My stepdad was in the Navy and we spent many years living on bases all over the Southeastern part of the United States. One of our posts was in Dahlgren, Virginia, a small weapons base just outside of the Maryland. There I went to Dahlgren Elementary, which is a very small DOD (Department of Defense) school on base. It was so small that I had maybe 8 kids in my eighth grade class and I was one of the maybe two or three black kids in the entire school during my several years there.
When I was in the sixth grade, the school introduced a French class that I’m assuming was optional. Not everyone went to the class. The school was so small that the class was held in a trailer across the street. It was always hot as hell in that trailer. The teacher’s name was Madame Bouchane. And it was there that I first dreamed of Paris.
I’m not a romantic by any means. I’m not “mushy.” But Paris has always lived in the back of my mind as a great adventure that I may never have. Just the idea of traveling internationally always seemed like something I would love to do but that I may never do because I’m too busy doing practical things like organizing my pantry or saving for a new washer and dryer.A few weeks ago, I went to Paris.
Honestly, it was the day before I left that it got very real for me. I had decided to go the year before without knowing how I would pay for it or what I would do when I got there. I saved some money and stalked the airline sites for a good deal. One night at 3am, I found a flight from JFK to CDG for $700. It was a bonafide steal. It was also the most money I’d ever spent on a non-necessity.
Even then, it didn’t seem real. In the four months between I hit “Buy” on the ticket and the day Hubs dropped me off at the airport, so many things changed. I left a job and a life in NYC to move to Austin, TX and write full-time. Hubs and I took on the responsibility of my three year old niece and became de facto parents. I still didn’t have any idea of where I would stay in Paris, what I would do in Paris, and who I would do it with in Paris.
What I did know was that I was going to write in Paris. I would sit at cafes and write. I would sit in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower and write. I brought my Chromebook and several paper notebooks in anticipation of the characters, storylines, and plot twists I would come up with along the Seine.
I wrote NOTHING in Paris. Not even in the airports during my many layovers. Not even in my hotel room at night.
In retrospect, I don’t know what I expected. Maybe I was thinking that a writer in Paris would have no choice but be inspired by all the literary greats that walked those same streets. Maybe I was falling into the trap of the idea of writing instead of what writing actually is. What I had imagined was a lot more like writer porn than writer reality.
I know that for me writing is about zoning out and just getting it done. I get ideas from interacting with the world and new experiences are great for geting the creative juices flowing. But, the writing happens when I get somewhere comfortable and familiar enough to do the work it takes to create.
Still, I had a wonderful and eye-opening trip to the City of Lights. I hope to go back. And I’m sure that it will show up somewhere in my future writing.