Tuesday, October 6, 2015
F: 4:30 a.m. So, Papa. Do you remember where we left off? Yesterday I spent with my daughter and grandchildren, and I knew better than to try this before I left for their place. I have it in mind what you said about this process taking more out of me than I know.
EH: Bear in mind your dream, too, though you needn’t quote it.
F: I get it, as you say that. I need to get myself and the process out of the center of this now.
EH: Using your experience as a guide for others has worked as well as it is going to. Now move on to make the material itself the center of what you write about, and it will be simpler for people to follow.
F: Yes. I guess I have been getting that for the past couple of days – yesterday driving to and from Sarah’s, I guess, among other times.
EH: The intended audience is different, and you will now need to keep that in mind. It is one thing to serve as example, another thing to show the nature of communication, and a third thing to communicate about something. You have been doing the first two, mostly, with the third coming in almost as a by-product.
F: I see it now. I didn’t see it earlier. I have been doing some preliminary work toward telling your story as I see it now, and I guess the idea is to suppress the how of getting the story and instead just tell what I think I know.
EH: That’s what people mostly do. That’s the clothing over their naked experience.
F: Huh. Well, we’ll see what I can do. Meanwhile, do you remember where we left off?
EH: I’m still trying to dig into the nature of my attraction to Catholicism and why it offered me a way forward when the religion I had been raised in did not, and neither did the casual atheism I saw around me.
F: Okay, do you have a jumping-off point today?
EH: Well, let’s see where it goes. I came home playing a role that didn’t quite fit the facts, which itself threw me off a little, and I couldn’t tell anybody the truth for lack of a proper audience and for lack of confidence in the proper audience, and for fear that if I told the exact truth of the external experience, I would lose the thin thread tying me to the internal experience, which could be said to be what should have happened.
Everybody knows my struggle over that. It’s all in “Soldier’s Home,” although the nature of the disconnect is different. I tried to get along, but I didn’t fit and I didn’t want to fit and my parents were unable to stretch to fit my new dimensions, like my father telling me not to have the local Italians in for a third party because it was too different from what Oak Park could handle. And my humiliation and despair over Agnes throwing me over was one more thing that didn’t quite work out the way it was supposed to.
Do you see it? Everything was pushing me back into the Oak Park mode, and I was fighting as hard as I could not to be jammed back into that box. But I was wounded. I couldn’t go back to chasing cops even if I wanted to, and even if the job was still there. I was crippled for a time, still lame, still in pain, still having to be careful, still subject to nightmares, and having to sleep with the light on, because that mortar shell had come in the middle of the night, out of nowhere. And I was emotionally wounded. Ag saying our love affair had been just kid stuff, of all the things she might have said to hurt me, that was the very worst, because it was closest to true, and I couldn’t afford for it to be true! I don’t mean she tried to hurt me, I know now she didn’t, but she hit my Achilles heel, right there. She was saying or seemed to be saying, “that was just a kid play-acting, too; when you come right down to it, nothing that should have happened had happened, and what you were is a middle class kid from the Midwest playing at life.” You weren’t Teddy Roosevelt, you weren’t Sergeant York, you weren’t anything that you wanted to be and really were, only it didn’t happen externally.
F: Terrific burden for a 19-year-old kid to bear. Plus it sounds like you had what we today would call PTSD.
EH: Re-read people’s stories about how I was at home in that year and maybe it will look different. If I was out of control sometimes – often – there was reason for it.
So then came Hadley into my life, this beautiful unopened flower, pure, innocent, passionate, smart, funny and there’s the thing I don’t know if people get or not, she and I were both so hungry to live! She had had years of being treated as an invalid and being squashed down into a life that didn’t fit, and although she was so many years older than me, she wasn’t as old in terms of actual different experiences; she had had the same experiences year after year, until she was almost ready to jump out of her skin with boredom and despair.
We were perfect for each other. She needed my vitality and my very brashness; I needed her admiration and her staunch support and her seeing me a certain way. I didn’t tell her the external truth but the internal truth – I didn’t even tell her my right age, shaving the gap between us, though it wouldn’t have made any difference. And of course Hadley was smart, she was insightful, she was a woman – I suppose she saw through my pretenses, but she didn’t let that bother her because she saw me, which I needed so much, and she saw that I was living what should have happened, and she saw that what should have happened was real, it wasn’t just me rearranging the facts to make myself look better.
F: Partly it was that too.
EH: Of course, but I said it wasn’t just that. Hadley saw that, when a lot of biographers and people looking at my life never did. To them, I was a liar and a bullshitter and that was the end of the story. To Hadley, I was a hero daydreaming himself into what he intended to be. And, you know, in some ways that is just what happened, only my dream wasn’t comprehensive enough, so it broke in two at the same time it started to come true. It wasn’t an accident that I lost Hadley and the life we had imagined at the same time the professional life we had imagined and worked toward began to open up. It wasn’t just my being greedy. It wasn’t just Pauline’s relentless pursuit of what she wanted and damn the torpedoes.
So Hadley and I did break out of jail together. We did have our great adventure, and together we fixed it so neither one of us could ever again be jammed into the box that was our lives before we met. So – to concentrate on me, here – in that way I solved my immediate problem, or deferred it, rather. I escaped from Agnes and the Oak Park respectable past and the specter of some job out of that respectable past, and I escaped – by way of failure, thank God – the future I tried to create in which I sold to the Saturday Evening Post kind of market. I escaped the Midwest entirely, or so I though, and I found my spiritual home among the journalists and writers and painters centered in Paris in the early twenties. It isn’t like I fit in among them in a way that would have made me a permanent expatriate – I was always going to leave Paris one way or another – but it was there and then that I fit into the center of real writing in my time. Once I’d made my place, things could go well or badly or not at all, but they could never jam me back into Oak Park.
So all that was real. Hadley and I did break out, and as you know her escape was permanent, too. After she and I broke up, she wound up living with Paul Mowrer, and marrying him and going on to a long contented life which, God knows, she richly deserved. But, for all that it was real, for me it was a good long way from being complete. It was only the beginning, but I didn’t realize it. I had my eyes on writing and therefore on making a career, so that’s what was happening to me consciously. I don’t mean I thought about writing all the time, obviously not. I lived in all directions, then, and all my life until it became impossible through physical and mental disability. But my focus was on my vocation, on the true center of my life, my continual honing of perception and skill into becoming ever more able to express what I saw, and to see more deeply so I could express.
What I didn’t realize was that this was only an initial readjustment to life after the war and after my boyhood. What was going to happen next was even more powerful, and more disorienting, and harder, and messier – and it brought me a little closer to who and what I really was, and at the same time it left me leading a life not entirely on firm footing.
F: Nice cliff-hanger ending. And that’s our hour.
EH: I’ve been doing this a long time, you know.
F: So I’ve been told. Okay, till next time. Thanks, from many people for many reasons.
Tuesday, October 6, 2015