Wednesday, September 23, 2015
F: I learn that A.E. Hotchner is still alive. I want to get Afterlife Conversations with Hemingway to him, if I can. I would be so interested to learn what he thought of it. Papa, is it possible?
EH: You are asking, will it happen? And you know the answer to that particular question.
F: Yes, I do. It will or it won’t, depending on which door we go through. Not too helpful, though.
EH: Why worry about it?
F: No reason at all, just an old habit. Is there anything we should talk about? How about – how can we get ACwH to the right people. We thought it would sell but we don’t know how to promote it.
EH: Which should give you a better perspective on my life as author. You have noticed how I would get frantic with Scribner’s because I thought they weren’t doing a good enough job – sometimes anything at all – in promoting my books. It all depended on me – that’s what it felt like – and shouldn’t have had to. I gave them the best product I was capable of fashioning, why couldn’t they make an equal effort to promote it, so we could moth make money and so I could have a market for the next book? But it seemed they did the minimum, or less. I’d go to a bookstore –to Scribner’s bookstore! – and there wouldn’t be one copy of Green Hills of Africa for sale, much less on display. Friends would ask for Death in the Afternoon shortly after it was published and couldn’t obtain it! It was driving me crazy with fear. If my publisher wouldn’t support me, where was I? If I hadn’t had that initial success, so that people went looking for new books or stories by me, and if it weren’t for Esquire keeping me in the view of the book-buying class, and if it wasn’t for the kind of publicity I drew to myself somehow just by personal magnetism, I’d have been sunk.
F: Even with the quality of the work you put out, you worried?
EH: Quality doesn’t have one thing to do with accessibility.
F: Is that the right word? It didn’t feel like it. It felt more like I was choosing it.
EH: No, it isn’t the right word, not quite. We want something between availability, attractiveness, star quality, sex appeal, charisma, cachet –. In other words, things catch on for different reasons or sometimes apparently for no reason, and sometimes they have quality and sometimes they don’t. Long-term, if they don’t have quality, they won’t last, but short-term, there isn’t a connection between the acceptance a work has and its inherent worth. Look at any best-seller list a few years later, and you’ll see. And if Moby-Dick was almost lost, how many other books of superb quality may have been lost, merely because they were ahead of their time, or they didn’t get known or they were overshadowed by transient fluff? I never felt it was enough to produce quality – somehow it had to come to the attention of the public.
F: Well, that’s my feeling about Rita’s World, coming out. I know it’s good. Sharing it with the TMI Explorers list as it came forth has been tremendously validating. But – how do we make a splash in that big ocean? Until now I have tended to trust that it would make its way—
EH: Yes, you think, if something wants the material out there, it will arrange circumstances so that it succeeds. But that assumes only one possible future, which isn’t the way it is.
F: Well, you had the experience from 3D, worrying, vigorously pushing your publisher, obtaining personal publicity – and you have the non-3D perspective now, seeing how things work without that overlay of worry, or anyway concern. How does it look to you now?
EH: It looks to me the way it looks to you: There are two forces at work in life, call them purpose and accident, or call them predestination and free will, or call them Larger Plan and Personal Plan. Three ways of saying the same thing.
F: Shall I spell that out?
EH: Easier that way, as usual.
F: I take it that you are saying that we as individuals really do have free will, and life really is a collision of various people’s interests, and we really do shape our lives as we go along – but, equally, larger forces are also at work, and our lives do have an overall pattern, and the “we” that shapes our lives is not necessarily the ego level.
EH: Both true. Yes. That being so, your life is your own and yet it belongs to something greater. I always felt that.
F: You had an overriding sense of stewardship, didn’t you?
EH: That’s a good way to put it. I came to my work as a priest comes to Mass.
F: Yes, I felt that right along, as I read your material and learned about your life in that wonderful burst of activity a few years ago. That’s the religious side of you, that people mostly didn’t see because it seemed to contradict the rest of your life.
EH: Seemed to, that’s right. If you thought religion was rules and specific beliefs, well, that wasn’t me. But if you felt it was a way of recognizing and nurturing a connection, yes, and of course in that case I would feel closest to the Catholic church rather than the Protestants. I didn’t need a rational faith, I needed a deeply symbolic faith, but I recognized at the same time, I couldn’t be a Catholic the way other people seemed to be, or the way the Church seemed to expect. I defined myself as a very dumb Catholic, or sometimes as a bad Catholic, and what I meant was that it was like being in a family and not quite fitting in. You don’t choose the family you are born into, and you could say you don’t choose the religion or the no-religion that you belong in. You find it or you don’t, but there is only one that fits. I never ceased being a Catholic and I never felt I could consider myself a member of the Church after Spain, so there I was, in and out at the same time.
F: Hmm. I guess that’s me, too. I left at 19 and it was a great liberation, but I never left emotionally.
EH: Which is why you can understand that aspect of me, you see. We match, there.
F: As opposed to your life as hunter or fisherman, say.
EH: That’s right. Nobody matches on all sides. It would be like two stones even if they were cut to fit – they can’t possibly fit on all sides at the same time.
F: Muddled analogy, maybe mine rather than yours?
EH: Doesn’t matter, the point is the same.
F: So, to return to where we were before that very interesting sidelight on your religious feelings?
EH: You can’t figure out your life ahead of time and usually you can’t figure it out even as it is happening. Later it will make sense, so that’s what you cling to – the fact that you remember that in the past it finally made sense gives you confidence that it will this time too.
F: So in other words, live in faith that it will all work out.
EH: Well, do your best in the moment, work like hell when you work, but yes, ultimately it isn’t up to you in that sense. Ultimately it is a matter of whether you stay aligned with your highest purpose, the thing closest to you. Do that and it will all work out, and really, who cares how? Melville was dead and gone for decades before Moby-Dick was recognized as a classic. I am already dead and gone half a century and they still don’t recognize Across the River and Into the Trees. But the quality is there, and its time will come.
F: Thanks, Papa. As always, thanks. You’ve been a great gift.
EH: Give my regards to Hotch. He was a good and loyal friend.
F: I would if I could. Till next time, then.
Wednesday, September 23, 2015