Dinner with Ernest Hemingway
I had dinner with Ernest Hemingway last night. He told me to stop procrastinating and read his damn books! Haha! I laughed so hard tea nearly came out of my nose. I like him. I feel a sense of kinsman ship with him. I don’t understand it but he was weird in a way that reminds me of myself.
I don’t remember how dinner started. It was like being in a movie that I began watching once it had already begun playing. I asked him why did he kill himself and he said it was appropriate. It was “The End” and he had nothing more to give. I felt sad when he said that but he studied my face gravely, then laughed at my sympathy, “Don’t feel sorry for me. I had a good life. I owed a lot of people money but none of them have come after me for it!” I laughed and shook my head. “I too have a saying…Heaven, Georgia Power can’t find you there!” He grinned and said, “My saying was better!” we both cracked up laughing.
“So what do I owe the pleasure?” he asked me with a serious look. I took a sip of tea and looked him in the eye. “I wanted to talk to you. You are a writer and I want to be better writer. So I figured, if I’m going, I might as well go to the top! I admire you. Your attitude was nonchalant, you enjoyed your life. You didn’t seem to stress or sweat the small stuff. If you did, you didn’t show it.” He gave a sigh of relief and said, “Thank God! I was afraid the suicide would be a dead giveaway that I was stressed!” I guess I looked shocked because he laughed and said “ You are so easy to tease!! I was human. I had stress, my own kind of stress and when it was time to leave, like Frankie, I did it my way!” I smiled at his snippet. He continued, “You are a lot like me though…your thinking is aggressive, you are narrow minded at times, creative and you hate criticism. That is why you will be a great writer.” “You were a great writer” I gushed. “I know” he said smugly “And you have Daddy issues!” “I know.” I said grimly. “I have always loved older men” He chuckled.
I told him that I felt he described my feelings exactly when he said in one of his books; ‘Sometimes I would start a new story and could not get it going. Then I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think. I would say to myself: “all you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know. So finally, I would write a true sentence and go on from there. It was a wonderful feeling when I had worked well.”
He smiled and asked “You’ve been to Paris?” I laughed and said “Lord No! Not even Paris, Georgia! I’ve been to Florida but I felt the same way you must have felt. Happy and fulfilled when I had a great day of writing and finding that peace, except for the fact my peace came from looking at the Gulf of Mexico.” He nodded his head in agreement. “As writers we have to find that place, that safe place we can go and start a new story without the fear of losing the first story.” I nodded with agreement and said, “Sometimes I start a story and I hit a wall. I cannot go any further. It feels wrong, like I am fighting the idea, trying to force it out. But in the end, it wins the wrestling match, I tap out every time. I have to walk away from it and try something different.”
He looked at me and said “Haven’t you heard? You were not meant to write every story. They are not all of yours to tell.” I threw my hands up and said “Why do I feel that I need to be writing down everything that comes out of your mouth?” He took a long drink and sat the glass down. “Who was it that said age and experience will overcome youth and enthusiasm every time?” We both smiled. I answered, “Neither of us can claim that one!” He rolled his eyes and snickered.
He asked “Did you always know you were a writer?” I hesitated then proceeded slowly trying to find the right words. “I have always loved to tell stories. I love to hear people laugh. I love to make them laugh! In my family we all have a great sense of humor and storytelling was just what we all did to entertain each other. When we all got together we would tell stories about our childhood, about each other, and about Mama beating the daylights out of us and anyone else who got in her path. Did you know our entire family was barred from the Waffle House in Columbus, Georgia because Mama threw a woman through a plate glass window one night?” He laughed heartily and said “I had heard stories but thought they were a little farfetched for such a small woman!” I vigorously shook my head no and said “That little Puerto Rican woman was a hand full of good grief when she was younger! I’ve seen her make grown men cry! Anyhow after my brothers and I grew up we could retell the stories without being in fear for our lives. We even learned to exaggerate and embellish the stories for a larger laugh or gasp if we had to; but our family was so darn crazy we didn’t need much embellishment! That is one of the reasons that bartending was such a great job for me. I was able to do what I loved (tell jokes and stories) and get paid for it, but the problem always started after 11 pm.” I said seriously. His eyes widened and he leaned it as to hear a great trade secret. “What happened after 11pm?” I leaned in too and whispered, “Everyone was drunk by then and turned into a bunch of non-tipping assholes.” He laughed out loud and said sarcastically, “Now there is a visual; a bar full of assholes.” “Not just assholes, non-tipping assholes. People quit tipping after they get drunk, or they do it absentmindedly. One guy may give you a five dollar bill, or a few coins from his change; or worse, no tip at all! It was a crap shoot to see how much money I made.
