Relaxing about the agenda

[In going through communications received from Rita and Nathaniel over the course of the past five years, I find this, from February, 2015, which seems particularly appropriate in this anxiety-filled moment.]


The only time you feel lost and alone is when you don’t feel your connection to more than the 3D-defined self that the senses report. As long as you remain in connection – or, and this is important, as long as you live in faith that the connection has not ceased to exist – you don’t have to worry that you don’t know what to do, where you’re going to end up, if you’re safe, if “external” events are going to overwhelm you. If you remain aware of your connections, you recognize that the hardest challenges have meaning, and that it is very true that “all is well, all is always well,” regardless of whether you see it or not, feel it or not, approve of conditions or not, feel adequate to circumstances or not.

You don’t need to do anything, any time, but your best, and in this context “doing your best” refers not primarily to external efforts but to your attitude, your concentration on the underlying point to all of life’s challenges, which is, how do I respond to this? What are my values and how do I express them? How will my response to circumstances show me who and what I am to date?

Can’t get lost, can’t get hurt.


You know full well you can get lost, can get hurt, judging in 3D terms. I don’t mean to explain away difficulties any more than to explain away evil or suffering in general. But it is true that from your non-3D perspective you can see that the 3D drama doesn’t mean what it seems to mean from within the drama. Life is meant to be convincing, after all. How much would it accomplish for you to be going through the motions saying, “I know I just broke my arm, but it really doesn’t mean anything”? No, when you break your arm you can’t define your arm into an unbroken state. (The question of miracles is a side-trail at the moment.) It is in non-3D that we experience instant manifestation, instant change. The point of 3D circumstances is delayed consequences so you don’t have to experience everything as ephemeral. I well remember that often enough you would like nothing better, but all that would happen is that you would define away anything you didn’t like or didn’t approve of, and therefore couldn’t profit from the play.

Which bears on the topic of why there is so much pain and suffering in the world. It is because we can’t escape the consequences of our actions merely by wishing them away. Pain and suffering are the results of decisions and actions in 3D. Some are our own, and some are not. Therefore we experience results both first-hand and second-hand. Come to think of it, this sounds like the old “Earth school” concept I have so much resistance to. So I suppose that aspect of it must be true, or true enough in context.

3D experience is always real in the way that anything is real that does not yield to contrary desire. And it is the persistence of external conditions that is a prime value in 3D. But the fact that such perceived conditions are only relatively true (i.e. true only while in 3D) is your Ariadne’s thread out of the 3D labyrinth.

You aren’t in charge of the agenda – therefore you can relax about it. You aren’t lost or perplexed at the non-3D level, and if you can learn to trust that “all is well,” you will find your own way easier, not because “external” circumstances ease (they may, they may not) but because you don’t waste so much energy in anxiety.

An important dream

Friday, August 10, 2012

5:30 a.m. I had a long dream that seems to me just like my life. I was one of a group of kids going for a hike. a Boy Scout patrol, probably. I was at the rear of the column, talking with my cousin Tom, I think. I changed places with him, and I was on the right side of the column. We started off, and my hat blew off. I had to get it, which only took seconds, but when I went to catch up with the others, they were nowhere in sight. I followed up the road in the direction we had been going, but couldn’t see them anywhere ahead. I came to a crossroads, continued straight on, heading where I thought they were headed, but I never saw them again. I think the road turned into a dirt road. A series of strange things happened (I knew at the time, but couldn’t remember when I woke up). I couldn’t ever find the others again. I knew I would be blamed, accused of not looking for them or of deliberately going off on my own. I knew I’d never be able to prove that I really had tried to keep up with the others – and I also gradually realized, it wasn’t  anything I’d done that had separated me from them, it had just happened.

I woke up thinking, well, that’s my life.

[Addition, 2020]: This is the best capsule description of my life that i have ever seen. I never intended to be different. I was just another kid among kids, doing what they were doing. The wind — the spirit? — blew off my hat and led me to chase after it, and in the impossibly short time that my attention was distracted, I lost sight of the others — of ordinary life and was never able to rejoin it. Even at the time, I recognized that my actions would look like willful deliberate eccentricity and that nobody around me would believe I was just living my life, with my contemporaries not in sight. As to the strange things that happened after the street became a dirt road, well, that was accurate enough too. I didn’t remember them then and I don’t now.

Interesting how our life is sometimes foretold in our dreams, or encapsulated, or explained.

