Enrich your life and write with more intensity than ever on a spirit-renewing adventure in the City of Light. Experience Paris not as a tourist but as a creator, where you dedicate yourself to the bohemian life in picturesque parks, cafés, and bookstores. In this guided tour of a beloved destination that has sparked the imagination of countless writers and artists, leading creativity coach Eric Maisel offers insights on how to use the city to spur commitment to your craft.
Beyond the metaphor of Paris as a place of creativity, Maisel provides practical tools for you to use upon committing to this journey: tips for writing at the Place des Vosges while soaking in the surrounding architecture and vibrant energy; advice on the best time to visit the Musée d'Orsay for maximum inspiration; and ideas for engaging all the senses during strolls through churches and subways of this dazzling location. In brief essays that are whimsically illustrated, Maisel helps you put your dreams into action, encouraging you to move beyond the idea of living and writing in Paris to the reality of doing it, for three weeks or three years or anytime in between.
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About the Author
Eric Maisel, Ph.D., is the author of more than 50 books, including Dover's The Magic of Sleep Thinking and Ten Zen Seconds. Dr. Maisel is a creativity coach and mental health advocate in the areas of critical psychology and critical psychiatry. He lectures around the world and facilitates deep writing workshops at the Esalen Institute, the Omega Institute, and the Kripalu Yoga Center.
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A Day in the Place des Vosges
Each time I arrive in Paris I head directly for the Place des Vosges, the most beautiful square in the world. How many writers and painters have stumbled upon this famous Marais square and said, "Oh, I see. This is why I came to Paris!"? Once discovered, it becomes a place to be remembered. A working artist can spend whole days there — writing, soaking up the ancient and the contemporary, and living ideally. Surrounded by Renaissance townhouses whose street-level arcades are filled with cafés, art galleries, and (in summer) classical musicians, it is lively, quiet, shady, safe, inviting, and gorgeous. You can write for an hour, move to a café table under the arcade for an espresso, write some more, stroll twice around the square, and resume your writing.
During the morning hours, the Place des Vosges is cool, still, and mostly empty. Mothers and their children arrive at about ten. They head for the sandbox on the western side of the park, which is warmer in the morning than the identical sandbox on the eastern side. At about the same time, the first busload of tourists arrives, the passengers feeling self-conscious at such an early hour in so empty a place. Their guides fill the square with historical information in French, Italian, German, and Portuguese — about Victor Hugo, who lived at No. 6, about Mozart, who played a concert here at the age of seven.
As noon approaches, the park begins to fill up. Workmen renovating nearby buildings come to eat their sandwiches. Men and women on the move stop for a moment to use their cell phones. Tourists who have been rushing through the Marais drop on to benches. Lovers arrive. Wine bottles are opened to complete picnic meals. Books are read, set aside, picked up again. The afternoon passes with people coming and going, life flowing, and artists working. In the early evening, well-dressed couples stroll slowly around the square, waiting on their dinner reservations, as incongruous-looking as their eighteenth-century aristocratic counterparts.
Tourists take their last pictures in the fading light. Worn-out backpackers nap on the grass. Two lovers sleep in one another's arms. A man who might be Monet pores over a street map. Children chase the red-legged pigeons. A last tour group arrives to be drilled with history. The facades of the buildings on the eastern side blaze red. The summer light fades; but there is still plenty left for writing.
What is the magic of this place? The wrought iron lamps are certainly beautiful, as are the low wrought iron fences shaped like bent twigs. The placement of the fountains is right, the arcades that surround the square are right, the red brick mansions are right — it is all right, but I don't believe the square's allure is only about golden proportions. It is the ethic, the cultural imperative. Here you are encouraged to sit and write and people-watch, to adjourn to a neighboring café and write and people-watch some more, to pass an entire day this way. This is not encouragement that you will receive in America.
You feel at home in Paris because the things that you care about — strolling, thinking, loving, creating — are built into the fabric of the city. Despite its negatives — eighteen million tourists annually, 11 percent unemployment, large numbers of homeless people — Paris remains the place where you can feel comfortable decked out as a dreamy artist. The Place des Vosges supports your artistic nature. About how many places can that be said?
