Discover more from if not, Paris
A Year in Review
Remembering what it is to be me
I took the above photo the first day I arrived in Los Angeles in January. I felt a lot of things about being back in the USA. Fragmentation and identity and self-perception had a lot to do with it.
I’ve writtenand thought a lot about this question of self-perception and identity since my return. Because it’s not that I haven’t felt like myself in the past few months, but rather that I feel I’m finally becoming—or am I simply remembering?—more of the person I used to be as a kid; or, as Joan Didion once said,
“It all comes back. Remember what it is to be me. That is always the point.”
It’s been just over 1-year since I started this Substack,
and it’s been exactly 380 days since I first asked my very first Substack readers what they thought about the following James Baldwin quote (I’m still curious in others’ thoughts if you’d like to click through this link and respond):
“Perhaps, as we say in America, I wanted to find myself. This is an interesting phrase, which certainly does not mean what it says but betrays a nagging suspicion that something has been misplaced.” Giovanni’s Room (1953)
I often quote this passage when I give literary walks in Paris, because I often find Americans, in particular, are particularly concerned (and confused) with understanding (let alone defining) the amorphous question of “identity.”
This is one of the reasons, I think, why I’ve always turned to writing as a primary means of self-awareness. I was born alongside my twin brother in a small village in France to a Spanish father and American mother, which in turns has always made me very curious, and often confused, about what it really means to be me.
I first started writing on Substack because as a writer, I needed to rediscover myself.
After having spent 7 years working on a book that at various times genuinely felt it would never be finished, in early 2022 I began to feel that some sacred part of my identity as a writer had been misplaced.
As a kid I wrote poetry and drew without hope or despair.
As a teenager I wrote short stories.
As a university student I wrote essays.
As a young adult, I wrote two novels: one called
Nepenthera Whistleblower, which only three people have (or will ever) read, and in 2015, I finished a second novel called Slim and The Beast, which turned me into a published author.
Suddenly, my definition of “being a writer” shifted from something I did into something I was, but after a few weeks, I realized that life doesn’t necessarily change just because you go through a life-changing event.
I still worked the same job, had the same bills, and found myself in the same, predictable predicament of not knowing what I would write next.
For the first time in my life, with a novel finally published, I wasn’t approaching the act of writing from a space of joy or routine but rather from a sense of duty and necessity.
And so I convinced myself that the next one would be the Big One. The third novel, I told myself, was when I’d prove myself not as a person, or as a writer, but as an author.
I called an early draft of that next book The Requisitions. From 2015-2020, I worked on it consistently. It was to be the culmination of a master’s degree in Holocaust Studies, and MFA in creative writing, and as my second published book, it was going to be the one that “made me known.”
I prematurely pitched it to literary agents and publishers and, later, MFA professors who kindly suggested I work on something new. I took their advice to heart and shelved The Requisitions, where it stagnated in the increasingly shallow depths of my wounded ego until I more or less gave up on finishing it.
And then my world changed irrevocably in early 2020.
During those first three months of confinement in my 20m2 apartment, whilst falling in love with my now-wife from across an ocean via text-messages,I rewrote The Requisitions in an entirely new way.
The book’s structure, plot, and name changed (it’s now called Orange Blossom Memory). That was two years ago, and now, after many-a-copy-edit and meditation, the almost finished book is staring at me with final-draft (I promise) red-marks all over its pages, from the very place where I first began writing it in 2015, at a small desk in the north-west corner of the Bibliothèque Historique de Paris in the Marais.
Remember what it is to be me.
One year ago, I had a few dozen readers on Substack. Today, I’ve found a community of 616 free subscribers (and 56 paid; you make this space possible, truly; thank you for supporting my work), all of it predicated on a simple promise to myself of remembering the joy of writing by writing something I was proud of every. single. week.
I started this Substack to remember that I wrote for fun as a kid.
I started this Substack to remind myself that nobody is just a novelist, or just a poet, or just an essayist, or just a short-story writer.
I started this Substack to remember what it is to be me.
But perhaps most importantly, I started this Substack because I’d become afraid—afraid that I was a fraud, afraid that I wasn’t, in fact, anything more than one of those people who hides behind unseen and unfinished work out of some misplaced sense of literary prestige.
And so, one year onwards, I’m proud to say I have 65 pieces to show for it, which include:
14 essays, including “A Brief Parisian Autobiography in 3 Parts”
8 chapters of an ongoing novella about Paris in the 21st century
7 serialized chapters about falling in love with my now-wife during the spring of 2020
6 short films / interviews (with original compositions)
Three letter exchanges with newfound friends/fellow Substack writers
5 short stories, including “All-American Justice”
2 poems about technology, including a psychedelic drawing
Substack has reminded me to enjoy the act of writing and creating.
And this is why, after a full year of making good on my self-imposed promise to
write share my work every week, I feel empowered to return to longer pieces, ones that will sometimes take me a bit longer to bring to life.
There’s How to Fall In Love During a Global Pandemic, which I’m close to finishing and am excited to share much more of on this space.
There is also my ongoing series of Tall Parisian Tales, which reminds me, as a fiction writer, to read my work out-loud and to rediscover my former self by reading old journals and bringing the past back to life.
And then, of course, there’s the business of publishing my next novel, Orange Blossom Memory. Out of the 600 readers who subscribe to me for free, I have a sense there’s at least 100 of you who prefer reading books on a beach or in the mountains to on a digitized screen.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
This year has been an especially invigorating one for me, and I’m grateful to all of you for being a part of it. Here’s to continuing the adventure in 2023, which will include many more chapters from my longer works, multiple opportunities to subscribe/purchase upcoming print publications, and a lot more writing and drawings that keep reminding me—and perhaps, you too—of what it is to be you and me.
Sincerely, Samuél. And now, a drawing from the wilderness of LA: