Papa and Me
Classes are done for the summer. My brain is fried from cranking out damn near forty pages of research over the course of the last week, and I’m in a nervous state of uncertainty of whether I will have a job or at least an unpaid internship by the end of the month. It’s days like this where you need to relax. Nobody ever wrote anything of note when they were anxious and uptight. Your ideas don’t flow like they should. I’m sitting in the courtyard of the National Portrait Gallery. On a muggy day like this I want to do nothing more than sit here and write. The courtyard is a beautiful and calming sanctuary, and a welcome escape from the fast-paced, cut-throat, stuffy landscape of the typical DC workday. The water from the floor fountains babbles like music, and the sunlight breaks through the glass ceiling marvelously. I’ve just wandered the gallery, and am now having an afternoon beer (Flying Dog Dead Rise) while I sit here letting my words bleed.
"There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit at your typewriter and bleed."
These are the words of my greatest literary sage, Ernest Hemingway. Two days ago was his 115th birthday and it made me think about how he still has an effect on young writers like myself. People either think two things when you tell them that you admire Papa Hemingway. You’re either the ultimate badass, an embodiment of manhood, courage, and cool, or they think you’re a misogynistic asshole who drinks too much, finds entertainment in the killing of large animals, and longs to return to a time when men could sit around at lunch sipping martinis, and casually make un-P.C.comments about Jews. I for one came to regard Papa for entirely different reasons.
My love for Hemingway started in Middle School when I was first assigned to read ‘The Old Man and The Sea.’ Around the same time the Milwaukee Museum was featuring a film on the novella as well as a feature on the life of Hemingway. My grandfather was a Hemingway fan himself and took me to see the film. I enjoyed it, but at my young age I didn’t understand certain parts of the story. Throughout High School I was assigned to read a number of Hemingway’s short stories, of course I was doing so much reading back then that I hardly had any down time between school, sports, and spending time with friends. Then during my senior year of college a history professor of mine asked me if I had ever read anything by Hemingway. Aside from the previously mentioned pieces I couldn’t say that I had. He recommended that I read The Sun Also Rises. He told me that the truly powerful nature of the book was how it has been able to cross generations in how people identified with it.
A lot in the world has changed since the 20s, but I was eager to give the book a read. In the Fall of 2010 I was living abroad, interning at the U.S. Embassy in Vienna, Austria. I took Dr. Matson’s advice and brought three Hemingway novels along for the ride; A Farewell to Arms, For Whom The Bells Tolls, and The Sun Also Rises. I took the books with me wherever i went, both in the city and on my travels. I was struck. Each book spoke to me in a way that I couldn’t have imagined before. The more time I spent in Vienna the more I started to see connections between my time in the City of Dreams, and Papa’s time drunkenly carousing the streets of Paris with Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Pound, and Stein. I had my extravagant and indulgent band of ex-pats, thinkers and drinkers, writers, philosophers, diplomats, artists, musicians, filmmakers, and everyone else in between. We came from different places and all had different thoughts, but we were all trying to make sense of the times we lived in. Our gang of ex-pats were a wicked good company.
A lot had changed since the 20s, but certain components of human nature have stayed the same. We’re living in times that make us question our place in the world. A lot’s changing, and everything can seem a little fucked up. That didn’t stop any of us from enjoying ourselves, or from doing our best to be tough and resilient in our time. This was what connected one generation to the next.
The trip gave me motivation to be what Hemingway was, a man of his time. I don’t mean this in the sense of trying to copy his lifestyle or thoughts. I mean it in seeking to live with the same conviction and to be strong and courageous even as the world around you seems uncertain and dangerous. This is the case for the characters in Papa’s stories, whether they are male or female, and whether they are at war or just going on a lost weekend trip with friends. To me this is what makes Ernest Hemingway both a man and a writer that is worth my reverence. It is why I regard him as an influence on my writing. Reading and studying what he thought both good and bad gives me an idea of who he was as a man and of who I want to be.I write the characters for my stories in the same light.
Hemingway certainly had his negative aspects, but that’s just what made him human. If men were angels then there’d be no purpose in writing about us. We’d be fucking perfect all the time, and a story like that would be boring as shit. Some people may not live the cleanest of lives, but that doesn’t make them bad. It makes them human. That’s why I write, and that’s why I regard Ernest Hemingway as my greatest influence. He was a man of his time with great courage and conviction. That is what I seek to be both as a writer and a person. Happy Birthday Papa! May the sun always rise in your favor.