6 Place-Writing Prompts from my American Library in Paris Presentation

I had the great pleasure of presenting my book The Soul of Place -A Creative Writing Workshop:  Ideas and Exercises for Conjuring the Genius Loci  at the American Library in Paris  this fall, where I conducted a small place-writing workshop.  Here are a few excerpts from my talk – and some writing prompts chosen for this particular venue.

“This is a book about how to enhance our awareness of places and find in the environments around us inspiration and material for artistic and writing projects .  It’s very much a personal journey, retracing  my own creative process and discoveries as a writer, reader, teacher, and traveler.  Its most basic premise is that there is a power or energy at work in certain places  that speaks directly to our imaginations and nourishes them.

Many writers, artists, photographers, psychogeographers have recorded eloquent  testimonies of the ways particular places have inspired them, and it would take to long to share even a few.  They boil down to a few concepts: “Landscape is character,” in the words of Henry James. For  Lawrence Durrell,  “We are expressions of our landscape.”   And the houses and rooms we live in, are analogues for the self. We keep up an ongoing dialogue with the places we live of which we are totally unaware. Houses and landscape inhabit us just as much as we inhabit them.”

Here are 6 prompts from the workshop I gave:

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1. Write about stairs —  you stand at the top or at the bottom of a stairway, and you know that when you reach top/bottom   you will enter a space where something life-changing will happen

 

 

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2. Write about a tree you have never forgotten.

 

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3. Write about your first kitchen in a foreign house –an object in that kitchen that manifests its “foreignness” and what you did with it.
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4. Write about a  place where “silence” had a new meaning for you.
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5. Write about a statue you would like to talk to

 

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6. Recall a window, door, or drawer in a place you no longer live. Take hold of the handle or door knob. How does it feel in your hand? Now open it and describe what you find there.
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For more prompts, please see my craft of writing book The Soul of Place – A Creative Writing Workbook , by Linda Lappin, Travelers Tales (2015) ISBN-13: 978-1609521035

 

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Paris Expat Paints the Soul of Place

On a crisp Paris morning some years ago, my friend  P. woke up in hospital after collapsing in a diabetic coma.  Am I in prison?  were reputedly her first words upon opening her eyes as she stared at the unfamiliar grey  walls around her.  A doctor reassured her that she had not been incarcerated, however, she had just had heart surgery and several stents had been put in place. After a short hospital stay, she was allowed to go home.

At that time P. and her husband had been living in Paris for several years, occupying a fourth floor apartment at an enviable address along Boulevard Saint Germain. From the balcony of her flat  jutting over the plane trees below, you could just catch a glimpse of the Eiffel tower. A retired journalist from Florida who nurtured a creative streak, P. had always been very active in the expat writers community in Paris, attending the readings, workshops,  and Shakespeare & Co. events that fill the datebooks of  literary-minded expats. She is  well known for the emotional and practical support  she  has generously offered to her many writing friends, including the feeding of hungry crowds at holiday time.

Her period of recovery entailed the reorganization of priorities, cutting back on some social events and on her expectations.  Prior to her surgery, her main form of creative self-expression had  always been  writing. Her assignments as a journalist had often involved social issues and required field research.   The rational side had always been in charge.

But as she adjusted to  her new lifestyle,  an unexpected passion was born: painting. She began to feel hunger to express herself through  shapes and colors. Words were too grey. They weren’t enough.

She found an artist who kept an open atelier and joined the group of older French women who were  attending lessons there once a week.  Her progress has been astonishing.  Her technique is instinctive, naif, and impressionistic. Her verve and sense of color are an explosion of joy, and her compositions have a satisfying focus, balance, and movement.  Rather than representing an image as a pre-constructed idea, she recreates a feeling connected to her subject – a landscape, portrait, or still life.

I have often thought that P. would have fit right in back in the 1920s on in the late 1960s, two art-loving eras which have much in common.   Part pixie, part southern belle, part bohemian and yet a practical soul, with artless aplomb, she sports sparkly, knitted caps, voluminous vintage coats, and pastel socks. Her personal style expresses  an artist’s underlying playfulness.  Certainly she never dreamed of becoming a visual artist when she moved to Paris, but by some miracle that has happened.  Now making pictures is as vital to her as writing once was.

One of my  favorite pieces of her work is a typically Parisian scene:  A bridge and houses along the Seine.  In the foreground, dark  trees composed of daubs and swirls form a proscenium  through which we view a row of houses  à la Hundertwasser .  The river flows red and orange along a quai, where two tiny figures with umbrellas  are swept along a powerful diagonal towards the point where the quai and river join.

I never tire of looking at this painting which is a celebration of life and of what I love best about Paris,  just the flaneur’s pleasure of walking around and looking at things. The fiery Seine is the great creative energy, like lava,  flowing through this city and through all those who have been touched by it.  This painting, like many of P.’s others,  testifies to the creativity and capacity for joy that we often hold inside, unbeknownst to ourselves.

It also brings me back to ruminations on the soul of place. Certainly, an appreciation of beauty and the compulsion to make art are deeply rooted in the genius loci of Paris which draws thousands of visitors every year, hungry for artistic experiences at many levels.  Sometimes,  as in P’s case, contact with the genius loci can be life-transforming.  Paris has bestowed upon her the gift of seeing as artists see and has given her the basic means to express it.

Who wouldn’t envy that?

Who knows what talents might be unlocked  if we opened our doors of perception to the soul of place?

For more on the soul of place and creative expression see Linda Lappin, The Soul of Place Creative Writing Workbook: Ideas and Exercises for Conjuring the Genius Loci (Travelers Tales, 2015)