So You Think Your Life Was Wasted (31)

Re-imagining yourself

Our internal life and external life don’t always coincide. How do we dance on the borderline without compromising our integrity?

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

6:05 a.m. Mr. Hemingway, you said you couldn’t stand phonies, and clearly you couldn’t. How do you reconcile this with so much pretending and rearranging and lying and misremembering and leading people on?[This referred to his early life as described in The Young Hemingway, a book that I bought and read in England.]

That is quite an indictment, but I have to concede it. In my defense I could say this. It is one thing to pretend until you can achieve — fake it until you make it, as your business partner says — and another very different thing to pretend that you are what you are not. It is true, there isn’t much difference in a boy.

I am sorry, I can’t see much difference in a grown man protecting a territory of lies however young he was when he created them.

Perhaps you can see it this way. Lies, stories, imaginings, have consequences. Some are internal, the stories you tell yourself in order to bring a better you into existence. Others are external, and you have to live with them. If you tell someone you are 22, and you are barely 20, at some point you may have to overcome the consequences of even so small a thing. The internal consequences may be small or nonexistent — you were, after all, merely wishing yourself a little farther along the path. But the external consequences may be larger, or even maybe important, depending on what that lie or exaggeration does to the person you told it to. Will she then know to distrust your facts? Will she distrust you? But there isn’t any going back once you’ve made the wrong step.

Why isn’t there?

If I said I was in the Italian army when the truth is that I wanted to be with the Italian army, and wanted to be a soldier on the soldiers, to correct this story would be merely to adjust it to the externals rather than the internals. Why do you think I was in harm’s way in the first place? I wanted to be a soldier among soldiers, a man among men. There was no reason for a Red Cross man to be at a forward post except wanting to be among the men at the lines, and do what I could even if it was only bringing them little comforts. To correct my story would have been to dishonor that aspiration, as I saw it then.

You were improving on the truth, like van der Post.

I was reporting what I was experiencing on the  inside.

And wearing the uniform and the Cape afterwards?

You should understand clinging to what had been.

And I understand your needing to remind yourself that you were not merely what you appeared; were not fated (doomed) to return to your hometown and revert to being seen as what you didn’t want to be.

You wanted to be a war hero yourself, didn’t you? You were turned down in 1964 but could have gone when conscripted in 1968.

And maybe should have gone.

Your internal course said otherwise.

Well, I didn’t believe in the war by that time.

Your life would have been very different if you had gone.

I see that. Different but not perhaps better.

It doesn’t matter. It didn’t happen in your reality. Mine sort of did, sort of didn’t. I had an eye that would have kept me out of it entirely so life found a different path for me to get the taste I needed, then pay prolonged consequences. You don’t know how the equation would have worked out for you. The question is what the army would have done to you.

7:20 a.m. I can see — without anything external having happened — that life is a continuing struggle against external forces that would define you if you don’t resolve to define yourself. Perhaps that is what Hemingway was saying, and perhaps it explains some things.

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