It is almost nine. A uniformed guard begins shouting and gesticulating. He is closing the Place des Vosges. Too bad. I will be forced to stroll the back streets of the Marais and stop for a glass of wine at a café. I pack up my pad and my pen. The guard is getting animated. We are not leaving quickly enough. Of course not, as he is unceremoniously rousing us from a beautiful dream.CHAPTER 2
Paris is a physically small city comprised of twenty arrondissements laid out like a pinwheel. The inner arrondissements contain tourist attractions like the Louvre, Notre Dame, the d'Orsay, and the Eiffel Tower, while the outer arrondissements include such features as the Bois de Boulogne to the west, the Bois de Vincennes to the east, Montmartre to the north, and the Parc Montsouris to the south. Most tourists skip the outer arrondissements and experience Paris as a very tidy, handy place. But even if you venture further afield, you can get anywhere by metro in no time at all.
Carved out of France with a round cookie cutter, contained by its peripheral road, Paris is intentionally made to feel small so that its citizens can enjoy it. It is a protected zone, with the tenements that house new immigrants rising beyond the city limits, making Parisian schools better than their suburban counterparts. This reversal takes an American a few seconds to process.
Because of planned city management, even the poorest Parisian neighborhoods feel eminently more livable than the poor parts of American cities.
I walked every Paris arrondissement and never felt unsafe. Statistics indicate that there is as much crime (and even as much violent crime) in Paris as in any American city. It doesn't feel that way. This feeling of safety, which may reflect reality or may amount to some romantic mirage, is an important part of why you feel like strolling in Paris, not like scurrying along as if late for an appointment. You feel secure sitting in a park, even if you're the only person there. You feel relaxed rather than vigilant as you amble. Perhaps you shouldn't feel this safe; but you do.
Hence my recommendation: Stroll everywhere. This strolling is an integral part of your time in Paris. You can only write so many hours a day — even for the most productive, published authors, three or four hours of writing is often the maximum. The rest of the day is yours, which makes the devil's ears perk right up. If you like, you can shop, socialize, catch up on your Proust, or jog in the Bois de Vincennes. But a superb alternative to succumbing to the dangers of having time on your hands is the practice of flânerie, the French invention of strolling as art form.
The flâneur is an observer who wanders the streets of a great city on a mission to notice with childlike enjoyment the smallest events and the obscurest sights he encounters. Baudelaire, a resident nineteenth-century flâneur, observed, "For the flâneur it's an immense pleasure to take up residence in multiplicity, in whatever is seething, moving, evanescent and infinite. You're not at home but you feel at home everywhere; you see everyone, you're at the center of everything, yet you remain hidden from everybody." This is one astute definition of the writer: an observer who ventures everywhere while remaining invisible.
You can stroll in New York but the Tao of New York demands double time. You can stroll in Los Angeles but the Zen of Los Angeles requires four wheels. You can stroll in your small town, but you will run out of sights and strolling room in three minutes flat. Most places are not designed or equipped to support two or three hours of ambling. It is in Paris that the delicious, dreamy strolling of the flâneur can be perfected. Indeed, you may never become the poet of your dreams until you become a poet of flânerie. It is the exercise regimen of the artist.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stanley Karnow arrived in Paris in the early 1950s. He recalls "whipping through Notre-Dame, the Sainte-Chapelle, the Tuileries, the Palais Royal, the Place de la Concorde, the Champs-Elysées, the Arc de Triomphe" and all the other mandatory tourist sights. Then he saw the light. "Presently, realizing that I could not appreciate Paris unless I curbed my frenetic pace, I became a flâneur — an aimless stroller in a town ideal for aimless strolling. I would wander along the Seine, pausing to browse for old prints in the quayside bookstalls, or watch the barges as they cruised up and down the river, their decks festooned with laundry, their sterns flying French, Dutch, British, and other European flags."
