When I was young, I was a Hemingway enthusiast. At that time, I was unaware that, if I was going to admit to admiring the man, I would need to apologize for many aspects of the his life: his attitude to women, his hunting, fishing, running-of-the-bulls life style, his posing, his drinking, and, worst of all, the emotional havoc he wrecked on his family and others who loved him. I would learn, too, that I was expected to apologize for some of his later writings that didn't measure up to his brilliant early years. But, in those days, I was a teenager living on a farm in New England dreaming of traveling and writing and adventuring, and the author of "The Big Two-Hearted River" was my small god, larger than life and utterly infallible.
In this picture, I'm imitating one of my favorite pictures of Hemingway. In that photo, taken in Paris in the 1920's, he is standing in front of Sylvia Beach's book store, Shakespeare and Company. His head is heavily bandaged after a skylight fell on him badly lacerating his forehead. He is smirking that famous young-Hemingway smirk. It looks like a warm and fine day at a time when the city was home to the storied flowering of Lost Generation writers like Hemingway, Dos Possos, Stein, and Fitzgerald.
In the picture you see here, I'm standing in front of the new Shakespeare and Company Book Store doing my best to look like Hem (I was only half joking). The store is near the Seine and Notre Dame, a bit of a walk from the site of the original establishment. It's owned by the warmly eccentric cousin of a great poet whose name escapes me now. He sells his books, used and new, paperback and hard cover, at high prices to tourists eager to have his stamp of authenticity in the front cover. He also offers employment and funky, bookstore lodging to young, would-be expat writers who are in Paris on tragic-romantic walkabouts and like to imagine they are a bit down on their luck.
I had biked to Paris that summer from our home near Frankfurt, Germany. It was hot and dry and stifling in the city. There seemed to be no escaping the heat. I hung out in bookstores and lazed on the grass in the shade at the Luxembourg Gardens. I drank beer and ate roast chicken and french fries at sidewalk cafes like Le Select. My trip across Germany and France had taken six days and I was about to pack myself and my bicycle on a train back home. I had only a day to spend here. A shame of course, but this was just my first trip. I would be back. Like most beginning writers, I was struggling to get published. But one incredible day, ten years later, I would win an international writing competition in Paris and read my story, "The Rifle," at Brentano's Book Store. Then I would train to Paris, drink celebratory champagne, and be taken to dinner at at an upscale restaurant. I think I did pay a visit to Shakespeare and Company, bought a paperback copy of A Movable Feast, and had it stamped.
And that of course, is the real Hemingway legacy. Though he presented to the world as a deeply flawed and troubled man, he was a true artist, and as such he was brave and wise at a profoundly instinctive level. Today, eighty-some years after that famous picture was taken in front of Shakespeare and Company, he continues to inspire us to be full of ourselves and to live full of life. Rather than dismiss him outright, we can learn from his mistakes as well as his successes. As an older man, I'm still enthusiastic about Hemingway. For me, his best lesson has been this: If you want to be a writer, you must write and you must never quit. No matter what, you must never quit.
Douglas Arvidson is a past winner of the WICE/Paris Transcontinental International Short Story competition. His short fiction has been published in Paris, Prague, and in literary magazines in the United States and he was recently invited to be a staff writer for the Prague Revue, a cutting-edge, online literary journal (http://bit.ly/1mMT6ZC). The novels in his fantasy series, The Eye of the Eye of Stallion, include The Face in Amber, The Mirrors of Castaway Time, and A Drop of Wizard's Blood. His new novel, Brothers of the Fire Star, was selected as a finalist in the ForeWord Reviews 2012 Book of the Year national awards and as a finalist in three categories in the 2013 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards: Action Adventure Fiction, Historical Fiction, and Young Adult Fiction. It has become part of the pantheon of Pacific literature and is now included in school literature programs. Brothers of the Fire Star is an adventure story set in the Pacific during World War II and concerns two boys of different races and cultures who escape the island of Guam in a small sailboat when the Japanese army invades. They must then struggle to survive as they master the secrets of the ancient Pacific navigators. Appropriate for young adults as well as adult readers, Brothers of the Fire Star is available on Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com (http://amzn.to/1j3axVk) and Crossquarter.com. Visit the author's website: douglasarvidson.com