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The Problem with Ernest Hemingway

21 Dec
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Great Hemingway writing quotes here.

Young girls around the world adore Marilyn Monroe. They wear her image on their shirts, on purses. They quote what she said about beauty and self-confidence, only to find out later that she never actually said those things. The problem is that huge swathes of these girls have never even seen a Marilyn Monroe film, some of her fans can’t even name one. I’m friends with a couple of people like this. I try not to judge them, though, because in my world (the world of writers and readers), we do the same thing to Ernest Hemingway.

I love Ernest Hemingway, but he is the Marilyn Monroe of writers. Most anyone who reads or writes will profess a deep, holy love toward him, often citing him as their hero. My journals are full of his quotes. I’ve watched “Midnight in Paris” more times than I can count. I’ve read every fictional and non-fictional thing written about him. I even once had a beta fish that I named Ernest. But my big confession is that I don’t actually like the majority of his books.

I’ve read the major ones and could give a brief summary of the plot lines. I know why he is one of the most important writers of the 20th century: his razor-sharp, journalistic prose. But it’s not my thing. I like descriptions. I like being pulled into a scene with imagery and metaphors. And I’m not a fan of war, which is a huge part of most of his books. The one book by him that I adore is “A Moveable Feast” which was published posthumously. I see it as a departure from his iconic prose. He indulges metaphor and description. He gushes about Paris without much restraint. Or maybe his prose was easier to stomach when he wasn’t talking about battlefields and soldiers. Maybe I need to reread “A Farewell to Arms”?

You see, I carry so much guilt at not loving Hemingway’s books as much as I think I should. I carry a lot of his advice on writing and life around with me as comfort. And I wish I had the grace of his prose, which he admittedly attributed to being able to revise and discard. He reminds me of that perfect guy that you just don’t fall in love with. He’s handsome, smart, loves animals, loves you, but something in the chemistry is amiss and you can’t, despite your most valiant attempts, feel love for this person. I want to love Hemingway. I sorta love Hemingway. Just not in the way he deserves to be read and loved.

I think he’s an easy person to idealize as a writer. He traveled the world, transformed literature, had wild love affairs, wrote important pieces about things that he cared about. But another parallel can be drawn between his fan base and Marilyn Monroe’s. When people idolize Marilyn Monroe, they conveniently forget that she had crushing insecurities, that she suffered through an abusive relationship, that she was addicted to sleeping pills and might have even taken her own life with them. Hemingway, likewise, struggled with depression and took his own life. One of his oft-quoted lines is one that I downright hate.

“Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.”

I can’t abide that. I think it is a harmful and mean thing to say. I don’t think happiness is a reflection of intelligence as much as it is a reflection of a mindset. I think people are really and truly happy when they turn their mind to it. Some of the most beautiful pieces of art, music, literature have come out of dark times and sad people, but I think some of it has come from happy individuals. I think about this quote a lot when I am happy and worry that my writing will suffer for it. He’s bullying me into choosing either happiness or intelligence, when I think that it is possible to choose both. And maybe that’s what pushes me away from his novels. This overarching gloom of war and death and failure doesn’t inspire me as much as his love and excitement and happiness in Paris. That’s the part of his writing that means something to me.

So instead of ending this on a criticism of the patriarch of modern writing, I’ll end it on one of my favorite quotes from “A Moveable Feast.” A quote that makes me want to quit my job and move to Montmartre. To find my own mustachioed Hemingway and while away the hours debating back and forth about politics, love, happiness, writing. No matter how I feel about some of his books, the man could craft an elegant sentence.

“You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.”

Am I alone in this? How do other people really, honestly feel about Hemingway? Love him, but don’t like him? Are there other authors out there that have that type of relationship with their readers?

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Stray Cats

9 Apr

20140408-203741.jpgThe official start of my Spring softball season began a couple of weeks ago. And while this week has had 50-60 degree Spring-like weather, we were living in a different New York City two weeks ago.

As I hurried to the field, wearing a wool hat, gloves, long underwear, a scarf, I was frustrated that the game hadn’t been postponed due to freezing temperatures. It was an odd sight to see so many bundled figures on the field. I played catcher, and the umpire and I would have to shield our backs to the wind between batters.

Afterwards, my team and I headed to the subway to make our way downtown to our favorite watering hole. My boyfriend stopped at the ticket machine to refill his Metrocard. I stood waiting for him and noticed movement behind the machine. It was a beautiful orange and white cat, curled up where the machine left space from the wall, near a small vent that was letting off heat. He was friendly, looking up at me curiously. If I wasn’t still iffy about cats, and my apartment allowed pets, I might have scooped him up right there and taken him home out of the cold.

But this encounter also made me think about one of my cat sitting clients. He is a former stray cat who now resides in the Upper East Side. He’s affectionate and loves his owner. One of the strange requests the owner has when I cat sit is to open the window while I’m in the apartment. Her cat loves to sit at the window and gaze out at the courtyard, watching the birds come and go, feeling the fresh air on his fur. Even though he has a wonderful life of good meals, toys, a clean litter box, and refuge from the cold, he still loves to stare out the window at the world he used to roam.

Cats are so much different than other companion animals. They’re more wild, more in tune with their primal roots. I wonder how much of them misses that wildness. And more importantly, how much of them understands that the life of a stray cat might seem rebellious and exciting, yet how much nicer it is to have shelter and comfort on the coldest of nights.

Slacktivism

31 Aug

I need a moment to vent. I’m going to try my damnedest to not come off as preaching here, and if I do, I sincerely apologize. But I just feel like this needs to be said.

I have been busy the last couple of weeks. So much so, that I have literally only been home to sleep and shower, sometimes not even that. I spent the weekend at a friend’s apartment drinking beer and waiting out a “hurricane.” So I am behind in returning calls and answering e-mails. Tonight, I finally had a free night to myself to catch up. I open up my e-mail and am pleased to see that I have a number of messages from facebook. “Oooooh,” I think to myself. “Someone posted a funny animal video to my wall? A friend from Seattle is visiting? There’s a fun event to go to this weekend?”

No. Some girl that I briefly worked with in Seattle sent out a mass message to all of her female “friends” asking them to post some cryptic thing on their walls about an amount of time and a food their craving. I didn’t read the entire explanation, because I was so pissed off by being bombarded with these e-mails, but this was somehow supposed to raise awareness for breast cancer. There was a similar campaign launched last year where women had to put in their status updates where they like their purses. BUT, you say it cryptically. “I like it on the kitchen counter.” or “I like it under my desk.” This is supposed to be fun for the ladies and inspiring for men. From what I could gather, the thought process of men was theorized to go. “Is she talking about sex?…Boobs make me want to have sex…Breast cancer happens in boobs…Breast cancer is bad…I am now aware of breast cancer.” Mission accomplished! Everyone is aware of breast cancer.

Here are my issues with this.

One. Does anyone honestly believe that men think like that? I’m no expert, but I do feel like I have a decent understanding of the male brain. From my years of research, I have discovered that often when men think of sex, it consumes most of their thoughts. Cancer is usually not a next step. Thinking that a provocative post is going to make men jump to cancer is like thinking a porn movie is going to make men think about cinematography. Even worse, I am bombarded with updates saying “10 weeks and craving skittles.” What the fuck does that mean?

Two. Are people unaware of breast cancer? Is there some huge segment of the population who have never heard of it? Is it stigmatized? Are we really putting the goal at raising awareness? I understand Autism Awareness, because it is a commonly misunderstood condition. I understand raising awareness of genocides in Africa, because in America we get so wrapped up in our own stuff, we forget there are real problems in the world that need to be addressed. I think it’s safe to say that most people have heard of breast cancer and know what it is. Maybe we should focus on prevention and treatment instead. Which brings me to my next issue…

Three. How is that post helping anyone?! I recently read an amazing blog post on http://www.justatitch.com about the term “slacktivism.” Doing things like these posts is useless. It’s a bunch of facebook addicts wanting to show their friends how much they care about the issue by doing these little projects. But really, what is that doing? Is it helping research? Is it encouraging women to do self-exams or to get their mammograms? Is it encouraging people to donate, to volunteer? OR, are we sitting in front of our computer doing silly things? I’m really not trying to get up on a soap box here, because I don’t donate or volunteer nearly as much as I should, but I also don’t go around trying to pretend like I do by sending stupid e-mails.