I had some regular customers that tipped well and helped me raise my kids on those tips. But looking back it was a hard way to make a living.” I think I struck a nerve with him. He had a faraway look, perhaps remembering one or two thousand of the bar maids in his lifetime. He frowned a little and said “I think I was a terrible tipper, all of the time! Before I published my book I was broke, after I was published I was cheap.” My eyes widened and I said “Well then every barmaid will remember you forever. It is burned in their minds those who never tipped, those who tipped a little and those who tipped excellent. You probably would have gotten more rum in your cola if you had tipped better!” “Trust me, I had enough rum in my cola!” he said with a roar of laughter. His eyes twinkled when he laughed and it made me blush. I feel like if we had been friends in another time I would have called him Cheevie because he just looked mischievous!
“So you didn’t answer my question, did you always know you were a writer?” he asked again. I said “Yes. I knew it was in me. So many crazy situations were happening in my life, I knew they needed to be recorded because no one would believe it was real, some of it I didn’t want anyone to know about but I figured I’d tell my own version of the truth. And let the world decide.” He looked at me and said “Remember what they taught you in the Police Academy about six people seeing the same accident and yet you will get six different statements from those six different people and you will wonder if they all saw the same accident?” I nodded yes; he continued, “Life is like that. Some may see you as a hero, others a coward, some may see a drunk, some may see a person who enjoys drinking. It doesn’t matter how they see you, it doesn’t change who you are.
You can’t be all things to all people and you will certainly never please everyone. It is not possible. Even if you write down your version of the truth, you will never convince everyone or anyone of your guilt or innocence. People believe what they want and especially if it makes them look good or makes you look bad.” Suddenly it hit me, “Hey! How did you know I was a Police Officer and went to the academy?” He just smiled mischievously.
It was so easy to sit and talk to him. “You know I had a list of questions I wanted to ask you about writing but they are pretty much fading away.” I said sullenly. “We have plenty of time. This is just the first course.”
“I thought we would be talking about all of your books and what you were thinking when you wrote them.” He turned the question back on me, “What do you think about when you write stories?” I bit my lip and said “You know… I tried to explain this to my Mama when I wrote the short story about Leroy. The boy who wanted to grow up and be a preacher; he didn’t believe in God but he saw all the perks to being preacher by watching an immoral preacher. It was a great story but I don’t feel like I even wrote it. It just came to me and I couldn’t stop until I was finished. My sweet Mama was so mad at me! She asked me why did it have to be a preacher? Why couldn’t it be a plumber or an attorney? I told her that I didn’t pick the stories, they chose me.” He smiled and said “Exactly. You are the tool that is being used to bring the story to print. We are the middle man so to speak.” I sat there in amazement. Finally! I was finally able to talk to someone who understood what I had been feeling and could explain some of it to me!
“You know this is one of the most enjoyable and memorable nights of my life.” I gushed. He raised his glass to me, “I’m delighted to be a part of it.” “How do I improve my talent?” “Write, fish and drink” he answered. My cheeks were suddenly hot with embarrassment. Those were the 3 words I had written down one day when I was reading about him on the Internet. The article had stated he liked to write in the morning, fish in the afternoon and drink at night. As if baring my soul I offered, “My addiction is food. I wasn’t judging you for drinking. It was the fishing I had a problem with.” He laughed at my comment. “Now, I’m teasing you! I admired you for living your life, something I have always been afraid to do.” He sighed. “ Stop being afraid lamb. Life is for living. Put a little of that admiration in your coffee dear and drink it. You’ve got some talent. Here’s your scoop. You need to be more descriptive in your stories. You have got to read and reread what you have written. You don’t enjoy doing that, because you just want to finish the story. It is like the story you wrote entitled Danni. It is a good story but you were so damn scared you would forget, you did an outline to keep it fresh, then you walked away from it, like it was finished. Don’t quit. Write every day. It helps you grow as a writer. Read other writer’s work. Learn some grammar. You write like you talk and that is not always appropriate for your stories, unless you are writing southern television shows.” I smiled and shook my head in agreement. “I know everything you are saying is correct. It is almost like I am scared of my own stories. I remember hearing of an actor who didn’t like to watch her own movies; she said it creeped her out. I feel somewhat the same way. When I read what I’ve written it is like I am seeing it for the first time.”
