“Don’t you ever get the feeling that all your life is going by and you’re not taking advantage of it? Do you realize you’ve lived nearly half the time you have to live already?”
“Yes, every once in a while.”
“Do you know that in about thirty- five more years we’ll be dead?”
“What the hell, Robert,” I said. “What the hell.”
“It’s one thing I don’t worry about,” I said.
“You ought to.”
“I’ve had plenty to worry about one time or other. I’m through worrying.”
“Well, I want to go to South America.”
“Listen, Robert, going to another country doesn’t make any difference. I’ve tried all that. You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another. There’s nothing to that.”
“But you’ve never been to South America.”
“South America hell! If you went there the way you feel now it would be exactly the same. This is a good town. Why don’t you start living your life in Paris?”
― Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.
Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year – In September this time… because it is September.
Today’s story, for day 11 – The Old Man at the Bridge, by Ernest Hemingway
Read it online here:
The Old Man at the Bridge, by Ernest Hemingway
An old man with steel rimmed spectacles and very dusty clothes sat by the side of the road. There was a pontoon bridge across the river and carts, trucks, and men, women and children were crossing it. The mule-drawn carts staggered up the steep bank from the bridge with soldiers helping push against the spokes of the wheels. The trucks ground up and away heading out of it all and the peasants plodded along in the ankle deep dust. But the old man sat there without moving. He was too tired to go any farther.
—-Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man at the Bridge, opening paragraph.
I love reading Ernest Hemingway. More than anything else, I feel he respects his readers. We are all busy, we have real lives to live. Hemingway doesn’t waste our time with any extra words.
Look at two sentences in this very short story:
It was my business to cross the bridge, explore the bridgehead beyond and find out to what point the enemy had advanced. I did this and returned over the bridge.
A lesser writer, a different writer, would have filled pages with description at this point, of how afraid the narrator was, of the close calls he had with the enemy, of how satisfied he was that he completed his mission and returned alive. The author would have been very pleased with himself – with his skill, artistry, and clever way with words.
But Hemingway knows that none of that matters. He knows the real story is the old man waiting at the bridge. The rest is fluff and we don’t have time for fluff.
That’s why I like reading Hemingway. The unnoticed old man at the bridge tells the story of the world.
Interview with Hemingway:
“That’s something you have to learn about yourself. The important thing is to work every day. I work from about seven until about noon. Then I go fishing or swimming, or whatever I want. The best way is always to stop when you are going good. If you do that you’ll never be stuck. And don’t think or worry about it until you start to write again the next day. That way your subconscious will be working on it all the time, but if you worry about it, your brain will get tired before you start again. But work every day. No matter what has happened the day or night before, get up and bite on the nail.”
For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.
Today’s tip – To get started, write one true sentence
Source – Earnest Hemmingway, from A Moveable Feast
Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.
Like a lot of people, I finally made it around to read A Moveable Feast after the attacks in Paris. I have loved Hemmingway’s fiction, especially his short stories, for a long time. I have always admired his economy of words more than anything. The idea of a memoir about the halcyon days in Paris between the wars always felt too precious for my taste, so I didn’t read it until recently. I was wrong.
Among other things, there is so much good writing advice in A Moveable Feast. The pages spell out in detail Hemmingway’s method of writing, including his habit of writing in cafes.
And a few hints… like this one today.
A year ago, for the month of June, I wrote about an online short story each day for the month. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.
Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.
Today’s story, for day Six – A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, by Ernest Hemingway.
Read it online here:
Like yesterday, we have a story about the desperate perspective of age.
Unlike yesterday the point of view isn’t the person themselves, but a pair of waiters, one young and one old, one impatient and one unhurried, as they observe their last customer of the night, an elderly drunk stacking up saucers, one for each brandy.
I am so much in awe of Hemingway – for the pure efficiency of his prose. The story is very short, told almost entirely in tiny snippets of dialog – yet it is so full of complex subtlety and power. Where a lesser writer might describe in careful detail and attempted elegant metaphor the sound of metal on wood echoing across the darkness, Hemingway simply says, “They were putting up the shutters.”
He cuts out everything that isn’t absolutely necessary and in that gains an unparalleled dynamic efficacy.
A Clean, Well-Lighted Place is a masterful collection of mostly unattributed dialog. So skillfully constructed with subtle inconsistencies that long-standing literary controversies have arisen over who actually said what.
A work of fiction should not spell everything out. The reader has to work for his entertainment, for his wisdom.
And then, like a clever piece of music, the text explodes into one final big paragraph which throws the lonely sad desperation of the older waiter onto the page with devastating effect. Finally, the reader understands what the waiter, and the author, and humanity itself shares with the poor old man that only wants to sit there and quietly drink his brandy in a clean, will-lighted place.
He only wants to put the darkness off for a few more minutes.
“Good night,” the other said. Turning off the electric light he continued the conversation with himself, It was the light of course but it is necessary that the place be clean and pleasant. You do not want music. Certainly you do not want music. Nor can you stand before a bar with dignity although that is all that is provided for these hours. What did he fear? It was not a fear or dread, It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was a nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada. Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee. He smiled and stood before a bar with a shining steam pressure coffee machine.
“In bull-fighting they speak of the terrain of the bull and the terrain of the bull-fighter. As long as a bull-fighter stays in his own terrain he is comparatively safe. Each time he enters into the terrain of the bull he is in great danger. Belmonte, in his best days, worked always in the terrain of the bull. This way he gave the sensation of coming tragedy.”
– Chapter 18, The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
After another long day at work I drove to Love Field at ten to pick Nick up. He was returning from a few weeks in San Diego and out on a destroyer with the Navy.
While I was waiting at the baggage claim I finished reading Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.
As always, I am in awe of Hemingway’s tense terse prose and how he says so much with so little.
I have wanted to read this book ever since I read “The Drifters” by James Michener when I was in high school. There was a little bit of time that everybody was required to read “The Drifters.” The book made a big impression on me at the time, though I don’t remember any of it anymore. The only thing I remember is that the book made me want to go to Pamplona and run with the bulls.
Now I have to decide what to read next. Hundreds of books lie there, beckoning. So little time and so many stories.
Please forgive me. I’ve been thinking a lot about pride and seriousness. I want to work harder and do better on everything I do.
But right now I’m so tired. So I will bid a sweet adieu and trot off to dreamland. I’ll pick it up tomorrow.