Episode 32: Smaller and Smaller
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 fifth in the series, is called “Smaller and Smaller.”
The episode begins this way:
“You’ve made it to Paris. Congratulations! Now, where will you live? In a tiny studio, no doubt, so as to keep expenses down. You can certainly survive in a small studio, just as millions of artists have done from time immemorial. But there is a catch. The smallness of your studio will definitely begin to get to you. One afternoon you’ll find yourself daydreaming about wide verandas. Then, rather more dangerously, you’ll think about proposing to the very next person you meet with a real apartment. Cheap rooms--and everything that comes with them, the alienation, the bad dreams, the roaches, the dingy walls, the ratty furniture, the unbroken silence, the hallucinations—addle the brain over time. In order to endure the smallness of your studio you had better take some precautions.”
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’m 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 personalifemedia.com and click on the listener 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 “The Writer’s Paris”. In each episode we examine an important example in 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 “Smaller And Smaller”. Lets begin.
Once you’re in Paris you will probably end up living in a tiny studio to keep expenses down. You can certainly survive in a small studio just as millions of artists have done from time immemorial but there is a catch. The smallness of your studio will definitely grate on you. Cheap rooms and the things that come with them, the alienation, the bad dreams, the roaches, the dingy walls, the ratty furniture, the unbroken silence addle the brain over time.
One afternoon you’ll find yourself daydreaming about wide verandas, then rather more dangerously you’ll think about proposing marriage to the next person you meet who has a real apartment.
I once lived in a room that was also being used by the building’s owner as a storeroom. That shoebox room contained seven wardrobes, three-drop leaf tables, two standing mirrors, and a mattress on the floor that you fell onto as you entered. Its only saving grace was a small table by the window where I could breathe and smoke Camels. To preserve my mental health I developed a ritual entrance, a ceremonial dive onto the mattress when I entered. That ritual dive, going with the absurdity of the situation rather than against it, made all the difference. Humor helps.
In another apartment the oversized bathtub in the bathroom proved more accommodating than the adjoining living room. I therefore used the bathtub for living. Sometimes I did the dishes there, sometimes I read, a [xx] or sans water, sometimes I wrote, sometimes I entertained. Put two pillows and a candle in a bathtub and you guarantee memories. The room I can hardly remember, but, oh the bathtub!
Make use of your room’s best feature, which may be its balcony or its writing niche. If it has no good features pretend that it does. Pretending helps.
I asked some writers in Paris what they did when their cramped quarters started to addle them. Some went out, day or night, and walked until exhaustion. Others used the café down the block as their living room. Some called friends back home and left their room via the telephone. Others gave in to the feeling and cried until the mood passed. Most used Paris like an extension of their living quarters, The Village Voice Bookshop becoming their personal library, the Twillerys their personal garden. That’s really the best answer, stay out all day. Use Paris, write out rather than in. Find a home café, or several, find a bookstore with comfortable seating, make some friends. Go back to your room only when you find it absolutely necessary, which, if you strike it lucky may not be for days on end.
Use your room as you would a bathroom, as a necessary convenience, as better than outdoor plumbing or nights under a bridge. In the winter when the rains come this will prove more difficult. Then you’ll need extra candles, extra chocolate and music with a beat.
Prepare for the onslaught of strangeness by pledging to remain passionate and ambitiousness no matter how cramped your room begins to feel. Your very ambitiousness can inoculate you and save you. George [xx] , filling his studio with one unfinished painting after another cried to his loving daughter, “How am I ever going to manage?” She replied sensibly enough, “Why not try to finish three or four of them?” Ah but small rooms do not make for small agendas, [xx] replied, “I will finish one hundred and thirty three of them.” Even if your room is shrinking daily your ambition can buoy you.
Another anecdote is making friends with people who live in real apartments. I visited some ex-pats on the Boulevard Richard-Lenoir and their apartment was American size with room after spacious room, one even sporting huge bean bag chairs. When you sat down at the kitchen table your back was not directly up against the wall. Make at least one such friend and drop in whenever your walls close in on you.
Small rooms are not death sentences. We have all written in them and most of us have survived them. Solitary confinement can turn a worrier to jelly but out of those small rooms have come the melodies that enrich lives, the paintings that break traditions, the novels that bear witness. We tolerate those thread bear rooms and maybe even revere them. Their real dangers not withstanding, we make sacrifices for our art. If a too small room in Paris is the greatest sacrifice you ever have to make thank your lucky stars.
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” at Itunes.
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