France, Paris

Paris – Not Quite a Eulogy

“When good Americans die, they go to Paris.”
― Oscar Wilde

Sometimes Paris doesn’t work. Aside from the fact that the French don’t like to work as is (and this is a true stereotype, I’ve found), the city itself just doesn’t hang together properly. Aside from 6 decades of failed immigration policy, 5 governments since the founding of the Republic, the incessant onslaught of developpers trying to ruin the city, problems with crime, Islam, post-colonial guilt, the echos of WW2, Muslims, the decline of the French language in popular use (it as once literally the linga franca of Europe, no more), the loss of her religion, the increasing wealth gap, the development of a new underclass, the fact that soldiers have to patrol my neighborhood, and, lastly, the fact that Anne Hidalgo thinks that skyscrapers will work within the city itself (hint: no one but real estate developers want that) – aside from this the city just feels wrong sometimes. It feels angry and ambivalent all at once.

It’s difficult to explain but think of the last time you walked into a room and something just  fell out of place. Now thing of a time that you have walked into a room after a tenuous truce had just been made between enemies and their anger still hung in the air. that is a decent approximation of the Parisian atmosphere on many days. It is not just the looming and ever present threat of terror, nor the gaping wounds that last attacks opened. It’s something else; maybe the city changed to quickly, who knows? But it is palpable, not always but when it is, it is a thick viscous feeling that that slows everything down and makes the city repugnant.

But it is not always like this. And during the moments when the weakened but enduring spirit can pierce the fog that has fall – those moments are incredible.

It is during those brief moments that one can understand why the city used to capture the imagination of the greater part of the worth. In these moments the City of Light is dimmer but shining nonetheless. You can’t prepare for these times, sometimes you can’t even stop to enjoy them – they pass like one of those rare strangers with whom you make an immediate connection but never see again.

Artists drawing in museums.

The odd couple on a lonely quai.

Children yelling bonjour monsieur to you as they go to school you to work.

In and of themselves they mean little, but together with a million other tiny, indescribable details, the picture of the old spirit comes together. I can no more tell you how these moments come to be than describe why Marat’s posture in Jacques-Louis David’s painting makes such an abhorrent man so pathetic.

These moments are unpredictable but they tend to lie where the stone better bore the weathering of time. At Sunday organ concerts at Saint Eustache, where Parisians line up to listen to a half hour of music on one of the most beautiful organs in the world. When you attend mass at Saint-Nicholas-Du-Chardonnet, a mass performed in the old way and a congregation whose faith would have been more home in the 12th century than in ours. It can be found in lost corners of museums, on roofs in the 6th, on quais in the 4th, in cafés in the second. The sap of the old city varnished some of these places, so it is harder for the problems of today to penetrate and rot what soul remains.

This is perhaps the most interesting time to live here since the Germans marched down Champs-Elyéee and the future of the city as hurled into doubt. But whatever her ails may be right now, the city comes out of hiding when she feels playful or reminiscent.

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Writing

10 Reasons I Will NEVER Do a List Post

Writing that title was an exercise in masochism

Everything I hate about writing on the internet is summed up in that title. It implies that the article will be a glorified bullet list, one of the words is annoyingly capitalized… all it needs is a GIF and it could be world-class BuzzFeed material. However to fit into a site like that the article would have to be less than 300 words and have a GIF response for every single item on the list. Things I couldn’t bring myself to do even in the name of satire.

Perhaps you can tell already, but I really hate that kind of article and, unfortunately, it is where writing on the internet is headed. And since journalism becomes more digital and editors realize list article with GIFs get views… well you can check out The Washington Post for a sneak peek.

Dear readers, this kind of writing is the epitome of lazy. It’s sole merit is that it is easy to consume and, in a culture that is more or less founded on consumption, that is more than enough. List articles help the bottom line, they bring in easy views, they take less than a minute to read (so the reader can move on to another list article)… all these things are great if your sole goal is subscribers and likes. But it contributes to the slow decline of hobby writing and online journalism.

The internet has so much potential for helping new writers, young and old, find audiences and, perhaps, be discovered. But if these writers don’t hone their skill here, but instead fish for views, their writing ability will deteriorate. Treat your blog or website like a journal, but not as a ‘Tommy pulled my braid yesterday in class’ kind of journal but the kind of journal Robert Falcon Scott wrote – something you would be proud to show someone or, at least, not embarrassed (by the writing quality I mean, it being a journal the content could be embarrassing by definition!). All writing ought to be treated as a chance to improve or to entertain the reader. When you write and email let the goal be to make it memorable, let the reader think ‘this is how people used to write.’

In the past letters were often written with the kind of flair and attention one would dedicate to a public work (which is odd in a way as if you are writing a private letter you obviously care more about the recipient than the general public at large. Why would your letter be less polished than a public work?). Pliny the Younger is best known for his brilliant letters, Cicero’s letters have been studied for generation, a large part of the bible is made up of letters.

‘I thought this was about list posts, what do letters have to with this?’ you ask. My point is all writing is an example to show your skill and a challenge to make your topic interesting. It is also a chance to succeed as a writer. If you are writing list posts about cats and filling half the page with GIFs, then you have given up on actually writing and are now merely marketing in the hope of internet points.

Whether writing a blog post that 5 people will see, a letter to your mother, or a cover letter for a job application – take pride in your writing. Use it as an opportunity – the topic is mundane mais qui s’en fout? That just makes it more of a challenge and a greater chance for improvement.

Pride can be a weakness, but have enough that you can hold yourself above such shoddy writing and say ‘I know I can do better than that and I want to better than that.’

 

 

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Writing

Habits, Routine, and Writing

There is only one way to succeed as a writer and that is to write. ‘No shit’ you say, but do you really have a scheduled routine of writing? Not many do. In my experience writers write either to meet a deadline or when they feel inspired (with potentially very long period filling the chasms between periods of inspired writing). Writing is a skill, and like any skill, the only way to improve is through practice. It seems like with writing and art many feel as if you can’t improve unless you are working at the height of inspiration or have a particularly excellent idea.

This is idiotic. What would you say to a body builder who said he only worked out when he really felt like it? He’d never improve, or at least he’d only improve very slowly. If he worked out each day despite how he was feeling, he’d improve much quicker. And, better, when he did feel really inspired he’d probably be lifting a lot more than he would have otherwise because he had been slowly improving during the time between fits of inspiration.

It is the same with writing. If you write a lot and write often, you will have more experience and a better developed skillset for when you really want to write. That is, your writing will be much better during those inspired peaks! This becomes a feedback loop: bored but write anyway, inspired and write better than normal, excited about ability, keep writing, etc. it becomes a positive feedback loop of improvement and enjoyment.

So it is important to create habits that lead to this kind of experience. You can start now: no matter how much work you have or how tired you are, write one journal entry per day. Or even write one blog article per day. Even if they are short and no one reads them, you will still be improving and this is what matters! I mean just this week I wrote two articles that no one read but it is important in the development of the habit and the skill!

Journaling itself has a host of benefits outside of skill development that I might write about later. But right now, get to work! Go write a poem, a review, a blog article, a journal entry!

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