I mentioned in my last post that I recently read Ernest Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast”. I am reasonably certain that I borrowed it from the library after being sucked in by someone’s – probably Oprahs’ – Summer Reading List as I am not one to randomly pick up novels by old coots that I was forced to read in high school English classes. It may have been because I was reading it while lazing in a hammock or right after lunch before the bliss of a mid day nap took over, but this book became one of the inspirational highlights of my summer vacation. I took away much motivation from this work, not least of which was the desire to be bohemian in Paris (that will remain a suppressed desire). One of the phrases I found humbling was how long Hemingway agonized over his writing. He would struggle all morning to make one paragraph read the way he wanted. He worked all morning to make one paragraph perfect! I can picture him clearly in some little café with a pencil in his mouth looking up to the sky searching and waiting the perfect word to present itself in his brain. Then a twinkle comes to his eye and he’s back to scribbling away furiously in his notebook, oblivious to the fact that Paris is all around him. Clearly he could not just hit the shift-F7 for the thesaurus like I do. Some days I give myself an hour to write a blog post, find a suitable image for it, and post it to my site before my kids find me “playing” on the computer once again. Now I know what stands between me and the Nobel Prize for Literature…. Time. (okay, okay, perhaps a little talent too).
Enough about me, back to Hem, A Moveable Feast is about his very early days as a writer living in Paris. There are chapters devoted to all the great cafés at which he wrote, ate and drank. He also wrote about all the other inspiring writers he met with regularly during his time in Paris. Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, F.Scott Fitzgerald and a few others that meant little to me. I was fantasizing his lifestyle but I can only imagine the constant anxiety he felt trying to support a wife (and soon thereafter, a child) on his meager earnings as a young writer. While living in Paris, he was writing articles for magazines at this point in his life, before his novel writing phase. In fact he was a correspondent for the Toronto Star at one point. Twelve dollars a page was a good wage then. I’ve been told $1.25/word is a great price for magazine writing nowadays. I was paid 30¢/word for my Lent project article which translates to about $103.50/page. Clearly “writer” does not fall in the Hot Jobs category with that rate of inflation over 90 years. He also wrote that two could live reasonably well and travel in Europe in those days for $2/day. I can’t fathom being able to live in Paris, of all places, for $2/day even if it was the 1920’s. When my husband and I backpacked through Europe 20 years ago, we budgeted $15/day each – occasionally tough to accomplish.
Patience, perseverance and practice lead to great things for Ernest Hemingway, perhaps for me too.