When the great author of The Old Man and the Sea was in Michigan, he wrote about Paris. Likewise, when he was in Paris, he wrote of Michigan. In speaking with other poets and writers, I have found there to be a common link among creative types: The farther (in every sense of that word) we are from our dearest subjects, the stronger our writing about it becomes.
For instance, when I return to my family homestead many miles south of here, I am not automatically inspired to compose lines about it. The spirit of the place is too strong, too close. Also, the peace I experience there is too great for the fevered activity of poetry composition. The old place’s effect is soporific on my muse, but once I’ve left and I’m on the road or even back at my current suburban home, then the poetic flood begins to rise. Images, sensations, memories, and the whole of the family farm experience (past or present) sets itself heavily on my writing mind.
Time also serves as a literary “distance” filter: Consider Wordsworth’s famous lines above Tintern Abbey, written five years after the visit took place. By having hindsight, the truest and most poem-worthy elements of an experience can rise like sweet cream to the surface of our consciousness. The traumas and impressions of the present are intensified by having some chronological separation. Only the strongest details remain after delay. Sometimes this separation can be mere hours, other ideas may require years for processing. It all depends upon the severity and sincerity of the inspiration in question.
I am not advocating the idea that writers shouldn’t “strike while the iron is hot,” however. If one is overcome by the NEED to write at a moment, then by all means, don’t let that desire cool in apathy. The Beats would tell us that our first thoughts are our best thoughts, but the discerning voices before and after that generation would advise us to refine those first thoughts into something far more elegant.
The big picture is just this: If you want to create truly reflective writing, then some form of distance is necessary. It doesn’t always have to be as radical as Michigan to Paris, but stepping back from the subject is advisable for any creative endeavor. If you don’t believe me, just ask “Papa.”
2 thoughts on “Hemingway’s Distance”
Great observations. I do find that some distance helps in writing. It can be a short time or a long time, but you just sort of know when it is tme to write it.