Flânerie fills up idle time beautifully and promotes that meditative state that leads to artistry. Vary your strolling by taking the métro each day to a new neighborhood, even inauspiciously bourgeois ones like the 15th or the 16th arrondissements, and begin your wandering. Stroll, stop for a snack, venture into a museum like the Air and Space Museum (Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace), the Buddhist museum (Musée National des Arts Asiatiques), or the Baccarat crystal museum (Musée Baccarat), smile, and pause to write. Wander on. Punctuate your stroll with cafés and churches. At the end of such a day you will sleep very well.
Even if your hometown isn't an auspicious place to practice flânerie, practice it anyway. This will hone your observation skills, model the writing life for young poets peeking out from behind their curtains as you pass, and prepare you for Paris. It will get you sunlight and exercise and put a smile on your face. Best of all, it will spark your writing. The walking meditation known as flânerie is a key that unlocks your creativity.
Gargoyles in Paris
During one visit to Paris, I find myself tasked by a friend with locating a gargoyle suitable for petting. As everyone knows, there is no shortage of gargoyles in Paris. Notre Dame alone has tons of them. But those gargoyles are where they're supposed to be — high up and out of reach, where they can best perform their function as waterspouts. Finding a gargoyle at petting level is no easy task.
As I go out each day to write, I keep my eyes peeled. After a few days, I begin to see gargoyle mirages — mirages that turn out to be passers-by scowling. If I spoke French, I might ask around (and indeed it would be appealing to inquire of a shopkeeper or a gendarme, "Monsieur, where might I go to pet a gargoyle?"). But I haven't the French for such a sentence and must rely upon happy accident.
One morning, having just about given up on finding a suitable gargoyle, I stroll over to a small park on the Left Bank just opposite Notre Dame. After writing, I poke about the bins in front of Shakespeare & Company, almost buying but finally passing on various cheap editions of the Romantic poets. I proceed to wander through the warren of alleys where my favorite Greek sandwiches live. Choosing among the hawkers, I buy a sandwich piled high with fries, and amble away from the Seine, looking for a good spot to eat and make a mess.
I spot a friendly park and spend the next hour eating and addressing the question of the day: Are all obsessions dangerous, even the good ones; and, if they are, is it possible that the rewards can still outweigh the risks? Life can't get much better than a sunny day, a messy sandwich, and a worthy question. I vanish, as writers do. Cathedral bells chime as I make notes for a book with the working title of Beethoven's Brain.
After I conclude lunch, I turn a corner and come upon a building's entrance. I have happened upon the Musée de Cluny, Paris's storehouse of things medieval. My heart begins beating a little faster. Where better to find a stray gargoyle? I pass through an arch and enter a courtyard. There it is!
In the courtyard sits an old well, and sticking straight out at chest level from the well surround is a gargoyle perfect for petting. I am too excited to notice whether it is defecating or picking its nose or doing anything outrageous (as most gargoyles are). I rush back to my studio to report, and learn later that this gargoyle has far exceeded the expectations of the person at whose behest I have been looking. She informs me that it is so right a gargoyle that she has devoted a whole clip of photos to memorializing it.
Read up on gargoyles. They are very Parisian, very medieval, and have lots to say about what you'd be up against if you were a French peasant circa 1600 with aspirations in the arts or sciences. High above you, defecating and dripping snot, a host of spouting gargoyles would be watching your every move.CHAPTER 3
One summer morning I go out shopping for fruit at the open-air market on the Boulevard Richard-Lenoir. The prices at the multiblock market are low — whole pineapples at the equivalent of seventy-five cents each, apricots at forty cents a pound — and, after curbing my enthusiasm to buy everything, I decide on the apricots. As I approach one of the fruit-and-vegetable stalls, I notice a woman selecting individual apricots and putting them in a paper bag. I do the same, selecting the good ones and avoiding the bad ones.
A young Arab minding the long row of produce hurries over to us, lectures the woman, hands her the scoop that has gotten buried among the apricots, and orders her to scoop. I don't know what the two of them are saying, but it's perfectly clear what he intends to communicate. At these prices, he is telling her, you don't get to pick just the good ones. You take the bad with the good. That's the deal.
