A Truly Moveable Feast: A Breath of French Air for a Small Business Owner

Derek Britt | December 9 | Success, Growth
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A Moveable Feast was written by Earnest Hemmingway and published after his death. It’s a journal into Hemmingway’s life in the 1920’s in Paris as a young writer working to become a great writer. It's as much a story of a luminous Paris as it is a look at the young creator building his career. And this matters why? A Moveable Feast has renewed my business outlook. Here's how this came to be.

 

A Truly Moveable Feast

My production company in New York is to me, like most companies are to their owners, a love affair. A love affair that takes me from infatuation to ecstasy to exhaustion. In April of this year my company started a grueling three month network TV series production. I proclaimed to myself, my wife of one year and my business partner that I was going to do what corporate professionals do – finish the job and take two weeks of vacation. No phone, no computer; a complete disconnect. I would let it be known to all that I would be on vacation in mid July. You need me? Speak up now or tell it to my partner. A bold move for an entrepreneur. I should mention I was in the “exhaustion phase”.

My production company in New York is to me, like most companies are to their owners, a love affair. A love affair that takes me from infatuation to ecstasy to exhaustion. In April of this year my company started a grueling three month network TV series production.

I proclaimed to myself, my wife of one year and my business partner that I was going to do what corporate professionals do – finish the job and take two weeks of vacation. No phone, no computer; a complete disconnect. I would let it be known to all that I would be on vacation in mid July. You need me? Speak up now or tell it to my partner. A bold move for an entrepreneur. I should mention I was in the “exhaustion phase”.

Against my gut instincts I left. I took the wife and scat. This trip there would be no work, no intra­European travels, no sneaked­in meetings. We'd book an apartment. I'd go native. An expat in theory. I would be a man who rewarded himself for his hard work by living in Paris while my business ran itself back home. In theory.


"Shutting it down mentally is nearly impossible"

Like clockwork, business was relentless. The production went long. July turned to August before we were wheels­up and the redeye was underway. Anyone with a full plate who's taken time off knows shutting it down mentally is nearly impossible. But it is doable. It is a necessity. It became a savior. In the apartment we rented, we had a wall­wide waste­high bookshelf. An old phonograph sat on top with original records from early French and US jazz. An Aperol bottle parched next to it, asking to be mixed with champagne "the Aperol Spritz." Above it were windows. Traditional inward swinging French windows, that when opened, would let in a crisp air my Manhattan lungs had forgotten ever existed.


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Among the rows of French language books, was Hemingway. Most of his books I've read, skipped or skimmed. A Moveable Feast was one I skimmed. At this point I should remind, this is August in Paris. The Parisians are gone in August; to the beach, to the vineyards, anywhere but in the city. Streets were empty, stores were closed, restaurants were hit or miss. This too has purpose in this story.

Here we were in Paris with nothing open, no one on the streets, nowhere to go. Potentially a disastrous time to leave work. So we found a boulangerie (bakery), opened the home windows, and read. I read with the reckless abandonment of someone who owns no company.

 

A breath of French Air

I re­read A Moveable Feast, a story of Hemingway living the a city I was pretending was my new home. Ideas would come to mind “what if I cashed it all in and we just lived a simpler life in Paris” much like Hemm. All we'd need was a paycheck here and there, good wine, fresh food and books. We’d be happy. It would be "true," as Hemmingway would say.

There wouldn’t be infinite emails, impetuous clients, roller coaster payroll deadlines. Maybe this was a signal to deviate from building an empire – of sorts.

To read A Moveable Feast is to walk in Hemingway’s shoes as he and his young wife live a modest life honing his writing business, reading, meandering and experiencing a stimulating new world.

Mentors like Gertrude Stein insisted he simplify his writing style. There was a line about adjectives and the taboo overuse of them. She told him to keep it simple. You can't write any better, so why try. She used the word inaccrouchable. Telling him “you mustn’t write anything that is inaccrouchable. There is no point in it. It’s wrong and it’s silly." The meaning was simple: don't make art that can't be hung; writings that can't be published.

I read this book throughout Paris, at home, at the Palais Royale, at cafes and in the Jardin du Luxemburg, not only because it was where he wrote, but this was all that was open in August. The simplicity in his writing was infectious. I began to think in short clips about life, about my workload about the way I'm inspired to work.

The book ended quickly and the day arrived to leave Paris and return to work. Bon voyage escapism ­ hello realism. Back to my work. My own business. Would my partner be exhausted, frustrated with me for carrying the weight of two? Would my clients have grown tired of waiting? Would my deals have cratered? Of course the answer was no. I left responsibly. I was, by many, envied for it. And what I gained most was actually learned accidentally: to see my business the way Hemingway wrote: leaner, straighter to the point.

I learned not to be "inaccrouchable." I learned that Paris was an unexpected silent city at a time when silence was what I needed most. Without the silence I wouldn’t have found, nor had time for, A Moveable Feast. There was no skimming this August.

My entire soul was again craving to work. My work. My love affair for my business was rekindled. It was inspiring and it was true.

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