WELCOME TO PARIS

As We Write: The New Paris Commune

FK MARLOWE
A view of the Seine in Paris

And then something revolutionary happens. You find your people. You find your own Paris. Your own Latin quarter, your own little street cafes. Your own constellation of stars to belong to.

Welcome to Paris

I’ve always cursed being born too late to have swung my way around Joyce’s Paris. Imagine carousing every night with writers like Beckett, Eliot and Yeats. Probably wouldn’t be conducive to getting the WIP finished, but think of the banter! Of course, being a woman I’d more likely have been doomed to having my own writing claimed by an overbearing husband, à la Collette, or pulling beers by night and modelling in the nip for dauby rich boys by day, but it’s nice to dream.

And dream I have done, all my life. Dreamed of finding my people, my place, a space where I can write and talk about writing and not writing and what I want to write and will never write, with like-minded souls, perhaps over a glass of cheap vino at a street cafe with a flickering candle.

But the days of writers meeting at street cafés are long gone, or at least, they have always eluded me. As for writing, I tried a few times. Sent a few half-hearted squibs into the ether, hoping against hope they might catch light to something; joined a few half-hearted writing groups that were really just part ego-parade, part mutual disappointment. It’s a sad and lonely tale not fit for your ears, Dear Reader, especially since the chances are you are a writer too, and recognise the feeling of crushing disillusionment only too well.

So I gave up on finding my Paris, for years. I travelled to other parts of the world instead, distracted myself with a moving picture show of different countries and customs, and told myself to forget that magical, wonderful world of words that had called to me once, like Eliot’s mermaids calling to each other on his desolate beach. Like him, I heard them in vain. “I did not think that they would call to me.” They were gone with the tide, or, to be pretentious, the long-ebbed nouveau vague.

As for putting my own words out into the world – well, the way things are with publishing houses seemingly wanting younger writers who fit their tight little mould for success – that was a dream too fantastical to find even at the very bottom of the wine bottle.

Then things got really bad.

You know, you were there. The year the world closed down. The year there were no more trips to other places, or even, sometimes, the supermarket, to distract you from where you really were, what you really lacked.

Perhaps you did what I did and escaped to one of the few places left to escape to: the past. I binged on historical novels, revelled in world crises long solved, or forgotten, glossed over and moved on from. The only problem was, all that reading just reminded me of who I was: a writer who wasn’t writing. Who couldn’t find the imaginative space to write.

So, like so many others, I turned to that strange hybrid of real and imaginary space: the web. Social media was a lifeline, wasn’t it? The one place we could still hear the voices of friends, of ordinary strangers, even when locked inside our own homes.

Sure, it was full of crazies. Those drunk on the anonymity of the sprawling cyber-metropolis and the freedom it gave them to shout obscenities from virtual street corners. The other ones, who you have to watch for, because to start off with they seem saner than you. You learn to spot them early, after a while. To navigate your way around the winding streets, to pop in and out of rabbit holes without, like Alice, falling into strange worlds it’s difficult to waken from.

You become a citizen. And then, if you’re very lucky like me, something revolutionary happens.

You find your people.

You find your own Paris. Your own Latin quarter, your own little street cafes. Your own constellation of stars to belong to.

For me, the first star that appeared in my evening sky, my pole star, was Evalena, the creator of this site. She guided me into safe harbour at last. Home.

Home to a place I’d never been before, but belonged to immediately. A little, imaginary Paris of the mind. Of the internet. To begin with, there were just two or three of us. We felt each other out in the dark of cyberspace, grasped hands and pulled ourselves closer, lit sparks to kindle fires that began to light the streets of this little place that she had made, and we had found. Then more people came and the streets became a community, or more than that, a little Paris commune.

We are revolutionaries, you see. Writers who have turned our backs on the establishment that didn’t want us and are building our own citadel of words instead. One day soon, we may even storm the Bastille.

But for now, we are still building our city. Appropriately enough, for us rebellious types, it exists on Discord, in a space Evalena dreamed into being. Like Joyce’s Paris it is a lively maze of arrondissements, and though base camp may be pitched in the Latin quarter, or “canteen”, every day we roam through different channels: wide avenues built for discussing airy concepts; neat, bustling, workday boulevards where we toil at our WIPs, nodding genially and occasionally stopping for professional chats; and seedy back alleys where we explore ideas not fit for clean daylight.

Unlike Joyce’s Paris, our cosmopolis is no testosterzone, with all the chest-beating and willy-waving of egos like Hemingway’s. There are indeed men, they are indeed beardy and some may even call them Papa in personal threads for all I know, but one of the magical gifts of our Paris is that we can enter it without the usual limitations of our bodies, and our minds can take on whichever avatar suits them at the time. Thinking of this, I wonder how much the dwellers of that original Paris might have envied us, have felt they were born too soon. It is a heady and intoxicating idea, made possible by the greater and more wonderful idea of the space itself.

Like all great ideas, it happened by accident. Well, it seemed like an accident to me, blundering about in a happy, creative but clueless haze. In reality, it was Evalena who set up the tents and got the plumbing in order, sent out invitations and made up the beds. It always is. If there is a spirit of the age, a guardian angel spreading her wings over our dear, dirty city, it is she.

But for all her careful planning, the territory here is unknown. Most of us are those shameful, despised creatures: Indiepub writers. We accept our label and embrace it, we wear it, like the scarlet cap of the communards, with pride. We’ve escaped the old world tyranny of publishing houses, the quixotic quest for agents, the fight to be seen and heard. We hear each other. We read each other’s work, before the electronic ink is dry.

We are massing our forces. The old world of writing is crumbling. Joyce’s Paris, which, in the end, existed to feed the big publishing houses, the old university courses, the dinner table conversations of establishment types, is gone. It’s a brave new world out there, out here, in cyberspace.

There are still, of course, the great, powerful sovereigns dominating this new world order: the masters of Google, of Twitter, of Amazon. They are fighting the same old battles over territory. But this space is so new and so wide that they can’t stop our voices bubbling up and finding each other. And when we find each other, we write our own stories. And we search out and read the stories of others that we want to read, not that we are told to.

Like the revolutionaries of Paris, long before Joyce, we have great dreams. We are going to build our own place in this new world. And we are going to build it out of stories.

And when we’ve built those stories, we will bring them to the world on our terms, not the terms of the Big Five.

But the best thing of all is that ours is not the only Paris. All over the internet, candles are flickering into light on the tables of virtual cafes as writers find each other, share stories late into the night, encourage each other, and find their way to readers along avenues that never existed before.

You are walking along one right now, dear reader. As We Write is your map to your own Paris. A blueprint of new ways to write, a map of old monsters to avoid, a manual for building more cities of the mind where writers and readers can find each other as they never could before.

Vive la revolution!

© F.K. Marlowe, 2022