Archive for ernest hemingway

Ode To The Brass Rail

Posted in life with tags , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2013 by cueball

“A good smelly saloon, my favorite place in the world.” – Paden, Silverado

What is it about writers and bars?  There seems to be an inordinate amount of writers writing about bars in literature.  Not just things happening in a bar in a piece of fiction, but writers just writing about being in bars, going to bars, ordering drinks in bars.

It is more than just the “street cred” of being in a bar and getting drunk and getting in fights.  When Hemingway and other particularly American male writers of the 20th century wrote about bars it was like they were writing about the last bastion of manliness.  Bars were the last bit of unpolite society that sat just on the fringes of a changing world where women expected to be allowed to participate fully and openly.

To writers like Hemingway and Raymond Chandler bars were the original Las Vegas.  What happened there stayed there.  They could get drunk, get into fights, talk loud and say very little.  For these writers, the bar was the last place on earth outside of hunting and fishing where they could be fully men in what the meant in a 19th century way.

This was across the board for male American writers white or black.  They all held a reverence for the bar where the women were either the owners, prostitutes, or hardened to almost manliness through suffering, drink, and time.

After saying that, it wasn’t just about men staking their final claim on manliness, there is something beautiful about a bar:

“I like bars just after they open in the evening. When the air inside is still cool and clean and everything is shiny. The first quiet drink of the evening in a quiet bar — that’s wonderful.” – Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye.

I love a good bar.  A good bar has just the right amount of darkness.  Music plays just loud enough to add a counterpoint to whatever is happening at the moment.  In a good bar people aren’t there to start any crap.  It is a happy place or a place a person can come to find solace.  In a good bar you can be as alone as you want to be.  A good bar isn’t like a coffee shop with its hipster folk music playing to loud and forced coolness with its pastels, stainless steel, and big bright windows so people on the street can see how cool you are.  Bars are dark.  They have oak, brass, and brick.  Bars don’t have to try to be cool.  They are or they aren’t and if they aren’t your probably not there anyway.

Maybe I’m wrong or just over-romanticizing bars, but I do know this:  No one has ever written a song this good about Starbucks.  The bar is a beautiful place.

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Making The Particular Illuminate The Universal

Posted in Uncategorized, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2013 by cueball

After over a week since I finished the experience and along with a few other things I’ve been reading (Brainpickings.org, If You Want To Write by Brenda Ueland, and A Technique for Producing Ideas by James Webb Young), I can really start to see how Camp NANOWRIMO affected my writing.  It really did two things one immediate with real physical effects on how I write and the other with why and what I write.

The first thing it taught was to leave out the preciousness and quit worrying whether every word was perfect when you are writing a first draft.  The preciousness is trying to write in a learned way to show how smart you are and how many big words you know.  It has nothing to do with actually getting to the truth of the sentence (more on his later).  The second part of that is to just let it flow, especially in the first draft. For me the first draft is the time to get ideas and the skeleton of the work on paper. Just let it fly.  More often than not, the ideas you are trying to express are the correct ones.  When you go back for the editing and rewriting, that is where you make it sing.

The second thing the camp, along with the things I’ve been reading about art and writing, taught me is the only thing that matters in art and fiction is telling the truth.  This idea was something that began forming in my mind when I started trying to blog more consistently and more often.

There were two things that started me down the idea that truth is the most important thing in art. (I might not mean truth the way you think I do.  More on that later.) The first is a quote from Ernest Hemingway that I can’t find right off, but if memory serves he said something like, whenever he got stuck in something he was writing he would try to write the truest sentence possible.  The other thing is from Andrew Sullivan who wrote about a blogger’s job is to be truthful about everything including himself.

Sullivan’s quote is more about always being forthright and sincere in what you believe and in what you write.  Hemingway’s idea is a little trickier.  It doesn’t just mean factual truth, but it means the emotional and fictional truth of your characters.  Of course, those characters are a part of you and you are a part of them.  No matter how much you may base a character on another person, you are writing that character therefore part of you is in that character.  So, you are in a way trying to express some sort of personal truth.

