September 8, 2012 anton chekhov Dostoevsky Ernest Hemingway Hemingway's Boat Jack Kerouac manly men Nobel Prize for Literature normal is boring Paul Hendrickson Russian history Russians and Jews 1
“I always have had the illusion it was more important, or as important, to be a good man as to be a great writer. May turn out to be neither. But would like to be both.” -Ernest Hemingway
I just finished Paul Hendrickson’s masterful, and sympathetic new study of Papa entitled, Hemingway’s Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, And Lost, 1934-1961. ( While a huge fan, of course, of Hemingway’s perfect short stories, the unrelenting anti-Semitism of certain of his novels usually makes me a little grumpy. And I’m a girl who loves her some Fedya Dostoevsky! In fact, I have a huge and perpeptual hard-on for Russian history and literature as a whole. Russian history in a nutshell: “Hey, Vanya, how many Jews can we blame for how f**ked up sh*t is?” “As many as necessary, Slava.” But there’s something about the way this sentiment appears in Hemingway, that always makes me want to go back in time and get Ernie in a good headlock and smack some sense into him. Like, calling one of your sons, ‘Jew,’ because he was good in math makes me and my alcoholic beverage cranky.  
But reading Hendrickson’s wonderful book revealed to me another side of Ernie…the side riddled with demons. Riddled with demons, yet determined to overcome them and write what he must. The irony of course being that for a generation or two of men, Hemingway was the living epitome of masculinity: a manly man who wrote quickly, lived hard, fought cleanly, drank, fished, hunted…fill in the extra cliches as necessary. One of those men who would make robust love to you in a bed he made with his own hands, built from trees he chopped down himself. Bare chested.  (Any of those men reading this: Hey…how you doin’?)
How much more interesting and human to understand that Hemingway…was one of us. He had good years and bad years, and then towards the end, many more bad years before the unfortunate end. Both his father and younger brother committed suicide. He was insecure and emotionally distraught and he could be equally heartless and equally generous. (Remind you of anyone you know…?) And let’s not pick on Papa–any man who loved cats as much as he did gets a big ole pass in my book–there are countless other writers, actors, business-people, politicians, nurses, presidents, ex-boyfriends, etc. who overcame tremendous demons to create works that changed our lives…even as the creators themselves may have been destroyed in the end. 
My point being that so many people, unfortunately, see only the end result. They assume that if Hemingway, for example, won the Nobel Prize for Literature, well, he must have had an easier time of it than they do, and you know, whatever, why bother, it’s probably not going to work out anyway. I don’t have to tell you how much that (horseshit) attitude drives me crazy. No me f**king gusta. The Russian writer Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938) died in a labor camp because of a poem he wrote. His astonishing widow, Nadezhda Mandelstam, had to memorize his works for 40 years, subsisting in dire poverty, since she didn’t dare to put anything down on paper, for fear of her life. Osip, meanwhile, spent his last weeks in the camp, starving, reciting poems for his fellow prisoners, knowing he was doomed. For a poem he wrote. A poem.
But you’re afraid to actually write that book, musical, start that business, become the (melodramatic) actor you dream of, or whatever the f**k, because some hipster editor in Brooklyn, wearing skinny jeans, with a degree in gender studies from Vassar might reject you and then what? Yes, your life of suffering and misery. #STFU
I’m kind of joking, and kind of insanely serious. Can’t even tell you how many people I speak to, who talk of their favorite authors/athletes/whatever and then say…”Oh, but I could never do that.” Well, apparently you’ve already convinced yourself of that so no worries. Guess I’ll just start drinking at 9am today. Because I’m sure that Chekhov was just born so amazingly talented and perfect. I’m sure he didn’t spend years writing dreck. I’m sure he never got rejected. I’m sure he didn’t write his last works, alone, dying of consumption, spitting up blood. For Chrissake, Kurt Vonnegut got 800 rejection letters and he still ended up in a Rodney Dangerfield movie! (Hmmm….) But hey: it’s nice when you do the world a favor and reject yourself first, right? Makes it easier for everyone else.
This is your life. You only get this one shot. You’re not perfect, thank Jebus, but you’re good enough as you are. You think you’re crazy? As my grandmother in the Old Country (Brooklyn) would have said,”…nu?”
Or as the old broad in my parents’ apartment building told me years ago, when I complained about their crazy mutt: “Oh, she’s crazy? Good. That makes her interesting. Sane is bland.”
Focus on what matters to you now. Focus on making your choices come to fruition. Don’t worry about being “normal,” whatever that f**king means: normal is boring. Normal is mediocre. Be wonderful you
“Mankind is like dogs, not gods-as long as you don’t get mad they’ll bite you–but stay mad and you’ll never be bitten. Dogs don’t respect humility and sorrow.” -Jack Kerouac
Want some more advice/nagging/love on how to make the most out of you? Email me @!

One Response

  1. …and after I tweeted this blog to Mr. Hendrickson, he was gracious enough to reply:

    Date: Sat, 08 Sep 2012 19:59:21 -0400
    Just read your blog post about my book. Boy, I wouldn’t want to rear-end you. Ha. Really enjoyed it. A woman who takes no prisoners. Yours, Paul Hendrickson

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