Last week I spent time hanging out in the same northern Lake Michigan town that Ernest Hemingway called home from 1919 to 1920. With one of the world’s greatest writers having walked those same hallowed grounds in Petoskey, Mich., and having drank at the same bar I patronized for lunch, I thought, how could my time in this quaint setting not be inspiring?
Admittedly, I’m not especially a fan of Hemingway, but I appreciate that his work was cutting edge for its time. New, fascinating, unusual in its clarity, muscularity and journalistic style of short, snappy, impactful sentences. This man changed the literary world.
And so, in walking the old wooden porches and pine needle carpeted grounds that Hemingway walked, I found myself looking for some sort of inspiration. Some kind of magical intervention that would have my mind spinning off into numerous literary directions, where words would spew from my lips or my fingers as if they had a mind of their own.
The first day and night, nothing. I was too busy sightseeing and was predictably distracted by the tourist-y stuff. But by the second night, upon keeping the window open in the suite of my 150-year-old lakeside inn, I did feel something creative take root among the slapping waves and the relentless autumn winds that brought the lake alive.
As I lay waiting for sleep, I absorbed the sound of the wind and waves, trying to capture their rhythm in my mind. And then I began to think about my room and the inn, with its slanted old floors and high ceilings, its wooden banisters and thick trim, its porches and balconies just a stone’s throw from Little Traverse Bay.
It wasn’t long before I began to imagine someone, a woman, an older woman, sitting in that same room, listening to the lapping waves, staring longingly out the window. What would she be thinking about? Was she lonely? Was she looking back to some bittersweet memory? Was she thinking about a lost love? An unrequited love? A forbidden love? A lover she used to walk hand-in-hand along the stony beach with? Or was she grieving a love she never found?
Well, I never really came up with any answers, but the important thing was that once I began to relax into my setting, and once I began to more closely observe my surroundings – the people, the architecture, the homes and shops, the landscape – my imagination began to soar.
And so I didn’t need Hemingway’s ghost to stoke my imagination afterall. I just needed to be a sponge, and to let my surroundings be the match to ignite the flame of my creative mind.
Tracey Richardson is a two-time Lambda Literary Award finalist. Her ninth novel with Bella Books, titled “By Mutual Consent”, will be published in January, 2016. www.traceyrichardson.net; Twitter @trich7117