Hemingway on sexuality and loneliness

One of the joys of keeping a journal, however diligently or not one does it, is the occasional review, the look back at roads trodden. Naturally, year-end is a convenient time. Found this conversation with Papa Hemingway which was of interest.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

7 AM. So, Papa, talk to me about loneliness. For I got a clear sense, last night, of how lonely you got, and how often.

Loneliness is a writer’s life, after all. Or, let’s say aloneness. You’re living in a world you’re bringing into existence, and you can only do it by sitting with it for hours at a time, day by day in a long disciplined effort. Right there, that guarantees that some of your life is going to be lived very much alone. Writing isn’t the same as script conferences for Hollywood.

But you’re referring to a loneliness that didn’t have to do with writing, so much as with living in the world, being very much a part of it and yet being apart from it, at the same time. Isn’t that everybody’s experience of life? I observed and I described, and I imagined and guessed, and I tried to make things happen. It isn’t like I was passive. I shaped my life as I went along, and it was my realization toward the end that I no longer had the strength and clarity and endurance that would have been needed to keep on shaping my life that told me that my road was coming to an end. This, as much as any physical or mental difficulties. Or maybe we should say the realizations stemmed from them, or perhaps caused them.

But even when I was in my prime, sure I was lonely. That was the hell of it in my relations with women, you know. I couldn’t live without them; something inside me got so lonely without them – but I couldn’t live with them either, not for long. There was something between them and me that kept getting in the way.

A sort of competitiveness?

Well, maybe. I wouldn’t have called it that. Perhaps it was. Certainly there was a sense of jockeying for position all the time, working to be sure I didn’t get dominated the way my father had been. But that wasn’t exactly competition. Competition is two people doing the same thing and seeing who does it better. That was very deeply ingrained in me. But what do you call it when you have two people who are two different kinds of people – because one is a man and the other is a woman? In your time, you pretend there isn’t any difference, so there isn’t any problem, but it isn’t true and everybody knows it. Your time has gotten all tangled up thinking that equality means identical twins.

There is something different between men and women and it isn’t just sex organs. It’s fundamental, and if your time doesn’t want to see it, well, it’ll just keep going farther and farther off the beam. There is something absolutely fundamental about the difference – and this even though, beyond male or female, we all have in common that we are human, and that we comprise strands that themselves expressed as male or female.

May I rephrase?

Feel free. You bought the pen and the pad.

I hear you saying that the strands that comprise our person-group of which the conscious self is the ring-master are, themselves, past expressions of male or female identities, and that therefore nobody is all one thing, but there is nonetheless a difference. Each of the strands – insofar as it was a past life – was a mixture of male and female, as we all are and have to be, and the balance is different in each person because everyone is composed of different combinations of strands.

That’s beyond what I actually said, but I agree with it, and it is what I would have meant if I had thought in those terms. You can see that human sexuality expresses in a long bell-curve line – not a concept that I remember ever hearing, but a useful one – from asexual on one end to pansexual on the other, with every possible variation included – by definition. Homosexuals and bisexuals and transsexuals are as “normal” – that is, as normally occurring – as heterosexuals, and heterosexuals themselves come in many flavors.

I knew all that from observation. What I approved of or disapproved of had to do with social behavior more than private sexual behavior, and my attacks on homosexual assumptions of superiority had as much to do with social hypocrisy and rottenness as it did with what they did in private, which I didn’t care about.

But you can see how hard it is to stay on the subject without veering off. We’re talking about the fact that there is a difference between men and women that goes beyond the physical. That difference is real, and everybody senses it, and each sex makes jokes and complaints about the other because of it. Men and women can’t be friends except by stepping around it, or dealing with it, or even by rejoicing in the difference, as the French say. But that difference is there, it is inmate, and society’s organization and taboos and license can’t remove it.

You may think I’ve gotten off the subject of loneliness. I haven’t. If you lonely without women but are not really comfortable with them because of that core of difference that is so obvious to you, you’re going to be in a position where you have to live as if things were in a way that they aren’t. And that is going to set up tensions. Even if you’re deeply in love, you don’t spend all your time in bed, and you don’t spend all your time thinking each other is wonderful. Sometimes you’re just doing the same thing together and you’re doing it differently. Fishing, say, or trophy hunting, or even reporting.

If it’s a comparable activity and muscles or endurance don’t enter into it – in other words if the physical differences between men and women don’t enter into it, or if they balance off like strength versus endurance – you’re still going to see a difference in the way men and women go about it, and if you have a woman who has a lot of man in her, people will say she goes about things like a man. I don’t mean she’ll necessarily be mannish, but she’ll be masculine in some essential. Beryl Markham, for instance, or Marty. And of course the same for men, the other way around.

