by Robin Spano
Question of the Week: What period of history, from the invention of the printing press to yesterday, was the best time to be a writer?
Yesterday's panelist, Susan C. Shea, opted for the chaotic present after mulling various periods of time when writers got their heads chopped off if they annoyed the Queen, and other horrors.
I agree that right now has some great advantages. With self-publishing and ebooks taking the world by storm, it's the era of the empowered writer and the less almighty publisher, which is a good thing in my world view. Even though I still opt for traditional publishing at the moment, I like to see the options open so that every book has the potential to reach its audience. (And I'm with an awesomely cutting-edge press who has their eye on the changing industry in a way that impresses me more each day.)
But if I could go back in time and hang out with Hemingway and FitzGerald to party in Paris in the 1920s, I would jump there in a heartbeat. I wouldn't like to stay long. A decade would be fine. (Actually my liver could probably only handle a week, max.) What appeals to me most is the intellectual hedonism. All those interesting people living as large as they possibly can and still producing innovative works of art and fiction, creating from the deepest parts of themselves.
I understand that I'm looking through a romanticized lens at an era that had many problems of its own. But when I read a book like The Sun Also Rises, the dialogue makes me wish I could pour myself a big glass of red wine and join those conversations in a Left Bank café.
The movie Midnight in Paris, magic realism where a young aspiring writer travels back in time each night at midnight and returns to 2010 after spending what feels like several hours in the 1920s, sums up my fantasy perfectly. He gets his manuscript read (and praised) by Hemingway, he falls in love with Picasso's mistress. (Though I'd like a male love interest if I travel back, please.) And his present day life is enhanced for these encounters, allowing him to make sense of a muddled situation.
But as Hemingway himself says (in The Sun Also Rises), “you can't get away from yourself by moving from one place to another.”
So I'll stay here and party in my own time, live as large as I possibly can, and take inspiration from some great thinkers I'm lucky enough to call friends.