He smiled and said “You are seeing it for the first time as the reader, not the writer.”
Suddenly, it was as though a tree had fallen on my head and I thought to myself, “Wow! I am getting writing advice from Ernest Hemingway, now how cool is that?”
Even though I cannot remember one bite of food or another sip of iced tea. Dinner seemed to be coming to an end and I felt a panic. I didn’t want it to end. He was so funny and easy to talk to. “Speak!” He commanded. I blushed and blurted out “Normally, I don’t share this part of my life with others because they just didn’t understand that I loved to write. They don’t “get it.”
My own Son said “That’s awesome, but I think I will wait for the movie Ma” when I tried to show him my first short story. My feelings were hurt that he didn’t want to read it but I had to pretend like it was okay. It was my dream not his. My daughter humors me by reading almost everything I write. She is an amazing editor, really calling me out on my mistakes. ‘Take out this sentence, this doesn’t make sense, then, it was really good Mom.’ I think it boost my confidence when she is around to help me. I just don’t trust too many people with my work…it’s personal. The few other people I let read my stories said they were “nice.” Nice is not what I was hoping for unfortunately.”
He smiled and said “Not everyone is going to understand why you do what you do. If you have one person who can help you to not murder your dream, then you are blessed.” My turn came to ask him a question, “Do you remember the first time someone asked you if you were a writer?” I asked eagerly. “Oh yes. I was writing on a cocktail napkin…no wait that was in a book I wrote…A moveable feast.” We laughed because that is the very book I am reading now, he continued.
“As a teenager, I would keep a list of places I wanted to go, things I wanted to do. As I grew, the list grew. My cousin found the list and made terrible fun of me asking ‘so what? Do you think you are a famous writer ?’ I said “yes!” defiantly and strange as it sounds, I knew from that moment writing would be what I would do with my life. I think I felt the same way you did when that waiter at the Thai restaurant asked if you were a writer and you answered yes for the first time.”
I smiled remembering that day. “I had taken my notebook out to jot down some little memory when he came to take my order. He talked all the way thru my lunch. It was interesting but intrusive at the same time. I don’t remember tasting one bite of that expensive lunch! How do you know these things about me without me telling you?” He smiled and said “Aren’t you the one who said men think they know everything? I just happen to!” I rolled my eyes at him and we laughed.
Yes, he was very much the kind of person that I would have enjoyed being friends with if we had been born, same time, same place. He was funny, smart, handsome and easy to talk with. I felt I was dining with a lifelong friend who was giving me advice from his heart. “Every experience is an opportunity. Good or bad, own it. The peace you get from the Gulf of Mexico can be found in other things too. You don’t have to drive to the beach just to get a soul cleansing. Peace can be found in something as simple as a 1941 nickel, or a baby picture, you get to choose what determines you or destroys you. Up until this moment you have been a mess, always concerned about public opinion. Screw the public. They don’t have to answer for your decisions, you do. All you want them to do is buy your stories!”
Tears welled up in my eyes. Dang! I didn’t want to cry in front of him. “You can cry if you want. Remember that boyfriend you had that told everyone you were a crier. That you cried all the time? He was a real jerk! It’s okay to cry, your tears are an expression of who you are. You are sensitive, irrational at times, emotional, caring and always on the look- out for opportunity to do what is right. Truth is in you and all around you. You just have to open your spiritual eyes to be able to see it.
That turtle that you keep worrying about, the one that always crosses that busy road, he does it…because he can. He knows if he makes it, there is more to his life on the other side. When you see him dead on the road; instead of pity, you should feel pride that he died trying to get to the other side.” “I never thought of it that way.” I responded in almost a whisper. “I’m just not normal!”
He looked somber and said “You are a writer. The normal ship sailed without you long ago.” I gasped! “You didn’t say that! You got that from Pinterest! Terri Main said that! I‘ve got it on my Vision board!” His laughter was like a lion’s roar, loud and strong. It filled our space and embraced us! “Inspiration can be found anywhere! It is one of the few things in life that is free.” He took my hand and raised it to his lips. “It was a pleasure. Summon me at your will. I have plenty of time on my hands” he winked at me and smiled. As he stood to leave, he looked down at me and said, “Oh and Arlene, read my books and stories before admiring me or my work. I was just a man.” I smiled, and then he was gone.