I have to begin by saying that I am in no way qualified to write about Ernest Hemingway. So I'll write about how he affects me. Because that is the magic of Ernest Hemingway. For some reason he seems to cast some sort of spell over anyone who takes a close look at him. Some writers think he's one of the worst celebrated writers ever. Others think he had the writing life figured out. All I know is that every time I peer at Ernest he reflects something back to me. That's magic. Most recently it was the result of a book that I picked up at the library. My husband likes to go to the library on Sunday afternoons and since I always have a pile of books at home waiting to be read, I try to restrain myself from checking out a bunch of new ones. So I peruse. I browse. For me, it's better than Nordstrom Rack, really, the unbridled delight of the free treats just waiting to be plucked from the local library.
Well, on this particular Sunday I ambled over to the "New Books" section and stumbled on this wonderful coffee-table sized book by Boris Vejdovsky and Mariel Hemingway Hemingway. A Life in Pictures.Yes, I checked it out. Who could resist? There was Ernest in hall of his sexy masculine splendor staring at me from the cover. I spent the rest of the day immersed in his life. And here's where I went on that particular day.
What is the magic of Ernest? What does he represent for us that we continue to be enamored with his work and his life? Maybe it's that Hemingway seemed to have a lust for the extraordinary. Looking at his life in pictures made me think about my own desire for the extraordinary experience in my life. And I started to day dream about an African Safari, a Spanish bull-fight, a life with intellectuals in Paris, deep sea fishing off the Keyes. Extraordinary from my frame of reference. But the more I began to dissect this idea, the more I thought that, really, all of those extraordinary experiences are still made up of fairly ordinary moments. And perhaps it was the extraordinary that Hemingway worked so hard to tease out of each experience in his writing. That moment when the adrenaline rushes through an experience and you feel really alive.
But that moment is so elusive. And perhaps that's why I am drawn to Hemingway. he chased it and then he captured that moment. But this particular book seemed to shed some of that glamour and show a Hemingway beyond, below, deeper than that surface persona that he created around himself. And it made me realize that to the bullfighter, maybe bull-fighting wasn't so extraordinary. Maybe it was made up of very ordinary days of practicing a repetitive set of movements so that when he went into the ring it was as predictable as possible. Maybe the chase for the extraordinary is elusive because flashes of the extraordinary are always built into and embedded and perhaps even buried in a series of rather ordinary moments.
Because, really, living in Paris during the 20's would have been extraordinary. Perhaps living there today would be extraordinary. But it would still be filled with minutes and hours and days and weeks and months of the ordinary.
So I can spend my days fantasizing about how great my writing would be if I had the same extraordinary life that Hemingway had. Or I can practice, as I believe he did, seeing the extraordinary, teasing it out, getting it down.