What I am trying to say (and failing miserably at) is the writer’s goal is to not hide behind the artifice of fancy words and clichés.  The writer’s goal is to tell the truth about his characters, their world, his world, and himself in as straightforward yet artful manner as possible.  The artist’s job is to use the truth of the particular to illuminate the truth of the universal.

Who Would Faulkner Be?

Posted in books, life, music, rock with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 29, 2013 by cueball

This was the moment I trusted my own taste.

The radio in my mother’s car only got AM radio.  It was the factory install on a 1973 Chevrolet Laguna and it would become my car in high school, with a much better radio.  Anyway, the car only got AM stations so my first musical memories are of John Cougar Mellancamp, Eddie Rabbit, and Juice Newton.  Then, the only FM station we could get at home with any clarity was a top 40 station.  The only other music I really listened to at home was my parent’s 60s and 70s R & B.  That tells you where all the musical likes I have alt. country, 80s pop music, old school R & B developed.  Over the years I added rap and 60s music to my musical loves.

However, that all became OK with those first moments of Vernon Reid’s guitar open to “Cult of Personality” on the Arsenio Hall Show.  Seeing four black guys on stage playing hard rock/heavy metal told me, “OK, you’re not strange.  It makes sense now.”

The bands that made me who am goes like this, Living Colour, Fishbone, The Black Crowes, Jimi Hendrix, Uncle Tupelo/Son Volt/Wilco.  These and the bands that have joined them in the forefront of my musical tastes all have in thing in common:  They are their own thing and moved out on their own limb to do what they wanted, damn the consequences.

The Mount Rushmore of music for my life is Living Colour, Fishbone, Jeff Tweedy/Jay Farrar (I can’t separate them), Jimi Hendrix.

What about the books?  Hmmm.  What books and authors made me fall in love with words?  First, Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time.  That is the first book I can truly remember reading and being affected by as a kid.  After that the next thing that really affected me was Red Badge Of Courage and then A Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.  It was soon after that I found The Great Gatsby.  Then I read Dubliners and that changed how I saw short stories.

What would my writer’s Mount Rushmore be?  This is where I’ve changed.  The music is still important to me, but the books are more important to me.  I have recently gone a binge of dead white guys.  Particularly of the American kind.  Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Faulkner, plus a lot of Shakespeare has been in my reading queue for the last couple of years.  Then there is James Joyce.  Probably my least read of this group, but the one who has affected me most.  For whatever reason, Joyce has become a romantic figure in my estimation of writers.  The guy who toiled endlessly to write how he wanted to write regardless of what the public or the establishment thought.  He toiled endlessly through obscurity and poverty to write one of the greatest pieces of art to come out of the 20th century.

I don’t think of writers in terms of Mount Rushmore.  I think of them more as basketball players.  Who are the basketball comparisons for my favorite writers?  Shakespeare is Bill Russell.  He has all the rings and helped create this world of writers.  Hemingway is Michael Jordan.  Maybe he was not the most naturally talented one, but the one who wanted greatness the most and worked everyone into the ground to get there.  Fitzgerald is someone like David Thompson.  The one who did have all the natural talent, but the drugs and the alcohol just got in the way too often.  Joyce is someone like Connie Hawkins.  Someone whose talent got its most shine outside the popular glare of most of the sports world, but whose legend grows with each passing year.

Who would Faulkner be?  That is a good question.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about a lot of this in the recent weeks as I get ready for Camp NANOWRIMO starting on Monday.  The questions of influence and style ramble around in my head while I’m trying to go to sleep with the countdown looming.  That is partially why this post is so rambling and kind of disjointed.  Not enough sleep. Off to do some more pre-work and to set up my writing schedule for the coming week.