What could I possibly say about Paris that hasn’t been said countless times before?
That was the thought running through my head as I published my first dispatch from the City of Lights, knowing I intended to follow suit for seven more days.
Does anyone need another description of the Eiffel Tower? Can anyone stomach another essay waxing romantic about Paris’s architecture? And we all know the ridicule that now accompanies the act of documenting what you ate for dinner.
Still, I wrote a lot about those very things over the course of eight days. Serendipitously, I had just finished a journal before departing Toronto and got to start a fresh volume upon landing in France. I filled about a third of it while away — it normally takes me months to produce that much text. I wrote about everything I experienced in Paris: what things looked like, how they felt under my fingertips, how they smelled and tasted. And most of all, I wrote about what I was feeling as I had each of those experiences.
What I was feeling ended up making Paris my own. I saw the city uniquely through the cracks of my heart. Had I made the trip at any other time, I couldn’t have written the words I did. Those words poured from me at café stops as I made my way through the city’s streets and shops and museums and galleries and alleyways and neighbourhoods. And when I returned to my flat after night had fallen, I’d read through the pages I had filled, looking for a thread that seemed to tell the story of the day.
Miraculously, I found one every time.
In many ways, The Paris Diary wrote itself. Of my best writing I often say that it comes from a place deep within; my job is simply to get out of the way and give it passage. That was certainly the case as I wrote in the evenings back at my flat. The pieces often came out, top to bottom, in about 45 minutes. The words had been brewing all day and by the time I sat down at my little desk to turn them into something coherent, they were ready to become narrative. And I was ready to tell those stories.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the response. My website traffic tripled from its former peak while I was in Paris. People — friends, colleagues, former colleagues, folks who I didn’t even realize knew I had a website — reached out via social media to say how much they were enjoying following my trip. Many shared their own Paris memories and moments, sparked by mine. Fellow writers were recommending the posts that resonated most for them, and those familiar with the city were urging others to fall in love with it all over again through my first-timer’s eyes. And perhaps most touching of all were (and continue to be) the messages from those nursing their own fragile hearts right now, who found kinship in some of my more tender words.
Halfway through the week I realized I wasn’t alone in France. Not that I had worried about taking the trip solo. In fact, I had been eagerly anticipating revelling in and relishing the time with myself. But knowing I had a contingent of friends-in-spirit walking with me through those daily dispatches made me feel even more enveloped by the city.
Most importantly, the experience of writing Paris reinforced for me that I am travelling the right path. My soul sings, loudly, when I write. Even when the writing is hard, really hard — both in terms of subject matter and execution — there is nothing else I’d rather be doing. When I write I feel … aligned. That’s the only word I can think of to describe my state of being when I am immersed in and shaping the tangle of words in my head. And in Paris I could feel myself in harmonious vibration with the city; it fed me, and fuelled narratives both personal and public.
Thank you — every one of you. Reading is dying art, and that you choose to be here in this space with me means so much more than I could ever capture in these words that I so love. (They are powerful, but they have limits.) I will write regardless of where the words end up: I have no choice; it is simply what I do and who I am. But I have this feeling, a humming deep within. It tells me what happened in Paris was just a beginning, a glimpse of what is to come.
Paris was a gateway for me, somewhere to find a place to start anew. I knew that to be true of the life I lead day-to-day. But it turned out to be true of my writing life as well.
C’est le début…
[P.S. You can find full photo sets to accompany each post in The Paris Diary at my Instagram feed.]