Conversations July 2, 2010

Friday, July 2, 2010

5 AM, nearly. Yesterday’s session was wonderful material. Why did it knock me down so — for most of the day, in fact? Or was that unrelated?

You were particularly on the beam yesterday, and so paradoxically enough it came to look like it took more out of you in a shorter time — come to think of it, you might phrase it, “more came through you in a shorter time,” and your body paid a certain price. We’ll watch for you.

Thanks. Who’s up and where are we headed this morning? By the way, yesterday’s material was a ready-made column for The Meta-Arts [on-line magazine], thus neatly accomplishing one of the items on my to-do list, which I appreciate. But — who’s up?

Nobody? Papa, let’s go back to your life.

You’ve started making notes on what we have said. Next, you’ll want to go through the indexes you’ve made, and put it all on cards. Then you can shuffle the cards and put them into an order that suits you, and get the material corresponding to the cards, put it in a file, and start massaging it into a unit. As you do so, keep noting obvious gaps and we can fill them.

Okay. And as you are saying that I can see how to do that fairly efficiently. And I know better than to ask, “then what?” until it’s time to.

Can’t cross the river until you get to it.

I noticed that, counting from your first appearance in May 2006, I have 64 sessions in which I talked to you entirely or primarily or partly — up to the end of June. So we have something to start from.

Then when you get that done, you could — you don’t have to but you could — go back and re-read-[Carlos] Baker, making note of the questions you want to ask, as you go along, and stopping till you’ve asked that question, then going on. You can accumulate a couple of associated questions if you wish, but don’t get a whole pile of them in the name of efficiency, because by then you will have read on beyond what you’re asking about. Don’t worry that one or two questions won’t be enough to fill sessions! It isn’t like that’s been a problem so far.

No, it hasn’t. Baker I presume is smiling somewhere to hear you recommending that somebody read his book.

You know my objections to biography, and they still hold. But corrected from an inner view, they’re very valuable. And yes, I recognize that it is just as well that I didn’t try to write my own memoirs. Settling scores that way is nothing but pettiness, a talking behind somebody’s back.

Speaking of talking behind somebody’s back, let’s talk about Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald.

Having a hard time with him, are you?

Very funny. You know very well. And you know my implied question.

Well, you know, I was under a terrific obligation to Scott from the very beginning. It doesn’t matter how much you know you’re going to succeed, you need somebody who has succeeded to tell you so, or, if you don’t need it, it certainly helps. And he didn’t just tell me, he went way out of his way to help me. All of which you know. I might never have gotten to Scribner and Max if not for Scott. Plus, he was a very appealing personality until that juvenile part of him surfaced, and even that was charming for a while. It was great having him for a pal. Plus — and don’t think I don’t know that I would’ve denied all this, in life —

Sorry, lost the thread there, as part of me went off in another direction.

You have called it daydreaming, or wool-gathering, in the past, but it isn’t always that: sometimes your associative ability is triggered by something and you are lured down that path far enough to forget what you’re doing, in the same way that when you are thinking and you say a couple of words (speaking to yourself) you sometimes find the spoken words lingering in your mind, losing the rest of what you either would have said or what you would have thought.

I’ve seen that for years. Okay, you and Scott?

From the beginning, Scott was a little intimidated by me, and I worked to be sure that he was. I am being brutally honest, here. I wanted to have the edge. I hadn’t had any college, I hadn’t really been in the Army, even to the extent he was. I hadn’t yet had a success, and certainly hadn’t had the instant success he had had with his first novel. So I played the cards I had. I had been wounded in action, however much of an “industrial accident” it was; I knew boxing, I had a bunch of things I’d learned about the world; I was a competent functioning journalist. I was becoming better self-educated day by day. In short, I was more of a complete man than he was, and Scott was easily impressed by the accomplishments of others. So I used what I had. I didn’t want to be the tail on anyone’s kite.

But you didn’t mind others being the tail to your kite.

Well, that was their choice, wasn’t it?

You didn’t leave them much other choice, though. They could become a tail, or go their separate ways, like Morley Callaghan, or could contend with you in an endless war of maneuver.

Nothing particular about that. Thoreau said “no man is ever party to a secure and settled friendship.” It’s a continual war of position, he said.

You rifled that out of my own store of quotations.


Hemingway the plagiarist, imagine!

Not plagiarist, thief, in this case.

We are both smiling; I don’t know if people will realize it. So, you and Scott?

The little you have read should give you what you need. You can describe him by what you’ve intuited.

