Cultivating creativity + community in Paris

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My travel companions, Jasmine and Amanda, sharing the love along the Seine.

I recently returned from a trip to Paris, during which my priorities were shaken up, stirred, and reordered. Still stuffed with French butter, baguette, and chocolat noir, I spent my plane ride home drifting in and out of sleep and melting memories of those things that make Paris Paris: the gray and cream cityscape at dusk, the steep ascent to the hill at Montmartre, the assurance of perfect croissants on every block. I’ve been to the city many times, but this particular trip moved me in such a way that I’ll be processing, remembering, and living in it for weeks and months to come.

More than any other trip I’ve gone on to Paris, this was a trip marked not by moments of revelation, awe, and beauty. Of course, those moments are good and even holy, but they are most often experienced internally and individually. This was a trip marked by what I shared with people, not what I experienced in places. On this seventh trip to the City of Love and City of Lights, I was inspired, encouraged, and profoundly challenged by others. What I found in Paris- through my sweet travel companions, new friends, expats, and Parisian locals- was a sense of creativity and community.

There was Hope, a poet-photographer from Santa Barbara who has moved to Paris as an artist in residence. Out of Hope, flows poetry. She lives to create, and writes spontaneous verse wherever she is, whatever she’s doing, whether that’s sharing a slice of cake with friends, picnicking in the Jardin du Luxembourg, or perusing the shelves of Shakespeare and Co. Hope doesn’t have to retreat to her own space to create—instead, she builds poetry around the people she’s with and the moments she’s sharing. For this artist, no one is a stranger and everyone is a muse. She gathers together people from all walks of life, excluding no one from her beautiful, ever-expanding circle of friends.

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The ever-effervescent Hope at the Notre Dame.

And then there’s Miranda, an American artist and student who creates simple, powerful pieces in pen and ink. Miranda has a quiet stillness about her that says I’m listening and I’m watching with total lack of judgment. She’s taking it all in, absorbing everything. And she’s present with whoever she’s with. Her art reflects her sensibility: its poignancy comes from its quiet reflection and attention to detail. Miranda creates community by letting you know she’s present; she’s listening; and she is thinking creatively and responsively to your story.

I could speak of many, many others I met, who, in a moment, taught me about community and inspired me to pursue creativity. A pastor who had come to Paris from South Africa brought me to tears through her simple words of affirmation and prayer. Beatrice, a native of Versailles and artist who spoke to me about her dreams and encouraged me in mine. But most of all, it was my travel companions who inspired me and challenged me in a way that I didn’t know was possible.

Jasmine- a musician- and Amanda- a fashion designer- live big, exuberant lives that speak of deep devotion, fearlessness, and commitment to create.  Jasmine sings soulfully and passionately, creating an intimate space with her voice wherever she may find herself singing (at a piano along the Seine,  in the backroom of a bookstore, on a street corner with women from Nigeria). When Jasmine sings with her honeyed voice, you want to sing too. As for Amanda, she was found to be totally in her element in Paris. She prepared for each day with star-studded chokers (from her own jewelry line) and embellished button-downs, reverently drank in her surroundings in every arrondissement, and loved every person she met with genuine attention and intention. The girl is a walking testament to the partnership between beauty and worship, worship and creativity, creativity and joy.

Jasmine and Amanda believe they can create something meaningful. They make music, poetry, art, clothing, and do not fear the judgment and opinions of small-mindedness. And the point of all this creation is to create connection with others—to share, to inspire, to build hope for and with others when we know we can’t do it on our own. In traveling with them- navigating the metro, looking for that perfect macaron, saying goodnight giddy with exhaustion and awe after all we’d seen that day- I found their boldness and generosity of spirit contagious. I parted ways with them at Heathrow hoping that had rubbed off on me just a little.

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Jasmine being fabulous in the Marais.

“There’s just something that music does- and art does too- where it really speaks, it can completely just breaks down language barriers. It connects you, it takes you, it’s transcendent,” said Amanda in kitchen-table conversation, one afternoon in our flat.

So, what was my takeaway from this whirlwind of creative inspiration in the city I love the most? It’s easy to feel moved and creatively charged when I’m out of my element, spending hours with friends, responsibilities mostly on hold. Less easy when I’m back home, facing credit card statements, daily routine, and far-less-exciting breakfast pastries. So, I resolved to make a commitment to cultivate both creativity and community in my own life.

There are certain practices in life that may come to us out of necessity. And there are certain habits or lifestyle choices that we choose to cultivate. Cultivation takes intentionality, discipline, and a re-ordering of priorities. But when we choose to cultivate those things that we find beautiful in theory but challenging in practice, we find ourselves fuller, more fulfilled, and more grounded in what we actually value. In this coming season I want to make room for what’s most important to me: writing prose and poetry, gathering with people I love, even cooking my own meals. I won’t discard the more nebulous goals of “creativity” and “community” for the pursuit of more immediate, concrete results, like more money, a cleaner house, or even a slimmer body.

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People watching from my flat, late morning in Belle Ville.

I’ll sit down every morning at 7 a.m. to write, purely for the joy of it. I’ll commit to creating spaces and events where people can gather to enjoy each other, encourage each other, and be inspired. I’ll even experiment in the kitchen, and break out of my food ruts (one cannot live on almond butter alone). And I can do all this confidently because I know I’m not alone in it. Even from across the Atlantic, I know I have friends who are taking that risk: creating purely for the joy of it, breaking down barriers of busyness for the sake of building relationship, and believing in big lives with vision, purpose, and beauty.

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The Seine, the Eiffel Tower, Paris at dusk.

 

Something Spectacular
Something spectacular sat between us
we wrote a grocery list for God:

give us light in our eyes
white lilies of the valley as milk
bread for our bones
lips to laugh light
catch us between blinking eyes
shadows lifted their legs to dance
peonies found in dumpsters at midnight
coffee stains telling us the time
laundry hung to dry in sunshine
something spectacular stood tall
tip toeing towards home
hands of the wind in her hair
women awake and walking
windows without glass
words without writing
our voices making the requests known
our eyes fixed on the horizon lines of hope

2 thoughts on “Cultivating creativity + community in Paris

  1. mercurialarts says:

    “I’ll commit to creating spaces and events where people can gather to enjoy each other, encourage each other, and be inspired.” I’m hearing more and more of this language from creatives, the urge to foster supportive spaces for artists. It’s great that you not only found an artistic community in Paris, but one where there are strong women artists. Women are really creating some of the most significant work these days in music, film, and photography, and I hope we are seeing a real opportunity for them to lead us not only in the arts but also in all areas of political and societal operations.

    Like

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