Hemingway on writing


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

10:30 AM. Finished The Sun Also Rises, again, with just as much enjoyment as ever. But, Papa, a thought occurs to me that, for all I know, you may be wanting me to ask: Brett Ashley, for one, certainly can’t claim to be part of a “lost generation” because of the war she was never in. Neither can Robert Cohn, for that matter. It leads me to generalize, the war was to some extent a rationalization for them, or am I missing something as usual. Would you comment on the lost generation, and your share of the responsibility, if any, for it achieving currency?

A more concise accusation would be helpful to you later.

Would it? All right, let’s see. Because of The Sun Also Rises, the postwar generation romanticized itself and thereby to some extent falsified its past and present. And that was your doing, and Fitzgerald’s, more than any other person’s.

That is a common accusation. But I ask you, is it reasonable to assume that one or two writers, even several, could shape a generation’s perceptions in any way they wished? Fitzgerald said it very well, he was getting paid to tell people that he felt the same way they did. How far would we have gotten if we had tried to glorify the war and pretend that it had been a glorious success? Can you see us writing Mr. Britling Sees It Through in 1924? I wrote what I believed, and I believed what I had seen, and heard, and discussed, and thought about, and knew.

I didn’t make up Lady Ashley. I didn’t make up Bill Gorton or, Robert Cohn or anybody. No, I didn’t copy anybody in the way a portrait-painter might, but in my imaginings, I kept close enough to what I knew firsthand that I was accused of writing a roman a clef. In fact, it was a roman a clef. So how can I be accused of writing something that didn’t exist?

But you dramatized them, and thereby cast them in a romantic glow, and thereby seduced plenty of young people and not-so-young people.

Consider the argument. If true, where would it lead? Could we then dramatize anything? If dramatizing is romanticizing and romanticizing is falsifying — is seducing — where is the legitimate scope for fiction? What should we do?

So you feel no responsibility for the longer-term effects of The Sun Also Rises?

As I understand it, anything that is unconscious is beyond our control. Only by becoming conscious of a drive or a complex or anything, can we master it. Right? And if that is so for any one individual, it must be true for groups of individuals, in other words, for society at large, present and future. And how is this going to happen if artists don’t do it?

So in other words, the results of the trauma were there, and it was artists who bared the wound so it could be treated.

Again, if we had not been saying what people wanted to hear, would they have listened? If you look at who succeeds at any given time, you see who society agrees with.

Would you have said that in life?

Hell no. In life I saw it as a struggle, and I saw plenty of phonies make a career, but that is a different kind of telling society what it wanted to hear. That was pandering.

Care to go into it a little more?

Well, I can see the pitfalls, of course, but still I’m not wrong on this. Some artists are shallow and that’s all they can reflect. They can imitate or they can report shallows but no depths. They have their public that corresponds to them. That is why most so-called literature is always imitation or shallow playing with words. At any given time, most of what is coming into print, or is being hung in contemporary galleries, is just stuff of the moment, stuff that can’t last and shouldn’t last. And I guess there’s nothing wrong with that, come to think of it, because it serves a function. But of course when you’re doing your best to tell the deepest thing you know, and especially when you have succeeded, it’s irritating — it’s maddening — to see so much trash selling in such numbers. Look at any bestsellers list, 10 years on, and you’ll be shocked. Even more so 100 years on, when you look for the books and artwork you by then know were great, and you can’t find them. Moby-Dick wasn’t on the bestsellers list, and neither was Walden. You get the idea. Take a look at the lists from my time.

You made them pretty consistently.

I did. I’m just reminding you why I was sometimes frantic, trying to be sure my publisher was working on my behalf.

If I hear you rightly, even the ephemeral trash meets a need.

Sure, or it wouldn’t sell. But selling a lot of copies doesn’t make it worthwhile and doesn’t mean it’s going to last. It is fast food. That isn’t what I was doing.

It was what Fitzgerald was doing, though.

We’ve talked about that. He was primarily making money, and succeeding. And he was doing it by writing. That is a very different thing from primarily writing and trying to also make money and succeed. But he had so much natural talent! The words came so easily to him! If they had come as easily to me, but truly, my career would have surpassed Shakespeare. And if he had known what I knew, learned as I learned, if he had been serious as I was, he would have surpassed Shakespeare. Instead he minted money from the Saturday Evening Post.

