The languor of lengthy, simmering summer days lulls me into a semi-sleep. Little by little, I float away from the constraints of a screen designed to immerse me into some transcendent experience about what it means to be a writer.
On the internet.
Where anyone can call themselves a writer although they may be a cat and you will never know. Until you begin to question which species you truly belong to and never quite seem to find out or settle on either.
You, the writer, should always remain a little improbable, even to yourself.
Curiosity is word-ridden.
As a kid growing up in a concrete jungle in the suburbs of Paris, France, I knew my reality couldn’t possibly be everything. There was a world that wasn’t only blocks but also color and undulating lines, without echo but where your voice sometimes carried for miles if you understood what way the wind was blowing.
Through books and family and travel and languages, I caught glimpses of other dimensions that always seemed much larger than the one I lived in.
My uncle was a baker in a small country town, he and his wife lived above the shop. When we visited, we had the chance to go not just behind the counter but also into the ‘laboratoire’ behind it, the kitchen where bakers dressed head to toe in white performed their magic with flour, yeast, water, time and a lot of heat.
Delight was an ongoing experiment. Something was always happening, fragrant gurgles of yeasty life from a giant robot mixing some giant dough, trays of croissants rising, baguettes growing in the oven, the slurp and slap of succulence on a slab, and the most beautiful sound of all.
The oven surrenders its golden bounty and the city kid stands there, transfixed by this random act of scrumptious timing.
Whatever it was, I always had some.
“Ping!” was the apex of a visit that also involved cakes and pastries on a little tray and delicious tea we sipped in my auntie’s tiny kitchen between the shop and the ‘labo’. And then there was that enormous bag of penny sweets she would give me as we said goodbye, my mother’s disapproval a silent scream I munched on with gusto while I breathed in croissant all the way home.
For an hour or two, my hair, my clothes, and my skin were the custodians of awe and wonder.
I relish being submerged with the unfamiliar, the unknown, the uncanny in person as much as I do in print, the two experiences separate but for the connections my imagination makes.
Writing makes these connections tangible, but writing online does something else as well: It turns them into an experiential infinity loop feeding collective imaginings, an ongoing projection of omnipotent humanity scrolling through life as it happens. And then I remember a school teacher who knew my uncle and our family history laughing heartily at my lumpy batter the day we all made batter for either waffles or pancakes. The assumption was that I should know better — be that only by osmosis — even though my mother made pancakes exactly once a year and neither her nor my uncle ever made waffles.
My school teacher assumed we all ate pancakes and waffles at home but the lumps I had made told a different story, the same as my classmates since most of them came from a different country and also continent, be they the offspring of ex-colons, first or second generation immigrants, or political refugees.
Ironically, the only thing I knew how to make at that age was bread, the food you poured your heart and soul into with your hands, not some liquid you whisked.
Online, many are having a go at replicating a prescriptive, unimaginative, and bland recipe with words, most of us are coming up with lumps and calling it writing. But the slop with chunks isn’t designed to capture the imagination of the heart and soul, only the attention of algorithms.
It fills you up for a minute because it vaguely looks like food but soon you’re hungry again. You eat more but you’re never satisfied.
Or you lose your appetite for writing altogether.
Bread, whatever the format — but preferably fresh out of the oven, toasted, or fried — is a simple staple that brings humanity together, food as communication.
Writing is a craft just like baking is; both exist to nourish us.
Writing is a way to look at and beyond things by diving into alternatives and possibilities as we tackle doubt out loud. It always starts with an intellectual experience — a question — and an emotional one: curiosity.
Words are the building blocks we create a pop-up world with, inviting others to join us in a moment of reflection. During times of extreme personal and collective upheaval, demand for connectedness, belonging, and visibility intensifies. This is how I wound up attempting to come back to life online one word at a time two years ago, in this very reality many other hearts and minds are also writing. The more diverse the voices, the more inclusive the conversation, the more empathetic society becomes, but can this really happen when predatory capitalism is in charge of language and algorithms?
Writing words for machines will only exacerbate the alienation inherent to the zeitgeist. Why not empower readers, trusting they are smart enough to figure out the narrative? Can algorithms help, support, follow?
To preserve imagination, playfulness, and creativity, find the words that take you back to wonder, awe, and the possibility of dignified self-expression for all.
Eventually, they will lead you home, wherever it might be, metaphorically or geographically.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.