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.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/09/28/rdp-monday-froth/

Meandering Look at Literature

I stay on standard time all year. This means in summer I wake at 8. All the people around me are up with the sun, but not me. In fact the best two hours of sleep are between 6 and 8. In a few months, I’ll be getting up earlier 😉

Last night I learned of a young writer who’s won all kinds of prizes for her book The Tiger’s Wife and has recently brought out her second novel. Naturally, I was momentarily gripped by envy. It’s just how it is. If you’ve seen Midnight in Paris you might remember Keanu Reeves as Hemingway saying to the young guy from another time, who was writing a book, “Don’t show it to another writer. Writers are competitive.” I’d say failed writers are not just competitive but bitter.

Once the wave of envy passed, I looked at her book.

Once more I thought, “Good God. I’d never write this.” First person, paragraph after paragraph after paragraph after paragraph — pages — of description. Then I remembered the review of The Price that I hate and that has, I think, perhaps dissuaded from reading that book. That review described my writing as “sparse” (as if that were a negative thing 😀 ) and said my book was a failed attempt to write a book I 1) had never heard of and 2) would never write (I looked at it). How can you dis a novel for NOT being something it never set out to be? It is like dissing Huckleberry Finn for not being Portnoy’s Complaint.

I thought of all the things that go together to make a “time.” As I was growing up, and in school, the writers who were lauded as “great writers of our time” were Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Capote. There was no such thing as “Women’s literature,” there was only literature, and at that time the ascendancy of serious women writers — Joan Didion, Joyce Carol Oates, Norah Ephron… The good prose put in front of us was NOT paragraph after paragraph of description. Our professors — most born when Hemingway was still writing — had broken from tradition by embracing Papa. My giant anthology in college did not contain “The Yellow Wallpaper” or anything by Kate Chopin, never mind Toni Morrison. There was no “Norton Anthology of Women’s Literature” but by the time I, myself, was teaching at a university, there was. I saw it as a 1000 page literary ghetto, but that’s just me.

My thesis was about Godey’s Lady’s Book from 1828 – 1845 (during part of this time Poe was the literary editor) which was edited by Sarah Josepha Hale during its heyday. It featured ONLY American authors and most were female. It enforced the idea that women write differently — and about different things — then do men. This didn’t make women worse writers; just different with a different focus, a different reason for reading, different reasons for writing. They wrote from a female perspective about a separate world referred to back then as the “women’s sphere.”

By the time I was out in the world of work (which was academia, after the first 5 years in the clerical jungle) there was an overt and political motion against misogynistic dead, white male writers. I thought this was dumb. What if they were good? What if they had important things to say? Shouldn’t EVERYONE be read with the understanding that whatever benighted time they lived in would affect what they said and how? How they lived?

When I met Hemingway once I was out of school it was intense. I was in my late 20s and life was pretty jacked. I was already divorced, in love with a gay man who was also in love with me. I was on my own trying to connect one end of the month to another. The Hemingway I’d met in the 9th grade was a far different writer than the one I met at 27. No, wait, I was different. My bad. About the same time I met Capote. Two very spare writers yet very different from each other, both approached writing from a philosophical perspective that wasn’t all that different. Both very adamant about it.

And, their writing charmed me. It wasn’t all I read. I loved Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but they didn’t offer me any information I could use. Lost in Terra Nostra when I was in China (how weird is that?) I realized the outer world interested me more than the inner world. The inner world seemed finite (naturally) and the outer world? What was THAT all about. It was a forty year search in the labyrinth of reality before I met Goethe and got a road map.

Every writer is a person with a life and a journey.

The bottom line is taste. No writer can possibly know what every reader wants in a novel or why every reader reads. Beyond that is the social indoctrination of each generation. Tea Obreht’s book, The Tiger’s Wife, is (from the first three pages) intoxicating. It’s the kind of book a person might turn to on a rainy day hoping to lose themselves.

And no, I don’t write that book and I’m unlikely to read it. I don’t want to lose myself. I’ve been there before.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/08/12/rdp-monday-wake/

The Schnee(belis) of Kilimanjaro

I got “The Schneebelis Go to America” back yesterday from my editor, Beth Bruno. I must be getting a little better because she didn’t send a truck-load of proofing corrections!

It’s funny how we are. I don’t know if I’m confident in my writing or not, but I’m not confident in my proofreading, so in her comments — email and comment tracking on my manuscript — that’s what I looked for. I fixed some sentences that didn’t make sense to her (that thing of writing for people inside your mind again…) and heard her remarks about a shift in pacing that, ultimately, hadn’t bothered her and even made sense.

I didn’t see the overall remarks about my writing and the story. The good stuff. I think this is because — in my mind — the book is a project I’m refining and trying to get right. It’s not finished.

To my editor, the manuscript came through as a finished story. I woke up this morning understanding what ELSE she’d said and I am very happy.

She asked what my plans are for the book. I told her I planned to give it a shot at conventional publication, and I was grateful for any advice she had. She had some advice, “I just think with the level of sophistication and specialty of your writing, you’d be best served by someone with solid experience in publishing.” Something I never thought of.

This time last year I picked up the manuscript again, my Aunt Dickie’s words calling out to me from a letter I have taped to the wall in my studio, “Please continue writing the story of my mother’s family.” I didn’t like this book at the time. It was hard going and the characters didn’t speak to me, but I loved my Aunt Dickie and that she loved my novels. I had hoped at that moment last fall to finish before Christmas last year so I could, at least, send her a manuscript to read. I was in a lot of pain from my hip at the time, and writing has always been, for me, a good ladder out of a hole. My Aunt Dickie was 93, and that number has a very clear meaning even though she was still independent and fit, walking a mile a day with her dog, driving herself to church and fully involved in life. She died last November, pretty suddenly, from a very aggressive cancer. All I can do is dedicate the book to her — which I have done/will do.

All of this brought home the message of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” We’re never ready to write the story but write it anyway.

He had never written any of that because, at first, he never wanted to hurt any one and then it seemed as though there was enough to write without it. But he had always thought that he would write it finally. There was so much to write. He had seen the world change; not just the events; although he had seen many of them and had watched the people, but he had seen the subtler change and he could remember how the people were at different times. He had been in it and he had watched it and it was his duty to write of it; but now he never would. Ernest Hemingway, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”

So, I will take another break from my blog to work on the novel some more and figure out how my writing is “sophisticated.”

Addendum: I “Googled” “sophisticated writing” and what it means is that the writer does some stuff like avoids the passive voice, uses a varied vocabulary, allows the characters to carry the story. That’s cool. I’m honored if that’s the case. I worked hard for that, and I owe a lot to Truman Capote.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/10/05/rdp-friday-truck/