“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness, but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.” Ernest Hemingway
When I was first asked to write something for the Flagstone that honoured the contribution of local writers at the annual Denman Island Readers Writers Festival, I demurred. Honestly, I baulked and blushed…though it might have been my Monday night-like-clockwork snifter of brandy. That would account for the blushing. Ah, but the baulking. That was plain and simple modesty.
The call came just minutes after I had finished watching “Hemingway and Gellhorn,” a lush, lurid docudrama about Papa Hemingway and his second wife, the renown War Correspondent, Martha Gellhorn. I found myself caught up in the grandeur of their days and how their writing intersected their political, private and, for the times, public lives, Hemingway the powerful novelist, Gellhorn, the intrepid and durable war correspondent whose narrative carried the film.
So, there I was, wanting to be able to contribute to the Readers Writers festival in a new and upbeat way and, simultaneously, also pay tribute to two captivating world famous writers. Could I satisfy both inclinations in the same article? Given that I am a local Denman writer, it seemed to me that I could do just that.
“I didn’t write. I just wandered about.” Martha Gellhorn, War Correspondent
Whether one is a well known and published author or a local writer, possible published but just as likely not, the act of writing, as Hemingway so pithily phrased it, “is a lonely life.” I may be a bit more like Gellhorn though… I don’t necessarily write; rather, I wander about with words. Wandering too can be lonely.
One local writer from a few years back, when asked about her creative process, said “I never thought of myself as a writer…I was never consistent or serious enough.” As for the experience of being on stage as a “local writer,” she felt “marginalized…a starchy filler.” By the same token, the initial Festival, in 2002 and under slightly different organizational auspices, principally DICES and Arts Denman’s predecessor, DIACS, was called the Festival of the Arts and was a phantasmagoria of indigenous community artistry. One aspect of that simpler heyday saw the printing of five small booklets of the writings of local writers. The Dora Drinkwater still has copies of those publications.
Still, writing is a solitary and somewhat marginalizing existence much of the time. It is hard to envision another way to do the deed. One local presenter has observed that the isolation required to be a writer is a “desirable loneliness.” On the other hand, particularly within a small settlement, social pressures can sway a writer’s obligation “to grapple with staying focussed on your own work.”
“I tell you loneliness is the thing to master. Courage and fear, love, death are only parts of it and can easily be ruled afterwards. If I make myself master my own loneliness there will be peace or safety: and perhaps these are the same.” Martha Gellhorn
What is somewhat less lonely, particularly for the dozen or so various writers who annually participate in the Local Writers pageant, as well as the courageous collage of younger writers who also strut their creative stuff, well, what is less lonely is the satisfaction of gathering at the front of the cozy reading room (the Back Hall transformed into an intimate performance room until this year when the event will be shifted to what is expected to be a wonderfully transmogrified Seniors Hall) and having the opportunity to share their handiwork.
But even then, exposing your creation and your voice to friends and strangers can auger complex emotions. Another writer, somewhat reserved by nature, was “appalled to have to sit facing the audience…it got worse and worse and I had to look away.”
When I suggested that each batch of local writers show the back of their heads to the audience in the spirit of unity and calm, well, it may not have authored a viable route away from the jitters. At the same time, it did occur to me that there may be any number of other authors hidden away on Denman who are equally shy and restrained from offering their work publically.
“Having books published is very destructive to writing. It is even worse than making love too much. Because when you make love too much at least you get a damned clarte (clarity) that is like no other light. A very clear and hollow light.” Ernest Hemingway
Most writing festivals do not have a local author’s module. Denman’s wonderful festival, having evolved from a pageant devoted to featuring local writers, amongst other resident talents, remains in the forefront in providing a carbon neutral vehicle for home grown scribes. There is, invariably, a wide range of literate journeys offered by all participants at a writers festival but often, in the compressed amount of time available, local authors reading their material bring a singular clarity, “a very clear and hollow light” to appropriate Hemingway’s description about making love, to how local writers, both young and not so young, imagine and interpret the world.