However, it isn’t Fitzgerald who is on trial, here, but Hemingway.

So judge me on my intent and on my execution. What else is there to judge a man on? His influence? His posthumous reputation? His imitators?

My intent was to write truly and deeply, to clean up the language from frills and decorations, and to restore it to the purity of the language as it was spoken. I know that “purity” sounds odd in the context of campaigning for an end to the censorship that wouldn’t let us say shit or balls, let alone cocksucker, but purity is the right word. A language that is prettified or prudishly censored isn’t pure, it is an imitation of something that doesn’t exist and can’t exist and shouldn’t exist.

That was my intent. My execution speaks for itself, in a score of short stories and half a dozen novels that aren’t going to die for a long, long time, until civilization is changed unrecognizably. And the rest of the short stories, and the lesser novels, are going to live a while too. Not bad for an old man who sweated out every word even when he was going good.

As to my influence and my imitators and my reputation, well, they may have to take care of themselves. I’m content to rest on what I wanted to do, and trained myself to become able to do, and did.

I agree. Thanks, Papa.



Cross-time communication: An example

[In going through past entries, I found this one from my brother Paul. I emailed him: “I would like to post your summary of your talks with the Paleolithic (or whenever) cave artist. Okay with you, and if so, with or without attribution as to who you are?” He replied that I could use it any way I liked, added “It’s nice to see it again,” and reminded me that the artist had humorously said Paul should call him “Og” because it was a caveman sort of name in our modern stereotype.

[By way of explanation I should add that my brother has spent years making pottery (as an avocation), and one day, after seeing a video on the cave art discovered in France, it occurred to him to invite the artist to use Paul’s hands to help shape pottery. Paul and I talked long-distance and this is his record of that three-way (so to speak) conversation and later internal conversations.]

10/12/12 recollections from connection with the Chauvet Cave painter

I was painting for the entire group, not a solitary painter figure. Could express a common viewpoint. Skills often were passed along loosely—not patrilineally—within a family. Materials varied from the cheapest, least durable to what is still in the cave today. Materials not a major obstacle—took the work of grinding, experimenting. Bone used to grind, bone also became ground in.

Frank: A group effort like the European cathedrals, giving glory to God?

This drew a total blank response for several moments.

God wasn’t “up there.” The spirit was everywhere. It vibrated in everything. (Image of rocks, trees, people, plants, the earth—all with that vibration.)

A sense of their tangible feeling of the moon—it had a geophysical presence. That lunar vibration was one of the various spiritual vibrations they tangibly sensed. They felt its influence far more than we do today.

Other reasons to paint?

 Some reasons will still resonate: a sense of mortality and a drive to some type of immortality; an urge to communicate “this is how it was.”

Was the paint the most difficult aspect.

No, light was the most difficult aspect.

[Further questions on how they dealt with that.]

We had fuel that didn’t smoke very much; ventilation was also better than you now imagine. Still, the issue of light was difficult. The good fuel wasn’t common, the ventilation took some arranging and some labor; if the ventilation flickered the flame too much that was also a problem.

The work of many different people over time?

Oh yes.

Connection with Paul?

Have already connected. The movie [“Cave of Forgotten Ancestors”] was a hot spot of connection [that had been previously lightly made]. I have worked with Paul in clay.

What’s your benefit?

Electrical power. So many things are much more easily done now—a joy to work with. Also the connection itself, the recognition & appreciation of my—our—work. The teacher-student relationship, though over time we may sometimes switch roles.

Was there an economic surplus? Or does Frank’s suggestion ring truer that such societies may have plenty of free time.

That varied with the circumstance. If things got tough, seasonally or more permanently, then life was harder with less free time. Did I hunt and paint? Yes. It made me a better painter as well as a better hunter. Your society’s high specialization is very different. My energy on this [i.e. lack or avoidance of specialization] resonates so strongly with yours that at this point you are wondering more than usual how much of this you are making up. I hunted less than some, just as the family spent more time preparing paints than others did storing food. There was some division of labor. Mine was respected work. Art-spirit-hunting were all unified.

Were you considered a shaman?

Not exactly. But I was considered more connected than some to a spirit level. The spirit was not a static thing to be worshipped; it guided us along.

I feel these great distances between us, such differences.

We can attain some common ground, which is why we are here now.

