These are my words. Do not be mistaken. I own them. You do not.
I’m up at five in the morning again in Rome waiting for the Italian sun to come up and light my way through the city to Villa Borghese, which from the top of Janiculum Hill will take about one hour or more by foot, down one hill and up another.
Even so as I walk the old streets and pass the monuments, I keep thinking of how Hemingway had walked these same streets and seen these same places and how Rome will continue long after I’m gone from this world. A bit morbid, I know, but one must weigh and consider one’s mortality when faced with immortal Rome. It’s impossible to do otherwise.
As a novelist, I’m afforded the luxury of being able to walk among the crowds and imagine how Hemingway must’ve felt as he did the same all those many years ago as a young man during and after the Wars, and how the city changed since then.
What hits me deep down is how I’ll never create something so lasting and how I can’t seem to ever find the right words in the right order for the right story. Hemingway said the words would come. Start with a true sentence and then go on to another, and all the rest will come. For me, though, the words don’t come, haven’t come, and that’s partly why I’m churning these Roman streets at half-past six in the morning.
From where I’m at I can see the Pantheon to my right and the Vatican to my left, and I’m bound by the senses of how the words I seek don’t come and how there’s a novel deep inside me hidden and waiting for me to find it from within, a true novel that means something to someone, meaning something more than I could ever wish it to mean, but the words don’t, or can’t or won’t, come.
Since I’ve been at the American Academy in Rome, I’ve met about a dozen or so painters, seven or eight art historians, three or four curators, and only one other novelist. Photographers I’ve met as well, and when I look out at the low buildings or the intimate streets or the villas, I keep wishing I could’ve spent my twenties not alone in a room at my roll-top desk scratching words onto a piece of paper, chasing words that have now long ago left me behind, but spent that decade of youth pursuing a career in acting or as a visual artist.
I guess it doesn’t matter anyway. When you’ve travelled so far along a road made of dreams and ambitions, the road is all you have and will ever have, and you keep walking ahead because you’ve come so far for so very long you can’t imagine turning back and away from the thing that has meant so much to you for as long as you have dared to attach a feeling of love to a thing which scorns you and runs ever faster away.
At seven the bells toll and I think of Robert Jordan and how Hemingway found the right words in the right order for the right story, even if he was denied a Pulitzer for that book—come to think of it: no one claimed the Pulitzer in Fiction that year. Still, Hemingway had found the words.
With these thoughts, the bells sound across the city and stir the Romans to begin a new day as I continue to make my way down one hill and up another.
CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy), and a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU. He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father’s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), and forthcoming: Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being; Little Hometown, America: A Look Back; A Time to Forget in East Berlin; and, The Endless Endeavor of Excellence.