Category Archives: Writing

Hemingway and “The Lost Generation”

“In those days we did not trust anyone who had not been in the war, but we did not completely trust anyone.”

– Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Intro

The term “The Lost Generation” was used to describe a group of literary figures of the 1920’s living in Paris. It was used to describe writers who came of age after World War I and before for the Great Depression.

Hemingway made the term popular in his novel, “The Sun Also Rises.” Gertrude Stein gave him the term when describing the displaced generation of World War I veterans who lost their innocence in the war. She acted as a literary godmother to many of the writers of this generation.

The Sun Also Rises

The group rejected the post-World War I values of America. They believed due to the carnage of World War I there was a loss of morals. The phrase “do good unto others and have good done unto you” was no longer true. The idea of hope was lost.

World War I

The Industrial Revolution would change warfare in World War I (WWI). Death was caused killing on a massive scale- tens of thousands of men killed in a single day.

At the Battle of the Somme, one of the largest of the war, 1 July and 18 November 1916 more than a million men were wounded or killed. J.R.R. Tolkien was wounded in this battle, and it greatly influenced his writing of the “The Lord of the Rings.”  Nothing like this killing was seen on this scale before.

On the first morning of the battle, more than 20,000 British Soldiers were killed, and 37,000 were wounded. In the end, it gained the allies only 8 miles of land.

Battle of the Somme

Battle of the Somme

There was a thought at the start of the industrial age that machines should serve humanity. The idea of machines to slaughter people was never possible before. Tanks, gas, submarines, planes, machine guns- overwhelming massacre of humanity by the very machines that would be used to serve it.

WWI was a turning point in history because technology was used for mass violence on an almost industrial scale. Many veterans, including Hemingway, Tolkien, Fitzgerald and C.S. Lewis were changed forever by the violence of what they saw.

The Movement

Hemingway said, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

The artistic energy in Paris in the1920’s was immemorial for its time and unsurpassed in its creativity. The decade exploded with life full of experimentation and promise.

Genius thrived, classics were created, and careers were made. The men and women who made this possible left their nation behind. Yet, in their writing captured its spirits. In self-imposed exile, they wrote some of the most acclaimed and influential literature of all time.

Poets and writers worked to recreate the literary form. Hemingway worked to create a single, simple style of prose. This is how it began.

Before World War I

On the eve WWI, American students immersed themselves in the works of European literature. All of them were descended from the “old country.” They hoped to discover their own artistic voice.

Young American writers found little in their homeland to influence their writing. They read about epic events in the books of the French writer Émile Zola and Russian writer Leonard Tolstoy.

They were educated in the values of old-world Europe. They learned from European books the ideals of courage, valor, and hope. As WWI started and got worse, they felt compelled to save that culture. The culture of their fathers and grandfathers.

The Ambulance Service

Archibald MacLeish was an American poet, writer, and future Librarian of the US Congress. He joined the ambulance service in France. A fresh out of high school Hemingway followed to escape his Midwest upbringing.

Archibald MacLeish

The Red Cross Ambulance service in France and Italy almost served as a college extension courses for romantic Americans wanted to take part in the great adventure. The ambulance service gave them great food, congenial experiences, furloughs to Paris and uniforms to meet girls.

John Dos Passos went to the famed prep school, Choate Rosemary Hall. After graduating from Harvard University in 1916, he served as an ambulance driver in the war.

John Dos Passos

As a modernist writer, and most overlooked, he became connected with the Lost Generation. He was drinking buddies with F. Scott Fitzgerald. His Harvard classmate was E. E. Cummings. He was a longtime friend of Ernest Hemingway.

It was on Dos Passos recommendation that Hemingway would move to Key West, FL.

The Aftermath of War

Europe was lost in the carnage of WWI and destroyed. Amid the destruction of Victorian Europe, Dos Passos and the other writers developed left-leaning politics that left them against war and in support of workers’ rights.

As ambulance drivers, these young Americans saw war at its worst. They served in the trenches, they saw disfigured soldiers, and watched the flower of European society die in mass slaughter.

Dos Passos was at the battle of Verdun. MacLeish lost his brother. Three months after the war he found him lying in a ditch in Belgium in his full uniform. It destroyed him.

These aspiring poets and writers watched the destruction of their beloved Europe. Gone was the world they had read about. In 1919 they returned home.

Back Home

America came into the war only in the last 18 months. Over 100,000 Americans were killed and twice that number wounded. But due to America’s geographical isolation and rich mineral resources, the country prospered while Europe was in shambles.

The casualties for the British was 900,000 killed and more than 2 million wounded. France lost 1.3 million men and 4 million wounded. Germany had similar numbers with double wounded. America had largely been untouched by the war.

We start to see the first glimpse of the superpower that America would become. America refused to join the League of Nations.

While they had been gone, the country had changed. The Industrial Revolution is in full swing in American, and the idea of Prohibition starts. The stock market was booming. A time similar to the 1990’s and early 2000’s.

Many American veterans felt they had sacrificed for nothing. The American WWI vets felt disenchanted. Their values changed by their experience. They felt lost in a haze of aimlessness.

They felt that no one understood what they had experienced. No one knew who they were. This is decades before we understood such psychological trauma. Many of them had several jobs and felt restless.

The Return to Paris

Writing was a time-honored impossibility in America. Very few writers managed to make a living enough to support their families. Rumors of cheap living overseas got back to the veterans because Europe was in shambles. The American dollar was very strong due to the booming US economy.

Graduates of Ivy League schools were once again influenced by the books they had read in college. The chance to return to Paris and to experience the stuff they had read about was too much of a temptation to resist.

Many of the WWI vets had fond memories of Paris from the war. The first writers of the Lost Generation went forward to their future in Paris.

The Changing Values

After the destruction of Europe, there was a relief of being alive. Everyone wanted to celebrate. It was the reverse of survival guilt- it was a Survivor Celebration.

The American writers walked into a city that had a wild desire to dance, drink, to squander what little they had and to have sex. A gasp of relief to feast on life.

All the rules were broken both social and taboo. It was an atmosphere where anything went. There was no judgment because there was a sense of doom because they all realized life is short. It was an environment of changing ideas.

Gertrude Stein and Sylvia Beach

Picasso was redefining art. Gertrude Stein was reimaging prose. French saloons are the central point of conversation and gossip in Franco society.

