Hemingway and Me

A story about a man I never knew. As a writer or a person.

I didn’t know the man. I didn’t know the legend and yet something inspired me to pick up this book. This path winds, and along it I’ve now become interested in learning about hallowed writers who have made their mark on generations. A University history class brought me close, reading For Whom The Bell Tolls, but those memories have since faded. A.E. Hotchner’s Hemingway in Love: His Own Story tells the deeply personal love story of Hemingway and his lifelong struggle with relationships and his untimely end. As big of a man in life as he was, he struggled with the women he encountered. Having no history of the man as a writer say for the one book read, it was an impulse purchase.

There is a movie out called Midnight in Paris with Owen Wilson. A Woody Allen love story that for some reason I have this strange obsession too. Perhaps it’s the notion of being able to travel to a faraway city and visit times when creativity was bursting at the seems. When we can look back on periods of time and see these collections of great thinkers inspiring each other. Hemingway is featured in the movie along with his rich circle of friends who are now etched in history (Fitzgerald, Picasso, Josephine Baker, and Gertrude Stein to name a few). I saw this book and immediately thought of this movie; sold.

The book struck me as both inspiring and sad. Hemingway lived. His life was chalk full of adventure across the globe; no place unworthy of a visit and no adventure missed. His relationships however cracked and broke, and he spent the end of his life in a mental institution with a mind filled with paranoia that later on would prove to be true. If nothing else my curiosity about the writers who are now so well known to us has grown. This book specifically took time to evolve for me and it wasn’t until the end of his relationship with Hadley did it start to connect.

Hemingway’s relationship with Hadley (his wife), the slow deterioration of it, and subsequent longing for return struck me in the letter he received from Hadley proclaiming the end:

“It began ‘Dear Ernest.’ … It said although thirty days short of the time she had set, she had decided to grant me the divorce I obviously wanted … I reread the letter several times, letting it soak in. All those frantic lovesick letters I wrote to Pauline – why wasn’t I feeling some kind of joy now, instead of a kind of numbness? …”

He goes on to write about the realizations all brought to the surface by the letter:

“This brief letter, not in actual words, but nevertheless exuding pain, surrender, loss, all my doing”

It was a strange connection that Hemingway and I share. I’ve had that letter. I know the soul crushing feeling it delivers and the remorse and regret that spark to the surface. He finishes his thoughts:

“But Hadley’s terse, stark letter, giving up on me, made me feel her pain, her exclusion, the loss I had inflicted on her, and my thoughts became very concerned about my soul. … 

What I felt was the sorrow of loss. I had contrived this moment, but I felt like the victim.”

It’s only in Hemingway’s pain that my connection to him was inexorably linked. The letter, the pain, being the internal victim, and the realization that it was by my own hand. It’s a sad story and often our lives are filed with these moments of sadness. We reflect back on them and set forth with a new mindset. Taking with us what we choose, not baggage, but lessons. My lessons are etched. I’m a better person because of them and wouldn’t be here writing this without them.

My interest in Hemingway is now, even more so, piqued. His books are now in the queue at some point as I weave through my large pile looking for connections and interesting learnings. I’m inspired by his ability to share life wide open. The screen door we often put in front of our lives to keep out, but mostly in, the things we are afraid of. Hemingway didn’t have a screen door and to me that is one reason why he was such an incredible writer. Paying an enormous amount of attention to his own life and then a willingness to write about every detail.

“The events on our lives happen in a sequences in time, but in their significance to ourselves, they find their own order … the continuous thread of revelation.” – Eudora Welty

I came out of this book with the hopes of paying more attention. Being present helps, but the next stage of that for me is being present in focusing on details that are important. Not glossing over the surface but describing those innermost thoughts and being able to recall a story without generalities. My hope is that that evolution will transcend into the pages here. As mentioned before, I’ve stumbled across the amazing work of Maria Popova at Brain Pickings (better late than never) and am inspired by the connections she can make. The Lego blocks representing various streams of thought connecting together to form something new and creative. Paying attention feels like an important step in this process.

Finishing this book I looked around for other interesting things that Hemingway had spoken too about being a writer and this one quote struck me:

“The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.” – Ernest Hemingway

 

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