Cindy and I recently had the opportunity to tour the home of the late Ernest Hemingway, the author of classics such as “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “A Farewell to Arms,” and “The Old Man and the Sea.” He is remembered as one of the finest American authors of the 20th century. The experience was mesmerizing, and the two hours or so we were there hardly seemed like enough time. Were it not for a prior commitment that particular afternoon, I’m certain we would have stayed until we were asked to leave.
Being an aspiring writer, I’m always anxious to learn what makes other writers tick. I found out that Hemingway—‘Papa’—and I have a few things in common:
- • A love for the written word; it’s our instrument of choice for painting pictures of the many ways we view the world.
- • A love for cats. At one time Cindy and I had five of them; Hemingway regularly had 10 times as much. The descendants of the author’s expansive litter still roam the grounds of his estate to this day; there were 59 of them when we were there.
- • An appreciation for adventure, to the point that we’re willing to put our lives on the line: Papa ran with the bulls of Pamplona, and I ran a 135-mile across Death Valley once I signed a waiver acknowledging I understood that I ‘could possibly die’ while competing. Thankfully, we both survived.
- • A tendency to stray outside of our comfort zones if for no other reason than to give us a perspective on something new to write about. Papa put himself on the frontlines of numerous wars and strapped on a pair of leather gloves to box in the squared circle; I participated in a drag race in front of 50 of my employees and sang at the annual office Christmas party; not just once, but twice. (If you heard me singing you would realize how far outside of my comfort zone this was for me. My singing is so bad I was asked to refrain from singing in church. By the pastor.)
Then again, there are a lot of things Hemingway and I don’t have in common:
- • Hemingway had four wives; I’ve been married to the same woman my entire life.
- • Hemingway drank too much; I don’t drink enough. (Note: this is in no way related to the comment earlier about my wife. I swear.)
- • Hemingway wrote 500-700 words every single day of his life for nine years; on a good day I can knock out 2,000 words, that are usually followed by a couple of days that I’m incapable of compiling a shopping list.
- • Hemingway won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and a Nobel Prize in Literature; I consider it a success if I make it through the day without leaving any of my participles dangling.
I spent a lot of time examining every square inch of Hemingway’s writing studio, untouched since his death almost 50 years ago. There were leather bound books neatly aligned on the shelves, exquisite art adorning the walls, and sitting directly in the center of the room, the table and chair where Hemingway sat with his fingers on the keyboard of his trusty portable Royal typewriter composing some of the most eloquent prose in American literature day after day for the better part of a decade. I could almost see his words appearing on the blank piece of paper as it passed through the carriage of the typewriter.
As for me, I too have a writing studio (technically an office I share with my one wife). I also have a fair share of books neatly aligned on the shelves (paperbacks, mostly). And I have a keyboard as well, but mine has a carriage instead of a computer screen.
And sadly, I have days that the only words that appear on my screen are the opening credits of a movie on Netflix I decided watching because I couldn’t think of anything to write about.
As we left Key West I had one final, sobering thought:
I am already older now than Hemingway ever was.