It’s that it isn’t your work

I can forget the damnedest things. Only because I was poking around in my journal, thinking to write a post about having been in  Charlottesville for a year come the 27th that I found this communication, written but never read into the computer, and therefore never printed out.

I had finished my second draft of the Hemingway manuscript, but was dissatisfied with it. On the other hand I felt like it was time to move on to other things. As anyone familiar with ILC will tell you, the more you are emotionally involved, the harder it is to be sure that you are really talking to anyone besides yourself. But, I thought I’d try to talk to Papa, see what he thought.

[begin journal entry]

Thursday, December 22, 2011

6:30 AM. Still thinking about an end to reading about Hemingway. It’s an endless project, to read everything coming out, let alone everything already published. And maybe it has turned fruitless. But why talk to myself about it? So —

Papa, what do you think? My second draft isn’t good enough really, is it?

You are expecting me to say it isn’t perfect, and you don’t compete enough, and what can you expect — and maybe that’s what you’d get if you were making this dialogue up as you went along. But that isn’t my reaction. Get some coffee and let’s chat.

It’s brewing. It isn’t ready yet.

Your life isn’t my life. Your task isn’t my task. Neither are your talents, your temperament, your disposition. You have different strengths and weaknesses. You know this, but you don’t factor it in. So, think about it. Just as you can’t go revolutionizing the use of language in the 1920s and 30s, so you can’t expect to live my life, so you can’t expect to live to my standards. That’s just the most elementary common sense. So you don’t have to do with your prose what I had to do with mine — and your audience isn’t mine anyway. If you write novels, as you realized again recently, you will be using them as teaching tools the way Dion Fortune did, not as ways to experience the world of subtle emotions the way I did.

I guess it feels like I’m cutting and running.

But you are impelled to cut and run. Maybe you should look for a reason.

A reason, as in what other things I might be doing with my time.

A reason, as in — following your path as it opens up, not staying to one you’ve already trodden.

When the book comes out, and I hire [publicist] Sara [Sgarlat] again — assuming those things happen — I’ll need to still know my Hemingway.

Nobody is saying you can’t read what you want to read. You’re hearing, or should be hearing, don’t keep beating a dead horse, or a live one, for that matter.

Well, it will be a relief, I suppose.

I came here to liberate you, not to capture you. For some people, the world of Hemingway scholarship is the path. Not for you.

No, I can see that. I get caught up in things sometimes, and I lose perspective.

Nothing wrong with it, if you remember to come out again.

Anyway, the world of scholarship isn’t mine.

It isn’t that you couldn’t do the work. It is that it isn’t your work.

[end journal entry]

As I say, I’d forgotten this until this morning. Reading it now, two months later, it evokes a different reaction than it did at the time, when I didn’t know what to think about it. In the time between then and now I went back to the manuscript, tore it entirely apart, rearranged the entries  in the order they  had come to me, and then felt that I was finished. The present order puts more emphasis on the process of communication as I experienced it, and less on a sort of outline of Hemingway’s life in the order he lived it.

And as I have been writing this, I find myself coming back to his final  sentences: “It isn’t that you couldn’t do the work. It is that it isn’t your work.” I think that applies to many people, not just to me and not just to this project. It’s easier, sometimes, to remember to work, than it is to be sure that the work we’re doing is our work.


3 thoughts on “It’s that it isn’t your work

  1. Isn’t that the truth of it…”not that you can’t, simply it isn’t yours to do.” That alone could help so many see themselves.

  2. Ah, but how to find that which is “our” work. (Follow your bliss?) There’s the question for me lately. Thanks for the great post, as always. I find great inspiration and comfort in your musings.

  3. Frank,
    You are so honest it is refreshing and whatever the work is at the time I can recognize your intergrity, your seeker, your soul. I agree with Ernest – you have your work to do. Best of luck with the new book. I can only say that the writers path which I am on is not for the faint of heart.

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