186. Hemingway

“The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector.”  

Hemingway said that in Havana, 1954.

It’s true for any kind of writer, more blatantly for journalists, but also too for creatives who craft and weave. That’s what he bitched at Fitzgerald for doing —  Invention is the finest thing but you cannot invent anything that would not actually happen.

It came near the end of a long, winding Q&A he did with George Plimpton for The Paris Review. Since the Mailer piece I posted, those have been a well I’m slowly pumping dry.

Hem’s feisty in it. Not argumentative — more sad, a bit troubled and grumpy and unwilling to give Plimpton the space to delve into a line of questioning. Outside of that line and a few choice othersa the most elucidating parts of the interview come from Plimpton’s careful dissection of Hemingway’s writing chambers. Heads, furs, trinkets, books, sheafs of onionskin. Carved figures of big-game, small pewter turtles, broken model bi-planes… all rife with sentimentality.

He keeps three buffalo horns, not the largest he ever bagged, though. Just the ones from hunts that went so poorly he thought he might just die.

Writes standing up, always has, and he still maintained a healthy disdain for the churn and burn of newspaper writing, escaping from the profession himself.

I admired his frankness, so unknowingly close to the end of his life. He knew which books of his mattered, that Old Man And The Sea was a classic, that Death In The Afternoon was “instructive,” that he rewrote the last page of A Farewell To Arms 39 times because the wording wasn’t quite right.

Perhaps it was apocryphal. Maybe he was self-mythologizing. But I’d like to think he was himself to the marrow.

“How did you name your characters?” Plimpton asked.

“The best I could,” Hemingway said.

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