown of Excuses v. Life
Sandra Brown has quadriplegia, but that’s not going to stop her from moving to Paris this summer. It’s just a twist in the plot like any other obstacle she may encounter in moving to a new country and dealing with a new culture: it gives her more to write about! Sandra shares the start of her story below. To continue following her adventures, tune into her blog, Excuses vs. Life! The title says it all.
Sandra, please tell us about your blog, Excuses vs. Life. What is the theme and what type of topics do you cover?
My blog currently links to two other magazines that I write for, My French Life and AngloInfo (Paris& Ile de France). Those writing commitments give me little time to write exclusively for my blog. However both of those publications allow me to write about what I’d publish anyway. For MFL I draw on my previous experiences of France. For AI I ponder about the use of excuses as barriers to reaching goals, and my wheelchair/disability-related preparations for moving to Paris. Writing for other publications gives me more opportunities to learn and use different styles of writing for different audiences.
How did you get the idea to move to France? Have you always been a Francophile?
I haven’t always loved France. I’m from a little country town in South Gippsland, Victoria (Australia). Europe, in fact the rest of the World, consisted of ‘those other bits’ on the World map at school. However, over time, Europe became fascinating to me. Lots of languages, lives and stories. When I first went to France in 2011, it was to stay overnight on my way to Italy. However, and this is going to sound a bit storybook, when I was in the taxi driving to the hotel and saw the City of Paris, I could not believe that after all the struggles I’d been through to get there that I’d actually made it. It was so beautiful and so … Paris. I actually got a lump in my throat. The following year I went back and stayed in Paris for five weeks. I think that says something about falling in love.
What sort of struggles did you have to go through?
My disability is a struggle when I have to rely on people and equipment to survive. That is all the time. I’m relying on my wheelchair as I do this interview. If it decides to have an electrical fault and stop working then I’m stuck in this spot. If my employee drops dead on the way to work (that hasn’t actually happened!) then I can’t get into bed until I can contact another employee. So, relying on those two things when you need them both for traveling means that if they ‘fail’ then I can’t travel. This happened before my trip in 2011 and it took a great deal of emotional energy to find a solution. I was very disappointed and fed-up that I had so little control. Did it mean that reaching my goal was all the sweeter? Probably. However I have no desire to go through those dramas again. I’m a much smarter planner now!
Could you tell us a bit about your professional background? And how long have you been blogging?
In another life I was a researcher investigating psychological adult outcomes from childhood traumatic brain injury. It was a great career that I had for about eight years, and given that I was writing and researching, I was doing something that I enjoyed. However, it was not something that I wanted to do forever. What I have always loved doing is writing. Writing stories about life and people. So I deleted my Masters folder from my computer and back up and emailed my supervisors to tell them that I had quit. You would be surprised how many people said that I should have just taken leave from my Masters instead of deleting everything. Why? That would have implied that I lacked belief in myself. You can use a safety net in life but you still have to jump.
What do you expect to be the biggest challenges in moving to France?
Other people and equipment. I believe in me. The only challenges I have here are having good assistants to work for me (assisting me with AM and PM personal care tasks) and equipment malfunction (wheelchair etc.). Everything else is just normal life ups and downs. Wheelchair access is no worse in Paris than in Melbourne. Some people think that making friends overseas is a challenge but the worst that could happen with no friends is that it will give me something else to write about! Language is also not what I consider a challenge. To me it is an adventure. I study French daily in Melbourne and will do so in Paris.
How long do you plan to stay in France? Indefinitely, or is there another destination on the list as well?
I plan to stay for three months at this point, on the standard Australian 90 day non visa option. I am investigating my other options at the moment. From experience, I know that planning too strictly, too far ahead is not possible nor advised. Instead, having a general long-term idea allows for flexibility which then encourages adaptability. Anyway, one can’t even book a seat on the Eurostar more than three months ahead of time! Only London appeals to me as a second destination.
What is your plan for work when you arrive?
I am unable to work due to my visa status but will do volunteer work if I can, and continue to write. I’ll also take French classes, and be a self-appointed access investigator of non-tourist parts of Paris!
What are you most worried about in terms of moving to and living in France?
I am not a worrier, for the most part. I have no control over anything except what I think. Control is an illusion that people think is reality. Anything could happen that I haven’t planned. I have multiple options planned and have booked accommodation, assistance, equipment and finances, but the rest is up to fate. Actually even my multiple options could all fail. I’m certainly not suggesting one should leave everything to fate, nor that fate is equated to expecting the worst, but worrying about something that hasn’t yet happened is not on my agenda.
Do you have advice for visitors with mobility disabilities planning a trip to France?
Yes. Ignore everything anyone has ever said about the lack of accessibility. It is no better or worse than any other country I’ve been to. You will see as much inaccessibility as you choose to see and likewise you will find it as accessible as you choose to see. Accessibility is mostly about attitude and adaptability. Adapt quickly and life will be easier. Actually I’d suggest everyone think like that as most unhappy travelers that I’ve met are unhappy because they didn’t adapt. It’s that control thing again.
Thank you, Sandra, for sharing your story with us! We look forward to following your adventures!