Agreed. I had mentioned to Frank earlier that I would try to work in the studio with you consciously there; you, I heard, had already been there without my conscious knowledge. I do love the music.
Como se llama?

“Og” will do. Suits your ideas.

Ok… Your family?

Complicated, to you, pre-nuclear, very extended. Overlapping relations, more communal than yours (could it be less so?). Not monogamous, necessarily.

Were you in a Renaissance of your culture?

Every culture has its ups and downs—at this time the concepts and techniques of painting were relatively highly developed. We had the work of our predecessors near at hand, the support & respect of the culture, we lived if not in comfort by your standards at least the wolf was not at the door, nor did cold gnaw at us, and relative peace and stability prevailed at the time.

Thank you. May we connect later.

Yes, may we connect later.



I connected with “Og” in the studio yesterday. Using some pretty stiff clay we threw a water jug. That hadn’t been my intention; after the fact it made perfect sense. What better representation of an essential form for his time. There is more work to be done with it—I’ll try to maintain the connection through the last step.  

One leap for you is the extent to which we lived and breathed and died with the animals. The culture was dependent upon and informed by the wealth of animal life. And we didn’t eat the owls. [A reference to the owl painting in the cave]. You are familiar, from the knowledge of your own hunter-gatherers, particularly the Plains culture, of the respect for the hunted.

The owl may be a good carving for the water jug. For you it is wisdom. In our culture it was a great communicator, a hunter, a trickster (throwing its voice)—a great hunter: silent, fierce, nocturnal. Our own hunting wasn’t limited to daylight, which is apparent to you after a moment of thought.

Not sure of the connection between water & the owl.

Consider it indirect, but both representative of the way that we lived.

I have killed the great bison, like the one that I painted. I would have lacked the “street cred” as you would say, had I not done so and then painted it anyway. It would have be an imposture to do so. Some did, or tried. But it showed.


Nice working with you on Wed., when we incised the owl onto the water jug.  I tried to use the shape of the jug to the advantage of the owl shape—felt a little more capable in that regard.

You can see that benefits of: bringing the intention and the awareness to the effort, experience, confidence—all of these things interacting with each other.  You had a feel also for what curves and shapes would be expressive of the owl, not only in defining the image as an owl but also its emotional resonance or energy.   



Interesting looking last night at the water jug again. I understood how I could better use the surface on the jug to portray the owl. Wasn’t sure why I hadn’t seen that earlier as I was doing it.

Experience breeds improvement, and experience over time is an organic growth. That is, some things take time to grow and develop.  Second, you approached the project with an idea that you would replicate the image from the cave, by way of your drawing of it, onto the jug.  In process, you altered that somewhat to take some advantage of the jug shape.  However, the original idea was still in your mind, so the result was some of each: an alteration, but also some adherence to the original idea of replication.  Nor do you yet know that your most recent thought about the design will actually play out well—you’ll have to try it to know.  And you will have to deal with loyalty to the spirit of the image rather than to the image itself.

Memory of hearing an owl last night, walking home from the studio.  Not uncommon.

What struck you about that owl’s call last night?

First, that I had heard one from a distance by the Mondo’s property as I was walking home from the studio.  Second, that as I was about to enter my garage I heard the same call from much closer—perhaps our redwoods.

An appreciation from the owl for those trees.

The clarity and beauty and power of the call.  From an e-mail with Maria earlier in the week, an appreciation of living amongst the owls as a normal part of our lives.  Now, today, an appreciation for their contribution to the natural cycle of life and death, their assistance in predation upon the garden pests.  And now a reminder that you and I share the owl as a connection to animal life (see 10/15 entry).

The owl as ally.  Or owl-eye.

Your culture wasn’t above puns?

There is low life in every village.

Consider that your work gains power as it represents the spirit.  You don’t need [to represent] every detail of an owl feather.  Now it might be helpful to carefully observe such detail, but the spirit and the individual symbolism you can portray are more important.  We communicate because you are interested in throwing off he clutter of your culture.

Thank you.


Hemingway and war

Friday, June 15, 2012

Well Papa, I don’t know if I am up for working this morning, but I know it will not feel good if I don’t.

That’s what it is to be a craftsman. And you can figure what World War II did to me if you relate it to the time professional baseball players lost out of their career while at the top of their game. The only difference is in the nature of the trades — theirs was seasonal anyway, and they figured to have only perhaps 20 years. So on the one hand they were used to spending a part of each year neither playing nor training and on the other hand the clock ticked even louder for them than for an author who might reasonably hope to go on as long as Yeats or Joyce. And, of course, whatever happened to baseball players during the war couldn’t improve their game, while a writer would always be learning things.

