Hemingway: Different combinations

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

2:40 a.m. So, Papa [Hemingway], I have been telling people, yesterday’s session was like the way two people get to know each other more and more intimately and then at some point the relationship gets so close that they begin to show each other their worst selves as well as their best.

And that is about the worst sentence I have written in years. Maybe it is too early for this.

Or maybe you couldn’t force the sentence to say what you consciously intended to say, because it insisted on saying something else. That isn’t necessarily a bad sign. Nothing wrong with being in over your head.

Well, I am finding it hard to focus.

The real problem isn’t your breathing, nor the fact that you haven’t had much sleep, nor even that it isn’t yet 3 a.m. The problem is that you are moving into disturbing waters, and not all of you is ready to do that.

Too bad. More of me is. Let’s proceed, and I’ll keep up as best I can.

Then let’s continue exploring the various reactions going on within me when Martha came onto the scene and began reprising Pauline’s role in the breakup with Hadley.

There had been a shift in our relative roles over the years.

Want to start again?

It will go better if you let us stumble along instead of expecting our usual fluid unravelling or unveiling or however you want to put it. This is an example of my difficulty in finding the words or even the general containers of thought to express myself. I have told you, you have read, but now you are experiencing how it was hard for me to write. It is different when you have to sit there struggling for what to say and how to say it and it isn’t just a question of editing (“how can I say this better?”) but of getting it into words in the first place. That’s where we are now.

And yet that last sentence was not difficult.

No, and if you will look at the difference in the previous sentences and then in that one, you will better appreciate the difference. I never had problems expressing what I had a grasp on, although I might have to take great pains to sculpt it. But getting a grasp could be difficult. It is much like the other difference you are experiencing, sitting with your mind blank instead of full of various lines of thought and memory and construction. It’s new, so you have a hard time dealing with it – you can’t lean on your accustomed patterns.

Part of the problem here is that you have an idea about where you think we’re going, and even though the idea is vague, it’s definite. But other things are going on, so we don’t go where you expect it to go, and that feels like confusion. The result is confusion, or can be confusion, but confusion is not the cause. The cause is discordant simultaneous input.

Like listening to two bands at once.

Like listening to one predominant thing and half-hearing a second thing, and semi-consciously or all but inaudibly hearing a third. It is hard enough if you are aware of the situation; worse if your concept is that there is only one thing playing and the rest is interference.

We’ve burned 25 minutes at this, and little to show for it.

Nothing is wasted unless it isn’t used, and even there, what one person wastes another finds very useful.

Now let’s focus in on my situation in the mid 1930s. Pauline and I had established a life together. We had had children together. We had common friends and common experiences and to some degree we lived in the same world.

Hadley and I were very close in a way that was different from the way that Pauline and I were closest. And this isn’t a difficult point, at one level. Surely it is obvious that every relationship is unique. The parts of you that engage with one person are not precisely the same parts, in the same proportions, that engage in or are called forth or suppressed in a relationship with a different person. That should be obvious to anyone who has ever had more than one relationship! And of course I am not limiting this to romantic or sexual relationships. Any relationship between any two people is going to be unique.

Well, how is that going to manifest? To each of the people involved it will seem like they are the one who is different and the other is the one who is unchanged.

Let me try. If I am in a relationship with x, certain parts of the total community that is me manifest in a certain way, and that is the “me” that x experiences. To me, the change in myself will be obvious (assuming I am perceptive enough , self-reflective enough, to realize it) and chances are I will experience it as “the person I am in x’s presence,” or let’s say “x brings out this in me.” But although I will be aware that I am or seem different when I am with x, x is likely to seem more of an unchanging quality to me. I mean, x may have as a characteristic an ever-changing nature, but that ever-changing nature will be what I experience as an unchanging quality. Not sure I clarified it any. Words really can be slippery.

You got the gist of it, but it’s true, it may not be any clearer to some than what I said. Let’s keep on with specifics and hope it clarifies.

I was not the same with Pauline as I was with Hadley or would be with Martha or Mary – and this does not refer to how I acted toward them, but how I experienced myself, and how I was “objectively.”

My relations with Max or with any of my friends or with various members of the public or my family – or anybody – the same dynamic played out, because it has to. No relationship involves the exact same parts of you as any other does. The more superficial the relationship, the less the difference is apparent, in the same way that small talk at a cocktail party is less distinct and distinctive than a tete-a-tete.

Probably we didn’t need so elaborate an explanation of something that ought to be pretty obvious, but it is the obvious things that sometimes need to be emphasized, because they are obvious. Or rather, because something that is obvious in one context may not be obvious in another context even though it is no less in force there.

So, let’s try again. Hadley and I had a closeness that was different from the closeness Pauline and I had. What we shared and what was separate were different; what attitudes we had in common were different, and surely you can see that those differences, in turn, affected where we put our energies. You’re not going to go out of your way to experience a sore spot. You aren’t going to miss chances to minimize things you have in common.

So, Pauline and I had established a life in Key West, and Paris, and Piggott, and forays elsewhere including the West and of course New York. We also lived a joint life of the mind in that she was an intelligent, perceptive, helpful critic of my work as I produced it day by day, in a way what was beyond Hadley. That doesn’t mean Pauline was smarter than Hadley, just that they excelled in different things. Pauline knew nothing of music, for instance, and Hadley really did. That isn’t something that lends itself to intellectual discussion – I mean, two people who share an appreciation for music don’t necessarily sit around and talk about it – and in the days when Hadley and I were together, [recorded] music wasn’t nearly as accessible in private as in concert halls – but still it is a bond, and it brings certain parts of yourself into play even if they don’t necessarily manifest in any obvious way. Or it would be the same thing if one person were alive to art and the other wasn’t. It isn’t a matter of what they would talk about; it is what would be a part of the mixture that was each of them expressing or not expressing.

For the first time, I understand what Fitzgerald meant when he said you would require a new woman for every major new work. I’ve read it a hundred times, but it never meant anything to me, but I think I see it now. A new relationship at the most intimate levels evoked new combinations within you, and it was out of these new combinations that you created.

Well – like most things Scott said, it was somewhat true but not as much as met the eye. We can talk about it sometime.

But not now?

Probably best not. This has been a harder session than you realize – I mean you had had to work harder than you know – and 70 minutes is enough. You can always come back fresh and do more.

It’s true, I don’t feel like we got to say much.

That’s because you are focused on Hemingway, and I and the material are focused on the human condition, just as your friend said. So we’re measuring different things.

Okay, well, you know best. Till next time, then, and thanks as always.

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