Hemingway on his own immaturity

Tuesday, September 29, 2015
F: 4 a.m. Open for business after a day’s illness. So, when you lost the life you might have had with Hadley, you lost an image of yourself.
EH: I did. The story you make up to yourself about the life you are going to lead, and who and what you are, is important. Your story shapes your life as much as your actions do – unless your actions contradict your story, and then maybe you are in deep trouble.
If I had betrayed Hadley with Pauline but had come to my senses and said, “no, Hadley is my wife and she and I belong together, and if I have also come to love Pauline, that’s just too bad,” it wouldn’t have broken my life, you see? I did something I regretted, I had hurt Hadley, I had sinned – well, that’s too bad, but when you do something wrong the thing to do is to repent and go on. But that isn’t what happened. It could have happened, I suppose, theoretically, but it would have required that I be more self-aware, less greedy, and less intoxicated by Pauline.
I’m being as honest as I can here. I’m pretty sick of all the self-pitying lies I told myself – told myself strongly and often – to reduce my intolerable share of responsibility. In life in 3D, I tried to see it as everybody else’s fault; I needed to be the one who was acted upon, because the person I was then could not bear to be the villain of the piece – who could bear to be the villain in his own story? – and the only alternative was to nominate somebody else or everybody else.

Remember – or, well, I don’t think this has occurred to you yet. I was still in my twenties. I was intellectually ahead of my years, not only because of my experience but just naturally. I was an early bloomer, intellectually. When I was thrown in with the journalists who covered Europe – Mowrer, Steffens, all of them – I was green at first but I wasn’t playing over my head. I caught on and I could do the job as well as any of them. Same thing a couple of years later among the serious writers in Paris. I could play in that league, and, as I demonstrated, I could excel. My life in terms of mind and talent was lived in fast forward.
Emotionally, however, it was a different story. I took a long time to mature and I guess in some ways I never did. Hadley knew that, and she made allowances for it, or anyway figured it came with the territory, I suppose, from the very first. Agnes saw it too, come to think of it. I think in both cases, they saw me clearly and I did not and could not have seen myself clearly by reason of that very immaturity.
Again, you have to keep the distinction between my thinking side and my emotional side. I could cope with the world very well. I was a keen observer and a close studier and I learned faster than anybody else I ever knew, and more thoroughly. But that was thinking, coping, manipulating, you might say, in the way a woodworker will manipulate the piece he is working on to take advantage of his opportunities, cutting here, scraping there, bringing out what’s there.
But that didn’t mean I had effective insight into my own cross-currents. It didn’t mean I could make allowances for my own biases and tendencies. I couldn’t.
F: You didn’t have an independent place to stand.
EH: That’s it. Whatever my mood was, I was totally captured by it.
F: You didn’t have any skepticism of your own emotions.
EH: No. I took them for real, and maybe that’s a definition of immaturity, I don’t know. So obviously if you are within a bubble and that’s your reality, you are going to see other people as impinging on you, and if things go wrong, whose fault is it?
F: Making you perpetually the victim of circumstance.
EH: Not only that. It meant I didn’t have a lot of empathy if I was one of the people involved in a situation. I had plenty of empathy where I wasn’t, that’s what made me able to get inside other people’s head, but if I was part of it, —
F: Yes, I can hear it too; this isn’t going to give people the right idea. Shall I try?
EH: I don’t know that you can express it, but go ahead, try.
F: I don’t think I can express it, no. But maybe I can set it up. It seems to me there are two things tangled up here, at least two. One is your emotional life that you were like a captive to – your whirlwind of emotion that swept you along. In that state, as you said, you didn’t have any perspective.
EH: Sometimes I’d get it in a heartbeat, though, and I’d be sane again. Like the time with Harold [Loeb] in Pamplona, offering to hold his coat while he and I fought.
F: Yes, whenever you suddenly saw yourself from outside yourself, you could snap out of it. But otherwise you couldn’t, like the time you lost a fish and sat there for half an hour cursing and getting chilled.
The other thing is tied up in your writing. You were using it as therapy in a way, only people took it to be a combination of self-justification and snide revenge and rewriting history.
EH: That’s a good way to put it, and separating them out does help. You can’t write stories to settle scores. You might do it because so-and-so irritates you so much that you can’t help parodying him, or you might start with a characteristic or group of them and put them into a fictional character and see where it leads him. You could maybe start with a situation you really had lived through – Pamplona in 1925, say – and adjust and adjust until something came into focus even if it had nothing to do with anything that had really happened, or if it readjusted it beyond recognition. So what? You weren’t writing history, you were writing an emotional reconstruction, you might say, and the facts that had happened were only one set of facts, maybe less important than another set that might have happened, or even should have happened. And then people are accusing you of rewriting history when you weren’t writing history in the first place.
But our point here is that emotionally it took me a long time to grow up. That requires seeing yourself in a different way. It requires having perspective on yourself. It isn’t just a matter of getting control over your impulses, or of dong “good” things and not bad things.
Specifically, when it came time to choose between Hadley, and the life we had had, and the life we might have yet – and Pauline, with all the glamour of the new and different, I couldn’t choose. I was paralyzed. Hadley was finally standing up for herself after a lifetime of being moved around, and in a way I was very glad to see that, very proud of her, but of course that threw me off-stride as much as anything. And Pauline was determined and relentless, beginning as she would end.
My pattern emotionally was to drift until something pulled me into its current. This time, though, I was caught between two whirlpools and it felt like drowning. Hadley had me by the spirit and Pauline by the flesh, that’s one way to put it, but it’s a little highfalutin. It was pulling me apart. I wasn’t kidding when I said if it didn’t resolve I was going to kill myself. I don’t know if I really would have, that isn’t the point. The point is, that’s how it felt. And then Hadley let go of her end of the tug of war, and my life I might have had was gone. I wasn’t eager to start a new one with Pauline, but in a way it felt like, what choice did I have? So I assuaged my guilt by giving Hadley the royalties to my new best-selling book, but then what was I going to do? If I had to marry Pauline, I could do it decisively, but that isn’t the same as saying whole-heartedly. I lost “whole-heartedly” when I lost Hadley.
F: And this brings us, I can feel it, to you and Pauline and Catholicism, though the connection is not obvious.
EH: Yes, and we had to go through some church loopholes to accomplish it, which put a sardonic light on it, but as you know that wasn’t window-dressing on my part.
F: No, it was a new start spiritually.
EH: A new kind of life, let’s put it that way. But not now.
F: No, not now. It’s nearly 5, time to get some more sleep. Thanks, Papa, I’m enjoying it as you know. Till next time.

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