I just finished reading, The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. Well done, Paula! It’s been awhile since I’ve devoured a book. I turned pages late into the night, reading until midnight or 1 a.m. to finish.
I found it fascinating, this story about Ernest Hemingway’s rise in the literary world alongside contemporaries James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. But before the fame, there was Hadley, Ernest’s first wife, the quiet and sensible Hadley.
Compared to the social crowd they belong to, Ernest and Hadley are the stable married pair with a baby they call Bumby.
The story is told from Hadley’s 1st point of view, and it’s a tricky thing for MacLain to pull off as Hadley was real, but this book is written as fiction.
Ernest struggles with war memories, a cold and disapproving mother, and finding his literary greatness. His moodiness often tortures him and he struggles with fidelity in a crowd and time period that eschews anything that doesn’t feel good at the moment.
And when ALL of Ernest’s writings are stolen off a train while in the possession of Hadley? Oh dear.
There’s betrayal, love, ambition, and even writing advice from the greats.
Hemingway is told by Gertrude Stein to use strong declarative sentences. “The sky is the sky and that’s all…stick to that…when you begin over, leave only what’s truly needed.”
Pound tells him, “Cut everything superfluous. Go in fear of abstractions. Don’t tell readers what to think. Let the actions speak for itself.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald tells Hemingway to cut to the chase when beginning a novel. “It’s what I’ve always said about the stories, that you get by with as little explanation as possible. It’s all there already or it’s not. The exposition slows it and ruins it.”
I’m now dying to devour all things Hemingway, especially The Sun Also Rises, a book he wrote while married to Hadley.
The other night I sat on the couch, over-tired (never a good time to reflect on anything), the thought came to my head – you can’t be a good mother and a great writer.
A cold chill of fear went right through me. I often have these warning thoughts and I take them to heart, to remind myself of what’s most important, to balance myself out. I tried to kick the thought out of my head, but it swam still. I thought of Ernest and his struggle with balance. He had to write, he was compelled to do so. But he couldn’t seem to balance it allout.
His was a truly tragic end.
I don’t judge him, yet I try to see the lessons.
When my Paige leaves for school I have three hours. I leave the bathrooms, the kitchen, the messy closets and begin to type on a blank page. And then suddenly the door opens and the children are home and I must leave the world of stories and enter the world where children are real, the plot is being woven as we speak, and everything is so dependent on me.
I reject the idea that a good mother cannot be a great writer (and vice versa). There are too many examples otherwise, thank goodness! Yet I struggle with the balance of it all, afraid that if I don’t give myself to the words, it will all pass me by forever. And yet I hold back, seeing the danger in letting the elusive overtake the present. Is that, I wonder, what will hold me back? Not being able to give all of myself to the story?
The other day my dear friend, Deb, emailed me, asking me what I thought characteristics of a good mother were. I was able to list them quickly…love, patience, resolution…I also said always learning, growing. She added a word: “Flexibility.”
Perhaps this is why there is “Elastigirl.” The mom who has to stretch and save the world.
And I think of Ernest. Was this his tragic end? Not enough flexibility with his work and too much with his relationships? He had dreams, heard the warning voices too.
I am learning to hear and heed the voices in my head…remember why you are here. That one comes a lot. I’m trying to remember.
I love this: Ernest once told me that the word ‘paradise’ was a Persian word that meant “walled garden.” I knew then that he understood how necessary the promises we made to each other were to our happiness. You couldn’t have real freedom unless you knew where the walls were and tended them. We could lean on the walls because they existed; they existed because we leaned on them.
And so I build and tend my walls, and then lean on them awhile. Promises are necessary for happiness. Promises are my walls, they are my paradise. And eventually, my freedom, too.
Have to go now. Children are wild coyotes getting off the bus. I tell myself: Suit up, Elastigirl.