Episode 29: Privilege and the Place Vendome
Today’s episode is part of a series called “Lessons from Paris.” In this series I’ve chosen essays from my book A Writer’s Paris that I’m betting will help you deepen your connection to your creative life and motivate you to create every day. Today’s show, the second in the series, is called “Privilege and the Place Vendome.”
The episode begins this way:
“I’m a privilege-conscious person. I’m fully at home with sentiments like Proudhon’s ‘property is theft’ and other articulations of the idea that we are not entitled to more than our neighbors. We possess no such rights just because we are pretty, Caucasian, American, a celebrity, have lived there longer, or claim that God is on our side. When I see a grand estate I think ‘criminal.’ If you strut about with a sense of entitlement, I’m there to trip you up. It is therefore not surprising that questions of privilege pop into my head as I cross the Place Vendome.”
Tune in to hear more!
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Eric Maisel: Hello everybody. Welcome to today's episode of the joy of living creatively. Before we begin, I have a little request. I am taking an anonymous survey of my listeners and I hope that you'll participate, as your participation helps get me sponsors. Just drop over to PersonalLifeMedia.com and click on the listeners survey ad on my show page. Thanks so much for supporting The Joy Of Living Creatively. Today's show is another episode in the lessons from Paris series based on my book "A Writer's Paris." In each episode, we examine an important aspect of the creative life and set our examination against the backdrop of Paris. I hope that you enjoy today's show and will want to follow the whole series.
Today's episode is called Privilege and The Place Vendome. Let's begin. Maybe the following thought has popped into your head and is about to derail your plans for your Paris trip. How arrogant of me to think of living the leisured life of a bohemian artist, even for just 3 months when I could be helping the poor, mentoring middle school students, or getting on with a real profession and a real career. I understand your concerns entirely. I am a privileged conscious person myself. Precisely these questions of privilege strike me as I cross The Place Vendome one cloudy afternoon in July. The Place Vendome is a legendary place. The home of the Hotel Ritz, it's bars, and much Hemingway mythology. Here Hemingway drank. Here legend has it, he welcomed the liberation of Paris by ordering 73 dry martinis for his new buddies, the first American troops to arrive in the city. You can still visit the Hemingway bar at The Ritz, though it's only used for special occasions nowadays. Does this mythology make The Place Vendome feel romantic and literary? Not in the slightest. The Place Vendome has no benches, no trees, and no simple niceties. What it has are expensive shops, and a towering statue of Napoleon. The occasional tour bus loads in the middle of The Place so loitering is not strictly forbidden, but you sense that someone is peeking out from Cartier, to make sure that no rabble is gathering. The painter Gustav Corbet led exactly such a rabble against this bastion of privilege, topping it's central pillar during the heady days of the commune. The intention was to replace Napoleon's statue with a monument to democracy and world unity. Corbet lost and was forced to replace the original column at his own expense. I hope that you will be able to come to Paris with enough money that you won't have to work at anything except your writing. If you can do this however, you are in a privileged position even if you labored for years to save for your adventure. Worse yet, maybe you didn't have to labor. Maybe you have affluent parents, or married money. Won't that make your stay in Paris wreak of privilege? How many Ethiopians or Peruvians can bop into Paris and write? If you can, you are among the world's royalty. Isn't that close to a sin? No, it isn't. But if emotionally and intellectually you side with the world's downtrodden, and if you have enough money in your pocket for a sojourn in Paris, privilege may prove a real psychological impediment for you. First you will have to give yourself permission to come, then you will have to regularly convince yourself that writing on a park bench in a Paris Square, is a legitimate activity in a world of floods, famines, and the unequal distribution of wealth. I hope that you can do that. If you criticize yourself for being indolent and indulgent, you are being reasonable in one sense, and absurd in another. Opt to see the absurdity. Consider writing in Paris to be good for humanity and not an abuse of privilege. And another worry. What if you convince yourself that going to Paris to write is absolutely legitimate. Then go to Paris, and don't write. There is a new pain. The fear that you may fail yourself and squander your time can combine with questions of privilege and make you doubt that you should make the trip at all. Demoralized by your vision of yourself as a privileged American star gazing and eating croissants, you may indict yourself for your aspirations and sentence yourself to house arrest back in Butte. You should be praised for your conscience. It is good to know when you have something that others don't. It is righteous not to forget that people are suffering and that part of your purpose is to help. That way of thinking is not neurotic self flagellation, though it can become that, nor an excuse for not writing, though it can become that too. Your concerns are praiseworthy, yet they are not reasons to forbid yourself the writing life. Generosity and compassion do begin at home. Not only must you grant yourself permission to go to Paris, but you must picture yourself writing. Predict success, and if you can't predict success, at least don't predict defeat. For a conscientious post modern person, even the best impulses, like risking a year on a writing adventure have moral ramifications. You might pass on Paris for practical reasons, you might pass for psychological reasons, but you face one more potential obstacle as you ask yourself: Is it decent and honorable to write in Paris or could I possibly be doing more good in some other way? As to the answer to this particular moral question, I believe that right is on your side. The Place Vendome represents the negative aspects of privilege. Privilege as a protected world, exclusionary and defensive. Not wanting to be troubled by those it considers inferior. The privilege you are experiencing as a writer in Paris is something very different. It is the privilege of the lone individual fortunate enough and brave enough to follow her dream.
That ends today's show. I hope that you enjoyed it and I hope that you'll tune in next week for another episode of The Joy Of Living Creatively. If you subscribe, you won't miss a single episode. To subscribe, please visit PersonalLifeMedia.com or look for The Joy Of Living Creatively in itunes. You might also want to visit my blog which is available at the PersonalLifeMedia.com website, and if you'd like to drop me an email, I'd love to hear from you. My email address is, [email protected] And do visit my website to learn more about my books and services. To visit, just head over to ericmaisel.com. That's ericmaisel.com. Oh, and a last reminder about the anonymous survey I'm taking of my listeners. I hope you'll participate. Just go to PersonalLifeMedia and click on t he listener survey advertisement on my show page. Thanks so much for supporting The Joy Of Living Creatively.
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