I was watching a movie (Midnight in Paris) yesterday when I heard some of the lines below; any aspiring writer should heed them (that’s my opinion, anyway). There was an Ernest Hemingway character in the movie, and all the lines you’ll read – except the last – are his:
“It was a good book because it was an honest book. And that’s what war does to men. And there’s nothing fine and noble about dying in the mud. Unless you die gracefully. And then it’s not only noble, but brave.”
“No subject is terrible if the story is true, and if the prose is clean and honest, and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.”
“You don’t want the opinion of another writer. Writers are competitive. If you’re a writer, declare yourself the best writer.”
“The assignment was to take the hill. There were four of us; five if you counted Vincente, but he had lost his hand when a grenade went off and couldn’t fight as he could when I first met him. And he was young and brave, and the hill was soggy from days of rain and it sloped down towards the road, and there were many German soldiers on the road. And the idea was to aim for the first group and if our aim was true, we could delay them.”
“You’d never write well if you feared dying. It’s what all men before you have done and what all men will do. Have you ever made love to a truly great woman? And when you make love to her you feel true and beautiful passion and you, for at least that moment, lose your fear of death. I believe that love that is true and real creates a respite from death. All cowardice comes from not loving and not loving well, which is the same thing. And when a man who is brave and true looks death squarely in the face, like some rhino hunters I know, or Belmonte, who is truly brave, it is because they love with sufficient passion to push death out of their minds…until it returns as it does to all men. And then you must make really good love again. Think about it.”
“The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair, but to define an antidote for the emptiness of existence.” – Gertrude Stein.
Now, I have written this below in an attempt to sound like Hemmingway – I had fun doing it, and that’s what matters. Take a look:
The sky was shrouded in dark and grey clouds and the night was jet black and one could see one’s palms only with the aid of a flashlight held against one’s temple and only if the palms were pressed against one’s nose – as if to be smelled and not to be seen – and only if the flashlight would come on – if its batteries were not discharged and its bulb not dead. And I walked on in blindness, letting my tongue hang over my lower lip and dragging it in to swallow the rain water it had collected, and sticking it out again, and my tiredness made my duffel bag weigh twice as much as an adult whale, and I hungered for food and for a warm bed to rest my back on, its railing to kick my heavy feet up to, feet that now squelched in boots of worn–out heels and now stank from the meeting of rain water with unwashed stockings which I’d never washed because since the day I’d worn them, I’d been engaged in combat with Biafran soldiers whose lands we’d invaded three years ago – two months after I’d joined the army, one week after my first child was born, whom I’d carried and cradled and cried over for two minutes and twenty seconds before giving him to his mother and giving her a kiss that I had to be torn away and marched to a truck full of soldiers who were barely boys dragged from their mothers’ breasts, and the sight of whom gave me a new reason to shoot an Ibo man as I imagined that if we lost the war, my son would be taken from his mother and put in the war front and handed a gun taller than he is and be taught to pull a trigger even before he could learn how to wipe his own arse. And I was but a boy myself, and having just the shadow of a mustache – and not a wedding ring – to prove my manhood, I’d volunteered to be specially trained for the tasks reserved for real men of stout hearts, physical strength and cunning that only the ample passage of time could bestow. And I’d aged overnight, becoming brave and strong and cunning and was one of the men sent deep into Biafran territory to carry out a stealth mission of finding out where the Biafran armory stood and to blow it to pieces and to give up our lives if the giving was to aid the success of our mission. But I hadn’t left the other boys and come this far and deep with men for honour not to come out of this alive and kiss my wife and hold my son to my chest again, and if only I could get to the other side of the Niger, I would be safe.