Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Paris in the 20s

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.


Susan C Shea said...

Your description (and Woody Allen's) of the 20s in Paris does make it alluring. I'd be terrified of having Gertrude Stein look at my manuscript, but you're a much bolder person, Robin - with a better liver too! Good call.

RJ Harlick said...

Paris in the 1920s would grab my vote too. A time ripe with creative literary minds. In addition to Hemingway and Fitzgerald, it included other literary greats, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Lawrence Durrell, Henry Miller and so on and so forth. Must've been something in the wine...or absinthe.

Meredith Cole said...

Paris at any time has my vote... Here's to living large, Robin!