Stein’s saloon at Rue des Fleurs was constantly busy with people coming and going. It was a mandatory stop for culture and talks of avant-garde art.

Stein with her life partner Alice Toklas loved to entertain. Her guest list reads like a who’s who of literary and art greatness in the early 20th century.

Gertrude Stein and Alice Tolkas

Pablo Picasso was a central character early on in Stein’s saloon. His Cubism would go on influence an entire generation of painters. He painted a famous portrait of Stein.

Sylvia Beach’s bookstore “Shakespeare and Company” was a literary crossroads. A Princeton grad in WWI she had been a nurse. She had a soft spot for WWI veterans.

Her store was a central hub for the growing number of returning veterans. They used her store mail, money, and inspiration.

Paris

The Seine River divides Paris into two parts- the left bank and the right bank. May of the lost generation artists were drawn to the left bank of the Seine in Paris due to the cheap apartments and cafes. The right bank was the decadent part of the city where all the hotels were.

As they arrived many of the writers began to write. MacLeish observed that the youth of Europe had been slaughtered. Paris was the reaction to this carnage.

Death of a generation implied the death of tradition. It was the start of the Modernist movement. Modernism is characterized by a self-conscious break with traditional styles of poetry and art. Modernist writers experimented with literary form and expression, adhering to Ezra Pound’s maxim to “Make it new.”

Liberated from the tradition artists and writers in Paris sought to make art new. They weren’t sure how to do it. Ezra Pound was a poet of immense talent. He translated French, Chinese and ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics into modern prose.

Ezra Pound

A restless and energetic man he edited T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” into a tight, sharp poem. The haunting poem invokes images of a generation living in the aftermath of war.

The poem was the first successful product of a Midwestern American living in Paris in the 1920’s. It would not be the last.

Learning the Craft

James Joyce was an Irishman living in Paris. His book “Ulysses” was published by Sylvia Beach on February 1922, in Paris. It is considered to be one of the most important works of modernist literature.

Ulysses’ stream-of-consciousness technique, careful structuring, and experimental prose changed the writers thought of the craft. The book is full of puns, parodies, and allusions, as well as its rich characterizations. It is a funny story the chronicles the appointments and encounters of Leopold Bloom in Dublin in the course of an ordinary day, 16 June 1904.

James Joyce

The book is a highly regarded novel. It is no small fact that the book changed the course of modern fiction. Hemingway arrived in Paris in 1921. He immediately starts honing his writing talent. He borrowed books from Shakespeare and Company.

He read D.H. Lawrence. Lawrence was an English novelist and playwright who wrote about emotional health, vitality, spontaneity, and instinct. His work represents an extended reflection upon the dehumanizing effects of modernity. He loved the themes running through the work.

He read the titans of the Russian literary canon, such as Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Chekhov. He felt changed and moved by his experiences.

Under Pound, he found an editor and publisher. He learned to distrust adjectives and to tell a tight story with short, simple sentences. In return, Hemingway taught Pound how to box.

Partying Like Rock Stars

Stein acted as a mentor to Hemingway. She told him a writer see things while a reporter merely sees words.

Stein could not understand the excess of the young writers. She thought that between the ages of 18 to 25 a person becomes civilized. Men who went to war at that age could not be civilized. She continued to play host and teacher in her saloon.

Paris cafés were well lit. You could stay there all day as long as you ordered coffee. Due to the shattered French economy, foreigners were forbidden to take jobs. They milled around sharing ideas.

The Lost Generation drank in excess. They didn’t go home to eat or sleep. They went from café to café to live public lives. Prohibition had started in America.

The two favorite bars frequented by the expatriate Americans was “The Dingo” and “The Jockey.”

MacLeish became acquainted with the silence his poetry required. He spent days in the Paris library reading everything he could. Pound’s advice to his friend was to read and to get to the European classics inside and out.

All of them felt if they immersed themselves in ancient literature while living this extravagant lifestyle they felt they could somewhere with it. Another poet who followed this advice was E.E. Cummings.

In 1917, with the First World War ongoing in Europe, Cummings enlisted in the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps, along with his college friend John Dos Passos.

Due to an administrative mix-up, Cummings was not assigned to an ambulance unit for five weeks, during which time he stayed in Paris. He fell in love with the city, to which he would return throughout his life.

Cummings returned to Paris in 1921 and remained there for two years before returning to New York. His body of work encompasses approximately 2,900 poems, two autobiographical novels, four plays and several essays. He was an artist with numerous drawings and paintings.

Cummings is remembered as an eminent voice of 20th century English literature.

John Dos Passos traveled all over Europe and Asia using Paris as a stopover to rest and plan. He captured all of it in his novel “Manhattan Transfer.” It was all about the tactile experience that could be used to fuel writing.

Manhattan Transfer

The Outcome

American writers living in Paris were writing about their native land. Paris allowed for a deepening of their ideas. It strengthened their concept of what they were doing and what they wanted.

In time they become a collective grouping of the way forward for writing. Even as their writing became more widely read they were not popular with big publishing companies. The long-established publishers saw them as brash and arrogant.

As in James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” small presses allowed a lot of younger writers to get the word out. The best part was with no censorship.

James Joyce

Hemingway’s first set of short stories was published this way. America immediately took notice of the lean, muscular prose and vernacular writing filled dialogue. It was F. Scott Fitzgerald, who introduced Hemingway to Scribner and Sons publishing.

Scott had already published “This Side of Paradise.” The novel turned the Princeton grad into the chronicler of the Jazz Age. He was an overnight American success story. Along with his wife Zelda, he embodied the excess of the Jazz Age.

Upon arriving in Paris as a successful writer had the opposite effect. He was not seen as a serious writer because he had not suffered for his art. Being poor and scrounging had a certain nobility to it.

Scott was more Right Bank Paris. A place filled with deluxe hotels and gold, white lobbies. This is the image of all that was wrong with America for the Left Bank writers.

Hemingway was the darling of the Left Bank. The real difference between Fitzgerald and Hemingway was the discipline they brought to writing.

South of France

Fitzgerald went to the South of France to finish his book, “The Great Gatsby.” Here he met Sara Murphy. She had dated Picasso and was now married to Gerald Murphy.

Gerald and Sara were wealthy, expatriate Americans who moved to the French Riviera in the early 20th century. With their generous hospitality, they threw legendary parties.

