On February 27, we said goodbye to this blog’s fearless leader. A world traveler, innovative IT professional, father to Billysky, lover of fine dining, air travel, and Pennsylvania tomatoes, Paul was a storyteller with a true appreciation for living.
I first met Paul in March 2016. I’d just joined the local Rotary Club, and a few fellow Rotarians were gathering for a cookout on a friend’s lawn in honor of the town’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
In the midst of making new friends over plastic cups of beer and plates of layered taco dip, a man walked by carrying a porcelain dinner plate.
“Would you like to try my steak?” he asked with a big smile. He had disheveled black hair and was wearing a navy blue coat that looked to be two sizes too big for him. He had a tattered grilling glove on one hand. True to his word, in the other hand he extended a fork with a bite-sized piece of steak, grilled to medium-rare.
It was one of the oddest requests I’ve ever received at a cookout, mainly because of the personal delivery.
But that was Paul. He was personal.
And in the middle of the chaos of a party, he delivered a really good steak.
Later that spring, the Rotary Club purchased a plot in the town’s community garden. Next to 10×10 plots of sunflower beds and wire tomato cages, we planted bell peppers, cucumbers, herbs, and tomatoes that we hoped would flower in a few months.
As the spring turned to summer and the sun grew stronger, my fiancée and I visited the garden plot to water and weed more often. And almost every time we visited, Paul was there.
As it turned out, Paul was the mastermind behind this formerly vacant space of land. Just a few years back, he’d turned it into rows of square plots that residents and businesses could purchase annually in the hopes of growing locally sourced food.
Paul had two adjacent plots of his own in the community garden, filled with tall tomato plants. We’d pass them as we walked to unravel the hose from the water station, and almost always, we’d end up talking to Paul, who, often wearing a wide-brimmed gardening hat and a community garden branded t-shirt covered in soil, was hard at work weeding and pruning.
Paul liked to talk. I do, too, and I often ask a lot of questions, so it was a natural that many of our late afternoon conversations in the garden would continue until the sun had started to set, the humidity had left, and my stomach was telling me that it was time for dinner.
I learned about everything from Paul’s years in San Francisco, which is tied with Paris as my favorite city in the world, to his plans to freeze his tomatoes and use them to make tomato sauce in the winter, to his beloved tuxedo cat, Billysky. I’m terrified of cats, so this was a particularly fascinating topic for Paul, a self-proclaimed cat lover. Often, he would invite us over for a drink and then seize the opportunity to have me feed Billysky her Fancy Feast, just because he was genuinely interested in helping me overcome my fear.
Paul was also genuinely interested in helping me overcome my fear of writing.
Which brings me to this blog.
A Surprise Return to Writing
It’s a love/hate relationship – writing and me. I’ve been writing almost my whole life, with short stories in between school and sports as a child, as an aspiring journalist in high school and college, and most recently, while completing my graduate degree in Creative Writing.
But if it’s not for a job or for a paid consulting gig, it’s difficult for me to write. Though aside from exercise, it’s one of my best stress relievers, I often find that other priorities take precedence, and by the time I sit down to write just for fun, I’m too tired or distracted to do so.
I remember when Paul unveiled Paul Sees the World back in November 2016. Wow, that’s brave, I thought. I’d always wanted to author a blog, but between the excuse of “I don’t have a theme” and “It’s too personal/scary/(insert emotion about other people reading my writing),” I’d never followed through with it.
Once Paul Sees the World turned 6 months, Paul was traveling to Dallas almost weekly for his job, and between those trips and his planned vacations, he was having trouble publishing posts regularly.
“I know you’re a writer,” he casually mentioned one evening after a Rotary meeting. “Would you like to write for my blog?”
“I’d be honored,” I answered sincerely. “But, I don’t know what I’d write about.”
Paris, dogs, food. He suggested topics. I nodded in consideration.
Paul continued posting in the free time that he had.
“Hey Sarah, do you still want to write for my blog?” Paul asked after another Rotary meeting.
“I do,” I responded enthusiastically.
This pattern continued for months.
He told my fiancée, and he started suggesting topics. Teaching French, baking, running.
The pattern continued.
Finally, in late November 2017, Paul said, rather persistently for Paul, “Sarah, you said you wanted to write for my blog. Is this something you’d actually like to do?”
The pattern had come to an end.
The Ultimate Blessing
With Paul’s encouragement, I published my first post for Paul Sees the World in December 2017. It was about an important baking lesson I’d recently learned: making meringue for pie is very difficult, and sometimes it can melt, which is called weeping.
A new pattern emerged. Each weekend, usually on Sunday afternoons, Paul and I would plan the upcoming week’s blog schedule. Usually, I posted on Mondays, and he posted on Wednesdays and Saturdays/Sundays.
For topics, if we had ideas, we’d share them. If we needed a prompt, we’d brainstorm.
We usually stuck to topics in the four main categories (Cats, Food, Travel, Airplanes), but no topic was off-limits, because there was the Random Thoughts category (see: yoga, running, religion, death).
“Right on,” Paul would say.
Even though he wasn’t here to help me with this week’s topic, I think it would’ve received the same blessing.