Sounds like it should be a band.
But, no, today is Ernest Hemingway’s birthday.
I celebrate that because his work meant so much to me when I was just learning to really write. The Sun Also Rises remains, I think, one of the most influential works of literature in my personal mythology. His short stories still move me, on the odd occasion that I still re-read one. Today, in celebration, I may read some of his work, though I haven’t for many years. Don’t think, however, that a lack of current interest means that my admiration of Hemingway, as a writer and a man, has waned in the slightest. His are the stories I still tell myself, that I still think of, when I think of what a story is and what it means to be a real writer, a good writer. Just earlier this week I found myself watching The Matador starring Pierce Brosnan and thinking of Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway’s ode to the majesty and tragedy of the bullfight. I find that I cannot help but think of Hemingway any time that bullfighting comes up, as rarely as it does these days. In fact, I find that I tend to think of Hemingway any time the subject of American ex-patriots comes up at all.
I have always admired his tight, sparse prose. And, somewhat more secretly, I have always admired the zest with which he approached life. He may have been, by many accounts, a bit of a brutal man, but he was also courageous in adventurous in ways that, I think, most of us modern men cannot be. Certainly, he was a product of his times, but, even then, I think, had a reputation that was bigger than life.
I always enjoyed the fact that he grew up not far from where I, in fact, grew up. I believe that his approach to writing, and life, is something inherited from that region. Midwesterners are often maligned as being plain and dull and overly conventional, but I see the simplicity and lack of pretension in Hemingway’s writing that I recognize from my own upbringing. It’s an attitude, I think, that tends to get impressed on us as small children. Certainly, we Midwesterners tend to be simple people, who just grind away at whatever work falls to hand, generally uncomplaining and accepting that hard work is the price one pays for any reasonable success. And, it’s that workman-like quality of Hemingway’s work that I always enjoyed.
I have to admit, there was a time I thought I might emulate him, not only in writing, but in life.
That was, of course, until I realized the damage he did to those around him with his alcohol problems, his violent temper and uncompromising way. Certainly, having been married and divorced once, I hope not to repeat that mistake as often as did Hemingway!
I also hope to end things better than he did, with a shotgun in the mouth. Though it may have been an end fitting to one of Hemingway’s fictional heroes, I know it to be the coward’s way out. Much harder to face the world and all the things which may pain us, cancer included, than to take our own life. And, yes, as a cancer survivor, I do know just what that feels like, to want to just simply stop the pain. I do.
Still, for all his flaws, Ernest Hemingway wrote the most magnificent literature I think America has ever known. I will always admire his work and frequently wish I could emulate it.
Where ever he may be now, I hope he is finally at peace. And, today, of all days, his birthday, I hope he is satisfied with his work and his life.
Thank you, sir, for the gifts you’ve given us and continue to give us.