Why I like Hemingway

22 Jan

Living at the high school often feels like living in a goldfish bowl.  I love it because it’s cheap; I hate it because I don’t like living where I work.   It is a recurring pattern with the jobs I decide to take —Yellowstone, the farm in California— the requisite of living at or not far from the workplace.  What does this say about my priorities in life?  More importantly, about my apparent willingness to sacrifice my priorities for a little bit of moolah?

There are over 1000 students at this school, and about ten percent of them live on campus during the week.  It isn’t a lot, but I can definitely tell the difference when they’re gone.  Some students are pleasant to me, a few are obnoxious (“La biciCLETTE!” is often howled when I am spotted on my powder blue Motobecane that I picked up for a whopping eight euro).  Most are mercifully indifferent.

When it comes to my writing of late, I have been ramming my head into a brick wall.  Not that that’s anything new, but here in France, where day-to-day communication remains enough to drain me of energy sometimes, it feels even more difficult than usual.  I have never believed a person when they claim that writing just “flows” for them.  A beautiful, natural, liberating flow.  Like Hemingway said, you have to develop your own built-in bullshit detector.  But amidst all the days when you are stuck, surely there must one or two when things finally loosen up a bit, when your horrible story idea turns out to have a saving grace, when finding the right word takes a mere ten tries instead of twenty.  Thinking about writing, reading about other people writing, do not help.  The only thing that helps is to do it.

When I need tough love, I go to Hemingway.  His reassurance is not a soft and beguiling kind; it is honest, direct, searing.  Sometimes egotistical, but hey, all artists have inflated egos when it comes down to it.  Even the insecure ones.  Especially the insecure ones. I wonder if Hemingway would have blogged, or if he would have dismissed it as a navel-gazing distraction.

A Moveable Feast is, not surprisingly, one of my Papa Hem favorites.  It’s actually a collection of short stories, portraits of his life in Paris after the First World War.  I love that the stories are in nothing resembling any chronological order, though an innate kind of order they certainly have.  That it was never finished is part of its appeal. This summer before leaving Bozeman, I had the luck to be in town for a reading of the newly revised edition at a local bookstore by Patrick and Sean Hemingway, the writer’s son and grandson respectively.  It was a truly laid-back and entertaining couple of hours, though I can’t say that it really cleared up any of the much-disputed myth surrounding the man.  If anything the myth was simply perpetuated—as all good myths should be.

That A Moveable Feast was written in retrospect, years after Hemingway’s years in Paris, is a memorial to the power of memory.  Especially  when traveling, I sometimes suffer the pressure to be a sponge —“must be a sponge, must be a sponge”—filing away every experience and person as if everything is of equal importance and merit.  Time has a way of filtering our memories, sifting through the drab and the menial to leave what we have actually deemed important for whatever personal reasons.  It’s not always the big things that I remember; in fact, most of my memories are of unexpectedly small things.  I do take notes when I travel, not to record my every waking hour, but to place markers on memories that I feel will be important later on, either for writing or just for my own pleasure.  Sometimes the two go hand in hand.  This is rare, though, as I feel I’ve yet to reach a level of writing where I can seamlessly integrate my own experiences into a story that ostensibly has nothing to do with me.  I don’t want to completely conceal my presence in my writing, I want to express it in a way that is consistent with the story I want to tell.

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3 Responses to “Why I like Hemingway”

  1. Kelley Smith January 23, 2010 at 9:49 pm #

    What does “La biciCLETTE!” mean?

  2. lindsayjae January 24, 2010 at 8:22 pm #

    Biciclette = bicycle.

  3. Leo January 29, 2010 at 12:17 am #

    I enjoy perusing your postings and can’t wait for the unabridged version.
    On a unrelated topic, Helen is coming to Europe in July.

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