What I can’t imagine is why This Side Of Paradise was even accepted for publication, let alone became a bestseller.

That’s because you don’t realize the difference in audience between the early 1920s and your time nearly 90 years later. Even in 1960, less than 50 years after its publication, it was a period piece.

I can’t imagine it being published post-Hemingway.

Don’t you believe it. It is still read and enjoyed by people at its level, and there are plenty of them. But what has changed is — well, so many things.

Your own publishing revolutions not least among them.

Well, that’s true but not the whole story. We didn’t set you reading Fitzgerald in order to criticize him or his work or his readers, particularly, but for the light it would shed on my work, and I don’t mean merely my literary work.

Yes, I know. Let’s see if I can phrase it. Or do you want to do it?

The short of it is that I was living a more complete, rounded life, that can only be appreciated by melding the Baker approach, and my works themselves, and the foundations of the Myth, and the huge inaccessible mental world I constructed and continually modified by so much reading and thinking and reacting and conversations with people.

The stuff that was largely inaccessible to Martha Gellhorn.

Invisible in plain sight, that’s right, because she was focused only on one piece — the written result — and not on the whole. She is said to be a good reporter, but in my experience she missed most of what she saw unless it matched her categories. She never did understand that mingling with the disreputable elements of the world is the only way to understand what’s really going on.

Anyway, Scott sensed all that [Hemingway’s greater wholeness], and he was so impressionable, and his external position in the world compared to his own sense of himself left him so insecure, he sort of latched on to me in a real friendship that over the years turned sour because fundamentally we weren’t at all the same kind of people. But I owed him! And I did like him! Yet I was so impatient with him, and I got more so as time went on. I knew or thought I knew that all he had to do was choose to not be a certain way — to grow up, in short — but he never could do it.

And it didn’t help that Zelda and I got so we couldn’t stand each other.

When I was struggling through Tender Is The Night I came up short when suddenly I realized that the rock that sank him may not have been drink or the waste of all that talent but the strain of remaining loyal to that terribly mentally ill person he was married to. For just a couple of pages in the middle of the book he gave a glimpse of it — then he more or less papered it over, perhaps out of a sense of loyalty to her.

I think that’s right, although you’ll notice that Dick Diver begins with a strong sense of purpose, and Scott never had that. Writing to become a rich best-selling author is not the same thing as writing because you can’t not write, and continually trying to be better then you have been, trying to write better than you have done. So in that sense, Scott whoring for the Saturday Evening Post was not a betrayal of his talent, it was just Scott continuing to be Scott, where for me it would have been fatal. It didn’t actually involve him betraying his ideal, you see; he wanted to write because that was the only way he could think of to become rich enough to marry Zelda, and unfortunately for him, he succeeded. But if he could’ve done it by selling bonds, he would have done that.

Your parents and Fitzgerald? For that’s what I hear you prompting me to ask.

My books were all intensely moral and they portrayed my morality by depicting immoral people. They used the language such people use, and put them into the situations such people get into — and when I say “such people” you must realize (but I’ll spell it out) I mean, everybody! But my parents — my mother especially — objected because they couldn’t get past the story itself to the meaning of the story. Scott’s work, on the other hand, though not particularly moral, they found much less objectionable. Just a matter of packaging and perception.

Not confined to them, either. I think a lot of people don’t see through your stories to their intense sense of morality, of right and wrong conduct, or useful and useless people (though that isn’t quite the right way to phrase it) and purposeful or undirected behavior.

I was a Boy Scout, in short.

Well, you were! You were still the boy shaped by Theodore Roosevelt, hide it beneath cynicism though you might.

True enough.

Is there a wrap-up point here, or have we been just rambling?

I think you’ll find this has helped you get a better sense of me and my life, even if by a carom shot off of Fitzgerald.

By the way, I don’t think I’ve read about it one way or the other, but I get a sense that you didn’t care for playing cards.

Playing cards is as good a way of killing time in certain situations as any — like on the Pilar during the war. But mostly it didn’t interest me. What’s the point?

Say a little more about it?

If you’ve been fishing or hunting, if you’ve been working hard writing — the hardest work I knew — you didn’t need the combat, or the shadow of combat, that cards provided. I’d rather talk while I drink, or listen to music. I was never really motivated by money, either, not in itself, and the form of winning that cards represent was only a pale shadow of other kinds of competition. It didn’t much interest me, as I said, except as a form of killing time among men when other things weren’t available.

Okay, I think we’re through for the morning unless you have an unfinished agenda item.

No, good to go as it is.

See you next time, then.

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