Years and years (and years) ago, when I was still a beginning writer, I read and loved Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast”, his account of his own time as a fledgling writer. He lived in a tiny apartment in Paris with his young wife Hadley. Sometimes he wrote there, standing at his desk, and sometimes sitting in a cafe, filling up lined notebooks like the ones used by French schoolchildren. In the evenings, he and Hadley would drink and talk with their friends, friends like Sylvia Beach, who owned the legendary bookshop Shakespeare & Co., and other writers like Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The life he described seemed perfect to me: the work, the companionship. It was romantic and productive–good and true, as Papa himself would say. It still seems perfect, which means, I now know too well, mostly impossible. Somehow Hemingway never had to go to a job, or do his laundry (poor Hadley, who wasn’t his wife for long), or take care of a sick child or failing parent. He didn’t have the distractions of social media (lucky him) or adorable grandchildren (poor him).
Still, now and then, I get to create my own version of that perfect life. I did it earlier this month, with six other women writers. We rented an old farmhouse in the Ohio woods for a week. Each morning we had coffee together and then we scattered around the house, everybody holing up in her own nook to work. Here was mine:
I started something new, and I revised the book I’ve been working on for what seems a century. In the afternoons I’d go for long, cold, glorious walks in the woods–okay, not Paris, but for me just as good. There was a waterfall about a mile and a half away, and this was the vertigo-inducing view from the top:
In the evenings we ate and laughed together. There was wine, and conversation on all things big and small, and a mouse who scurried around the dining room, intent, I became convinced, on having one of us write a picture book about him.
My work went so well. There’s much to be said for being removed from real life, and for being among others working hard at the same thing as you. In the afternoon when I’d come in from my walk, there’d be a sort of sacred silence in the house. Words floated in the air. Characters slipped around the corners. Invisible worlds hovered, softly humming.
Hemingway for a week! We all plan to do it again, as soon as we can manage.