That Morning Moment

In A Moveable Feast Hemingway writes about his young-man mornings, going to a cafe in Paris, ordering a cafe au lait and sitting down to write. He writes this scene several times in the book and describes it as “the best times.” No frothy cappuccino for Ernie, (and, yeah, I realize he was in France, not Italy) just a simple bowl of coffee with milk.

In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway gives (good) writing advice around those scenes, saying, “Always stop work when you know where you will start the next day.” I think Hemingway was terrified NOT knowing where he was going the next day. He did, after all, compare writing to bull-fighting and characterize the blank sheet of paper in his typewriter as the “white bull.”

There are two movies I would like to see. One is about a writer/artist who’s not “tortured” for/by art and is not an asshole in any way and, in SPITE OF THAT, manages to do good work.

We really focus a lot on the lives of artists (more than? as much as?) we look at or read their work. During the time I was a university teacher, I saw Hemingway vanish from the shelves in the bookstore labeled “required reading for American literature.” Hemingway’s place was taken by, I don’t know, Kate Chopin (fine writer, but…) or someone. I thought, “Why not BOTH?” and was grateful I wasn’t teaching literature. Like Hemingway or not, he was a writer that had an influence on American culture but WHATEVER. Personally, I think our focus should be on the work people have done, not the incomplete schema we have of their personalities.

A couple days ago I read an article in Brain Pickings about a kid’s book that has been written about Gauguin. I wasn’t very impressed by the story, but I thought this was lovely. An old man teaches the little Gauguin about painting, saying, “Painting is magic,” he said to Paul. “You can start with next to nothing and still do anything you want.”

Gauguin, like Hemingway, is a victim of posthumous psychoanalysis and disgust and most of the comments following the article said Gauguin should not be shown, taught, to children (or anyone?) and we should not appreciate his work because Gauguin was a pedophile. Hemingway, of course, has been labeled a woman-hating, chauvinist SOB.

I thought about all that for a while and thought that probably in the case of both Hemingway and Gauguin (and many others, many of us) the truth lies in that 7 am untouched morning moment, that bowl of coffee and the empty page, the colors on the pallette, the vision that’s seeking realization. The tortured soul emerges sometime around 3 in the afternoon. I don’t believe the 3 pm person is any more real than the 7 am person. For myself, appreciating Gauguin’s painting doesn’t mean I condone pedophilia. Loving The Old Man and the Sea doesn’t mean I think Hemingway’s treatment of women was good.

34 thoughts on “That Morning Moment

  1. Have you seen Paterson? Such a moveable feast you have given us here, lots of food for thought. And perfect synchronicity, I was just reviewing lists of great novels in preparation for a winter feast of my own!

  2. Count me as one of the people that doesn’t understand “cancel culture.” Seems akin to book burning and I think I’ll be the one to decide if I enjoy something culturally or will dismiss it ethically…thank you very much.

    • THAT’S what cancel culture is? Thanks Gary, I really had no idea. It’s like the other side of the coin, people wanting to live in a finite world. What a determined illusion.

  3. I definitely dislike Hemmingway but I’d never want to remove his works. I believe that darkness defines the light so I’d want to occasionally read a book I didn’t like so that I’d recognize one that I did enjoy. My father had a severe dislike for the actor Eddie Albert in part because he had been implicated as having communist sympathies. So I know how difficult it is to separate the personal life from the artistic output… My favorite books include some that have been banned over the years. That makes me opposed to removing books based on current political correctness. As a kid I adored Edgar Rice Burroughs but as an adult I see glaring stereotypes, racism and misogynism. I still like the stories but they have not aged well into this century!

    • Personal taste is personal taste. I look on all that stuff — Gauguin was a pedophile and Hemingway a male chauvinist pig — as an attempt to rationalize what isn’t rational (personal taste) or to justify not understanding something. IMO it’s always OK not to understand something or to simply dislike something. I hated Hemingway’s work until I was old enough to get it. I also think that, looking at the past, we need to offer a little grace. Someone’s going to look at us 100 years from now and judge us as harshly as we have judged people whose lives we cannot possibly fully understand. 🙂

  4. Judging artistic content through the lens of who the creator was/is or what she/he did is unfair in my opinion. I like your 7am and 3pm analogy.
    We should all have a choice and those of us who can keep all that separate, great. But to banish it & remove it from the shelves? Absolutely not.

