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On writing…on the beach

August 1, 2009


Sometimes, when I think of my favorite writers, I attach something akin to an atheist’s version of a god given talent to their writing. Perhaps it’s some innate skill that is like a gymnast’s balance or a movie star’s looks. I think, though, that there is a force that is stronger, if only in art, than all of the predestination in any gene pool or prayer call center. The real estate hockers have the corner on the concept but the timeless beauty of location, location, location seems to ring true when it comes to pure inspiration.

If I ever had any doubts about this theory, my trip to Key West sent them running the moment we left mainland. Sure Florida’s finest whacky and tacky artifacts are strewn along the side of the road from Miami to the southern-most point in the contiguous United States but if you can bring yourself to look past the kitsch, the ocean lies beyond. A sense of primordial romance permeates the entire area, alligators abounding, lizards sunning themselves as they have been for sixty-five million years and of course, there is the surreal existence of the Mangroves. They are less tree-like and more creature-like, hugging the emerald shore, two toes still in the crystal waters, walking around as if they own the place. It is, above all else, a place that inspires life and subsequently stories.

Of course the natural beauty of the place only serves as a spring board to the human manifestation of such beauty. While most likely a bit calmer in Hemingway’s time, I am not sure that the inspiration for debauchery was any less prevalent in town. Duval Street, today looks like Burbon Street’s little brother with its saloons and open air eateries, revelers wandering in and out, taking in the scene, taking in life. Mansions loom between artsy bungalows, each home and inn beckoning to sun weary travelers. Even those who have never creatively held a pen or, inspired, touched their fingers to a key board, must feel compelled to write home about such a place.

It is no surprise, then, given flora, fauna and the beauty of human folly that three of my favorite books were written in a tiny studio atop a house in this setting. I won’t bore you with my take on the Hemingway house, how I stood in the front of the tour, mouthing silently, the titles of books related to each story being told. I won’t add the charming tales of pennies and urinals or how those long told stories are disputed by the surviving Hemingway family. No, I suppose I will just tell you that there are writing rooms and then there are rooms. There are rooms that inspire and then there are rooms that do not. The house at Whitehead Street is not simply an inspiring place to jot down a story, but one that seems to be buzzing with ideas, ripe for the picking if you simply allow yourself to open your pad and sit down.

Now this revelation is certainly not one to discredit dear Papa, of course, only to say that he certainly knew how to pick a great spot for his craft. He undoubtedly found himself in locations similar to the Keys and situations that lent themselves to retellings like the rum running in To Have and Have Not and the epic political unrest rampant through For Whom the Bell Tolls. Although, one could argue the simple truth that Hemingway rarely traveled or imbibed by his lonesome yet he was often the lone storyteller, after the fact.

I think, then, in the spirit of the rolling tide, I won’t analyze the situation to death. I will call it a tie or at least a truce. Here, we will rename the argument nature v. nurture and call it instead, nature and nurture. The truth is that while great writers inherently capture their surroundings, great writers are also those lucky souls who are truly captured by their surroundings.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. stacybuckeye permalink
    August 1, 2009 3:33 pm

    Sounds like you had a spiritual experience 🙂

  2. August 5, 2009 11:15 am

    I’m so jealous. This is exactly what I need and can’t get right now. *sigh*

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