Kristan Hoffman

writing dreams into reality

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As I said, there was a bit of overflow in my Reading Reflections on THE PARIS WIFE. Too many great lines, too many thoughts. I couldn’t get it all down in that first post, so here’s a bit more.

An artist given to sexual excess was almost a cliché, but no one seemed to mind. As long as you were making something good or interesting or sensational, you could have as many lovers as you wanted and ruin them all. What was really unacceptable were bourgeois values, wanting something small and staid and predictable, like one true love, or a child. (145)

Ah, the artist as bohemian. (Borderline heathen.) Sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll. That’s what we’re supposed to be, right? Wild. As if morals, or other “strappings of society,” would dampen our creativity.

I don’t think that stereotype is as strong today as it used to be, but it isn’t completely eradicated. My own mother tells me that I’m too square (lol) and worries that this limits me, that it’s hindering my path to success. I’m never sure exactly what to say to that, except that I think it’s ridiculous.

Creativity is not about being “wild.” It’s about imagination, observation, distillation. And artistry is about pushing creativity to its max. It’s dedication, discipline, mastery.

There’s no reason that I can’t forge that path in a quiet way. In fact, some might argue that the stability of my life allows me the freedom to explore my writing without fear.

(Of course, some would argue that fear is an incredibly motivating force…)

Also, I wish people would stop knocking normal. Not everyone can be “special,” not everyone can “change the world.” Maybe if more of us would teach our kids that being good and ordinary is just as worthy as any other path in life, we’d have a happier, better world.

“I’m trying to keep it alive,” he said. “To stay with the action, and not try to put in what I’m feeling about it. Not think about myself at all, but what really happened. That’s where the real emotion is.” (162)

Upon a suggestion from F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway cuts most of the opening of THE SUN ALSO RISES, which consisted largely of backstory for the main characters. Starting with backstory was apparently the common practice in novels at the time. But instead, Hemingway decides to jump right in with the action, and to strip out the narrative reflection, and to employ sparse, direct prose. All practices that are considered paramount in contemporary writing.

Throughout THE PARIS WIFE, I was fascinated by the evolution of Hemingway as a writer. This quote/anecdote gave me a glimpse into not just his evolution, but the evolution of storytelling as we know it.

I wonder what changes we are seeing — what changes we are making — right now. Young Adult literature as a genre, I think. First person present tense narration as the standard? Closer straddling of the literary-commercial line? What trends are here to stay, versus just marking a place in time? Which authors will have the impact of Hemingway, or Fitzgerald, or Salinger?

That we’ll probably never know the answers to those questions is both beauty and tragedy. It’s for the next generation of readers and writers to uncover.

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  1. Ah, yes. Sex and drugs and rock and roll. I remember those days (I mean I remember when that was the mantra — rock and roll was the only one I ever really overindulged in; my hearing is still dodgy).

    I think what you indulge in or not has nothing to do with how well you create are, either positively or negatively. William Burroughs was a great writer. So was Henry James (there’s some question whether he ever had sex or not) and George Bernard Shaw (lifelong teetotaler, vegetarian, and apparently never consummated his marriage). I’ve read that, at least as of a decade or two ago, every American writer who ever won the Nobel Prize for literature was an alcoholic (including Hemingway). Emily Dickinson led, from everything I know, a life that didn’t resemble Hunter Thompson’s in any way, but they were both great writers.

    I think trying to tie writing skill to indulgence of any kind is about as useful as trying to tie it to eye color or how you trim your fingernails.

    I’ve told the story of the editing of The Sun Also Rises many times, and the point is usually that Fitzgerald was right, Hemingway knew it, and Hemingway was pissed off about it (about Fitzgerald being right) for the rest of his life.

    It’s easy to laugh off criticism, as long as we’re pretty sure it isn’t true. :-)

  2. “art,” obviously, not “are” in the second paragraph there. :-)

  3. Hossein

    Stumbling around writers’ blogs I suddenly felt myself trapped reading these lines down to the end.

    Well, lots of truth out there but let’s have a look at the “wild”! again.
    Evolutionary animals, being wild was our “normality” until we gradually left wilderness and started to be a more processed animal called civilized creature. Cities defined new norms then made us follow.
    Going back to what we were, ie to the wild, is not abnormality, that’s the normal nature of us we forget for hundreds of centuries.

    Anyway, more than debating, the introduction is more implied by my comments. I’ll keep an eye on this lovely blog from now on.

    Good Luck,

  4. I think there is some expectation that an artist is willing to try and experience anything, the theory being that these experiences, good or bag–perhaps especially bad, will enrich their art. Is it necessary? I hope not, as I haven’t led a particularly adventuresome life. That being said, the mistakes that I’ve made–the wrong choices–have definitely broadened the scope of and added depth to my writing.

  5. Charlenevans

    Whew! This post is something! And I agree to you that being creative doesn’t mean you have to be “wild”. Being wild for me is not being creative but there’s something to do with being rebellious. And creative is far behind rebellious.
    I hope you get my point here..

  6. Anthony-
    “I think trying to tie writing skill to indulgence of any kind is about as useful as trying to tie it to eye color or how you trim your fingernails.” – Yes, well said.

    LOL about Hemingway being annoyed with Fitzgerald.

    Thanks for commenting! You know, many people make the argument that humans are animals, and to a degree it’s true. But we’ve come a long way from what nature intended, so I don’t buy “we are animals” as an argument/excuse for people’s behavior.

    I completely agree that experience enriches art. I just don’t subscribe to the idea that artists have to have certain kinds of experiences, you know?

    I think “rebellion” indicates creativity in the sense that a rebellious person doesn’t simply accept what is given to them or told to them. They want to think for themselves, outside the box. And I agree that that is different from being “wild.”

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