Hemingway: Helping people to feel

An excerpt from Afterlife Conversations with Hemingway

[May 18, 2010] Papa, I suppose that “The Doctor And The Doctor’s Wife” is built upon your life but is no word-for-word autobiography, even necessarily disguised autobiography — and critics who approach your work go wrong to think so.

That’s right. A writer takes what he knows and tries to render it so that it’s truer than the real thing, so that people who weren’t there can get it even though they weren’t there. So you have to intensify and magnify and simplify and clarify — and you have to do all that without distorting the subject! It’s like Georgia O’Keeffe painting her tiny subjects huge, so you can’t help seeing. Now, this is not a blanket endorsement for Georgia O’Keeffe’s painting style or subject matter. It’s an illustration. She painted tiny things in proportion but huge, so if you glance at it, you have a chance of getting something of what she had seen, and if you looked longer, she had done it so carefully that you couldn’t keep seeing more and more closely into it. My writing, the same idea: The real thing has to be portrayed larger than life, starker, changed in so many ways, if it is going to have the effect on you that the original emotion had on me.

So how do you do that? You invent, but what do you invent from? It has to be, from who you are and what you know — it comes out of you. If I had told the story of the Cuban fisherman who hooked a really big fish and stayed with it for several days, and killed it finally but lost the meat of it to sharks on his way home — and told just the facts, as if I were writing copy for the Herald-Tribune — and had all the facts right, biographical and piscatorial and climatic and geographical — do you think I could have gotten across any of the meaning of it?

The plot is one thing. The story is another, different, thing.

So the material for the stories came from what I knew regardless how I knew it. Maybe I observed it first-hand. Maybe I was told stories and something jumped from the story-teller to me. Maybe I did research, the way I learned things specific like skills. Maybe my life was research as it went along, picking up background of what it was like to walk down a dirt road in early morning, say, or the streets of Paris in the fall. You understand.

But whatever the material was, and however I’d accumulated it, it couldn’t ever be the final thing until I had worked it. It was always raw material until I invented. Had to be. It always is. It is, even if people think they are just reporting — but in that case they are working without knowing it, and if they are blessed with something the way Scott Fitzgerald was, the magic comes through (as long as it does come through) even though they don’t really know what they’re doing or how it is happening. A lot of journalists work that way and don’t even know it.

So, you invent. But you can’t invent without any consideration of what you’re inventing from. If you’re going to start with the [Gerald] Murphys [socialite friends of his from his Paris days, used by Fitzgerald in a novel], you can’t do just anything you like; you can only do what Gerald or Sara would do, or might do; you can’t do what they never would do. Now, if you want them to do something they never would have done, you have to have them be only partly the model you are inventing for. You see? You can’t have, oh say a star athlete, maybe a specific star athlete, acting in ways no star athlete possibly could, unless that is the point of the story, in which case you had better know exactly what you are doing and why and how it could happen. When you invent, you have to know what you are inventing from, and what you are inventing toward, or you won’t know what you’re doing.

All of this, of course, is meant to apply to sincere writing that tries to express one thing (or many things, with great good luck) truly. It doesn’t apply to whoring. Whoring may be learned — Scott certainly learned it — but has the disadvantage of requiring you to bring yourself back to a sense of innocence if you wish to be anything but a whore in the future — and how can you deliberately do that? You can, maybe, if you have some real shock that reminds you that you were real, once. But not commonly, even then.

All right, so, you know something, and you invent. You invent toward a certain effect. Now maybe you can do this by just feeling your way toward it, and if so that’s a gift, but even there you have to know how to recognize what you have been given once you have received it, or how are you going to edit and revise what you wind up with? And if you don’t feel for it as you go along, the only other way I can think of that there could possibly be is to know ahead of time what you want to produce as an effect. You may not know how to produce it, so you may do just as much trial and error as the guy who just keeps trolling until he hooks something, but you do know what you’re trying for. You see? Either you start by knowing what effect you’re going to try to achieve with certain material, or you start with the material and see what kind of effect suggests itself, but either way there’s the work of going from material to effect by way of invention, and the invention is bounded by what is possible while sticking within the limits of the material.