I do see that. Very well, in your defense, what will you say about Men At War?

I’m proud of it. What would the accusation be?

Well, I don’t know, really. I’ll look around when I get to reviewing the biographies and critical studies, and see if I can find someone criticizing it. I’m sure someone did.

People have such strange images of me — sometimes two or three conflicting images at the same time. Thus they can’t see anything straight. Now, that anthology is a good example. Think of the things you have seen about Hemingway and war:

He glorified war.

He swaggered and postured and pretended.

He encouraged defeatism and pacifism (even though ahead of time, in a book published a dozen years before our entry into World War II and four years before the Nazis took power).

He had no interest in the war effort.

He used sub hunting as an excuse to get government gasoline.

He drank his way across France and didn’t really do the job for Colliers he was paid to do.

He was a coward.

I don’t know that I’ve actually seen anyone accuse you of being a coward. That would be a very hard accusation to sustain, in the face of so much evidence to the contrary.

You’ll find it. Once you are looking for it, it will be there.

All right. Well, I see your bill of particulars. Any others you care to add?

Merely detailed additions. Couldn’t read maps, didn’t understand the situation, that kind of thing.

That’s ridiculous.

I didn’t say reasonable accusations, only accusations that had been made.

All right. So —

So if people would read my introduction to Men At War they would see my attitude toward war and the people who make or allow war and the men who wind up fighting the wars — and the dismal prospect of another hundred years of fighting one war after another, or one act after another in the same war. Not a bad prophecy, by the way.

No. More than 70, to date. It often seems like we should be coming out the other side, but then something new is employed to keep the bombs falling. But to keep this to you —

I predicted the second war in 1934 or ’35. I said we should stay out of it, and you’ll notice that Carl Jung said the same thing in print. I didn’t trust Roosevelt not because I thought he wanted war but because I didn’t trust him to realize the consequences of what he did. The submarine disasters of 1942 demonstrated that I was right about that! And in a way I felt that I and the other sub-hunters were having to clean up after Roosevelt’s policy of attacking German subs before we were at war without realizing that we were going to need a defense against those subs when the war came.

As I have said elsewhere, I saw the second war with jaundiced eyes. I was no fan of the British or French governments, and if I supported the Russians it was in the way that the hero of For Whom The Bell Tolls did — because there was no real alternative in the circumstances.

Neither did I have a great admiration for the military brass. Read Across The River And Into The Trees if you want my opinion — via Col. Cantwell — of the vast majority of them, with honorable exceptions. And if you want my opinion of the poor motherfuckers who did the actual killing and dying, read, for instance, “Black Ass At The Crossroads.” As I said somewhere, war itself is just what Sherman said it was. You couldn’t admire the process or the result. You could only admire the heights individuals could attain while struggling with it. But often enough it was “the cross that lifteth me.” No Calvary was any crueler than what many of those men went through — and I did go through that with them, remember, in Hurtgen forest. I didn’t shirk that.

I put together Men At War, and wrote that introduction, before any of it came to me. When I wrote that, my only experience with combat was observing it in Italy for a few days all told, and observing it in Spain amid many distractions political and personal. But there isn’t much that I said in that introduction that I would take back, or would have to take back.

I don’t know how we will work this into the book. Maybe we won’t be able to. But I’m glad to have it.

Every facet improves your synthesis of the whole jewel, to mix metaphors severely.

I think you could reasonably claim shell-shock, or PTSD, in defense of some of your postwar actions.

Perhaps. We’ll have to see how the trial goes.

Meaning you might not need to?

Meaning the rhythm of it will establish itself and you will shape the material as best you can, and some things will drop out.

And there’s no predicting what.

You can’t know the shape of it ahead of time; too many variables including within yourself.

My present excuse for a plan is to read your books and stories as we go along and get your reaction to whatever occurs to me. But I didn’t read your introduction, I read the piece about Borodino, instead, and a very short piece by Alexander Woollcott.

People forget that those are pieces that I chose. I selected them, for a reason, as I stated in my introduction. It would be a mistake to think of the introduction as mine and the pieces I selected as somehow disconnected from it, as though I were writing an introduction to a friend’s novel. The pieces I chose reflect on me; they show my tastes; they show what I thought it was important for young soldiers to know.

