Conversations July 29, 2010

Thursday, July 29, 2010

3:20 AM. Good morning, Ernest. On page 81, Baker quotes one of your Nick Adams stories, in which Nick is getting married. “He wondered if it would be this way if he were going to be hanged. Probably. He never could realize anything until it happened.” That last sentence captured me, for some reason, and I couldn’t help wondering what it meant. He could never realize anything until it happened. What did you mean?

Nothing particularly important. I could imagine things in lots of ways, but I couldn’t really make them real to myself, couldn’t grasp a new fact ahead of time. Sort of how you felt as the year 1999 turned into 2000 and you found yourself in a new century forever and couldn’t quite grasp it. You felt like you should feel differently, somehow, and instead you were just you, where you were, and although the century had changed there was nothing to tell it to you but an abstract idea.

So why does this seem an important thing to grasp, I wonder. I’m having to wonder aloud, as it were — because the fact that it seems so does not explain itself.

Tease out the implications and perhaps it will come clear. That’s usually how you make sense of a thing that isn’t clear. It has to do with me, you know that. And there is something implicit in it, something hidden, but not so much deliberately concealed as hidden as much from me as from you — for although I was a careful workman, I didn’t always know why a given sentence fit, or was important, or why it had to be there to deliver the effect I wanted to convey. My job was to recognize, quite as much as to fashion.

I would have thought you would know this one.

And maybe it will mean more to you if you work it out than if you are given it.

Well, I can see that. The only thing I know, starting in, is that this line told me something about you, I just didn’t and don’t know what it is.

You couldn’t realize a thing until it happened. Yet — I keep counter-pointing — you invented stories out of who you were and what you had seen and what had happened to you. So it isn’t like you didn’t have any imagination!

Well, I’m groping, here. Realize a thing. Make it real to yourself? Adjust (something) to new circumstances?

It’s a weird feeling, because I know that in a sense there is nothing special here; the sentence means what it obviously means, and that’s the end of it. And yet —

Well, ever since I connected that picture of the open, eager, learning young boy, continually in motion, constantly wanting more, continuously reinventing himself and his possibilities, with my cousin Charlie, I’ve had you. Having seen Bub, I’ve seen you at the same age, even though you were half a generation older than my father. And I know that if I don’t fix this image before I read again into your later years when you were a different person, or when different members of your person-group had come into play, I will lose maybe forever a chance at a special insight. And this “never realized before it happened” has a clue for me. What is it?

Maybe just note it and go on, for you have gotten it front and center now, and perhaps that’s all you needed to do in order to provide the conditions for an insight to emerge.

Well, I hope so. So let me go to the next question. On page 97, Baker says “Hadley was determined that Ernest should not go. [The Star had ordered him to go to Constantinople to cover the war between Greece and Turkey.] They quarreled `dreadfully’ and she refused to speak to him for three days before he left.” It was September 25, 1922, when he left. They had been married only a little more than a year.

What was going on, Ernest? Hadley is usually portrayed as very submissive, very willing to do as you wished. A quarrel and a three-day cold spell doesn’t sound like submission. I already got that you entered the marriage determined not to be dominated, but what was the inner story here?

You see here just another example of how compression works against real understanding when it comes to biography. Biographers come up with a certain understanding of your life as if what’s true sometimes is true all the time.

Yes but —

Keeping me to the point, I know. She was afraid.

Afraid you’d get killed, or hurt?

Look what happened to me last time I’d gone sticking my nose in somebody else’s quarrels. Of course there is no comparison between driving ambulances or visiting trenches, and reporting on the war from a safe distance. But who knew but that I’d used up my luck three years before? And if I got incapacitated, or killed, or permanently maimed, where would she be? It didn’t sound to her like the cruise she’d signed up for. I was going to be a writer, a serious writer, not an ambulance-chaser, heading out to any war I could find. It was irresponsible! I was leaving her alone. There were any number of daily news reporters — not feature writers — who could do the job, so it isn’t like I was really needed. And suppose I got hurt? Or suppose I didn’t get hurt, was I going to develop a taste for running off to see the wars? Is this what she had to look forward to? That was the general idea.

It still amazes me, to send out a question, having no idea of the answer, and then receive something that seems so obvious that it is hard to believe I didn’t know it ahead of time. Of course that’s what the quarrel would be about.

It wasn’t only that, either. This was the first time she tried to put her foot down, and if she hadn’t, maybe I wouldn’t have gone — though I probably would have anyway. But that made it certain.

You couldn’t afford to have her be older and providing money and then determining what you would do.