They created a vibrant social circle that included a great number of artists and writers of the Lost Generation. They made an art out of eating and drinking.

For Scott and Zelda to in the orbit of Gerald and Sara was an exciting thing. This experience would become the basis for “The Great Gatsby.”

Scott and Zelda

Learning a Craft

Hemingway would agonize over his manuscripts. He would make corrections and scribble things out and rewrite. Over and over until he got it just right with the right words.

Hemingway felt that writing was something to be done to perfection. Hemingway felt that writers like Fitzgerald, who changed their writing for slick magazines like Esquire hoarded their talent. Too much could destroy the talent of the telling the truth.

When Hemingway read a rough draft of the “The Great Gatsby” he knew it was a masterpiece.

The Great Gatsby

Hemingway went to Pamplona, Spain for the bullfights. It gave him the material for “The Sun Also Rises.”

His landmark novel of wild years spent in Paris and Spain popularized the expression of “The Lost Generation.” In the work, there are clear, sad overtones of an unhappy ending.

In The End

The phrase along with Hemingway’s book depicted this generation as characterized by doomed youth, hedonism, and uncompromising creativity. The wounding of their generation, both literally and metaphorically, by the experience of war.

To varying degrees, these virtues and vices were to be found in the life-story of nearly every member of the Lost Generation. It was their way of finding sanity in a world gone mad.

Aside from their wild lifestyles, though, what is most striking is the astonishing range, depth, and the influence of the work produced by this community of American expatriates in Paris.

This outburst of creativity was supported by an explosion of small-scale entrepreneurialism in the creative arts. Much of the literature produced by the American Modernists was published by small presses, also run by expatriates, including Shakespeare & Company, Contact Editions, Black Sun Press, Three Mountains Press, Plain Editions, and Obelisk Press.

A list of the canonical works of inter-war American literature produced in Paris, following the landmark publication of Joyce’s Ulysses by Shakespeare & Co. provides a key to the literary future of the United States.

Fitzgerald described the generation as finding, “All Gods dead, all wars fought, all faith in man shaken.”

The Now

I believe we have stumbled on such a unique in time again in the here and now. The new “Lost Generation” are the two million American men and women who have fought for the last decade-plus in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Winston Churchill said, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” Churchill was referring to the ongoing efforts of the Royal Air Force pilots fighting the Battle of Britain. This pivotal air battle was with the German Luftwaffe with Britain expecting a German invasion.

But the same can be said of the many young Americans who have fought this same war in continuous back-to-back tours. Along the way losing loved ones both “over there” and “back home.” The excess of the “The Lost Generation” can be seen in today’s veterans.

A Hemingway Fan

Why am I such a big Hemingway Fan?

That’s a great question. I will try and answer it.

I am a closet Hemingway junkie. His books seem to talk about every part of the human condition- action, sex, lies, deceit, love, lust, bravery and passion. I love them all.

A good book in the hands of an admiring reader is a personal relationship, it’s a love affair. Hemingway gave me ways to think deeply about myself and how I viewed the world, especially war.

In his books, I saw the battlefields of Europe, bullfights in Spain, hunted big game in Africa and fished the palm-fringed paradise of the pristine waters of the Gulf Coast of Cuba. Reading an author you love, you can learn a lot.

Hemingway as an old man

This is what I learned from reading Hemingway.

American Literature

American literature is one of the world’s youngest literary art forms. In many ways, it is an offshoot of English literature, over time it has achieved its own independence and vigor.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the United States produced only a small number of notable writers. In the 19th century, as the country expanded westward and grew, the number increased greatly. By the early 20th century the number of outstanding writers almost became a flood.

Ernest Hemingway may be America’s most famous writer of fiction. His characters and stories made him the most influential writer English prose in the 20th century.

For nearly 40 years he cast a shadow over the American literary scene. His work was imitated, reworked, or assimilated by almost three generations of writers and fans.

The Distinct Hemingway style

Hemingway introduced me to the richness and purpose of spare language. Saying something in simple and succinct prose rather than in an elaborate or, God forbid, boring style.

Hemingway in his prime was de-furnishing, stripping away the English-American writing language of the early 20th Century. He was leaving things out to pull people in. His style soon became the dominant one. We tend to forget that in his time he was an experimental, avant-garde writer.

Hemingway used that style on the oldest American story of them all: the boy who sets out his grand adventure. He made that subject go with his new style of writing. Hemingway is sometimes described as being simple. You will never run to get a dictionary when reading a Hemingway novel.

Hemingway is far from simple. In his writing, he uses pure colors to describe something. The effects are not simple. His simplicity was used to evoke an emotion.

He loved to take sentences and boil them down to their bare bones. His terse, minimalist style of writing stripped away adjectives and, like his heroes got straight to the point.

His clear, simple sentences strike some readers as “hard-boiled” and “tight-lipped.” The opposite is true. His simplicity camouflages deep, hard-to-control passion. A Hemingway scene in short, sharp, with no adjectives text, is a camera “shot” of what the character is doing, seeing, smelling and most important-feeling. Hemingway would describe a scene so you would feel it as if you were really there.

Hemingway as a writer

Hemingway the Writer

Hemingway’s public image as a war correspondent, big-game hunter, and deep sea fisherman competes with his own image as a writer. He is a master of the short story.

To Hemingway, every other pursuit, including drinking, fighting, chasing women, took second place to write. He was almost superstitious about writing. That by talking about it might inhibit his muse. Putting together ideas on paper can be a demanding task.

There are suggestions and tricks of the trade that we can learn by looking at his working habits and advice he gives to aspiring writers. Like in most professions, those who can’t, teach. Writing is something I teach well, lol. By looking at Hemingway’s career as a writer, we can learn a little about the craft.

Man of Letters

First and foremost Hemingway is a literary man- a writer who loved to read books. Sometimes that’s forgotten in all the talk about safaris, deep sea fishing tales and war stories.

Most folks think of Hemingway as a romantic soldier-of-fortune wandering from the bars to the bedrooms of beautiful ladies to watching bullfights. He was a very serious writer, with a self-discipline approaching severe.

The Hemingway Hero Code

There is a cult of manhood around Hemingway. He constantly wrote about the “virility” and “manhood” of his protagonists. He uses action as a way of not having to confront the complexities of the human soul. His heroes deal with their problems by acting, not thinking.

