Hemingway and Key West

Tuesday, October 27, 2015
F: 6:30 a.m. Feels like half the morning is gone. Makes a difference, when you can sleep. I guess the shock I gave somebody is having a more permanent effect even than I had hoped. Well, good.
I seem to be healthy again, Papa. Much obliged. And apparently others found the process of examination instructive. So let’s continue with what we were focusing on earlier.
EH: We were looking at the way I experienced the world, and how comparatively rare that was in the society of the 1920s that would have been called Western civilization, and how I found it among the people of Spain and the simpler lives of people in France who were either poor, or, sometimes, artists, or who worked directly with materials rather than with abstractions. That difference in people could be partly explained by the cultural difference between Catholic and Protestant, but only partly. And, remember, although it can seem to be a class thing because of the way the numbers sort out, it isn’t, really. It is a matter of directly perceiving the world, or not. At least, that’s one way it can sort out.
So now we are to my move from Paris to Key West. If you can hold all these threads in mind, you will have a better idea of my life than I did at the time, but of course we live our lives, we don’t necessarily understand them. In fact, I’d say if we do understand them, it is only after the fact.

We didn’t move to Key West as a part of any plan, you know. At least, not on a conscious level. We wanted to come back to the States. We had to do it by boat. We didn’t want to come into New York harbor and face the press. Dos had visited Key West and talked about it as a place I’d like to see, and Key West was only a short ferry trip from Havana, so we sailed to Havana instead of to New York, and after a couple of days we went over to the keys intending to pick up a new car that Pauline’s Uncle Gus was giving us as a present and drive to Piggott [Arkansas, Pauline’s home town, where her parents lived]. But when we got there, the car wasn’t there yet, so we had to wait around, and while we waited I fished, and because I was a tough looking stranger the sheriff introduced himself and when I said I wanted to find somebody to take me fishing, suggested Carl Thompson. And Carl and I got along fine, and Lorine [Thompson’s wife] and Pauline got along fine and before the car arrived and we finally got away, Key West was firmly in my mind as a nice place to be, and maybe a place to live for a few months if we could find a place to rent when we were ready. A series of little things, you see. One thing building on another thing, until a path I wouldn’t have considered became what looked like the obvious thing.
But another level of my life knew exactly what I needed, you see. Here was a relatively isolated place – there wasn’t a road all the way to Key West yet – with enough people to support a community. It had great fishing, with all that meant in terms of living amid the huge sky and horizons, the close attention to the weather, which meant the conditions around us, and the continuous combination of relaxation and alertness that people don’t usually talk about because you take it for granted and you don’t necessarily see that it is a different moment-by-moment consciousness than you have on land. I mean, you can be drinking and listening to the radio and thinking about something else, and still you won’t be the person you are when you’re tied up at the dock.
And Pauline had a friend to pal around with, and I had friends of a different sort – Carl overlapping categories – and I could make a work schedule easily once I was ready to work there rather than merely rest there between voyages.
Once we began to live there, I was in an environment that was perfect for me. Early mornings for work, afternoons for play, evenings for socializing or just relaxation, and the next day do it all again. That is simplified, you understand – how would you describe your life without generalizing and to some extent oversimplifying it? But as far as generalizations go, it is true.
This is not a life I would have come to with Hadley, and this is not a reflection on her or on me or even on us both; it is just a life that couldn’t have been put together no matter how willing or even foresighted we had been. When I left Hadley for Pauline – or you could as easily say, when Hadley made me choose between them, or you could say, when Pauline lured me away, or you could say when Pauline aroused certain threads within me to take a more active part in my life than they had till then – any and all of these ways of seeing it are true enough – my life changed. I don’t mean the circumstances changed, though obviously they did, nor that I began pursuing different things artistically, because I did not. But what was possible and what was not possible now changed within me, and therefore external circumstances changed to accommodate it. I know that is backwards from the way people see things, but that’s what happened as I see it now.
F: Not then.
EH: Oh hell no. Then, I could feel that none of it was from my will, so I concluded that I was the victim of other people’s actions. Even when I had to stretch the facts or re-write them, I kept to it, because, you see, I was expressing the emotional reality of it.
F: That’s a little more profound, maybe, than the usual explanation, which would be that you couldn’t bear to admit your own culpability and so you blamed everybody but yourself, except for the times when your remorse broke through.
EH: I know what it looks like, and I’m trying to show what it didn’t look like – in other words, what didn’t show. After all, I’m not the only guy in the world who acted from what seemed like good reasons but only later found out what was really going on. Part of what we’re doing here is laying bare the process. That’s what I did all my life, was learn a thing and then teach it.
F: So the reality you are examining here is that you consciously realized that your life was moving you to places you hadn’t chosen, so you assumed it was the result of your own actions and those of other people that led to your then adapting.
EH: As long as you remember that a lot of this wasn’t conscious. I didn’t sit down and say. “here I am in Key West, it was Pauline’s fault,” or “if it hadn’t been for Pauline and my own weakness I would still be living with Hadley.”
Well, I did say the latter, but not the former.
F: Yes, I was going to object, if you had let that statement stand. What just went on?
EH: It is a delicate thought I’m trying to express, and sometimes my thought moves into an accustomed groove and goes down the groove rather than where I wanted it to go. Could be your groove, could be mine, or when you’re famous it could be a groove that thousands of other people fall into and deepen. It’s one of the hazards of fame they don’t warn you against, that this is one more way your life is not only your own.
F: Well, that is interesting! So it isn’t me jumping to conclusions and it isn’t static on the line.
EH: No, and it isn’t me not existing and just pretending to.
F: Touché. But I can see a little more clearly how distortions creep in. I wish I’d had this explanation 20 years ago, I could have saved myself a certain amount of angst.
EH: Could have. Probably wouldn’t have.
F: Well, at least I would have had an explanation of things that puzzled and worried me.
EH: You only come to explanations – anybody, I mean, not just you in particular – when you are ready for them. The same thing you get as a big “aha!” is something that has been staring you in the face for 20 years, but you didn’t recognize it till the penny dropped into the slot, for whatever reason.
So to finish this thought before you quit for the day – my life changed and then my external life changed, and that changed my life some more and then my external life changed to meet it, and on and on. This isn’t how we are taught to see the process, but it is closer to what really happens. If you are alive to that fact [that your life is not always under your conscious control], and you have no way to think of it except as a matter of whether you are in control of your life or somebody else is, you’re going to wind up in a tug of war, one more tug of war, between what seems to you other people’s attempt to control you, and your own persistent or intermittent efforts to break free and shape your own life. It may not be accurate externally – it probably won’t be accurate, how could it be? – but that’s the story you wind up living.
Once you understand that, you’ll begin to see my life a little more the way I experienced it. Mine, and your own, no matter who it is who reads this.
F: All right, Papa, that’s our time. Instructive as usual. Till next time.

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