Tuesday, July 6, 2010
4 AM. So, Papa, I started looking into [biographer Carlos] Baker last night, reading a little of your entry to World War I. Should I do it more systematically, or can I just re-read what I want to? Will the job get done either way?
Don’t let this little project get out of proportion. I like your title, but maybe another book about Hemingway is not what the world needs most urgently.
I don’t know what it needs most urgently. But it wasn’t going to be front and center in my life, in any case.
Well, you never know. These things take on a life of their own. I’d start writing a short story and before I knew it I’d have something that wouldn’t quit, that couldn’t be cut short and couldn’t be properly told without also saying this and that, and there I’d be, working on a novel, not even knowing where it was going to end or what territory it was going to traverse on its way.
Yeah, like life.
Like life if you don’t try to direct it.
I see I haven’t yet gone through and listed topics that were started and deferred, and it would help. I have to become more systematic about this.
You’ll notice that anything you approach systematically organizes itself. That’s something young men often don’t appreciate — they see the restriction of freedom but they don’t necessarily see the channeling of effort that is the result. With pretty nearly everything, it goes easier when you get your habits working with it instead of tugging against it.
I can certainly see it here. Getting up at 4 AM lest I miss my opportunity to talk by oversleeping! Like I couldn’t talk any time.
Theoretically, you could. Practically, you didn’t. But when you had to go to work every day, you did. You just didn’t have the habits at work that you needed. And in this as in everything else you’re getting, we mean it to apply to anyone who, reading it, feels the vague or pointed sense of recognition.
Now, when I was working, I worked to a schedule — but part of the schedule is an interruption to the schedule, as you have been inserting, Wednesday mornings. There are also suspensions of the schedule, non-work days. If you have a visitor, and he’s only going to be there a couple of days, and getting up early to work would prevent your staying up late — there isn’t any reason you couldn’t declare those days non-work days. And so declaring removes the interruption from the category of falling off the wagon; it doesn’t make it harder to get back to working to schedule, but easier. Now this is enough about scheduling and intentions and system unless you have a reason to pursue it further at this time.
I don’t, and I imagine that you more or less know when I do or don’t. (And now I am beginning to be suspicious of whether “my” impulses are mine.)
It never does harm to keep your eyes open, and maybe a little paranoia is good for you. Just try not to let it get out of hand.
All right, that brings up something. Yesterday I re-read Adios Hemingway, a novel by Leonardo Padura Fuentes, a Cuban writer. Just a detective novel, but by an aficionado of Hemingway, but one who, reading about the life that you lived, has serious reservations. In fact, he is repelled by The Hemingway Myth, the pointless killing of animals, the meannesses, the out-of-control behavior, even while he recognizes the generosity, the warm-heartedness, the serious craftsman.
You would find it a sobering thing, to see the opinions others hold of you. Even the exaggerated good would be a reproach; the bad opinions would sting as much because they were out of true proportion as because they were true.
You say “the exaggerated good.”
Well, if people see only the good sides of you, isn’t that a reproach, showing you what you might have been, if you’d had a better handle on your other selves? And if they see only the bad sides — or let’s say the unpleasant sides, put it that way, it is still a reproach, showing you how often you fell down, how many things you did that you wish you hadn’t. And if they had a truly balanced view of you, do you suppose you’d agree with the balance?
I’ve always known you were a highly moral man.
I was a perfectionist man. Like Jake [Barnes, in The Sun Also Rises], I wished I was a better Catholic. But, remember, we’ve been trying to get you into the habit of seeing yourselves and each other as the communities you are rather than the units you think you are. So if you look at my life you might profitably look at it again as an example of seeing from this new point of view. That is the point of your extensive reading of and now about Hemingway, remember — a public life that can be re-examined with insight gleaned from the inside.
So think of “me” — the essence of the person — as the ringleader of so many individuals, or individual elements, you might say. Think of “me” as the guy who got stuck paying the bill for whatever the guys inside broke. Of course, I also got the credit for what they accomplished.
I feel where you’re going, but let’s spell out some what and why.
Hemingway the borracho, for instance. Do you know — can you imagine — the trouble that brooding drunk cost the rest of me? Even the happy drinker brought problems as well as relaxation and exaltation. And what about the ones who married women, seeking something that others didn’t want and couldn’t stand? How about the violent clashes within me of so many elements that sometimes couldn’t stand one another? And above all, what of the resulting fly-off-the-handle temper, and worse the mean pursuit and getting-even and the right-at-any-cost element? I ask you, imagine yourself as ringmaster of so many strong contending elements — and the nervous strain that holding them altogether took, and produced. If you can see me as holding together what our mutual friends TGU are calling a person-group, a lot of complexities and perplexities in my life and in your lives will be cleared up for you.
I’ve said it before, but once again, you can’t really say this in life and be heard; it sounds like special pleading, asking for mercy, or even for what people call “understanding” which often amounts to forgiveness without repentance.
Nevertheless even if it can’t be easily said, it remains true: I — you — we — everyone — we are not individuals in the way your society assumes that we are, and therefore we don’t function in the way we are assumed to function, and therefore most of our lives go unexplained and, as Thoreau said, they have to go unexplained, because even the explanations would have to be explained.
Can I help it if you leave stuff around to be stolen?
Smiles on both sides. Okay, and so –?
Well, if you look at my life and you try to see it as reasonably consistent, you get these puzzling anomalies, don’t you? How can one person be so controlled and so uncontrolled? So generous and so suspicious and even grasping, so great a friend and so treacherous a friend, so gracious and so snarlingly offensive, so this and so that endlessly? And you say he has “moods” or “streaks” or sides to him that this or that brings out. But these explanations don’t explain! They sort of explain away.
Think of yourself. Who — trying to see you from outside and having a pretty good experience of you — could do more to understand you than to construct a more or less fictional individual who could have done and said what you have done and said, more or less consistently, more or less staying in character? And even that construction is going to show puzzling sides to it. The reason why isn’t far to seek. It’s because such a construction is a cover story, a papering-over of reality with an image that looks like what could be expected — at the price of not resembling what it really is!
Yes. This is ground we’ve covered before.
I think you’ll find that it isn’t enough to say a thing once. You repeat it, and the person hearing it is in “a different space” as you say; in actuality a somewhat different group of themselves is reading it than read it previously. You may have to say it ten times before enough of the person-self’s constituent parts have heard the message.
That’s an interesting concept.
Just consult your own experience. You read something, it makes an impact. You read it again and it makes a different impact, as if the words were different. It isn’t the words, it’s the “you” that’s different! And if it’s a different enough mixture, the words may seem almost brand-new, and you’re thunderstruck that you never thought to understand them that way when you read them before. Well, you, in that sense, didn’t read them before. Other parts of you did.
Yes. And what’s the specific practical application you’re putting this to? For I can feel there is something.
To transform your lives, it is necessary for certain new ways of seeing (hence, of being) to percolate all the way down. They don’t do this right off, it takes repetition in different contexts. So when, a while ago, we spelled out the way of seeing yourselves as a person-groups functioning within social-groups, we were loosening the hold on you that the socially accepted — assumed — fiction of the individual has on you. Once see yourself differently, and everything can change. But to see yourself differently is not usually the work of one flash of insight, but of the slow working of that insight into this and that corner of your existence.
Your joke is, “self-transformation is serious business,” and that’s just what it is.
All right. Twenty past five, time to wrap up for now, I think. See you Thursday or later.
Just don’t let yourself become pressed by various obligations or complications or even pleasures. A nice easy flow is what you want.
Life will permit, no matter how hectic the externals. Will you permit? Till next time.