Last year when this stuff was popping up, I was annoyed. Now, I’m offended. In the last year, my mother had a really scary couple of months where it looked like she had breast cancer. After a dozen doctor visits, mammograms, and biopsies, it turned out she was okay, and we all thanked our lucky stars. I started buying anything with a  pink ribbon on it, even thought it is such a small gesture, because I was so happy that my mom was okay, and I couldn’t imagine how other people cope with actual diagnoses and treatment.

To get even more personal, a couple of months ago, my doctor found a lump in my breast. I spent months listening to specialists say they didn’t know what it was. Young, alone in the city, broke, and uninsured, I went from doctor appointment, to sonograms, to biopsies, to needle aspirates. Each step more terrifying than the last, because they just couldn’t say with confidence that it wasn’t cancer. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever experienced. Months later when the doctor told me it was benign, I couldn’t stop my eyes from welling up with tears. The nurse coordinator put her arm around me as I put my face in my hands and cried. Even though my life was unreasonably difficult at the time, and it took every ounce of strength to just get up and go in the morning, I was so relieved to have my health, and to have the opportunity to have a long life.

Breast cancer is a serious thing and should absolutely not be used as an excuse to write cutesy messages and giggle with your friends. There are plenty of fundraisers to get involved in, as a woman it’s liberating to donate that 10 inches of hair to locks of love (and the salon will often not charge for a haircut, fyi), and there are other very pressing issues in our world that we should all take the time to make ourselves more aware of.

I definitely defriended that girl.

Tales from Two Sisters

7 Aug

Mmm, this picture is an oldie but a goodie. This is my sister Kate and I circa 2008, waiting out a rain delay at Fenway Park by drinking beer and taking silly pictures. Have I mentioned before just how much I love this flesh and blood of mine?

The two of us love books. She became a librarian, and I became a receptionist/wannabe writer/drown my sorrows with beer and books. Kate started making lists of books to recommend friends, and my co-workers have begun to always ask me what I’m reading as the variety never seems to disappoint. So we decided to put a blog together of book recommendations.  It’s also a fun way for the two of us to keep in contact about what we are reading. Head on over and check it out. If you’ve read any of the books, feel free to leave comments as well. The blog is just a baby at the moment, but one day maybe we’ll have a lovely little reading community!

Tales from Two Sisters

April 21, 2011

17 May

I had to go to another doctor’s appointment. Unfortunately, this one was in Morningside Heights, which for those not familiar with New York geography, it’s at the northernmost tip of Manhattan Island. It’s barely New York anymore. It took me over an hour to get there, and once my appointment was over I had no idea how to get back. The receptionist gave me directions, but I still got lost, and I couldn’t find anybody who spoke English or was willing to deal with my broken Spanish. This is an important lesson about insurance. If you don’t have it, you have to go to great lengths to find medical care which I find semi-ridiculous.

I finally found a subway station that took me to Columbus Circle where this photo was taken. I had the day off, so I took a leisurely stroll through Central Park before making my way home.

April 18, 2011

16 May

It was a rough road for me the week after I took the last picture. I was ebbing back and forth between moving to Seattle and staying in New York. I had bought the ticket to Seattle, arranged for a place to stay, even gotten my job back at the old Blue Dog. It just didn’t feel right. Sure I was lonely in New York, and I’ve missed Seattle starting the day I left the Emerald City. I’ve been non-stop telling myself that I want to go back since I’ve left. But the timing just felt all wrong. It felt like I was running away from my problems, like I was consenting defeat.

New York has amazing opportunities for a young writer, and an ambitious girl with a heart of gold. Everytime I thought about staying I got so excited about all the things that I could do. Ten minutes later I was overwhelmed with the loneliness of my situation here in the city. It was such a rough decision, and I kept bouncing back and forth. Finally, on a Saturday morning at the doctor’s office, I just decided I couldn’t do it. I simply don’t have the strength at the moment to move across the country. Everything in my heart is telling me to return to Seattle, but the timing is all wrong. I will return one day, but that day is a bit farther on down the line.

This picture is just of me dancing around my apartment. I took a number of pictures of myself, and this one turned out to be the least embarrassing of the bunch. Also, one can see my new haircut. I got it mid break-up. Literally. We were fighting. I went out and cut my hair. I came back. We broke up. I like it though.