So I could take my parents’ lives and tell a dozen stories, and each story might express one aspect of something I’d seen or could imagine. To get to the emotional effect I wanted, starting from that same material, I might have to change the “facts” a dozen times, to let the raw material let something happen that did what I needed. If I’d been writing autobiography, or biography, or history, I’d have said so. And if I had been writing fantasy, I’d have announced it by publishing in the Saturday Evening Post. To write truly, I had to take what I knew and say it in such a structure, with such words, that let you see it too, that sometimes all but forced you to see it too. And if I failed at that, or you the reader did, there was nothing. Now — having said all that, you tell me — what is the effect I aimed for an “The Doctor And The Doctor’s Wife”? What is the point of it?

I’m going to need to feel my way to it. The doctor is a good judge. He saw what Dick Boulton was doing and knew why. He was smarter than to fight him when that’s what Boulton wanted, though it made him mad enough that he half-fantasized killing him. His wife, a Christian Scientist, thought she understood things and clearly didn’t, and she was either ignorant or stupid or both. There was war between them but he tried to keep the peace, even knowing better. I don’t see why the unopened medical journals irritated him unless it meant he wasn’t keeping up with his profession. When he went out and found Nick reading, Nick chose him over his mother. I guess the final effect I get is of the doctor living his impossible situation, with an invalid wife who was certain of things she had no clue to, and a man cheating him because he could, and a sense of time leaving him behind, and only his son as a clean, innocent accepting (in fact eager) presence in his life.

Well? Was that so hard?

It’s an amazing amount to compress into a few pages, and without saying anything much to the reader. Little touches like Billy looking grave, and taking the time to shut the gate that Dick had left open, showing that it wasn’t the doctor who was wrong or even was contemptible, but Dick who was callous. You truly were a master.

Thank you. I’m very pleased that you can see into the story now.

Most people already knew how to do that, I suppose, or you wouldn’t have been published.

You’d be surprised. Think of the misinterpretations of “Indian Camp.” But people felt something even if they didn’t quite know what they were feeling, or why.

Amazing achievement, anyway. That’s it for now, I think. Thank you.

 

11 thoughts on “Hemingway: Helping people to feel

  1. Hemingway and Frank you are both offering me a writer a more left brain if that is the right term understanding of this mysterious process of writing prose. What seems more than coincidence is the choice here of the story “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife” which has come to my attention recently because of family issues around my brother a doctor. I will read the story again. Thank you…

  2. I feel I am channeling Ernest Hemingway. My books show an effort to re-do certain events in his life through my writing. Can you tell by visiting my ebooks if this is a valid assessment? Please go to smashwords.com.
    Thank you

    1. i don’t know if anybody can tell if anybody else is in touch with someone on the other side. What tool do we have better than whether the material itself resonates with us? I will look, and let you know, but either way, it’s only my opinion.

  3. Frank? when to read a book (any book)is it not always as an emotional attraction of to read the particular book? We are picking out the titles of a book by intuition more or less(even of not to be aware of it many a time).Ï am to recall what became attracted of to read as a youngster, f.inst. especially the books by the late english author Agatha Christie(later on Mallowan as the middle name). Loved the personalities of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. I have always felt attracted to the old english scenary from the 19th century. Sherlock Holmes as well.

    When to read a book of us “to live” the story within it.

    And the titles of the books changes as the years passes by. As we grows, the books “growing” with us. The authors changes as we does.
    Wonders if not of you to have told something like it once before?

    1. The guys upstairs once told me that everyone who reads a book is thereby directly connected not only to the author but (by way of the author, i suppose) to everyone else who reads that book. And of course we never re-read the same book, in the same way we never step twice into the same river, because we are different each time we come to it. A true book, a deep book, will reveal something new to each new person we bring to it. i re-read all the time.

