Fifty-eight years ago today, a flawed man, one who forever changed American Literature, died at his own hand.
Genius is an over-used word, but that doesn’t mean it is misapplied. It is applied across many different fields. Often times, it is up for debate if one is or is not a genius.
Over used or misused, like him, hate him, respect him, abhor him — there is little doubt Ernest Hemingway was a literary genius. He was a gifted storyteller who ascended to the top of his profession. He had but a high school diploma. He was not educated, and may I say, held back by institutionalized academia. His training took place at newspapers, out in the real world, not behind some desk diagramming sentences.
He had a gift.
He had a talent.
He had a desire.
He went out and lived life.
He reported on what he saw.
He crafted stories from experiences.
At times brutish.
At times cruel.
At times bad.
Through it all, a dedicated craftsperson.
Through it all, a serious writer.
Through it all, a gifted artist.
A while back, I linked to an excellent story on Medium by Steve Newman, “The Death of Ernest Hemingway.”
For those new to my writings, I am an admirer of Ernest Hemingway, the man and artist and storyteller. In my novel, “One Day I Was,” I create a fictional character, The Old Man, who was a friend of Hemingway. Through him, I make my own attempt to explain and speculate why Papa took his own life. Here is one excerpt….
…The Old Man stood up. “Walk with me. The barbaric procedure of electroshock therapy robbed Papa of his gift. Those around him believed Papa to be mentally ill. Today, some would say he was depressed, perhaps they use the medical term bipolar. It matters not what they call it, those in the past were, and those today are wrong. Worse yet, others accused him of paranoia.”
The Old Man ceased his walking. Dominique could tell this was angering him. She admired his efforts to remain in control. “He was none of those. He was not paranoid. There were those in government attempting to discredit him. He was not depressed. He, like many other creative geniuses, was simply more in touch with his emotions. He sensed them deeper than most. It was that depth, combined with his gift for words that allowed him to turn out incredible stories.”
Dominique touched his arm to lend comfort. He patted her hand and continued. “Yes, Papa drank to excess, it was the way he coped with the overwhelming emotions that permitted incredible writing. It was also something that was not only accepted, but also expected at the time. A man’s ability to hold his liquor was a sign of his masculinity. Have no doubt, Ernest Hemingway was as masculine a man as they came. There were those who disparaged this fact. They claimed that Papa’s masculinity was burden to him — that it was some sort of act. There could be nothing further from the truth. Your father was a man, something sadly lacking in many today. He was masculine enough to be sensitive. He was masculine enough to be brave. He was masculine enough to love, to hate, to attack, to write, to compete, to accomplish and… to simply do it all better than anyone. He was the embodiment of what was great about being an American. He was unapologetically self-reliant. He was unapologetically competitive. And, he was unapologetically successful. He not only wrote of courage, he lived a courageous life. For that, he made no justifications.”
“His suicide was not the result of weakness, nor mental illness, nor drunkenness, nor, even though there was a family history, genetics. Papa had a lifelong obsession with death, yet he had no fear of it. The only fear he had was the fear of not living. Those fools around him convinced him of mental illness and he submitted to the butchery of having a doctor mildly electrocute him. Not a one of them thought the repeated injuries to his brain might have contributed to some of his problems. No, that would have taken some actual doctoring. Alas, even though that may have contributed to some of his problems, the one fact that none wanted to concede was that he was correct. He was not paranoid. There were those out to get him. It was those, who Papa trusted, who unwittingly betrayed him. When the electricity further damaged his brain, it robbed him of his gift — his one great way to communicate. He could no longer transpose his thoughts into the written word. You see, he not only lost his gift for written language, when he could no longer write, he could no longer fight, and thus he no longer had reason to live. The most rational decision a man, who saw the world as Papa did, could make was the one he opted for. He ended a life he saw that had transitioned from living to simply existing. In the end, it was the bravest option a courageous man could ever make.”