I recently returned from a trip to Paris with a friend. We went on a literary walking tour in which our guide showed us the pubs and bistros where some of the most famous writers of the early 20th century gathered to write, debate, drink, celebrate, and argue. Writers like Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and more, who were referred to as The Lost Generation. And at the center of their circle sat Sylvia Beach, owner of Shakespeare and Company bookstore and their staunchest supporter.
Like most people, I’ve always romanticized the image of all those geniuses gathered together, but really, these people, for all their talents, were pretty flawed individuals. I’m not even sure I would have wanted to count some of them as friends. In many ways, they were more interesting than the characters they created.
When I was young, I thought that to truly make it in the writing world, I’d need to move to New York City. And I accepted that if I wasn’t willing or able to do so (which I wasn’t) I would probably never be famous. I still fantasize about living in New York for a while. I think most artists do.
But for every writer or actor or dancer or singer or artist who has moved to New York and made it big, there are thousands who do not. And for every one hundred artists who live and work in their hometowns, there are a handful who make it big without leaving their state.
In truth, genius can thrive anywhere, and talent will attract talent. I live along the Front Range of Colorado, and we have a higher than average population of artists of all types in this area. Why? What draws us all here?
A friend of mine once hypothesized that artists are attracted to the same places once considered “holy” by the indigenous populations. Is that it? Is there an aura of something bigger that lingers in these places? Or are the rich landscapes just that inspiring?
I’m not sure how we artists find each other, but we do. And it doesn’t just happen in Paris or New York. We are surrounded by more talent than we realize, we just have to seek it out. And together, we grow stronger and better and braver. We find our Sylvia Beach’s, the people who love and support our work.
“Live the full life of the mind, exhilarated by new ideas, intoxicated by the romance of the unusual,” Hemingway once said. And here’s the beauty of that quote, we can follow his advice anywhere.