“Chelsea, would you like to live in Paris for a short period of time?”
My spirit groaned as I read this text message, which my fiancé sent me a few weeks ago. “How long is short?” I replied.
At that moment, any stretch of life in Paris sounded long to me. I sometimes feel traumatized after driving an hour to the Elmira mall, to say nothing of flying over the Atlantic and landing in the City of Love.
He said, “A couple months. Maybe a summer.”
At the time I did not understand why Jonathan should find the possibility of Paris so enticing. To me, moving to Paris sounded like something a good writer should do. Something a good writer would not regret. I put it on my mental list of expansive experiences I may have to undergo despite myself. It belongs with similar life events that I dragged my heels toward: going to college, learning to drive, getting my first job during high school.
Over Easter I discovered why Jonathan wanted to move to Paris. He has been reading Hemingway. And Hemingway could do that to anybody.
I traveled down to see Jonathan over Easter break. I was nervous and sick to my stomach as I thought about the two-and-a-half hour drive. I took some Pepto-Bismol and hopped into my yellow car. When it came time for me to return home and I was nervous all over again, Jonathan loaned me an audiobook for the drive: Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast.
My nervousness evaporated as the miles flashed past and Hemingway talked to me about writing in Paris. I was awed by the way he could “say one true thing” and move on from there. He persuaded me in a Parisian café over dry white wine that the only way to write well is to work. And work. And work.
When I got home, I kept thinking about Hemingway. I sat down at my keyboard and tried to write one true thing. First, I wrote, “I am not Hemingway.”
And that was very true.
Next I wrote, “But he teaches me something.”
Hemingway teaches me to ply at life with bullheaded rigor. He teaches me to write with desperation, certainty, and total devotion. We are not all so spare as Hemingway was, nor so strong in the chest, nor so able to summon our own gravity. But he teaches us that to write you cannot be lazy, or fearful, or hesitant at all.
Jonathan and I are learning how to be writers together. For years, we have been writers by ourselves. We have sat in our respective bedrooms, living rooms, and kitchens, pounding away at our keyboards in blissful solitude, content to keep our own rhythms, to marinate in our own notions, and to chase our own metaphors to the end of the world. But soon we will live in half the space with double the ideas.
Maybe we will learn to help each other write. Maybe, someday, we will do it in Paris.