A few words about Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man and the Sea, A Farewell to Arms and the short stories of Ernest Hemingway are old friends. So when I recently saw Ken Burns’ three-night documentary on Ernest Hemingway, I was reminded that maybe this would be a good time to visit with them again.

When it comes to Ernest Hemingway, I don’t love him because he loved bullfighting. I don’t love him because he loved fishing and hunting. I don’t love him because he wanted to out-macho every man, and many of the women, he met. And he was always drinking, drinking, drinking.

Many of us have seen or heard the quote mis-attributed to Hemingway, “Write drunk, edit sober.” Who could write drunk the way Hemingway wrote? Nobody, not even Papa Hemingway. Whoever came up with that that quote did not know Hemingway very well.

That was the lifestyle, the celebrity, the legend. That’s why so many readers and so many critics find fault with him. They’re criticizing his lifestyle and the subjects he chose to write about.

For me, it’s the writing. It is the writing that makes Hemingway Hemingway. From the first time I read The Old Man and the Sea, I loved how he could word a sentence.

When Gabriel Garcia Marquez saw Hemingway in Paris in the late 1950s, he could think of only one word to honor Hemingway with. “Maestro.” That was how much Hemingway and his sentences meant to Garcia Marquez. He was saying what the many writers would want to say to their Papa. Of Hemingway, Joan Didion once wrote in the New Yorker, “This was a man to whom words mattered.”

He preferred the basic Anglo-Saxon words of the English language over the Latinized words the English stole from the French. He wrote simple declarative sentences with strong nouns and even stronger verbs.

When he began writing with that style, it was a new way for writers to speak to American readers. Studying Cezanne and sitting at the feet of Gertrude Stein, the young Hemingway took on a literature that was loaded with fancy-dancy words and overly descriptive adjectives and gave writers a new way to speak to an audience.

Because words mattered to Hemingway, he was constantly in search of the “one true sentence.” Ask any writer who cares about their craft. They will tell you what a young writer told his agent, according to Francine Prose in her wonderful Reading Like a Writer. “What he really cared about, what he wanted most of all was to write…really great sentences.”

Later Prose writes, “I’ll hear writers say that there are other writers they would read if for no other reason than to marvel at the skill with which they can put together the sort of sentences that move us…”

Those are the kind of sentences Hemingway wrote. Again and again and again. And it’s why writers pay attention.

Just read the opening paragraph of A Farewell to Arms. “In the late summer of that year we lived in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.” Wonderful.

In the opening of Hills Like White Elephants, ” It’s the same poetic rhythm: “The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white. On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun. Close against the side of the station there was the warm shadow of the building and a curtain, made of strings of bamboo beads hung across the open door to keep out flies. The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building.” So specific, so descriptive.

He can summarize a story in the opening sentence such as the one that opens the short story, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber. “It was now lunch time and they were all sitting under the double green fly of the dining tent pretending that nothing had happened.” Again and again there is a magic to his writing that few others can give me.

Or the opening sentence of The Old Man and the Sea: “He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.”

God, I love those sentences.

Doodleboggery

We writers are a peculiar breed. A downright eccentric lot. Many of us live inside our heads, out there in fantasy land where the most interesting things are going on. Which doesn’t make us the most socially adept folks.

Get a bunch of us together in a room and we can go one of two ways. Half of us will talk your head off. The other half will go to a corner and observe. It’s not that half is shy. It is just that they are writers. And there seems to be nary a middle ground between the twixt of the two.

Some of us will let any ole word flop all over the place like a chicken with his head cut off. Some will make the one hundred yard dash for the word el perfecto. Our desire for literarydom can be the difference between digging for treasure or hunting for the holy grail. Some of us are Indiana Jonesys while some are Kid Galahads. Then there are others who would give anything and everything to be the Muhammad Ali of language. But he earned his heavyweight title, and so must we.

When thinking about my own eccentricities, I must admit I have a bit of all these. There are times when I would prefer the corner while other times when I can be the life of the party. Mostly I like to see words stand up and tap a little Fred Astaire across the room. It is a bit of a disease I call Doodleboggery.

