Sunday, July 18, 2010
2 AM. Okay. Papa, I don’t know if it is worthwhile for us to continue the discussion I thought we might have about community, but I’m available if you wish to do so.
Of course I’m available. Haven’t we been setting you up?
It certainly seems so, often enough!
The discussion about levels of mind is related to the wider topic of the true nature of human beings, and souls. That, in turn, is integrally connected to the question of what people are put on earth to do — the question of life on the other side — the question of the larger plan of life. If you think you are something other than you are, how can you come to any right conclusions about what you are to do, what your possibilities are?
I made my community as I went along. I had no choice, because I didn’t fit into the one I left when I left home in 1917 to go to Kansas City. The rest of my life was one of continually assembling and losing floating communities of people with each new change in me — for as you know I was no unchanging commodity. Some years I might not be the same person six months running.
“Hemingway was always willing to give a helping hand to someone on the next rung up,” somebody said, and what they meant was that I was always climbing and using people and forgetting the ones I had no further use for. But that is a misreading. What they didn’t understand is that I was continually redefining myself by what I did and what I read and what I wrote and what life brought me to. If you look at my life in terms of person-groups as we’ve been encouraging you to, you could see me as pretty continually altering the pattern, bringing new pieces into play and letting other pieces go dormant or lie fallow. Each changed person-group thus naturally attracts and is attracted by different other threads. Some individuals continually matched these active threads, and many couldn’t. Therefore some people like Dorman-Smith were friends for life, and others were friends only for a while, while one certain combination manifested within me, dropping away as other combinations manifested in turn.
If you will look at yourself, and at your friends and family, you will see that some traits are relatively unchanging and others are dynamic, subject to radical revision of form or function according to changes in environment. Similarly, of those you know, some change little over a lifetime and others change once or twice and others change a bewildering number of times, often as a result of no obvious cause.
If your internal community — your active person-group — changes rapidly, you will find that your effective environment changes equally rapidly regardless of appearances. That is, if the environment continues to consist of the same people, some will fade in importance to you and some will increase. Thus, the importance to you of this or that individual will change, and the internal composition of any given individual may change along with yours.
I was a magnetic fields, exerting a strong pull among my friends and acquaintances, pulling forth from within them parts of their person-groups they maybe never saw otherwise. Naturally this sometimes made them feel like or look like hangers-on, and naturally they would often resent it even as they continued to be fascinated.
Callaghan said I sucked the air out of any room I entered — but he didn’t say it at the time, and he didn’t experience it that way at the time.
You’re describing a cause of charisma, it sounds like.
Charisma follows wholeness — and wholeness can never be merely Downstairs connections. It always involves one’s Upstairs connections, shining through.
And when one loses that connection, for whatever reason —
Then the charisma goes out the window, and you’re living on your reputation, as long as it lasts you.
Thus, Hemingway in the 1950s.
Thus, Hemingway after the plane crashes in Africa. Thus Hemingway with his access dimmed, his enthusiasm waned, with his friends mostly gone, with his body failing and his confidence: and he with five more bulls to kill.
A portrait of desperation. If the planes hadn’t crashed?
No plane crashes meant fewer injuries, but they couldn’t bring back Charlie Scribner and Maxwell Perkins, and they couldn’t bring back the ten years I lost to politics and warfare, and they couldn’t bring back the worlds I had lost (as had everybody else, of course) as the pre-World War I world had been lost to the 20s, and that to the Depression era, and that to the second world war and that to an increasingly alien post-war world that was increasingly insane, with nothing to hope for except not to outlive the world that was being destroyed around us. No plane crashes couldn’t reshape dozens of bad decisions and all the losses that come from time and temper and the results of insecurity.
Have we gotten off the topic of community?
No. But you are coming close to seeing why you were given a title for the study of me as “Hemingway: A Man Alone.” I was alone as I made my way, I was alone even as I was surrounded by friends, I was alone in any environment I successively created, I was alone in my work, in my thought, in my reading — in everything but my play, which ought to shed some light on my play, and even there, as I found out, in the end you are alone. But as Harry Morgan found out, “a man alone doesn’t have any fucking chance.”
So the alternative was –?
Not every situation has an alternative, at least not necessarily a good one. What was I to do? Being what I was, I had no community I fitted into. When I hit my stride in the 20s in Paris I had one, for a short while, but it was destroyed around me by an influx of tourists and by the natural attrition of the working life of artists. In Key West I found a different sort of community that I enjoyed until The Hemingway Myth interfered too much and then divorce with Pauline made staying there impossible. And after that I had querencia in Cuba, and I couldn’t even play that one out because politics made it impossible.
[In bullfighting, the term querencia referrers to the bull choosing a place where he will fight to the last.]
So your community was a long-distance community stitched together by letters.
As yours is stitched by phone calls and Internet. But this is a very different thing from what your grandmother experienced.
Yes it is. My father’s mother lived from 1889 to 1974, almost entirely in the same town, in the same house, surrounded by the same neighboring families, part of a real, physical community that held the same values and more or less saw things the same way. She was a farmer’s wife among a farming community, and she didn’t have any wish to be anything different. She died before her society moved irretrievably away. Or maybe she would have been able to adjust, I don’t know.
The contrast between her life and yours should tell you something about the contrast between the human community as it was and as it is, and as it is becoming. The comparison isn’t as simple as any passing mood might make it seem. It isn’t a straight downhill or uphill progression, and of course some societies are moving in one direction while others are moving in the other. But what you can say is that we are breaking into new ground. This particular movement is being driven by machinery — at least that’s the “how” of it, as you would say. The “why” of it is that it is time, and if it weren’t driven one way it would be driven another way, but in the same direction. [That is, if it weren’t driven by one thing, it would be driven in the same direction by another thing.]
I imagine that this is clearer to me than it would be to our readers. So I’ll throw in a word, here. I have had the sense that humans are becoming something more complicated, more connected Upstairs while still walking around living our lives Downstairs. This is a big change, if true, a historic change that dwarfs politics or environmental crises or nearly anything people are putting their attention to. It isn’t that simple, probably — few things are — but the outline is probably true enough. Hence these conversations, perhaps.
Hence these conversations, and that’s why you were fashioned, or fashioned yourself, or helped fashion yourself with input; we don’t care how you think of it. You were equally drawn to history and to psychic potential. This enabled you to see the perspective of the change and see the potential of the change. You know what it means and what it promises. Hence, you become the translator.
Not the translator, I trust.
No, hardly the, but a.
And so –?
And so the question of what you call virtual community in your lives; the impermanence taken for granted; the clearer and clearer sense of lives being pushed, being directed; the urge toward realization now of the potential that otherwise might be considered a potential for Someday.
And so one use of my life’s story, for I as a man alone did show some aspects of things that will be clearer all these decades later, and in a context that centers not on my writing but on what my writing reflected. Think of it as a recycling project. Turning Papa back into a man; turning the success-machine back into meaning. Turning one life into an example that may help reorient many lives.
And this is as good a time to end this as any. On to another topic next time, as may suggest itself.
All right. Be well.