      1. Dear Frank..your writings have been so important to me.I purchased your book “Cosmic Internet” some months before I did the gateway program in Byron Australia only when I started reading did I realize that you were a Monroe graduate!Since then I did gatew3ay and later in the same year 2012…I did Lifeline with Penny at the helm.I am reading cosmic again for the second time now before I send the book to a close friend.Wow how much I missed on the first reading.Your book is a paradigm shift in consciousness and after second reading it has taken hold in a new way.Yet my day to day life is just “now” what else can I say.I certainly feel a resonance with the TGU I do feel that the writings through you are passed on to me.Resonance is the most powerfull way we can receive true knowledge as I see it.Have you thought about coming to Australia?For what purpose and in what way I don’t know.
        My psychic life is very quiet mostly and yet when situations are asked I seem to always have a balanced response.Its like my mind is empty until a need arises.I listen to my responses and mostly find the right thought/feeling comes always.
        So much change in my consciousness since gateway.and yet I don’t do retrievals I am lazy too I don’t do the take home exercises very much.The main thing is that I am happy,more happy than ever in my life.maybe happy is a deficient word,the struggle for words that that describe the indescribable.I’m h opeless at getting out of the body ah la Monroe and would enjoy it if it happens.Perhaps what is of paramount importance is to just to be focussed in the now.
        I had an NDE many years ago hence me doing the M onroe Programs.What I experinced in the Monroe programs was very 2d compared what happened to me a long time ago.
        Anyway just wanted to share my story a little with you.
        Love Devayan

        1. You sound like you are exactly on track. What use is an OBE, after all, any more than an NDE, except to bring us to awareness that we are more than our physical bodies? And you already know that! As to retrievals, etc., we each have our own work that is right for us, and it is merely diversion to try to do something hard when what is natural is always right at hand. How do you know but that your influence on others at the right time isn’t a form of ministry? Living openly and in the moment is an achievement in itself.

          Glad you’re liking The Cosmic Internet. It is my experience, too, that every time i read a book i see what i missed before. But then, each time, it’s a differnt person reading it!

  4. Agree absolutely with you Frank. Al of what you are telling “resinates” with me, in the same way as of what Charles telling as well.
    Charles have a remarkable way of “to get to the point” in what he is to read.
    I am very greatful of to have been “led” to both of you.
    The Seth-books have also been “a way-shower” in many instances.
    Funny as it is, Charles telling of some of the books in the book-shelters of his` almost to fall out of the shelter when he is passing by it.
    Once it happened to me as well. In particular one happening when once upon a time went into a Book Store with a girlfriend of mine after of us two had participated in “a particular spiritual” Conference in Oslo. In fact, there and then approximately 20 years ago, of me to be in the mood of not to buy anything(at the time thought of to have too many books on forehand)….but a of me to stand behind the friend of mine waiting for her to pick a book she wanted to buy….all of a sudden a pocket-book from the uppermost book-shelters in the Store FELL out of tight book-shelter in upon THE HEAD of mine.
    Both of us began to laugh, and I had to climb the ladder of to put it back. But how much of to try in to put the pocket-book back into the same place, of me not to managed it. And I put it instead another place. But when climbing down from the ladder again, and turning to the friend…The very same book falling down upon the head of mine once more(the particular pocket book wasn`t heavy), and me once more to climb the ladder of to put it back. Okay, believe in it or not, the pocket book fell for the third time in front of the feets of mine. By then(the two of us all alone in the particular corner of the Store)laughing as much as almost not to catch the breath.
    The friend of mine said: You`ll have to buy the pocket book whether you like it or not. And I replied of to have had enough of “the science fiction.”
    Guess what the title of the book was? Yeap:”We,The Arcturians(A True Experience)by Dr.Norma Milanovitch with Betty Rice and Cynthia Ploski.
    Later on Norma Milanovitch came to Norway and held courses(which knowing nothing of back then), and a couple of years later went to Hawaii with her and a group of three from England and three from Norway to meet with a group of americans and canadians(and one lady from Mexico) in Hawaii.
    And it all ended up there after the trip, untill of to be in touch with some who studied the Edgar Cayce readings. Remarkable as it is, the Edgar Cayce Readings telling about “Arcturus” as well. But in a much deeper “sense” of the matters. As Edgar cayce telling of us of to have “the Planetary Sojourns.”

    Hmm, this is a far too long e-mail.
    Wishing all of you a nice Day.

    1. I found your Norwegian English a little harder to follow this time, for some reason, but I got the gist of it. I sure wish I could figure out how to make MY books fall on people’s heads! Except, this is America. Somebody would sue me for assault, or negligence, or something. 🙂

      For what it’s worth, yours isn’t the only story like this that i know of. It happens — maybe mroe often than we suspect — but people don’t usually broadcast the fact. They chalk it up as “an odd thing that happened.” Odd, yes, but not meaningless.

  5. Well, am sorry, looking at what of have written in a hurry…is it hard of to understand for me as well.
    “it RESONATES” and ALL….Oh My!(hopefully everybody have had a good laughter…)

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