The book, "A Paris Wife" by Paula McLain is enjoying popularity among the nation's readers. It deals with Ernest Hemingway and Hadley, his first wife, and the years they spent in Paris as ex-patriots attempting to establish themselves among the emerging literati of American authors. While in Paris, the Hemingways epitomized a bohemian lifestyle. They lived in run-down apartments, frequented cafes and enjoyed stays at their rich friends' estates.
During his five years in Paris, Hemingway wrote drafts of books that later helped launch his career. I haven't had the privilege of living abroad to make a name for myself as a writer, but last January I participated in the inaugural Tybee Island Writers' Retreat. I was grateful for the opportunity and some parallels can be drawn between my expereince and that of Hemingway's.
Consider the places where we stayed. While the Champs-Elysees didn't lead to my cottage, Butler Avenue on Tybee has its own endearing charm. My adorable abode, a quaint yellow house, was nestled in a shady yard. Lawn ornaments, not like the graceful sculptures of Paris but equally reflective of artistry and authenticity to country and place, dotted the property. Being in Paris during their impecunious years, Ernest and Hadley lived in shabby apartments. My cottage, furnished and decorated with whimsical flair, had risen to the status of shabby chic and could have morphed with little effort into a literary salon.
Despite our differences in housing, the Hemingways and I shared a medley of other eccentricities. In daily living, absent the trendy cafes, "crudites" and hobnobbing with literati, I established my own artistic style. I sipped convenience store wine and crunched potato chips which double dipped for cocktails and dinner every night. Starting promptly at 5 o'clock, I indulged in my evening ritual of Chardonnay and potato chips feeling cocooned in a womb of creativity which I was loath to leave. Thoughts of schedules and established routines vanished.
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Unscheduled I became (except at 5 o'clock), but undisciplined I was not. Hemingway wrote in a small studio holed away from his apartment, but my escape was the cozy little house. I kept it as distraction-free as possible -- no radio, no television, no electronics. Just silence and me. Silence in which ideas churned, thoughts melded and words found partners in prose. Hemingway was productive in Paris. So was I on Tybee as I built and diversified my writing portfolio.
My contact with the outside world consisted of buying the morning paper, eating lunch at a restaurant and after lunch, strolling the beach. I became familiar with the daily routines of my neighbors and perceived, perhaps mistakenly, serenity in their lives. Who was I to hobnob with the influential of Tybee? Like Ernest and Hadley, I left my family and friends behind to pursue my writing, but I wasn't without their support. My cellphone kept me in touch with my husband, Bob, and our friends. They sent me off believing I could create my own writer's milieu, and I proved equal to the task.
Out of money and in the midst of scandal, the Hemingways sailed for America while friends wished them good luck. When my writer's week ended, Bob and our friends drove to Tybee for a congratulatory evening. Talking of books and writing, we enjoyed a literary soiree in the little yellow house with quirky lawn art on an island called Tybee. We toured the house and strolled the yard, drinks in hand, as the Hemingways probably had done on their friends' fancy estates.
The silence of my week retreated as everyone tried to say everything to everybody. After cocktails, we attended a gallery opening and dined as gourmands at the Sundae Cafe. Throughout the evening, we toasted each other, our friendships and the special week I had just experienced. All too soon over, living the writer's life on Tybee was a grand artistic adventure. I savor it and fold this experience into the fabric of my life and hope it will have lasting impact on my future writing.