I’m saying, there are male expressions and female expressions, and everybody knows it, and they aren’t created by society but expressed however each society finds it convenient to express them – and this is true even though any individual man or woman expresses a different combination of male and female traits. There isn’t anything startling about this way of putting it, in the real world. It is only in the world of theory and of sexual politics that it may seem strange or new. Isn’t anything everybody doesn’t know anyway.

So if I was living with Marty, say, and she was so much into competition and judgment, that was an uncomfortable thing and yet it was a familiar thing. The familiar part of it was sort of comforting; it was like being with one of the boys, only with sex. But when it wore off – when the comfort of the familiar feel wore off, I mean – it grated. You know the saw about a bore being someone who deprives you of solitude without providing you with company. That’s what it was like, and at the closest quarters there are. But if I was with somebody like Mary, who still had that area of familiarity but in a different mix, other things still got in the way, and we fought for position regardless.

You had to be sure you wouldn’t be dominated.

Yes, I recognize it now that I’m not inside it. I knew it then, and made sure not to know it, the way you do when your body.

But – loneliness?

If women couldn’t hold it off, and friends and structured play time, and reading, and creation, and drinking and other sensual pleasures – what could? It seems to me anybody is going to be lonely if he’s awake enough, alive enough.

Don’t you suppose your loneliness is connected to your connection to the church?

Sure – though I didn’t know that I did then. But, sure. When you can feel that something is missing, isn’t it natural to go looking for it? And if you’ve sensed a connection that is the opposite of loneliness and so you know it’s there, isn’t it just common sense not to join in with the crowd saying it doesn’t exist? Brett says God never worked, for her, and Jake says God works for quite a lot of people, himself included. But just because there’s this broad trail claiming to be the way to get back to that connection you felt, doesn’t mean it does you any good. It might, it might not. And the rules don’t have anything to do with it unless the rules are the way to make the connection. So, Jake goes to church and tries to pray and doesn’t really accomplish anything in the way of connection; he just winds up thinking and free-associating. He knows what he wants and what he needs, but he doesn’t know how to get it.

Were you lonely like Jake?

Yes, and for the same reason, come to think of it. He didn’t live in the same world the people around him did, although it looks like it to them, so you could say he never had company. Or, you could say a certain part of him never had company.

You could look for it in relations with women.

Yes, and did. And it’s true that dealing with the other sex brings out part of you that maybe you never see otherwise. But women aren’t a cure-all, nobody is or could be. You’ve got to deal with your loneliness on its own terms.

What does that mean?

Loneliness is a part of life like hunger or thirst or anything else. If you were to try to live your life never being hungry or thirsty, how practical would be? How fulfilled would you be? Nero Wolfe is an interesting creation, but would you want to be Nero Wolfe? Hungers are good for the body – they add interest to your life.

Well that’s a thought I’ve never had.

Anything carried too far is – well, it’s carried too far. But everything in life has a place.

Getting too tired to continue. Thanks Papa.


7 thoughts on “Hemingway on sexuality and loneliness

  1. Being a writer and a woman I can relate to what Papa is sharing here and quite a bit. Loneliness with or without a partner has shaped a lot of my own life and motivations to reach out beyond myself and effort to shape my life and even when I fail to fill the void the energy itself is creative. I dread the time that he speaks of when the energy is no longer there. Perhaps only then will I comprehend the beauty of surrender. Thank you Papa and Frank.

  2. Yes, hungers are good for the body, as desires are good for the soul. They both make you reach out to connect with the various manifestations of the other, and thus are catalysts on the road to rediscovering The One.
    Is the loneliness of the writer substantially different from the loneliness of anyone else? More immediately palpable perhaps, but different, no. That’s the vanity of the artist, to cast himself as the noble sufferer, with everyone else as the sleepwalking ignorant masses.

    1. > s the loneliness of the writer substantially different from the loneliness of anyone else? More immediately palpable perhaps, but different, no. That’s the vanity of the artist, to cast himself as the noble sufferer, with everyone else as the sleepwalking ignorant masses.

      I don’t see it that way. I took it as a straight description of the writer’s situation.

  3. The hungers are what drive us to make the zany mash-ups that we make during human life, which according to TGU, these are endlessly amusing upstairs. Which leads me to believe that the hungers are an essential part of our design.

  4. Great post. Very nice representation of Hemingway- he almost always talked the way a man born in 1899 would talk. Out of curiosity, when you wrote this, did you imagine a voice speaking to you or did you have an image of Hemingway in front of you? Thanks.

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