notes on paris

So: I walk down rue Rambuteau past the Beaubourg to a Lebanese sandwich stand; I buy a chicken Shawarma to go; I notice, with pleasure, that they have put the fries inside the sandwich, like I like it; I pay for it and press on with my quest to find a bike stand, all the while eating my sandwich and feeling an immense satisfaction that I am walking, this morning, in Paris.

Heres’s the thing: I am, for once in my life, impressed with myself.

Here’s the other thing: I realize that this feeling is quite absurd. I have stuffed my mouth with sandwiches in other villes – in Santa Fe, Austin, New Haven, New Orleans, Atlanta. But Paris is different. The difference, no doubt, is due to the fact that I stuffed my head with literature and Paris since I discovered serious novels and masturbation, when I was 13. Or perhaps I discovered serious novels second. If I hadn’t read Pound, Baudelaire, Stein, Hemingway, Henry Miller, and Balzac, perhaps I wouldn’t feel the ordinary sights beat down upon me like emblems I have somehow re-discovered, emblems of the thing I tried to build up in myself, painfully and – after a while – more out of habit than of any intention. That thing – the cultivated man.

Perhaps if I was a certain type of singer and came to Austin, I would feel the same way, walking past Antones, as I do biking past the Hotel de Ville. And in Austin, I did feel a certain well being on a Saturday afternoon when I sat down with a book, or some editing work, in Whole Foods and drank my coffee and looked about me and almost feel in love with the health and wealth of my fellow Americans, stocking up all around me. I loved their air of ambition, sitting at the tables in that part of the store where we all came to eat lunch, - whether aspiring for serenity through Native American massage or aspiring for hits creating a website for some upscale sports shoes store. But really, for the most part of the past eleven years that I spent in Austin, I mainly felt that something had gone seriously wrong with me and the country, and much as I tried to love my aspiring neighbor, I fell into the bad habit of condemning him for the rape of Falluja in my heart. Me and the country were both going through a personality change that felt like a nervous breakdown. The Bush years scraped its fingernails on the blackboard 24/7, and I couldn’t get enough of it, couldn’t wait to poison myself with the next day’s headlines. I responded to all this with a piece of internal terrorism all my own: I blew my brain up. So the happy ambitious people bugged me, seriously. For the one thing they didn’t aspire to was getting the country back.

My own personal breakdown was compounded by the multiple ways I failed as a writer during the Jr. years. I failed, most notably, in the one critical test that any writer must pass: I failed to get anyone interested enough in my writing to pay me money to get more of it. Besides, that is, the freelance dribs and drabs. Samuel Johnson, who had the soul of a union boss, famously said that nobody but a blockhead ever wrote but for money. This is a pretty exact statement of the case. This doesn’t mean the blockhead writer is necessarily bad, but it does mean he or she is a blockhead. That was the group I fell into. I could even feel the block attached to my neck some days, and some months, whole months, I’d have a crick in my neck. Block heads are bad for the neck and back.

I can’t say I fled to Paris to escape the seasons of down and out. No, my life got better, and my head was freed, before Paris. This was because I fell in love and finally figured out – or, rather, some collective unconscious inside me, emanating from the dearest wishes of every cell, be it of toenail, spleen, or heart, figured out - how to be loved. To be loved may be a passive form of verb, but I can assure you it is existentially active. Don’t mistake the accidents of grammar for descriptions of the world – otherwise, you are so fucked.

But this is another story…