When I first invite a character into a story, it’s no Charlie nor Watt nor Janice for me. I go a little funky and call the character something like Doodlebug whether it be a him or a her. I’ve used Mucker, Willy McWhack, George O’George, Helluvagoy, Puddlewhack, Blowfish, Hermittitus, Actina, Elephantitus just to name a few.

Bet you can guess what the Elephantitus is like. His ego fills a room so much that the room explodes and I have ka-blooey all over the place. Yuck. Then I have to clean up the mess. I want you to know it isn’t pretty.

I’ve used Expletive Deleted. All that came out of her mouth was a purple so prose I can’t repeat it here. Shortly after she walked on stage, I did an Elmore Leonard to her. She had her little butt kicked to kingdom come and she hasn’t showed up in any story since. Course there’s always the danger that she will return and be a major nuisance. You just never know.

Characters have a mind of their own and they can Rasputin all over the place. It took the Russian nobility an amazing amount of effort to kill him off. First they poisoned him, then they stabbed him again and again. But he just wouldn’t die. Then they drowned him. The rumor is that didn’t take either. Some say he’s been seen out in Siberia causing major mischief. Maybe we should check with Putin on that one.

That is what I am afraid of when I think about E.D. Had another character with those initials. Just can’t remember what those initials stand for but it’s not Erectile Dysfunction. He had a completely different set of issues. Had a real bad case of the casanova that caused problems up the ying-yang with all the ladies in a story called “Church”. A number of the women in that story, including the minister’s wife, showed up pregnant. I gave him the condom lecture but since when do characters listen. Last I saw him he had a husband after him with a shotgun. He was jumping out of a bedroom window in nothing but his altogethers.

Now this eccentricity that I have to suffer through doesn’t stop with names. It has a tendency to propagate into sentences and sometimes whole paragraphs when I am not sure what should be taking place. Some examples: “She stood on his lawn and hitchcocked her ex, then she went looking for a place to drop his corpus dilecti into.”

Of course, this honors the great director Alfred Hitchcock and the next one refers to the director Francis Ford Coppola. “He performed the coppola early that day, then he took a ride south to his favorite eatery for some pasta.”

You can imagine what a character might do if he spielberged or david-finchered across the planet. I am not quite sure but you can imagine.

Here’s some other ones.

He bonnie-and-clyded his way into the liquor store, pulled his gub and demanded a fifth of scotch from the clerk.” “Gub” refers to an article called a gun mentioned in the Woody Allen epic, “Take the Money and Run”.

“The artist started sloppy but he grew better. Later he found that sloppy was the way to go.” The artist in this one happens to be Jackson Pollack-ing all over the place.

“He grabbed hold of his life and shook it loose of the blues.”

“After six months, Perky broke off her romance with Hunkie. It wasn’t that the sex wasn’t peachy keen. It was. Lots of bodice ripping and muscles rippling. She just couldn’t take any more of his love for mirrors.”

“She’s the Starbucks of my life/I’m the Krispy Kreme of her heart.”

“She sprawled onto the lawn and kissed the ground he walked on. It tasted like chocolate and she had way too too much of a sweet tooth to not take a good bite out of the grass. Over the years that tooth had carried her from Hershey to Giardina to Rocky Mountain Chocolate to the Wee Willy Wonka in search of the perfect elixir. And here it was, in the footprints he left behind.”

And so forth. I know. This eccentricity sounds a little strange as all eccentricities do. That’s why they’re called eccentricities. But what can I do? It keeps my Muse amused. You see, she gets bored easily. And I do not want to bore her. No, sirree. She has a gub too and it is a big one. It is never pretty when my Muse takes over and does a sharknado to my prose.