He addresses the way a man should act with personal courage and integrity in the face of inevitable defeat. His heroes are sometimes defeated. Yet, they return to battle and certain death.

Shaping of the Man

Two episodes of Hemingway’s life take shape in his writing. First, a German mortar shell wounded him in World War I. The explosion and wound both nearly kill him.

First, he suffered for months a painful and terrible wound to his right leg. His wounded leg was almost amputated.

Second, his father committed suicide when he was 28 years old. Hemingway was close to his dad, who taught him how to hunt and fish.

The two themes play out again and again in his work.

Dom’s Theory

I am writing a biography of Hemingway based on the provoking theory that Hemingway’s severe wounding in World War I, and the suicide of his dad, so traumatized the novelist that his fiction was to a significant degree unwitting self-psychoanalysis.

As a wounded veteran who lost a beloved father at a young age, these are themes I relate too. The passivity of your emotions due to the chaos of war and overwhelming loss are things avoided at all costs in Hemingway’s stories. His work, I believe, is about him resolving these two issues. Writing about him is my way of resolving my own issues.

His heroes run out- shooting something or getting into a fight. It’s the ultimate act of evasion. I just read and write about Hemingway, lol. Okay, time to move on and finish this one out- stay curious and work hard!

Hemingway and My Dad

Writing Class

I am taking a writing class. One of the books we are using is “On Writing Well” by Williams Zinsser. This is a great book to learn how to write. Zinsser gives the following advice: Writing is hard work. A clear, concise sentence is no accident. Clutter is the disease of writing.

We got an exercise to cut 50% of the last thing we wrote. I did that with yesterday’s email. It took me a long time, but it is much better.

I rewrote some sentences over and over again. I fiddled with it until I came as close to 50% as I could. I cut the piece I sent you from 1742 words down to 982. I promise to do this with all future pieces. Your time is valuable.

I did my best to strip away every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that served no function was erased. I think it’s much cleaner without losing any of the original intent. I am learning that good writing is a craft. Clear writing is clear thinking. I hope you like it. Thank you for taking this journey with me as I learn to become a writer.

Intro

I love to write. Learning to write well is the hardest thing. I aim for spare and simple prose like in a children’s book for easy reading. I am happy when I do it well. I try to boil down my sentences without spreading them too thin. I throw out adjectives and adverbs.

Tack-Tack-Tack

I imagine each paragraph like the sound a machine gun or a typewriter- tack-tack-tack, then silence. I begin the next paragraph- tack-tack-tack, period. I want the boat to be steady and deliberate.

I am a historian, but I want to write like a novelist. Good writing is telepathy. I want my readers to “experience” my writing in a mental picture they can see, feel and taste.

Editor

Few sentences come out right the first time or the fifth time. Good writing gets great through exhaustive editing. I stick to a daily schedule. Writing is a craft, not an art. The more you practice, the better you get.

A Job

I am not a deep thinker. My work has no symbolism or deep meaning. I use my own experience to give credibility to my work. Trying to get names, dates, locations, smells and tastes right is tough. The trick is to pile up items, like bricks, to give a physical effect on the reader with a complexity of emotion.

I want the reader to see my picture in their mind. This is the real magic trick, and it will take a lifetime to master.

The Why

I write about two things: death and my dad. He died when I was twenty-one years old. Freud and Dr. Phil couldn’t unsnarl my relationship with my dad. I felt I was never “man enough” for him.

Father and Son

Vince Oto was born poor and hungry in the Great Depression. His parents were immigrants from Italy. His first memories were about work. He woke up at 4am to deliver newspapers with his older brother, he was four years old.

Hunger and poverty-plagued him throughout his childhood. His family never had enough to eat. There were too many kids (11 brothers and sisters) and not enough food or love. He was no intellectual, but he had uncommon common sense. His instinct was what was important. His family was the most important thing.

My dad was not an emotional man, but he felt deeply about the things he thought worthy of his feelings. He cut straight to the core of things. He was charming and generous, but private and distant. My dad only had a few close friends. He loved them for what they were, not who they were.

My dad had an undiagnosed learning disability. He read words and numbers backwards. Later in life, he discovered he had dyslexia. He felt dumb and slow but was a quick learner. He could watch something physical and do it. He could build engines and fix things in one lesson.

He’d watch it, and learn it. He was smart about people. He said, “People are like books. All you have to do is listen.” His disability made prove himself physically. He was an extraordinary athlete.

His experiences made him tough. He fought for everything he ever had. Physical achievement gave him dignity and self-respect. He went to war and came home a hero.

My dad was a real life, Hemingway hero. He was forty-three years old when I was born. Short and stocky, he was a powerful man. He had thick shoulders, arms, and chest from hard, manual labor. I see his eyes looking back at me in the mirror.

My dad had a patchwork of scars from war and construction accidents. His injuries left him crippled and in constant pain. He never complained. Despite the pain, he lifted weights every day.

He was all hard work and manhood.  When I asked him about his war experiences, he said, “I did my job.” He didn’t talk about what he did. He was a warrior without a war.

A Gentle Father

My dad was gruff, blue-collar man with calloused hands, but he knew how to love a son. He taught me how to box and shoot. As a boy, we talked girls and lifted weights.

Baby boy and dad

Later, our relationship got complicated. We argued. I loved books more than sports. He tried to nurture my inner athlete. I was a wimpy bookworm. He wanted a buddy to hang out with. My world was books, his was hard work and physical courage.

He loved me and told me so many times, but it never seemed enough. He was not a tough-love dad. He shared his hyper-masculine love by teaching me how to impress women, how to tip waiters, and how to fight. I wanted to win his approval. I copied his mannerisms. I ate what he ate and walked like he walked.

His shadow grew after he died. He defined my manhood.

Approval

I joined the Army for him. I spent the next fifteen years trying to be the man I thought he wanted me to be. I became an infantry officer. I did tough stuff because I thought, “This is what he would do.” I was terrible at all of it.

Father and Son holding hands

My father was a natural leader of men, not me. I am better at reading history than making it. I was too young when he died. I never knew him as a man. Now, older and wiser, I know he only wanted me to be happy.

I was a terrible soldier, but I loved the amazing people I met in the army. It gave me miles of writing material. I know he would be proud. Writing is a way to visit him, if only in words.

