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The Hemingway Syndrome

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The shirt to wear to Harry's bar

Is this the perfect T-shirt for a visit to Harry's New York bar in Paris?

 So just write about Hemingway?

If a columnist can't write like Hemingway; maybe he can write about Hemingway?

How did he do it?

"He was an old detective who worked alone out of an office on Santa Monica Blvd. and he had gone eighty four days now without a client."

If Ernest Hemingway interrupted efforts to cover Occupy Madrid and came to Berkeley and was told by the street people that their ranks were swelling because a local (several?) hospital(s) were dumping indigent patients on Shattuck Avenue, how would he react?   Would he raise funds for and write and provide the narration for a documentary film titled The Berkeley Earth?   Would he write the best of all his novels and title it "For whom the UCB Campanile Tolls"?   Would it delineate the exploits of a fashionista who joined the ranks of the legion of destitute victims of home foreclosures who were struggling to put an end to the economic domination of the work force by the one percenters?   If he did that would he be vulnerable to charges of exploiting the panhandlers for his own fame and fortune?   Since Hemingway has been dead for more than 50 years, he won't have to deal with these hypothetical challenges.   What about the legion of Hemingway wannabes?   How should they handle the issue in his stead?

To a high school student the prospects of studying long and hard to become a lawyer or doctor who would work relentlessly for 50 weeks of the year just to be able to afford a better vacation paled in comparison to a career that would require a fellow to go to far away exotic locations, meet the movers and shakers of the world, and then write it up for fabulous sums of money.   The life of a writer errant seemed like a more appealing vocational decision.   Positive proof of the lopsided nature of the choice might be evident when the latest copy of LIFE magazine arrived in the mail box containing photographic evidence that such an escape from tedium was possible.   For a kid who hasn't yet experienced the much desired rite of passage known as passing the driver's license test, the chance to travel the world for pay held a hypnotic allure.  

Growing up in Scranton Pa., offered a basic binary choice:   you could go to work in the coal mines (literally or figuratively) after high school, or (if your parents could afford it) you could go to college and then get a job in coal mine management, marry your high school sweetheart, and have bunch of kids.   The fact that Scranton became the setting for a fictionalized look at the absurdity of working in "The Office" would only become apparent much later in life.

In the Fifties, the ticket out of what Fred Allen called "The Treadmill to Oblivion," was to become:   a rock star, a movie star, one of Mickey Mantle's teammates, or learn to type as the first step on the Hemingway wannabe road to fame and fortune.   In high school, given the choice of two more years of Latin vs. learning to type, a young man didn't need "Papa" Hemingway by his side to make the call.

The grim reality that Collier's Magazine would, after 1957, no longer be available to subsidize sending the next generation of Hemingways to far away places with strange sounding names was irrelevant because at the same time that they folded, a young writer named Jack Kerouac was demonstrating that if you subsidized your wanderings, you could always recoup the bankroll by publishing the results in book form.

After college, books about Hemingway began to appear.   Heck if you couldn't write like Hemingway, you could always write about Hemingway.   Using that logic had its drawbacks because that would indicate that eventually some writers would be writing about this Kerouac fellow who had, by the Vietnam War, faded into obscurity.   It was worth noting, however, that this beatnik fellow made more appearances on "The Tonight" show than Papa Hemingway did.

The torch had been passed to a new generation of writers and guys like Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson were generating scads of publicity for inventing "new journalism," which some (sour grapes?) critics dismissed as repackaged and relabeled examples of the Hemingway formulae "Veni, vidi, escribi."  

Unfortunately, reading novels such as "Goldfinger," "The Big Sleep," and "The Maltese Falcon," meant that when it eventually came time to enter the "Good Page of Bad Hemingway" contest, this columnist would submit something that sounded like:   "He was an old detective who worked alone out of an office on Santa Monica Blvd. and he had gone eighty four days now without a client."

Hemingway's name was synonymous with hunting and fishing but if the A. E. Hotchner or Carlos Baker biographies mentioned that Papa supported conservation, this columnist didn't notice such passages.   Sure he was glad to lead the wolf pack of writers (called the War Tourists) to the cause of the workers in Spain, but did he ever say anything about the retched treatment that was given to Native Americans?

All the Hemingway aspirations had been safely tucked away in the recesses of the World's Laziest Journalist Memory Archive until we began to read books such as "Gellhorn" by Caroline Moorehead and "The Women Who Wrote the War" by Nancy Caldwell Sorel at about the same time that we began to cover the Occupy Oakland, Occupy San Francisco, Occupy Berkeley, and Occupy UCB stories.   When we got the chance to see a screening of "Hemingway and Gellhorn" at the Castro Theater in San Francisco, we were fully aware of why the plight of the ordinary citizens objecting to high tuition, home foreclosures, union busting, and layoffs sounded so very dej- vu.

Authorized biographies provided a stealth introduction to spin.   Reading the Gellhorn biography by Caroline Moorehead, copyrighted and published in 2003, recently, it was a bit of a shock for a Hemingway wannabe to learn that Mr. Macho consistently delivered shabby treatment to the women in his life.

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BP graduated from college in the mid sixties (at the bottom of the class?) He told his draft board that Vietnam could be won without his participation. He is still appologizing for that mistake. He received his fist photo lesson from a future (more...)
 
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And there's a Hemingway museum in Havana? Of cours... by Gentry L Rowsey on Friday, Jun 8, 2012 at 7:22:42 PM
I enjoyed your article. It reads easily even thoug... by Gerald Wright on Sunday, Jun 10, 2012 at 10:32:59 PM