Anyway all this doodleboggery sometimes leads me out to the edge. Unfortunately this is where it recently led:

“Jan Horstafeller vas a mighty fine fellow. He ate his haggalogen on Vod’s Day, Tor’s Day und Freya’s Day. As he scarfened down his haggalogen, his capagaggas growed to ten feet vide und twenty feet large und Jan Horstafeller vas only a vee bit of a Horstafeller. Haggalogen has tat effect on der person. It enlarges one’s capagaggas enormously. Yah, tat it does.”

I am so sorry but I couldn’t help myself. It’s just a little Doodleboggery.

Word for the Day: Wait

“Just you wait” from My Fair Lady.”

The word “wait” is a very loaded word. We wait here; we wait there; we wait everywhere. We begin our lives waiting. Nine months or less. And we believe that once that wait is over, no more waiting on our agenda. Little do we realize the waiting has only just begun. It has been estimated that we humans spend five years of our lives waiting if we live to be 79 years old.

Initially we wait for our parents to change our dirty diapers and give us a bottle. And we let them know that we are not appreciative when they make us wait. Too bad we can’t use that strategy for later on in life when we’re waiting in line at an amusement ride.

We wait on the school bus. We wait for Santa Claus to show up at our house. We spend weeks waiting on that video game we just have to have. We wait on our friends to show up at the park so we can play baseball.

As we grow into our teen years, we wait on that guy to ask us to the prom. Or that girl to give us the “Yes, I will go with you.” Later we will wait on that engagement ring or the girl to answer our plea to marry us.

As adults, we wait on the food to come at the restaurant. Or the line at the movie theater. Or the ride at the amusement park. Or we wait for the doctor to let us know we’re a-okay. And down the road we wait on retirement.

We wait on the fish to bite. We wait on the light to change. We wait for our paychecks. We wait for a response to that resume’ we sent. If we’ve been bad, we wait for that ‘get-out-of-jail” card. Or we might have to wait on a Supreme Court ruling. If we are Christians, we wait on the Rapture.

We get put on a wait-list or waiting list. A member of the wait-staff, a waiter, also known as a wait-person, asks us what we wish to order. Our computer spends time in a wait-state when we’re transferring data. The doctor makes us sit in the waiting room. For an actor, it’s the green room. But that’s a word of a different color.

When you ask your mom for a new toy, Mom may just give you that old “wait and see.” And you may have to “wait up” for your partner to get home and tell you the good news. Of course, you may have to “wait for that other shoe to drop.” And some of us may find ourselves “waiting on them hand and foot.”

That “wait” can be a threat. As in “Just you wait, ‘enry Higgins.”

Or it can be “wait” can be a warning like “We have to wait for the hurricane.”

Or it can be a Promise, such as “Just a little more wait and Santa will be here.”

When we entering a waiting state, we know a ton of bricks is coming. That ton of bricks may be something significant like being born. Or insignificant like we have scheduled a plumber to fix the drain.

All this waiting has sidekicks joining it. They are the Hope of Expectation or the Fear of Anticipation. With Anticipation, we find ourselves Anxious. If we’re not careful, pretty soon we’re experiencing an Anxiety attack. If we’re not careful, we’ll find ourselves having a nervous breakdown. 

Or not.

Who knows? With a little Patience the waiting will soon be over. We might as well accept it. After all, it’s a waiting game.

Faster than the speed of light

Words, especially the lovables,
adjectives such as humble, kind, gentle, meek,
each a personality, each a timid thing.
The hint of a harsh noise, they go fleeing
faster than the speed of light.
Hardier stuff, a replacement,
shooting stars spewing from a warp drive of a mouth.
The prodigals make for home, begging forgiveness—
though they should be the asked, their nature the asker—
Turned away and out into the cold,
broken hearts lost in space.
Astronomers, their giant telescopes
scanning the cosmic ocean of sky, they spot
a blue dot, a wanderer named Planet 17.

 Could it be?

Probably not.

Something to think about. I know I do.

Often I let my inner groucho come out for a little looksee. Mostly I do it with language. So here is some thoughts for your edification on Uncle Bardie here doing his Uncle Bardie thing.

Language is a wonderful thing I love to play around with. Give me a word like garbage and I am going to be doing a Norm Crosby and say garabage. It’s something I can’t resist.