 

 

Ernest Hemingway- His Early Life 1899-1917

Introduction

I first read Hemingway in high school. Hemingway was a war veteran, a big game hunter, a deep-sea fisherman, and most important one of the world’s greatest storytellers.

Hemingway always fills me with a great pride and a little sadness. On July 21, 1962, he ended his own life. It was a tragic way to end a journey packed with adventure, travel, awards and more than its share of tragedy.

Ernest Hemingway’s words have touched millions of lives around the world. His tales of adventures allowed his readers to share the excitement in locations they otherwise could not have experienced.

In 1950, the New York Times declared that Ernest Hemingway was the most important writer since the death of Shakespeare. By dedicating his life to the ideal of writing one true sentence, Hemingway revolutionized the face of literature.

Hemingway is the quintessential American writer. Yet, public schools have threatened to ban his books. His macho attitude towards love, death, and war have come under fire by the politically correct.

His life mirrored his writing. His adventures made him an icon of super masculinity. Hemingway was a war hero in Italy, a white hunter in Africa, and an expert deep sea fisherman in Cuba.

Beyond the macho image lay a man touched by tragedy and haunted by death. His genius illuminated the “Lost Generation.” His depression led him into despair and darkness.

“Everyman’s life ends the same way,” wrote Hemingway. “It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguishes one man from another.”

Early Life

Ernest Miller Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois, the oldest son of Clarence “Ed” Hemingway, a physician, and his wife, Grace Hall Hemingway, a music teacher. Ernest’s parents were both strict Christians.

Hemingway Family

Ernest was raised in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, a place he described as having big lawns and small minds. Like many Victorian children, Ernest was dressed in girl’s clothing as an early age. Until he was six, his mother raised him as a twin to his older sister Marcelline.

baby Ernest

His mother dreamed of being an opera singer. She had a rich voice, and she performed at Madison Square Garden in her youth. Grace couldn’t continue in her career because her eyes were too sensitive to the stage lights.

Grace never let her family forget that she could have been a star. “But I have you, children,” she would say. Settling for life as a music teacher, Grace married Ed Hemingway, a physician in Oak Park, Illinois, just outside of Chicago.

Ed was an avid outdoorsman, and Ernest followed his example. For two months every summer, they would go to a camp in Northern Michigan on a lake. There Ernest was allowed to dress and act like a boy. His father gave him a gun and took him hunting and fishing.

Ed was a rugged man, but it was Grace who had the upper hand. She bullied her husband into developing his hopeless music ability and put him in charge of all their domestic chores.

Hemingway one day wrote of a character like his father, “He was married to a woman with whom he had no more common than a coyote has with a white female poodle. For he was no wolf, my father, he was sentimental. And like all sentimental people, he was cruel.”

Ed was often harsh to his children if they misbehaved. He would often make them pray to God after he whipped them with a razor strap. Sometimes after receiving punishment, Ernest would go out to the shed and take his shotgun and take his dad’s head in his sights.

Sometimes after receiving punishment, Ernest would go out to the shed and take his shotgun and take his dad’s head in his sights.

Yet, Ernest tried to please his parents especially his mother. He would feel a deep guilt over any wrongdoing. Grace remembered Ernest would whip himself, “so, mama won’t have to punish.”

Young Ernest

In high school, Ernest strove to be the center of attention. He would take any dare and laugh it off when he hurt himself. With girls, he was well-liked but very shy.

In high school, Ernest would play football, but he was a poor athlete. So he would make up stories of his heroics on the field. It was in those stories that Hemingway found his true talent.

He began writing for the school newspaper. His short story about a hunter who ends his life in suicide was published in his high school’s literary magazine He also had his first published piece of work in the school newspaper The Trapeze. Hemingway had found a career for life. Ernest attended Oak Park and River Forest High School, graduating in 1917.

Ernest in high school

Ernest decided not to go to college. Instead, he decided to get a job. His uncle was a close friend of the editor of the Kansas City Star. Ernest used his uncle’s contacts to get a job as a cub reporter for the newspaper where he handled the crime beat.

Although he was initially shy about interviewing people about their lives, Hemingway went after reporting with great energy and diligence. The Kansas City Star had its own style book that emphasized short sentences and vigorous English. Hemingway said they were the best rules he ever learned for the business of writing.

Hemingway’s life was soon to change with the assassination of an Archduke across the Atlantic. In 1917 the fervor of war called to America’s youth and Hemingway was no exception.

Practice Writing Like Hemingway

Writing Class

I am taking a writing class. One of the books we are using is “On Writing Well” by Williams Zinsser. This is a great book to learn how to write.

Zinsser gives the following advice: Writing is hard work. A clear, concise sentence is no accident. Clutter is the disease of writing.

We got an exercise to cut 50% of the last thing we wrote. I did that with yesterday’s email. It took me a long time, but it is much better.

I rewrote some sentences over and over again. I fiddled with it until I came as close to 50% as I could. I cut a piece from 1742 words down to 982.

I promise to do this with all future pieces. Your time is valuable.

I did my best to strip away every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that served no function was erased. I think it’s much cleaner without losing any of the original intent.

I am learning that good writing is a craft. Clear writing is clear thinking. I hope you like it. Thank you taking this journey with me as I learn to become a writer.

Intro

I love to write. Learning to write well is the hardest thing. I aim for spare and simple prose like in a children’s book for easy reading. I am happy when I do it well.

I try to boil down my sentences without spreading them too thin. I throw out adjectives and adverbs.

Tack-Tack-Tack

I imagine each paragraph like the sound a machine gun or a typewriter- tack-tack-tack, then silence. I begin the next paragraph- tack-tack-tack, period. I want the boat to be steady and deliberate.

I am a historian, but I want to write like a novelist. Good writing is telepathy. I want my readers to “experience” my writing in a mental picture they can see, feel and taste.

Editor

Few sentences come out right the first time, or the fifth time. Good writing gets great through exhaustive editing. I stick to a daily schedule. Writing is a craft not an art. The more you practice the better you get.

A Job

I am not a deep thinker. My work has no symbolism or deep meaning. I use my own experience to give credibility to my work. Trying to get names, dates, locations, smells and tastes right is tough. The trick is to pile up items, like bricks, to give a physical effect to the reader with a complexity of emotion.

