Friday, May 17, 2013

Haunted by Hemingway and His House

Longtime readers of this blog know that Hemingway is not one of my favorite writers, although in this post, I acknowledge the ways in which he changed writing.

On Sunday, we went to the Hemingway house in Key West.  I had been once before, and I remember hearing a lot about life in Key West when Hemingway lived there and hearing a lot about the furniture, but not as much about Hemingway's writing life when he lived in the house.

On Sunday, we heard more about Hemingway the writer.  He lived in the house with his second wife.  I thought of poor Hadley, the first wife, who didn't get much mention on Sunday.  I've written about her in this post after reading The Paris Wife.  Hemingway left her for Pauline, the wife whose fortune made it possible for Hemingway to live in a beautiful Key West location.

While he lived with Pauline, he enjoyed the most prolific writing time of his life.  He had a daily schedule.  He got up and went over to his writing studio which was like a room on top of a detached garage.  He wrote for 3-5 hours a day, and then he went fishing and drinking and amusing himself in all sorts of ways.

His life with Pauline was tempestuous, as she liked to spend money, and he didn't always like what she bought.  As World War II approached, he began an affair with a female journalist he met in a bar.  Because they worked in the same field, and they were competitive, the marriage was rocky and lasted 3 years.

He would have one more marriage and live in Havana.  As he and his wife fled the Castro regime, they left behind art and manuscripts.  I thought of the story in The Paris Wife, about Hadley losing the suitcase that had all of Hemingway's Paris manuscripts.

Our Hemingway house guide claimed that Hemingway would never write as much and as easily as he wrote in Key West, and I suspect that's true.  He was still early in his writing life then, still working to prove himself as a writer of fiction, while getting some acclaim.  As the years went on, he had more obligations and more pressure, even as he had more money.  He also had more health issues, both from the drinking, and the depressions, and the fact that he'd had 9 concussions in his early decades, and I suspect that his brain was suffering from those scars too.

Why does this story haunt me so much?  After all, I think one of the lessons of this time of Hemingway's life is that developing a routine that supports the creative work and sticking to it is perhaps one of the most important things we can do as creative types.  And Hemingway's time in Key West gives weight to this theory.  I've always practiced what I'm preaching in this area, so it's not the issue of developing a routine that nags at me.

I'm struck by the people who supported his writing--but he seems to have been surrounded by those all of his life.  I'm fortunate there too.

I'm also haunted by the house itself.  Was there something about that house that made it possible to write the way that he did?

I know that it's the house that tugs at me most because we've been house hunting.  I worry about what we're setting into motion, what we might gain and what we might lose.  But I've managed to write steadily in every house and apartment I've ever had.  I often look back on situations that seemed shabby at the time and think about how much I miss the tree that was right outside the window or how cozy the space that seemed too small really was.

Maybe I'm also haunted by that house because Hemingway's writing studio would be so perfect for me--well, if we could get it retrofitted with AC it would be.  I'd write, then swim some laps in the pool, then write again, and then spend the afternoon on my sailboat--because if I could afford that house, I could afford a sailboat!

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