Did you know there’s supposed to be a funny font? Well, I am here to tell you I don’t think Comic Sans is up to the job. Squirrelly thang, isn’t it? One thing is for sure. It ain’t no Louis C. K.

Talk about songs. I like to take songs and throw them for a loop. Feliz navidad becomes Police-know-it-all. Don’t think so. Just try it.

You know Paul McCartney wrote a song about al Qaeda? It’s called Band on the Run.

I once wrote a story that used this playfulness with language. It was called “I tink I can, I tink I can”. The opening paragraph went like this:

Jan Horstafeller vas a mighty fine fellow. He ate his haggalogen on Vod’s Day, Tor’s Day und Freya’s Day. As he scarfened down his haggalogen, his cappagaggas growed to ten feet vide und twenty feet large und Jan Horstafeller vas only a vee bit of a Horstafeller. Haggalogen has tat effect on der person. It enlarges von’s capagaggas enourmously. Yah, tat it does.

There was more but that’s enough. I can hear all my fans out there, yelling, “Turn it off. Pleeze.”

What started this blog off was a question I keep asking about English. If more than one child is a children and more than one brother is a brethren, how come more than one sister isn’t a sistern?  If a female actor is called an actress, if a female waiter is a waitress, if a female priest is a priestess, if a female enchanter is an enchantress, if a female tempter is a temptress, how come a female adult isn’t an adultress? Think about it.

And if the humor ain’t flowing. If the laughter ain’t coming out of its hole, here’s some jokes for all you discriminating readers.

Nudist woman says to her friend, “I have a blind date tonight, and I don’t have a thing to wear.”

We all know that strippers are popular for bachelor and bachelorette parties these days. My question is what does a nudist have at their bachelor or bachelorette party? A clotheser.

Nudist mother takes a look at her new born baby and says to the nurse, “He looks just like his father.”

You know what you call a private investigator among nudists? I don’t know either, but it is not a private dick.

What do you call a dad’s bike? A popcycle.

Why is the largest party day of the year in the middle of Lent? I’m talking Saint Patrick’s Day here folks. Think about it.

How do they get those bunnies to lay those Easter eggs? Think about it.

Why is it we go to doctors and lawyers who are just practicing? If you had a plumber who was just practicing, wouldn’t you get rid of him. What happened to my kidney? you ask. Oh, the doctor removed it. Why? He was just practicing. Think about it.

Here’s something to think about. Don’t know if you remember the country comedian Minnie Pearl but here’s some mini pearls I have come up with. Did you know that Minnesota (mini soda) means little Coca Cola? Did you know that menopause  means little hands? It’s pronounced mini paws. Did you know that Minneapolis means little town?  Minnehaha is little laughter. Think about it.

And think about this. The Oxford English Dictionary people are thinking about adding Mx to their dictionary. It can be used as an alternative to Mr., Mrs., Ms. and Miss. So, when you get married, you will be pronounced Mx and Mx. Big question. Who will be the Mx and who will be the Mx? Puts a whole new spin on the term mxmarriage, doesn’t it?

Tae boo: to scare the pounds off of you.

Punctuation, punctuation, punctuation. What a pain. Guess that’s why it’s called punk-tuation, huh?

When I think semi-colon, I ask when is it going to grow up and become the colon it’s meant to be. I hardly ever use a colon. It calls me to think that my writing may just need a colonoscopy.

I do love to invent words like curioddities.

Add –licious (-icious) to a word and you have a new adjective. Adding –licious to a word intensifies the experience. Example: googlelicious.

incidii (pronounced en-sid-dee-eye): more than one incidious. As in: The incidii conspired to make me look like a fool. Examples of the incidii: People of Walmart website. Facebook, Youtube, Google+

Bet you think I am getting geniuser and geniuser. One of these days I too might be the geniusest.

Now admit it. You did chuckle a little along the way, didn’t you? C’mon, adimit it. No? Then why are you smiling?

Bon appetit.