I want the reader to see my picture in their mind. This is the real magic trick, it will take a lifetime to master.

The Why

I write about two things: death and my dad. He died when I was twenty-one.

Freud and Dr. Phil couldn’t unsnarl my relationship with my dad. I felt I was never “man enough” for him.

Vince Oto was born poor and hungry in the Great Depression. His parents were immigrants from Italy. His first memories were about work. He woke up at 4am to deliver newspapers with his older brother, he was four years old.

Hunger and poverty plagued him throughout his childhood. His family never had enough to eat. There were too many kids (11 brothers and sisters) and not enough food or love.

He was no intellectual, but he had uncommon common sense. His instinct was for what was important. Family was the most important thing.

He was not an emotional man, but he felt deeply about the things he thought worthy of his feelings. He cut straight through the core of things.

He was charming and generous, but private and distant. He only had a few close friends. He loved them for what they were, not who they were.

My dad had an undiagnosed learning disability. He read words and numbers backwards. Later in life, he discovered he had dyslexia.

He felt dumb and slow, but was a quick learner. He could watch something physical and do it. He could build engines and fix things in one lesson.

He’d watch it, and learn it. He was smart about people. He said, “People are like books. All you have to do is listen.”

His disability made prove himself physically. His was an extraordinary athlete.

His experiences made him tough. He fought for everything he ever had. Physical achievement gave him dignity and self-respect. He went to war and came home a hero.

My dad was a real life, Hemingway hero.

He was forty-three years old when I was born. Short and stocky, he was a powerful man. He had thick shoulders, arms and chest from hard, manual labor. I see his eyes looking back at me in the mirror.

 

He had a patchwork of scars from war and construction accidents. His injuries left him crippled and in constant pain. He never complained. Despite the pain, he lifted weights every day.

He was all hard work and manhood. When I asked him about his war experiences, he said, “I did my job.” He didn’t talk about what he did. He was a warrior without a war.

A Gentle Father

He was gruff, blue-collar man with calloused hands, but he knew how to love a son. He taught me how to box and shoot. As a boy we talked girls and lifted weights.

Later, our relationship got complicated. We argued. I loved books more than sports. He tried to nurture my inner athlete. I was a wimpy bookworm. He wanted a buddy to hang out with. My world was books, his was hard work and physical courage.

He loved me and told me so many times, but it never seemed enough. He was not a tough-love dad. He shared his hyper-masculine love by teaching me how to impress women, how to tip waiters, and how to fight.

I wanted to win his approval. I copied his mannerisms. I ate what he ate and walked like he walked.

His shadow grew after he died. He defined my manhood.

Approval

I joined the army for him. I spent the next fifteen years trying to be the man I thought he wanted me to be. I became an infantry officer. I did tough stuff because I thought, “This is what he would do.” I was bad at all of it.

My father was a natural leader of men, not me. I am better at reading history than making it. I was too young when he died. I never knew him as a man. Now, older and wiser, I know he only wanted me to be happy.

I was a terrible soldier, but I loved the amazing people I met in the army. It gave me miles of writing material. I know he would be proud. Writing is a way to visit him, if only in words.

Dominic Update- Italian, Writing and a Marathon

ntro

I hope you have been enjoying the posts. I have enjoyed writing them. Many of them are the results of mind-bending conversations I had with my students at Fort Dix a few months ago.

Some of the subjects were surprising, and others I just couldn’t wrap my head around or understand until I wrote them out. I did my best to capture and write about most of the things we talked about.

In the end there were over 40 subjects. Some of them I had touched on in previous posts and others that were brand new. I wanted to take a new turn and share some things in my own life.

A Promise Made

The great Sufi poet and philosopher Rumi once advised his students to write down the three things they most wanted in life. If any item on the list clashes with any other item, Rumi warned, you are destined for unhappiness. I decided to try this.

Here is my list:

  1. Learn about being Italian.
  2. Learn how to be a writer.
  3. Run a marathon.

Learning about being Italian

I went to Italy for the first time in May. I visited my grandfather’s ancestral village. It was an amazing experience. It was something I wanted to do all my life. It changed the way I saw my heritage and myself.

Being Italian-American moved from being a description or something explicit to my implied ethnicity and culture. My worldview was now colored by being “Italiano.” It moved from the margins of my life to the mainstream. I am doing it by learning how to speak the Italian language and cook Italian cuisine.

Italian is unlike any other language. It can turn expletives into blunt force trauma and words into a song. It has a rhythmic, staccato machine-gun sound that fuses together syllables and vowels into operatic phrases. It is wonderfully descriptive with full-on emotion- loving and swearing is a performance art.

I could not cook a month ago. I burned water when I boiled it. The culinary journey of learning to cook Italian cuisine has taught me a lot. As a boy in my grandmother’s kitchen spicy food aromas filled her small apartment morning until night.

It was an assault on the senses. You tasted it, felt it, and could touch it.

I remember her washing greens over the sink singing in Italian. I can see her at the kitchen table with her big, sharp knife cutting vegetables and putting them into a large simmering pot. She would reach out and squeeze my cheek. Her hand smelled like garlic, tomato sauce and cheese- smells of love, comfort and understanding. No wonder I became a fat kid…just sayin’.

Now with the help of the Food Network, my foodie girlfriend and a well-worn Italian cookbook I am on my way. I have made dinner at home every night for the past three weeks. It’s been hard, sometimes frustrating, but always rewarding.

After visiting Italy I learned to believe in my heritage. I have tried to strengthen that belief in learning the language, the culture through cooking and the history of my ancestors.

This really deserves its own post.

Learning how to be a writer

This one was tough. I always knew I was a writer, I just had to figure out how to make a living at it.

I will never make a lot of money at it, but I feel my work is valid. This is a point that I tear apart mercilessly in my conscience daily. I sometimes feel I am a worthless bum “working” on a pipe dream. Other times I feel I am on the verge of some of greater understanding of the workings of the universe.

In any endeavor there is an incubation period where you need to devote all your energy to learning something new. Writing is no different. It is a craft and art that demands daily devotion.

I am trying to find my art by working on my craft. I try to do it every day. I do know that I am happier chasing my dream than I have ever been before.

I feel free, comfortable and my decision to become a full-time writer is one of the best decisions I ever made. There are no shortcuts just hard work, like anything worthwhile.

