Hemingway’s outlandish stories — and what they stemmed from

Saturday, August 7, 2010

6 AM. I am not yet doing the work in the way I will need to be doing it, but a couple of questions have come to mind.

First, Papa, a question of “what if?” It seems to me that if you hadn’t gotten involved with Pauline Pfeiffer, your life would have taken a radically different course.

Without Pauline, no rich Uncle Gus.

No Uncle Gus, a much more constricted standard of living. No Key West house, no safari in Africa, hence no Green Hills, and maybe no particular affinity to Cuba because no discovery of Gulf Stream fishing, etc. Ultimately perhaps no discovery by Martha Gellhorn, no trip to Asia, etc. a lot of consequences. Is that how you see it too, and, if so, what alternative life do we see?

It’s enough to make you believe in consequences, isn’t it?

It’s enough to make me think it was a pretty costly engagement that had significant plusses and minuses for you.

I know you don’t understand about or approve of the Safari, but that was the fulfillment of a dream I’d had since I read about Col. Roosevelt’s safaris. You know full well I’d wanted to be an explorer. And I wouldn’t have given up the Stream, once I’d been out in it, for anything.

So, the downside?

Oh, it was pretty much what you know it was. Some of my strands were well content to loaf along, living the life of the very comfortable rich. And others weren’t, so they made me work hard for the money, and they pushed me to exert myself physically and mentally to earn the luxuries. Uncle Gus tipped the scales, and gradually I moved in the direction Agnes always feared I would, right when I wasn’t yet 20 years old. Why do you think I criticized Scott Fitzgerald so much for not working enough? And, his example helped keep me from becoming just like that.

Not that I would have anyway. I was first and foremost a craftsman. I needed to work and I knew I needed to work, not for the money or the fame so much as for the thing itself. We’ve talked about it. Living in that place, the place you couldn’t get to easily otherwise and not without ill effects.

I know where you are, but readers may not. The place is that mental space where you invented from. The ill effects are hangovers and blurriness if you got there from drink instead.

You had a very good quotation by Sheean. You might use it.

Yes. I wrote it down. I have to find it.

It was only Wednesday, as it happens, but it was in the previous journal book, as I finished that one the next day.

From The Hemingway Women by Bernice Kert, page 48: “Years later Vincent Sheehan remarked, after having spent time with him when the two were war correspondents, that Ernest created outlandish stories as unthinkingly as other people breathe. Most of the time his listeners could not separate his reality from his fantasy.”

I knew this was an important clue, that didn’t mean quite what people assume it means.

Yes. Some people take that to be an admission that I was an inveterate liar, or was out of contact with reality. How do you take it?

Aren’t we more concerned here with how you see it, having known it from the inside?

The point is that you are on the inside when you contact another person. We know what you know – why should you expect it to be different, the other way round?

But in fact I don’t know, except in little bits and pieces.

That’s a pretty big “except,” don’t you think? Once you’ve gone from “there can’t be any communication between minds” to “yes there can,” it’s a long way you’ve gone. After that it’s a matter of practicing and learning the knack of it. But if you expect too much, the fact that you don’t get what no one could get, could discourage you.

Let’s put it into concrete terms. If you make a friend who is well informed about something and is perfectly willing to share his knowledge with you – how much of it is he going to be able to transfer to you at any one time? He can willingly answer questions, and if his range of knowledge is enough that one thing leads to another, maybe you could go a long way on a little. But he can’t just transfer it all, like Mr. Spock doing a mind meld.

What he can do most efficiently is tell you what he has reason to tell you; that, and answer your questions. Sound familiar?

Now, when you emotionally or maybe we ought to say empathetically connect with somebody, you get flashes of insight; you don’t get laid-out expositions of facts. If you have the background to see the connections of those flashes of insight, all right, it’s as if you were given a lot of knowledge. But you weren’t. You were given a lightning-flash that lit up the terrain that was already familiar to you. If what it lights up wasn’t familiar to you, what you get is much less, maybe only a dazzling brightness lighting up one specific thing you happened to be looking at.

You can’t expect to know everything a disembodied mind knows, any more than you can that of an embodied mind, because it doesn’t work that way. Your physical brain gets in the way because it can only process so much at a time, and it is continually busy making the adjustments that bring it to the next moment of time. You can’t put the Encyclopedia Britannica on the head of a pin, and if you could, you might have a hell of a time reading it.

Without the limitations of the physical body/brain, operating in time-space, yes, what I know, you know. But that isn’t what’s going on here. How could it be?

Now, to return: You know what I know, to the extent you can bring it within your physical limits. So what about my outlandish stories?

This puts a different light on the whole process. Thanks. It gives me something to chew on, and I’ll do the chewing.

Your outlandish stories. What it tells me is that you continually lived between two worlds, or more probably you lived in both worlds at the same time, all the time. And it blurred the boundaries for you, didn’t it?

Keep going.

