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In which I admit to slightly odd behaviour (and later in the day put the boot in Honest Ernest yet again)

It really is bloody odd. Every day since I’ve retired I’ve been conscious of ‘using my time’ and not wasting it. The silly thing is, though, that no one, but no one gives a flying fuck whether or not I do ‘use my time’ except me. And the only thing which will satisfy my conscience and allow me to accept honestly that I have ‘used my time today’ is writing something. Usually it is a few hundred words more of this Hemingway bollocks.

Sometimes (I’ve signed up to a website run from South Africa which I’ve found useful: every month it give you a prompt for a short story and a poem and the discipline of getting it done is worthwhile) it might be editing and honing the brief poem or short story I shall be submitting. (You have to write the story to strict length).

I have plenty of other things to be getting on with, and the lessons with Paul in Padstow are now really paying off, so there’s all the practising and laying out all the scales and modes in Indesign as a way of learning them and understanding them.

Tomorrow I’ve got to arrange the Skype chat for Ann in France with Paddy, then it’s drop of the car to get the exhaust fixe. But everything — everything — except writing is just ‘something to do’. It is, at the end of the day of no consequence. And I really don’t know why.

This isn’t something I tell myself, some adolescent pose (I doubt I could be mistaken for a silly adolescent except in some of my behaviour), and I’m not going to get phoney and precious about it and talk in vague terms about ‘inner life’ and all the other claptrap you come across (OK, that is a bit broadbrush, but you know what I mean). Which leads me to another odd thing about: I don’t know nor care why I feel like that. I just do and that’s good enough for me.

Earlier today when I was grumbling that ‘this Hemingway bollocks is taking up too much time’ — I keep coming across more reviews, essays etc which I read and many of which I format into PDFs and post on my website ready to be linked to when I finally post this pied. And each of the essays etc subtly changes the dimensions of it all just a little, but a crucial 'just a little', so I have to slightly rethink things, and know, of course, that tomorrow and the next day and the one after that I shan’t for the life of me remember the ‘new shape’.

And, no, writing notes (which I do on a useful app called Scapple) doesn’t help because once written I never look at the notes, well very, very rarely. So there I was grumbling away and my wife asked ‘who’s going to read it?’ And I answered, truthfully, ‘no one’, adding ‘well, I’ll post it on my blog and some people might read it, but that will just be a bonus.’

‘So it’s a bit pointless, then, isn’t it.’

No, I said, it isn’t.

‘But if no one is going to read it, why are you doing it?’

I told I’m doing it to do it, but she just didn’t understand that point. I tried to illuminated: musicians will play their instruments, alone or together, because they like playing their instruments. It’s like that. But she still didn’t get it.

I told her I had to get it out of the way, properly, and done as best I could because if I didn’t or did but cut corners, I would never be able to relax completely as it would always be at the back of my mind. She didn’t get that point either.

Then she said why didn’t I do something else, something which would sell? I said no one sells anything except a very few lucky bods, but that wasn’t the point, either. But there were things I am planning on doing, though not until this is done and dusted, properly, and out of the way. She didn’t get that, either.

The silly thing is that shifting myself from here to my little ‘shed’ outside (actually a warm and comfortable granite outhouse where my guitars are and where I can play loudly) is the hardest thing I have to do. BUT once in there and started, I wonder what all the fuss was about. Odd.

And not that’s out of the way, I must persuade myself writing it wasn’t just a form of displacement activity to avoid getting started today (today? It’s already bloody 3.30 you pillock).

. . .

PS LATER Here is a case in point. I am just reading yet another essay in the New Yorker about Hemingway by Joan Didion (or rather more truthfully ‘a Joan Didion’ because although I understand she is famous, possibly even world-famous, I’d never heard of her before) about the publication after his death, edited and substantially boiled down from the several hundred thousand words he left behind, of The Garden Of Eden and True At First Light. I’ve got to the bit where the title True At First Light, awarded to the bloody novel by someone or other, was taken from this sentence in the text:

‘In Africa a thing is true at first light and a lie by noon and you have no more respect for it than for the lovely, perfect weed-fringed lake you see across the sun-baked salt plain’.

Now call me a philistine old fool, but although that sentence sounds just fine and dandy and even a bit literary if that is the kind of thing you like, in pretty much every way you approach it is meaningless and pointless. It is false and that is notable for a writer who insisted — who truly insisted — that everything should be true. In Hemingwayese it’s a fine and good piece of crap.

Hemingway might have meant the ‘and you have no more respect for it than for the lovely, perfect weed-fringed lake you see across the sun-baked salt plain’ ironically, i.e. you actually do have a great deal of respect for it, but in that case ‘the thing’ [sic — ‘thing’ is not, I suspect, a word one might expect ‘a wordsmith’ blah-blah of the kind Hemingway kept insisting to us and the world he was would care to use] would certainly be at odds with it being a ‘lie at noon’.

And what does the writer of ‘athletic, taut, muscular, lean, declarative’ prose (© Hemingway nerds passim) mean by ‘a thing is true at first light’? It is quite a striking and suggestive sentence, but not one which can be given some kind of ‘meaning’. If anything it is more in keeping with the kind of images of Dylan’s early songs. A Hard Rain Is Gonna Fall is a good example — ‘I've stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains / I’ve walked and I've crawled on six crooked highways / I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests’ doesn’t mean fuck all, but they are great lyrics and carry on with you long after the song has finished. Or how about jokers talking to thieves etc. Dylan can carry that off with aplomb whereas others fall flat on their faces. And that would include Hemingway.

But that wasn’t and never was Hemingway’s approach. He made a fetish out of being ‘true’. Well, Ernie dear heart, you can’t have it both ways, although I’ve read enough about you to know you always did. (He must be the only ‘publicity-shy’ ‘I only want to write’ bod who honed his skills at PR and made sure the world knew about him, from a very young age. He gave a series of talks about his ‘war experiences’ in Oak Park, Chicago, and up in Michigan, exhibiting the medal or medals he had been awarded. He had actually only been working at the front, delivering ciggies and chocs to Italian soldiers for five weeks before he was blown up. As for fighting and serving with the Italian Arditi as he later claimed he had . . .)

Quite apart from that maybe I, now no longer a philistine but something of a snob in snob mode, dare admit that Hemingway’s ‘In Africa a thing is true at first light and a lie by noon and you have no more respect for it than for the lovely, perfect weed-fringed lake you see across the sun-baked salt plain’ is distinctly middlebrow. What, for the sake of God, is a ‘perfect’ weed-fringed lake? And would you really be able to spot a flat lake (however weed-fringed) some distance away across a sun-baked salt plain? And in land so salty would weeds really thrive? Obviously it all depends on the kind of writing you want to produce, but all the above is really not in the ‘hard, declarative style’ the old fraud is famous for. And unlike Ernie I am not inclined to lay down the law of what writing should  ‘truly’ be. Me, I’m more laissez faire. If it works, it works, but for me pretty much all of Hemingway except his journalistic turns of phrase do not. Sorry.

Elsewhere in her piece Didion makes great play over how Hemingway cared about punctuation. Well, that ‘care’ is news to me, and given that as far as I am concerned the sole purpose of punctation is a tool to help you to convey what you want to convey as best you can (a comma, for example, briefly pausing the reader, a semi-colon doing so for just a little longer), time and again you have to re-read Hemingway’s prose just to get the drift. A little more punctuation might have helped. So in the above sentence, I suggest a comma might be appropriate here — ‘noon, and you’. Just a thought.


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