Learning the craft of writing has been tough. I make mistakes and I am learning the job by making errors, facing criticism and paying for it with rejection. It’s almost a public flogging daily, but I am learning and I love it.

I finally got my website up-to-date and I have been posting daily. The reality is five people in America read my blog and maybe one or two folks in Europe. They are an informed and knowing public, lol. I certainly try.

Running a Marathon

I have decided to run my first marathon. I have walked a dozen marathons all over America. This will be the first one I will run.

At 40, you have passed the happy-go-lucky age and doing things on a lark for adventure. Training for this marathon has really become something I have come to enjoy, but it’s been tough.

I am not a small man. Everything about me, minus my height, is big. Imagine a man with a bowling bowl middle with a basketball for a head and tree trunks for legs.

Now you have a picture of a bald, fat guy huffing and puffing his way down the street every other morning. Watching a fat man suffer and sweat is like seeing a car wreck, you can’t look away, it defies explanation.

Four months ago I weighed 248 pounds- the heaviest I have ever been and a 100 pounds more than when I graduated high school, ouch! I am down to 230.

No excuses just lots of stress. When I feel stress I eat, I eat food that tastes good and is not good for you. Two months ago, I moved in with my girlfriend, started a creative writing program, but I wanted to do something really tough, something I had never done before, and something I dreaded to get me back on track.

I needed a slap in the face that felt good. The Indianapolis Marathon on October 17, 2015 seemed like just what the doctor ordered.

The training is hard and time consuming, but so worth it. I have been running four days a week with my training runs at 3 to 4 miles. Each week I add 2 miles to my long runs. I did 10 miles on Saturday.

A simple yet effective method for my method of doing the marathon is a walk/run combo. I walk a mile for every four miles I run. Simple, but it answers the mail. When I say run, what I really mean is a passive jog. I am a king cruiser, a model built for pleasure and enjoyment, not speed.

I am passed all the time by insanely fit runners stripped to the waist, wearing Daisy Duke Shorts, and tanned brown as nuts. They are wearing heart rate monitors and the latest footwear.

Not Dominic. I wear long basketball shorts and old, worn out superhero t-shirts featuring Captain America, the Punisher or Spiderman. I am a serious case of arrested development. I have a handful of faithful New Balance running shoes that I rotate on each run.

My only concession to fashion is that I wear a nuclear green safety hat, so my bald head doesn’t burn in the sun. I still dread the runs, but my breathing sounds more like a car dying than a cat wailing. I guess that must be progress.

So, now you got the list. What is your list?

 

The Book Title

Intro

I struggled with trying to name the book about the Oregon Army National Guard Embedded Training Team. The team had 17 men on it. They fought alongside Danes, Brits and Afghan soldiers in the explosive Helmand Province in Afghanistan.

The Title for the Book

Trying to come up with an awesome book title is tough. There is a lot riding on the title of a book. It’s the readers’ first impression of your work.

You want the title to be eye catching, unique and a small description of the story. Some great titles of war adventures immediately come to mind: ‘Blackhawk Down’ or ‘Band of Brothers’ or ‘We Were Soldiers Once… and Young’. All of them capture what the story is about in a few words.

Hemingway would use passages from the Bible and Shakespeare: ‘The Torrents of Spring’ (1925); ‘The Sun Also Rises’ (1926); ‘A Farewell to Arms’ (1929); ‘To Have and Have Not’ (1937); ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ (1940) are some of his works.

Some titles use poetic language: ‘Gone with the Wind’; ‘Of Mice and Men’; ‘Grapes of Wrath’; ‘Snow Falling On Cedars’; ‘The Fault in Our Stars’.

Some use simple titles that become a few word series that become pop-culture phenomena: ‘Twilight’; ‘Game of Thrones’; ‘The Da Vinci Code’; come to mind.

Moral Syndromes

Jane Jacobs, who is best known for her 1961 masterpiece ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities.’ It is a reflection on what she calls the “moral syndromes.” She talks about how “syndromes” drive societies.

It is out of these two primitive groups: traders (who espouse a commercial syndrome) and warriors (that espouse a guardian syndrome) that different patterns of behavior emerge.

Jacobs then argues that each set of occupations has developed its own cluster of moral principles or ethics she calls a “moral syndrome”. These syndromes operate around a number of values.

Two very different ways of dealing with our needs, we also have two fundamentally different systems of morals and values – both systems valid and necessary.

The first is Commercial Moral Syndrome. This syndrome is to support human activities around trade and the production of goods.

Guardian Moral Syndrome is the code for warriors, governments, and religions. This system arose primarily to satisfy the needs of organizing and managing territories.

 

Jacobs warns that society must have both of these sets of values or else they will be unhealthy. If you are a commercial entity and you develop guardian values you are operating under the wrong set of values. Similarly, a government who holds commercial values operates under the wrong set of values.

Soldiers fall into the Guardian Moral Syndrome.

The Guardian Moral Syndrome (GSM)

The GSM shuns trading and exert their prowess by being obedient and disciplined to their society. They adhere to tradition by being loyal to each other. They show fortitude and honor by treasuring honesty.

A few years ago a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel and author Dave Grossman wrote a book called “On Killing.” Grossman is a former airborne ranger and infantry officer who says the human population can be divided into three groups: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs.

Grossman says most people are sheep. He’s stating the fact that most human beings are kind, gentle, and peaceful.

Wolves are bad guys. Wolves are the sociopaths who commit violent crimes or ignore moral or ethical boundaries with impunity. Think Dexter without “Harry’s Code.”

Sheepdogs are society’s protectors. GSM of the population. They are a pastoral dog born for the purpose of protecting livestock from predators. As puppies they are placed within the flocks they will protect so they can “imprint” with the animals they will care for and safeguard.

Strongly bonded to them, the sheepdog will perceive other species as predators and protect those it knows from these potentially hostile outsiders. This is what “Guardians” do as firemen, police officers and soldiers.

Like actual sheepdogs, they live among the flock – one of them, and yet different and set apart. They protect the perimeter and vigilantly watch for evil “wolves.”

The Title

I settled on “Guardians of Helmand” for the book title. Their mere presence of the Coalition soldiers of Afghans, Brits, Danes and Americans kept the Taliban from turning on innocent law-abiding citizens.