My Apologies

3 Apr

I know it has been a long time since I updated, and it has weighed heavily on my mind. Almost all, if not all, of you, my readers, know me personally and know that Travis and I broke up. It has undeniably been one of the most shocking and difficult things to go through. I have been a whirlwind of emotions, and I chose to take a break from the photo project to take care of myself. I also didn’t want to broadcast the things I was feeling because of the natural need for privacy for both him and I. However, I have not given up on the project. There is definitely going to be a hole, and it won’t necessarily be 365 photos at the end of this year, but I don’t think that is a good enough reason to quit. I don’t quit. I don’t give up on things, which is partially why this whole situation has been so hard on me.

For anyone who has left a long-term relationship, one of the hardest things to do is to find something to fill that hole that the partnership once held in life. Over the last couple of weeks, I have struggled with the question about what to do now, who am I on my own, how do I reclaim my life. It hurts to even have to ask these questions. I’ve felt so bad about myself. Without divulging too much detail, he had told me that I wasn’t challenging him, that I wasn’t taking on life the way I should, and that I wasn’t comfortable enough with myself. I took those words to heart, perhaps more so than I should have. Upon further reflection, I keep going back to the moment, when I saw this postcard on postsecret.com…

I saw it weeks before we broke up, and it took my breath away. It was exactly how I have felt for months. I am not going to use this space to speak about him, what he did, and who he is to have caused this, because this isn’t about him anymore, it’s about me. I was with someone who although a good person at heart, didn’t support, understand, or encourage the person that I am. He made me feel like I wasn’t living life in comparison to him, because he had more friends than I did to go drinking with and had a more successful career than me. But these are never things that I used to base my life around. I DO live life, and I DO know who I am. He often made me feel like I didn’t have anything, that I wasn’t trying. Maybe I wasn’t, maybe it was easier to curl up in his arms and not worry about myself for a while. Though, my life at the moment is a rollercoaster of emotions (love, hate, joy, despair, anger, frustration, ecstasy, fear) I often feel like I have won something back. No, I don’t have a wildly successful career, and I don’t get drunk with near-strangers. But I knit, cook, watch baseball, read poetry, learn languages, teach English, make badass latte art, play catch, fly kites, spend entire days just READING, get passionate about feminism, do the New York Times crossword every day, write novels in ONE MONTH, undertake a yearlong photography project, try any food or drink you put in front of me, listen to old country, watch old movies, read and obsess about serial killers, love aquariums, ride a bike 80 miles around the Czech Republic, dance drunkenly to 80’s music, drink Maker’s Mark on an empty stomach, move across the country in a blink of an eye, eat cold pizza for breakfast, swim the backstroke, karaoke the hell out of Dolly Parton, launch my own dicey website, and I am always willing and excited to learn and try something new. I am never going to lose those things for a relationship again. I know his list isn’t nearly as long as mine, and I’m never going to shrink my list down again so that I can fit with someone. I don’t mean to put him down, he is a wonderful person who I hope to stay friends with for the rest of my life. The only difference is that my life is now going to come first and come back!

The point of all this, is yes, to give myself some validation and some courage to go back out into the world, but it is also to say that I’m not done with the Project 365. In fact, I think my pictures are about to get much more interesting, as my life is as well. I have three weeks left in New York to soak in all this city has, then to Boston, then back to my true love, the Pacific Northwest.

So I am truly sorry, I have left everyone hanging for so long, but for all my amazing friends that follow this, I’m doing fine, and I promise much more amazing pictures are yet to come.

December 13, 2010

27 Dec

Winter has finally made its way to New York. I almost feel silly writing this as a couple of feet of snow is now on my fire escape, but this was the first snowfall. It was just little flurries, and it didn’t really accumulate. But it was a sign of the season nonetheless.

November 6, 2010

17 Nov

Travis and I went down to the Wall Street area to hang out with our friends Dawn and Richard. We had a Rock Band/pizza night. Travis came and met me at work. We figured we would pick up some beer at a corner store in the Wall St. area. How wrong we were. It’s so desolate there at night. It took us a solid 20 minutes of wandering around the crooked, winding streets before we found a pharmacy with a sad selection of Budweiser, 40s, or Coronas. The choice was easy. Anyways, we passed the NYSE which isn’t as big as you’d think.