After I got familiar With Focus 27, the mental state where we create instantly and continuously, a non-physical state (at least, I used to think of it as non-physical, because it was mental) that tracks physical reality, I recognized that children live as much in Focus 27 as they do in ordinary consciousness. The boy sitting in a cardboard box that’s really a spaceship, or a sailboat, or a stagecoach, knows it’s a cardboard box, but he also knows it’s a stagecoach or whatever. The two realities don’t separate until later. Teen age, I suppose, or maybe the age of reason, for all I know. And some people’s imagination is stronger, or maybe they never lose the key to the kingdom, and for them it isn’t the way Wordsworth described – which I will quote if I can find it, but amounts to this: common daylight is a poor substitute for the reality children know and grownups forget. Lose, actually.

You have it. And I never lost it, which is what I meant when I said all writers are liars. I never did realize that most writers were not like me mentally. I knew they weren’t usually as physical; I knew they didn’t usually work as hard or read as much or want so much. (I don’t mean want so many things – I mean want so intensely.) But it’s only now that I see that it wasn’t laziness on their part necessarily or willingness to sell out, as you would say. They didn’t have the key. They didn’t create by letting themselves go, in the way I did. And when Scott wrote to order for the Saturday Evening Post, giving them what they wanted, I can see now that it wasn’t a betrayal of anything for him to do that, because it was entirely different for him. He had to work to get the picture. I had to work to express what I saw. That was all the difference between the way we created, but it was everything.

Not sure that will be clear enough for everybody.

I always said he had all that talent and should have been the greatest writer we had. But what he had was the ability to write easily and smoothly and compellingly all in one flow, that I never had. What he didn’t have was ideas, and pictures, and a tremendous reliable internal connection that would have fed him stories as fast as he could have written them out, like Mozart having the skill and having the access and producing like a fountain. So he wound up writing trash, exercising a profitable skill, but not using it to say anything. Gatsby was his moment. He snagged a connection and it lasted long enough for him to create a rounded finished piece – and wouldn’t you know it, his public was disappointed, because what they expected and wanted was his usual horseshit.

But I never saw it till now, that it wasn’t laziness on his part, or lack of work, or even Zelda. He didn’t have the access. He was given a great talent, and nothing to say and no way to acquire anything to say.

Whereas you –

I plucked stories from the air, like Mozart hearing fully developed tunes. But unlike Mozart, I had to sweat blood to craft the result. I might have just told tall tales, you know, if I hadn’t been a craftsman. I might have found a niche and filled it, and if it wasn’t for my broad center of competitiveness – it’s pretty wide to be called just a streak – maybe I would have. But I wanted to be great, and I wanted to do right what I saw all around me being done wrong, so I couldn’t settle. And I never did.

You certainly didn’t. You changed the language and the way we use language and the way we see things.

And if it hadn’t been for Gus Pfeiffer’s money I wouldn’t have gotten trapped in The Hemingway Myth that obscured all that.

Maybe you’d have won the Nobel Prize a decade earlier, or more.

Don’t you believe it. That kind of prize comes for only two reasons, neither one good. Either they give it to you for some political reason of their own, making a point, or they give it because they have to, because you’ve outlived and outworked all the non-entities they already gave it to, and they just can’t not give it to you. Although even then, it’s political, and if you don’t give them an excuse to give it to you maybe they won’t anyway, it’s so embarrassing to them that they didn’t do it earlier. If I hadn’t written The Old Man And The Sea and given them the excuse that this time I’d written about an uplifting subject and an admirable man – as if Spain and Robert Jordan weren’t enough – they never would have figured out how to climb off that limb that was making their prize ridiculous.

But it’s getting to your limits.

75 minutes so far. Not a problem yet. I don’t think we’re finished with focus 27 and C1– that is, the imaginal world and common sense consciousness.

Well, go on.

Your stories about your own past, that kept changing and getting better. It wasn’t any different, was it?

I wasn’t ever as calculating as my biographers seem to think. I’d tell a story and it was a story. If I liked it, why shouldn’t I tell it? And Sheean saw, you see. He saw that the storytelling came naturally to me. It wasn’t a skill, it was a background. In fact, the thing I had to watch against was Yeats’s artist’s temptation: creation without toil. Telling the story was as easy as anything. Writing it, was hard, and exacting, and it was work. All during the war, I told my stories, I didn’t write them. It was lucky I was able to get back to working at all, afterwards.

I guess I’m finished, actually. I have a couple more connections half in my mind, but only half. A very nice session today. Thanks.

[Courtesy of Bartleby and the Internet, I find the Wordsworth poem I was thinking about: Intimations Of Immortality, specifically these lines: 57-58 and 76-77, but they don’t make much sense without the connecting lines]

William Wordsworth. 1770–1850


“Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”

Whither is fled the visionary gleam?

Where is it now, the glory and the dream?


Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:

The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,         60

Hath had elsewhere its setting,

And cometh from afar:

Not in entire forgetfulness,

And not in utter nakedness,

But trailing clouds of glory do we come            65

From God, who is our home:

Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

Shades of the prison-house begin to close

Upon the growing Boy,

But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,   70

He sees it in his joy;

The Youth, who daily farther from the east

Must travel, still is Nature’s priest,

And by the vision splendid

Is on his way attended;       75

At length the Man perceives it die away,

And fade into the light of common day.

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