The woman doesn't agree. She makes a Go away, don't bother me! gesture, utters some choice words of her own, and keeps selecting the good fruit. He chides her some more and, confronted by her stony indifference, throws up his hands. Then he turns to me. I scoop. But it isn't simply to avoid a scene. The idea appeals to me tremendously, as it is an antidote to the more usual idea that the good should arrive without flaws and blemishes.
Taking the bad with the good is a principle that writers need to learn. The victims of endless advertising, we have been brainwashed into fully misunderstanding basic ideas like good and bad. As one example of this malady, we are taught to expect only the best. What does only the best mean? It means that we feel we are entitled to something like perfection in our goods and services, that it is unseemly to talk about the failures and mistakes that were part of the process, and that things get our stamp of approval based almost entirely on how they appear.
In a modern supermarket, everything looks perfect. Nothing is ever ripe, but the displays look so good. In a modern movie, the production values are beyond belief. The movie may be silly and beneath contempt, but it certainly looks splendid. Where and when are we taught to take the bad with the good? We aren't! Instead we are bombarded with the opposite message: This is shiny! This is new! This is hot! This is perfect! This is good! And nothing bad happened along the way!
In order to create, you must take the bad with the good. You are bound to write many bad paragraphs along with the good ones. That is the eternal law. You can get rid of those bad paragraphs later, but first you must write them. Otherwise you won't write anything. If you try to write only the good paragraphs, you will paralyze yourself. You will fall victim to perfectionism, even if you aren't consciously trying to be perfect. Understand that the good requires the bad, that getting to the good is a process that includes mistakes and messes.
It doesn't seem to matter how many well-respected authors confess to needing twelve drafts to get their novels right, or three years of false starts to get their stage plays on solid footing. Even when a Nobel Prize winner announces that his first three novels stank, still the millions of would-be writers listening to these remarks do not hear what's being said. They do not hear that a writer can't avoid the bad, even if his life were to depend on it. They do not hear — that is, they deny — that they must take the bad with the good because the bad is part of the process.
If you want to understand the concept of denial, just visit with a writer not writing his novel because "it isn't going well." Say to that writer, "Isn't the best plan to get a draft of your novel written — whether that draft is good, bad, or indifferent — and then see where you are?" Just watch his reaction. He will demonstrate one textbook example or another of psychological defense. His unstated fear is that a bad draft will mean that he is a bad writer, that he is a phony, that he has no chance. It doesn't. It never has meant these things and it never will. A bad draft does not possess that meaning at all. But he thinks it does.
Everything changes the instant you accept that you are bound to do lots of inferior work. Then no particular piece of inferior work is much of a blow. You just burn it and get on with your masterpiece. How wonderful can your writing be if you are tied to the idea that only gems must emerge from your pen? Imagining those gems is like imagining those perfect tomatoes piled high in a frigid supermarket, impervious to harm because of their genetically engineered leather skins. Don't let them impress you!(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Writer's Paris"
Copyright © 2019 Eric Maisel.
Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents Introduction: A Degree in Paris 01 A Day in the Place des Vosges 02 Pure Flâneur 03 Apricots 04 The Musée d’Orsay When It Opens 05 On Not Speaking French 06 Writing in Public Places 07 Hemingway Slept Here 08 Your Novel in Six Months’ Time 09 Privilege and the Place Vendôme 10 Human Scale 11 Sartre and Inauthenticity 12 Mimes and Literary Agents 13 Three-Week Books 14 On Support 15 The Pain of Perfect Little Parks 16 The Doable Dream 17 The Professor of Nothing 18 Disrespecting Albert Camus 19 Gay Mayors 20 Rainy Day Lover 21 Eating an Elephant 22 An Idea for a Novel 23 Smaller and Smaller 24 Picasso 25 Ghost 26 Second Chances 27 The Great Escape 28 Motivated by Croissants 29 Running Off 30 With Your Daughter on the Rue de Rivoli 31 Maya and Lemonade 32 If Not Paris, If Not a Year 33 Fearing Paris 34 Au Revoir to the Place des Vosges A1 Appendix: A Planning Checklist A2 Appendix: Where to Write or Read A3 Appendix: Resources for Planning Your Trip