I don’t know the Hemingway scholarship, but I haven’t ever seen an article focused on the book or the introduction.

Writing about me by figuring out who I really was is too complicated for some people, and not dramatic enough. Besides, too much of what there is to be seen contradicts what “everybody knows” about Hemingway. Safer for your career to leave it alone.

Not for my career.

No, a career as academic. Not a career you chose, though you might have done, with very different results.

A road not taken. I’m happy enough with this one.

You could still teach. That path is not quite closed to you.

Well, we’ll see. I’m happy doing this.

You are when you’re working. Not so happy otherwise, and you can’t work all the time.


Hemingway on literary criticism

Thursday, June 21, 2012

9:15 PM. So, Papa, The Dangerous Summer.

You have, in that book that is made out of my materials by surgery, the roots of an understanding that you haven’t yet come to. But — the accusation?

Well, I don’t know that I have one. Let’s see. You knew bullfighting, you knew bullfighters and were friends with them. You knew and liked Hotchner — so, what accusation could be made?

Do I have to frame the accusations against me myself?

Maybe this isn’t a subject where you are vulnerable to accusation.

Don’t be ridiculous. I am vulnerable to accusation on every side, at every point in my life, because if I am conceded to be sincere and accurate, I cannot easily be a phony and inaccurate elsewhere. I’d say the accusation is that I was opinionated but not knowledgeable, that I thought I was more important than those around me did, that I was in some way pitiful in my ignorance of who I really was.

Is such an accusation worth answering?

It may or may not be worth answering, but you can’t answer someone who doesn’t want to be persuaded, and you can’t very easily prove a negative.

Let me say only this. The friendships are known. The erudition in Death is evident. The respect from my contemporaries is known. It is the professional critics and the academics who mistrusted me, and this was not because they weren’t outdoorsmen but because they could not speak my language. Had they been able to read me, and read my writing, as I lived it and wrote it, many misunderstandings would not have arisen.

Can you say some more about that?

If you read the Bible as a science text, you are going to go astray. If you read fiction as disguised biography or history, you are going to go astray. Now, I know why they were often tempted to do so, but it is still a mistake.

Take The Sun Also Rises. It is easy enough for people to find the originals from whom I had created characters. But what does not seem to occur to them is that I felt under no compulsion to have these characters do only what they are originating models did or might have done. In other words, a novel is not the place for settling scores, or setting the record straight, or even for re-working quarrels so that you get the last word. That’s not what a novel is for and the novelist who tries using it for that purpose is going to discover that propaganda and apologetics are not art. Therefore — and why isn’t it obvious? — having an idea who the characters were modeled on tells you nothing about whether their actions or even their character in the story has anything at all to do with life. It may, it may not, but if it does, it is because what the story demands happens to be what the person did in life. There isn’t any necessary connection, and if we have to disguise names and actions to avoid libel suits, this has more to do with legal liability than with art.

Then there is the use of symbols. Academics will not get it into their heads that the artist cannot deliberately use a symbol in the way they seem to think he does. You just can’t, and if they had ever written a novel, and seen what worked and what didn’t work (would not work), they’d know. Melville used along whaling voyage to tell his tale, and the symbols that arose from that voyage enriched the story. But do you really think he created the white whale as a symbol of evil, as some think? Or of malevolent Nature? I think (out of my experience which surpasses his because it includes his), I know — that that is not the way it works. It is the opposite of how it works. You tell what had to happen, and any symbolism arises out of that telling. Try to tell it the other way — create your symbol, manipulate it like a chess man in order to come to your predetermined moral — and see what you get.

If the critics and academics would criticize and academize the way I wrote, they could bring real light to the subject, but only that way. And many do; I don’t mean to imply they don’t. But the theory they’re working under hampers them.

Can you spell it out a little?

My job as artist is to snag a story idea, nurture it, shake it with as much as it is in me, and tell it, as best I can. That’s all. If I can do that well, I’ve done more than most so-called artists accomplish. In other words, a story should be true, meaningful, sincere, and as unmanageable as can still be barely managed. That is the fishing and the catching and the boating, and the author has done what he can for his public. Then if the critics and scholars examine what the fish really is, they can tell us things of value — “us” including the author, for it is their job to make what was unconscious conscious. It is for them to examine, and classify, and appreciate the fish. It is no part of their job to relate the fish to the fisherman’s longings, failings, accomplishments, marriages, bank accounts, or standing with church or state. Is for them to evaluate what has been done, not speculate on what he may have meant to do or wished to do. In doing what is no part of their job, they necessarily fail to do what is a legitimate part of their true job, a job that could be of great service if they would only perform it.

