The other day I was sifting through my books, trying to decide which I would donate to the library's annual used book sale at the high school (Aug. 5-6).
I picked up an old copy of Ernest Hemingway's Selected Letters (edited by Carlos Baker) and thought about adding it to the discard box. Instead, I opened it, as chance (perhaps) would have it, to page 306, a letter Ernie sent to an apparently down-in-the-dumps F. Scott Fitzgerald on Sept. 13, 1929.
In honor of Ernie's 106th birthday tomorrow?#34;and as one of the minority of Oak Parkers who explains Hemingway's early existence in this village with something other than an apology?#34;I thought I'd excerpt some of the letter I happened upon because, once every long while, Oak Parkers ought to actually read the man.
That terrible mood of depression of whether it's any good or not is what is known as The Artist's Reward.
I'll bet it's damned good?#34;and when you get these crying drunks and start to tell them you have no friends, for Christ sake amend it?#34;it'll be sad enough?#34;if you say no friends but Ernest the stinking serial king. You're not burned out and you know plenty to use?#34;if you think you're running out of dope, count on old Hem?#34;I'll tell you all I know?#34;whom slept with who and whom before or after whom was married?#34;Anything you need to know?#34;
Summer's a discouraging time to work?#34;You don't feel death coming on the way it does in the fall when the boys really put pen to paper.
Everybody loses all the bloom?#34;we're not peaches?#34;that doesn't mean you get rotten?#34;a gun is better worn and with bloom off?#34;So is a saddle?#34;People too, by God. You lose everything that is fresh and everything that is easy, and it always seems as though you could never write?#34;But you have more metier and you know more and when you get flashes of the old juice, you get more results with them.
Look how it is at the start?#34;all juice and kick to the writer and can't convey anything to the reader?#34;you use up the juice and the kick goes, but you learn how to do it, and the stuff when you are no longer young is better than the young stuff?#34;
You just have to go on when it is worst and most helpless?#34;there is only one thing to do with a novel and that is to go straight on through to the end of the damned thing. I wish there was some way that your economic existence would depend on this novel or on novels rather than the damned stories because that is one thing that drives you and gives you an outlet and an excuse too?#34;the damned stories.
Oh Hell. You have more stuff than anyone, and you care more about it and for Christ sake, just keep on and go through with it now and don't please write anything else until it's finished. It will be damned good?#34;
The stories aren't whoreing, they're just bad judgement?#34;you could have and can make enough to live on writing novels. You damned fool. Go on and write the novel. ...
If this is a dull shitty letter, it is only because I felt so bad that you were feeling low?#34;am so damned fond of you and whenever you try to tell anybody anything about working or "life" it is always bloody platitudes?#34;
I put the book of letters back on the shelf. Amidst all the myth, bravado and bluster, we lose track of Hemingway's big-hearted humanity. The Fitzgerald novel referred to above, by the way, is Tender is the Night.