I am still traveling. Now I am in a hotel room in Paris, and I’ll catch a train to Italy in a few hours. Yesterday I walked around the city drunk with love for it. The weather was a little cool, but I was moving, in motion, so I felt fine, and all kinds of flowers were blooming and the parks were bright green and the Seine was glistening in the sun, and at one point I rounded a corner and looked up and there was the Eiffel Tower and Paris was having its way with me, fine, I’ll take it, take me, Paris.
Also I went to the Hunting and Nature Museum and it was a nearly perfect museum. It was my first time there so everything felt brand new to me, even the very old things. Later I got a haircut in a fancy salon and cut off four inches of hair, old hair gone, a new look, a new me. Then I had a glass of wine outside at a cafe and just stopped and breathed and looked at all the shoes and the clothes and the hair and the fashion and all of it pleased me.
I could feel my brain lighting up all day. I am full, my brain is full right now. With visual stimulation and great conversation. I will figure out what to do with all of it later. But yesterday, last week, the week before, all of it will keep me steady and inspired for a long time, I can tell.
Outside of Prague, ten days ago, I went to visit the Sedlec Ossuary. If you have read my memoir you know I am occupied with ghosts and bones, and visiting places that are possibly haunted. I think quite a bit about what those kinds of spaces have to say to us. Sometimes I have come to those places with questions or am just simply in a transitional moment in my life. Sometimes I come to them with nothing but an open mind. I suppose, more than anything, it is just important that I show up.
That day in Sedlec I felt nearly nothing at first. I needed nothing from the bones. I was just there to say hello and that was it. The grounds felt trampled upon. No one’s fault. I was a tourist myself. I nearly left after a few minutes. Bones and dust and beauty and we all die in the end, that’s what I thought. Well, you have seen it, I told myself. Seen them, I corrected myself.
But then I stood and leaned against a wall for a while, centered myself on one side of the room, and studied a chandelier made of bones. I waited. Sometimes we just have to wait. I felt a few things shift in my mind. Heard a few things. I can tell you I heard a simple sentence which was, “Stay on the path.” Stay steady, I thought. It will lead to good things.
It’s not for you to know what else I heard. I can only tell you a few things about myself in this letter, in my writing. Boundaries must exist, and this is for everyone’s benefit. A good thing to think about in your writing: what you’re willing to tell and what you need to keep close for yourself. How much of yourself do you need to put out there?
Even if we write fiction, the most beautiful literary subterfuge, we can tap into certain personal wells and it can feel (to us, at least) like those boundaries become translucent. How do we travel the line between pushing ourselves to be vulnerable, honest, interesting and still make ourselves feel safe? How do we take risks as artists and still protect ourselves? How do we stay steady even as we explore and exploit the wildness of our minds?
Last night was my event here in Paris at the American Library with the chic and brilliant Lauren Collins and it was wonderful. I loved seeing some of you who subscribe to this newsletter at the event. I wished I had more time to chat with all of you. (There was a group of young women I spoke with briefly and then said goodbye to before I left and I wished I had had the time to ask you what you are working on, so if you feel like it, reply to this email and tell me what you are writing.) It is the greatest moment to meet you all in person, because then it all feels real, and like we’re having the conversation I’ve been imagining we’re having all along.
One of the reasons why I started writing this email weekly in 2020 was because I had a sense of longing and loneliness for the outside world. I had been a traveler for years and then suddenly I was not. I had been lucky to meet other readers and writers all the time and now our conversation was shut off. These emails became a way to say hello and to engage in a discussion of topics that I love and find fascinating, and that I hoped you might, too. Hello, hello, hello. We are not alone.
Soon our biggest conversation of the year begins: we have one month until #1000wordsofsummer starts on June 17. I don’t want to tease too much but there is an incredible list of author contributors for this session and also I checked this morning and there are 29,513 subscribers, and that is just a lot of collective energy going into this project. I am feeling good about this year for me and for you and for everyone.
One of the magic things about this project is you can show up on the day it begins with nothing more than a pen and paper or your laptop or cellphone or whatever it is you use to write, and you can just start writing and it is all free and available and ready; it is an instant and easy beginning.
But if you are someone who needs more structure or more of a safety net — a certain kind of built-in steadiness — I would suggest using this time now to figure out three things: what you want to write, where you plan on writing it physically either in your home or out in the world, and how you will carve out the time in your day to do it. Just think about those three things this week. What, where, and when.
Whatever your approach, you can count on this community to be here, waiting and ready, for those two weeks when we all write together. I can’t wait to see you all here.
You are reading Craft Talk, the home of #1000wordsofsummer and also a weekly newsletter about writing from Jami Attenberg. I’m also on twitter and instagram. I try to answer comments as best I can, which are open to paid subscribers. You can subscribe here or give a gift subscription here. (If you are a teacher let me know, and I will give you a free subscription.) Fifty percent of the proceeds will go to various cultural, educational, and social justice organizations in New Orleans (and sometimes elsewhere). This week’s donation went to House of Tulip.
Great haircut, and I loved being taken along...Paris, museums, cafes. Staying on the path... Thank you for starting my day off with inspiration!
From Paris with love! Here are my impressions of Jami's talk at the American Library and photos of her with Lauren.