Now, understand, I am talking a literary criticism, not biography. I realize that anyone in the public eye is at the mercy of biographers and other slanderers intentional or otherwise. But bad biography cannot hurt good literature except to the extent that critics mix the two genres. And this they are all too prone to do, gossiping over tea.

Biographers such as Michael Reynolds certainly did you no harm.

No. And perhaps you can see that it is a legitimate thing for a biographer to use the facts of your life to illustrate your art, but it is an illegitimate thing for a critic to use the life to explain the art away.

But this is a useless effort, because it isn’t going to persuade anybody.

Still, you got it on the record.

We’ll see if it affects the judge.


Hemingway and Hadley

In 2012 I was writing a novel to be called Papa’s Trial, which would be about Hemingway’s past-life review after his suicide, he thinking he was on trial. It took another seven years for me to finish the novel (which is at a publisher’s as I write this, waiting for their decision). Among a number of conversations with Hemingway at the time, there was one in which his first wife and lifelong love Hadley joined in.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Hadley after she left Bryn Mawr and returned home to live with her mother and sister, was “afraid to shut my eyes at night for fear of the terrors that were to come.” She should have been able to share that with Hemingway. I wonder if they did? I could say so in PT, anyway.


You could talk to Hadley as easily as to me, you know.

Oh, I don’t know. I think I am making all this up quite enough as it is! Every new person, new viewpoint, just makes it harder.

At some point you have to cease to clutch, and accept.

Haven’t I been doing that? But there’s a limit. I feel like I’m just inventing freely. That’s well and good if I’m writing a novel –

Writing a novel based on materials you have developed in months of talking to me. If I don’t exist, Hadley doesn’t exist, but if I do, how doesn’t she?

All right. Big gulp again. Hadley, if you’re there and willing to talk, it is a pleasure to meet you. If you’re there, you’re here, so you know how much I admire you, and how glad I am for what you did for Ernest, and he for you.

[Hadley]: Yes, thank you. And you can lecture me about drinking, too, if you wish, and I will not take it amiss.

Did I lecture, Papa?

Can let’s say you persisted in presenting your viewpoint and, pretty consistently.

Your energy feels different.

I am with Hadley.

So we feel different, or I guess we expressed differently, depending on who we join minds with?

Shouldn’t that be obvious?

I suppose, but I hadn’t thought about it until now. It does make sense. It is just what I have been saying about us eliciting from somebody whatever we share with them, and not what we don’t share.

Yes, with reservations. Just as with mirrors, they can sometimes show you what you aren’t, as well as what you are.

I get it. So I can talk to both of you about drinking without myself being in the habit of heavy or habitual drinking.

That’s put very diplomatically. However, remember that diplomacy is wasted in these circumstances.

You must have been a lovely lady as well as a lively girl.

Thank you. Ernest found me so.

So, to revert to the question that started this, did you and Ernest mutually confide these nighttime fears?

Of course. We had our emotional honeymoon before we were married, and it was during those months that we opened ourselves to each other. Of course there were secrets, there are always secrets, but we weren’t attempting to deceive as much as create a better reality. Ernest did not attempt to present himself as the strong silent war hero. What he really was, was hero enough for me.

So you really were available to him when he was feeling most vulnerable.

Ernest was an extremely complicated man, the deepest man I ever met. I could provide him with emotional support, and I did, but I could not go everywhere he went. I could keep up with him intellectually in any one place, but he was capable of being in so many places! No one I knew could accompany every facet Ernest displayed. Pauline couldn’t. In fact, I think you could say that each successive wife was capable of accompanying less and less of him, which left him more and more lonely.

[EH] That’s true. It wasn’t just guilt I felt over leaving you. I missed the sympathy in many areas where later I didn’t have it. Couldn’t find it. After a while couldn’t have responded to it, I suppose.

Hmm. Well, I hope you are both happy with the way, Papa’s Trial is going.

We hope you are happy with it.

Slow and steady wins the race. Nice meeting you, Hadley. I’ll be glad to talk to you anytime. Goodbye for now.