Bonjour à Paris!
I am not going to apologize for another delay in my posts. I will only say that in the time since I’ve last posted, I have traveled to Paris (in rather turbulent conditions) and I’ve been adjusting to the (beautiful and fabulous!) city. This post will be different than the last several posts, as it will be more personal in nature and less instructive. It may be a nice change of pace for you, for those who are tired of me telling you what to do—or it may be incredibly boring or downright melodramatic. Which is to say, I am rather self-conscious about this post, and would not be adverse to positive affirmations of any kind.
I came to Paris to write for a very specific reason. For the most part, I’ve been rather down in the last few months (years) and I’ve had to do some serious self-reflection (and I picked up shamanic drumming, which is a whole other story) these last few months in order to get myself to an okay place.
Most writers are fickle creatures. So I know I am not alone here. We can throw ourselves on the floor and cry about some of the simplest things (no more coffee? The dog pooped on the carpet again? My favorite scarf has a chocolate smear on it? Mon Dieu! ) Personally, I feel that I vacillate between trop sensitivity to full-blown apathy.
As much as I wish I were a more consistent person, I’ve had to accept that in the Chinese element sense, I am more Wind and Water than Earth. At first I crash upon the rocks and then I smooth into a current again. It’s just my style.
But this first book, Dying for a Living is drowning me.
So I came to Paris to be a little less dead inside. I thought, if the most beautiful city in the world can’t inspire me to get my shit together (as an educated, white person in a privileged country—what do I have to cry about!), if it can’t spark that passion in me again—then I am probably a lost cause.
But in the name of fairness, the little voice says, there is a reason why are you this way. Perhaps you aren’t dead at all, but just exhausted. After all, it is hard to sustain enthusiasm for something (a dream) that is entirely hypothetical (enough $$ to be a writer full-time).
Let me explain.
I, after a great deal of mental turmoil, committed to being writer in 2003. This is when I changed my major (again) from pre-med/psychology to English. And in that moment, I felt completely and incandescently happy with my decision. The turmoil was lifted. I’d reached the point when didn’t care what my friends/family thought of me anymore and shrugged off their expectations of me. It was perfect—and somehow I lost this magical feeling—but not all at once.
I then spent five years writing a bunch of crap. Jesse and Ally (leads from my forthcoming book) were there, but my work (3 really bad novel manuscripts and a ton of shorts and poetry that were teenage diary material, never to see the light of day) was far from publishable. But it didn’t matter. I was happy. I was having a good time. I blame this on the fact that from at 20-24 years old, I didn’t care as much about the direction my life was going.
Then in the summer of 2008, the idea for how to rewrite Jesse in just the right way came to me. I was on a hillside in Italy, in a state of delirium, dragging my bags up the side of a mountain (Cinque Terre) to be exact) in the August heat. It was breakthrough moment for me, and when I got home on August 28, 2008, I sat down and began the book that would become Dying for a Living.
But then something changed.
Somewhere in the year of getting an agent, followed by the three years of remaining unpublished even though I’d written two more (pretty good) books, that ridiculous love and passion for writing had tapered off.
First it became just a day or two of not writing. Then longer. I started a lot of stories and a lot of novels that I couldn’t finish—all of it tapering off until I just stopped writing at all.
And I couldn’t quite figure out what had changed. I had some suspect variables: I’d finished grad school, where I’d completed an MA, then a MFA. An MFA is an incredibly supportive time in a writer’s life. The validation, encouragement and rich cultural/literary stimulation are great food—and that was gone.
I suddenly started to care a great deal about the direction of my life and what the hell I was doing with it. I got a job as an adjunct writing instructor. Nothing like a job that overworks and underpays to destroy the best of you. After grading 80-100 essays, I had nothing left in me to put toward my own work. But I couldn’t not work. I didn’t want to be a literal starving artist.
And there was the fact that I was approaching thirty (for those of you much older than me, bear with me here. I know I sound like a whiny little snot). For a woman my age, there is a lot of pressure to be settled, popping out babies with a stable job right about now. Everyone is asking about these things. My dentist is asking about these things. And when I tell someone I’m writing—whew! The looks! The derision! And when they reluctantly ask what I’m writing (contemporary/ urban fantasy) and what I’ve published (nothing but 25-ish poems as of yet)—the replies get even icier.
And it struck a chord because it was sort of true. I didn’t have a published book—no validation for all of my efforts. I didn’t have children to blame for my slow progress. (I have a dog, who sleeps most of the day, and therefore, she isn’t a great alibi). So on the worst days, I felt like I had nothing to show for a whole lot of work. I felt like the whole world was right about this writing thing.
And even though I list out these factors and try to pinpoint which of these ultimately ruined me—I can’t say for certain. Except that perhaps, being wind and water, I’m terribly susceptible to the pressure around me.
So here I am. 30 years old in a Paris café, hoping to rekindle some of that unfettered joy that I had for writing at 20—just because that’s what I do. That’s what I am meant to do—despite living in a world that values money, progress and the material, rather than art and the conceptual. Do fall in love with the process of writing, not the outcome—some shit about the journey and not the destination, you know?
And hopefully this trip will help me re-center myself. Better yet, help me to build those inner walls that are so necessary to protect an artist against the greater world.
Hopefully, I will find what I am looking for. Because right now Paris just seems like a bad idea--an extravagance that I can't really afford for a problem that only I (regardless of location) can solve
If you’ve experienced some flavor of this yourself, feel free to share your story with me. More importantly, how you got your mojo back. I'm looking for tips. Obviously, I am desperate enough to pack my bags, empty my account/face destitution, and fly to Paris--just to find the answer.