  5. We are so wont to re-examine everything these days. King James was a pervert, so we should toss his Bible. Someone was a slave owner, so we should tear down his statue. Yet people can blissfully fickle, overlooking the questionable actions of some heroes.
    Davy Crockett & Abe Lincoln helped the US army “clean up” resistance among the natives, which meant massacring whole villages, men, women and children — according to one descendant whose 6-yr-old grandmother survived. I read a short bio of Thomas Jefferson lately and wonder if he’ll ever to come under fire for his involvement with his 14-yr-old sister-in-law.
    I agree that it’s wise to appreciate the good that people have accomplished in their lives. Few in history fare well under a total scrutiny, judged by today’s thinking. And future wiser folks will likely frown at our conduct. 🙂

    • Absolutely!!

      My whole view of history was shaken by two things. One, writing my novel, Martin of Gfenn during which I learned that the whole idea of a leprosy epidemic in the Middle Ages was created by Sir Walter Scott and the idea of the “marginalized” leper was based on THAT folklore and the systematic search for marginalized people by historians in the 80s and 90s. Meanwhile, paleohistorians were discovering that the so-called “plague” of lepers never happened. That leprosy came to Europe with returning Crusaders and the numerous hospitals for lepers were built as a way for rich people to assure themselves of a place in Heaven. Because Lepers played such a prominent part in the Bible, helping a leper was regarded as a short route to salvation. They weren’t “segregated” in leper hospitals, either. It’s a long story… And what IF Jefferson’s entire family was OK with his shenanigans? With his sister-in-law and his African American slave lover? We don’t know that.

      As for Native Americans, I had a rude awakening in a museum in Milan. I saw a very cunning knife sharpening machine from the 14th century, long before any European came to America. It was painted red. Had a “mohawk.” When the knife grinder moved the pedal that turned the stone, the grinding noise (which sounded like growling) seemed to come out of the character’s mouth. He had horns and represented Satan. I stood and stared at that thing for a long time thinking, “If THIS is the way Satan was depicted over all those centuries, and the people (who at the time of the early settlement of America by Europeans were in the middle of the Spanish Inquisition) saw the natives, painted, head shaved, wearing all manner of animal stuff on their heads, WHAT WOULD THEY THINK??? It doesn’t excuse genocide, and I personally like Native Americans a lot and what happened to them saddens me, but I got a different picture that afternoon of the whole thing.

      I just decided that yeah, someone in the future is going to judge us harshly, too, and we can’t even begin to know what their standards would be. For me there seems to be a steady progress toward better not worse. That’s worth a lot, IMO.

      • I never heard of a plague of leprosy, but I head of a plague of “Turks” that overran Europe a few times and, on occasion, wiped out whole villages. As for Jefferson, his sister-in-law was a slave and I doubt the word “lover” applied. Back back in those days it was normal behavior; no one would have questioned his liaisons.
        History has mostly been about gaining control and pillaging, exacting tribute, taxes, etc so the “haves” would get more. For the most part a social conscience and sense of equality is quite recent. Yes, thankfully we can benefit from this new thinking. 🙂

  6. I’ve missed out on the Gauguin developments, which is very remiss of me since he has been around and gone for a very long time. Talk about Madonna though! Seriously, who does she think she is? An airhead?
    I had better get back to my bird. I am thinking about ripping the beak off. It is the wrong colour. Will you mind? In other news, Makea and I have blogging belly. She is otherwise in good health says the vet.

  7. It’s easy to justify things we don’t understand. And I’m in full belief that despite the “conditions” of that which produces, it’s the masterpiece they may have created that might make another life feel worthy. We all fight demons. As Sitting Bull stated about the dogs inside him (one evil and ugly abs one good)….they fight all the time and the one he feeds the most wins. I have the morning moments~and the afternoon ones. 💚☕️

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