Exactly. It was life and death, in a way. I wasn’t going to be one of these guys who wound up like pet poodles. And anyway, I was still only 23. I had life flowing through me. I was always raring to go. I knew I wasn’t going to get hurt, and I knew that Hadley couldn’t judge the situation. I mean, I knew that her fears were just fears, they weren’t any more rational than if she’d been afraid that I’d get run over in the streets of Paris. I mean, it does happen, but you can’t let yourself be afraid of going down the street just to be safe. And you can’t let your wife decide which fears you’re going to listen to and which ones not, or what’s too dangerous and what isn’t. Women want security and men want danger, and they have to find a way to live with the difference, and the way isn’t surrender.

But you got malaria on the trip, and in fact had a pretty miserable time of it, it sounds like. Punishing yourself regardless?

I wouldn’t have seen it that way.

No, you wouldn’t have, then. But now?

Just as you can’t use tact when you’re talking mind to mind, so you can’t avoid inconvenient realizations when the other person shows you connections you’ve never made. Yes, I guess so. I got my way but I saw her point more than I let on or could afford to let on even to myself — because I wasn’t going to let Hadley become Grace Hemingway to my Dr. Clarence Hemingway! And of course I knew that I was living on her money and was relying on her in many ways big and small, emotionally not least. But I had to be my own man. It wouldn’t have been good for either of us if I had let myself relive or replay my father’s life. So there I was, living in a way I theoretically scorned and saying so about others — loudly — and not quite letting myself see the situation, which is easy enough to do if you set your mental sentinels to deflect uneasy thoughts as fast as they arise. And of course it came out in my getting sick. I couldn’t have seen it then because I didn’t think the world worked that way, and anyway I couldn’t admit the preconditions. But yes, I went off on my own — promptly got my typewriter broken by a drunken cabbie, a typewriter I needed, that had been a gift from Hadley, that I had to get fixed on the other end of the trip — and got malaria and lice, and so punished myself for disobeying mother, all without having to realize any of it.

So the Freudian aspect of it — punishing yourself for disobeying mother, or mother’s stand-in, your wife — does seem true to you?

Oh yes. Just because a lot of nonsense is quoted about psychiatry doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of truth to it. Hell, I knew it right at the beginning of my adult life. I did read Kraft-Ebbing, you know — and with Hadley.

I knew that, but as much as I know about you, it is still recurrently a surprise to realize how much you did know, how, as Callaghan said, you read everything, and how you learned what you wanted to learn thoroughly and well, to the degree that you wanted to learn it.

So tell me, what is the significance of the quarrel?

The significance of your concentrating on the quarrel is that you understand Hadley and our marriage better. Just because some aspect of a thing was never written about doesn’t mean it didn’t exist or wasn’t important.

I am suddenly tempted to say that the reason you idealized her in A Movable Feast was to get back at Mary.

She [Mary] couldn’t share that earlier time, she couldn’t measure up to that idealized portrait, and our life didn’t measure up to a time when I had been young and hopeful and happy. We [Hadley and he] hadn’t been as poor as I liked to remember it, and we weren’t quite as unfailingly happy together, either. It was real life, not portrait-painting, so of course it was more complicated, checkered, contradictory than I tried to make it. Biographers Disease, I suppose you could call it. And maybe Autobiographers Disease is the worst kind.

You weren’t very kind to Mary, doing that. But there I am, judging.

Yes, there you are. We had our own complications too.

Of course. Well, it’s 4:30 and even though this is only about 10 pages, I think we should stop.

Take one more look at the sentence you wanted clarity about.

I don’t see any particular connection between “can’t realize” and your quarrel with Hadley. Unless it means, like me come to think of it, you lived so much in the present that other times weren’t real to you.

Well, not that they weren’t real, but they were real in a different way.

Yes! I see it, whether or not I can say it. Your imagination and your memory are both Focus 27, as we would say in Monroe-speak, and your moment-to-moment sensory life was C1. [I Think Of focus 27 as the imaginal equivalent of everyday life. C1– consciousness one — is Monroe’s term for ordinary consciousness.] Was that the important distinction?

You tell me.

Of course it was. And they were very complementary. It explains the lack of continuity in your life, your frequent re-examinations of things, your high-pressure existence.

Well, it does in potential. You’d have a job to do, to spell it out. But that’s the insight you were looking for. And if it makes you feel any better, I didn’t know either.

Huh. Well, I’m going to go back to bed for a while — it’s 4:45, now — and think about this. It seems pretty important. Thanks for bringing me back to it.

6 AM. Two points. Tuesday after I finished my morning conversation, I wrote in my journal that doing the work on yourself was part of the day’s theme. I said, “Hemingway knew the outer world and he knew something of the inner world, but he didn’t necessarily know how they interacted. Our robots and our lack of self- scrutiny, no, our lack of thought about what happens to us, prevents us from understanding our effect on the world and the world’s on us.”

And the most talented psychic I ever knew said that I spend most of my time outside of my body. Papa lost access to both worlds in his final years, which was the tragedy — losing access — not killing yourself to escape. Both these points will be clearer after I do the work of explaining the connection that came clear to me this morning.


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