When they did attack, the “Guardians” acted as human sheepdogs alert and ready to be aggressive. They were prepared to make a stand against those who would do others harm, but outside of times of crisis, they were gentle and trustworthy.

Grossman describes human sheepdogs as individuals who have a capacity for violence but also a moral compass and a “deep love for [their] fellow citizens.” No better description can be given to those brave soldiers’ decision to respond to the Taliban’s challenge.

The Hemingway Hero

Intro

Today I will dive into my favorite writer- Ernest Hemingway. By analyzing Hemingway and his basic themes, ideas and writing style we can see how his work has influenced the idea of a “modern American man.”

The Hemingway Hero

The Hemingway hero is always a man. A man who learns through his experience to confront the reality of his death. By coming to terms with the fact that we are all going to die the hero is able to confront himself.

Hemingway’s heroes always find themselves in a contest that has them facing death. It’s usually by using the “hero journey” of Homer, as seen in the Odyssey, that the hero comes to this conclusion.

The ultimate human adventure of the Hemingway hero is war. Papa was obsessed with war and death. It is a subject he uses as his narrative vehicle over and over again in all of his major works.

Hemingway’s heroes learn to live by something literary scholars call the “Hemingway Code.” The hero must establish his own values by facing life courageously and by acting honestly. The primary motivation of the hero is courage.

The hero never turns away from reality or towards abstract ideals such as religion or politics. He finds it within himself to act without the distractions of outside influences such as love. He is able to do this by accepting the reality of his death.

The way the hero defines this is through action. By acting and not wallowing in his feelings the hero is choosing to take part in reality. He leaves all the intellectual pondering to weaker and lesser men. By doing this he can choose “to make of himself what he will.”

The Modern Hero

The modern action hero has been defined by this rule. Think of John Wayne and Rambo. They are heroes who speak little, make no plans and let their actions speak for themselves.

This is an example of the modern American male to grow up thinking he needs to never talk about his feelings. To act out when he feels frustrated and to worry about the consequences of actions later.

It’s fun to watch Tony Soprano punch out an annoying co-worker because he is a mob boss. How awesome is to watch John Rambo kill godless Commies with only a bow and arrow (more on this later)?

For all this we have Hemingway to thank. Whether the device is a gunfight A Farewell To Arms), bull fight (Death in the Afternoon), using a load of dynamite (For Whom the Bell Tolls) or a fishing pole (The Old Man and the Sea) we see the hero define himself.

The ritual of facing death allows the hero to rely on himself and overcome fear. Fear of the greatest uncontrollable of all time- death.

I better close this one out. I wanted to make this one a short introduction before we get into his writing style and how we all have Hemingway to thank for defining how we see manhood, lol.

 

Writing, Lede, Short Story

Guys,

My favorite posts are the ones about writing. They allow us to explore the craft of writing. They allow me to articulate ideas, explore themes and in the end to tell to you a story.

I will define a few terms for our future lessons. In each new lesson I start with a “Lead.”

“The Lead” is the first paragraph or first several sentences of a newspaper story (sometimes spelled lede). This defines the “why” we are reading something.

A “Summary Lead” is the first paragraph of a news story in which the writer presents a synopsis of two or more actions rather than focusing on any one of them. It is known as the “narrative hook” in a story.

“Narrative hook” is a literary technique in the opening of a story that “hooks” the reader’s attention so that he or she will keep on reading. The “opening” may consist of several paragraphs for a short story, or several pages for a novel, but ideally it is the opening sentence.

The Opening

One of the most common forms is dramatic action, which engages the reader into wondering what the consequences of the action will be. The idea is that you want in the opening is to keep them engaged. To start a slow drip of the addictive subject that is your story.

This kind of writing has been recommended from the earliest days, stemming from Aristotle.

The use of action as the hook is a way to immediately “turn the engine” of a story on. Narrative hooks are essential to great content. You want the reader to become addicted to your story so he keeps reading.

Jane Austen’s opening line from Pride and Prejudice, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” She sums up her entire book in that one sentence.

Some writers spend years working on the first opening sentence. There is a superstitious belief that states, “So goes the first sentence, so goes the rest of the book.”

Either way, Ms. Austen grabs your attention. She compels you to ask, “Why is this important?” Her hook helps set the stage for the story. The best hooks leave you with questions. They drive you to continue reading to satisfy your growing curiosity.

One last one from Mr. Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities with his indelible narrative hook, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

 

Don’t Bury the Lede

Journalistic ledes and opening sentences to stories emphasize grabbing the attention of the reader. In journalism, the failure to mention the most important or attention-grabbing elements of a story in the first paragraph is sometimes called burying the lede. It is discouraged with the catch phrase “Don’t bury the lede.”

Finding your lede as a Writer

Writing feels like what I am supposed to do. For the last three months I have buried myself in the craft, practice and discipline of writing. I am attempting to become good at something difficult very fast.

I want you, the beloved reader, to have an understanding of this undertaking. Writing makes it owns demands. But for me the process has been fun. It has become the thing I look forward to most in my day.

I see the act of writing to all of you as a gift. It allows me to paint my book with a wet brush. Writing to you all first allows me to “get into the mood” to write more.

These emails act as an extension of lessons of learning to write and of my feelings. They have taught me to have more empathy. They have taught me to about altruism- the righteous of action to help other people. I think it has made me a better human being.

Storytelling

A way to think of fiction is in the form of short story or novel. A short story writer is a sprinter. A novelist is a marathoner.

Some writers are either by temperament or metabolism. John Barth is a sprinter and Hemingway was a marathoner. How he got conditioned for novel writing was by writing short stories. These emails are my short stories.

Writing is a process. Fun when things are flowing and going well. Hell when things aren’t going well. The goal is to settle in for the long haul. I think of writing of a book like a long military siege of a town. It doesn’t happen overnight.

Think of all the great battle scenes from “Braveheart” or the attack on “Helm’s Deep” in “The Lord of the Rings.”

The walled fortress at Helm’s Deep is under attack by the mighty Uruk-hai army. The forces of men, elves, and a dwarf must do everything they can to stop them from breaching the fortress walls.

You, the writer, are the attacking army attempting to breach the walls of the story.

Your goal is fill the expansive of that space with little marks that translate into a good story.

The Short Story

Most writers cut their teeth on the short form. It’s an excellent teaching tool. Apprenticeship usually takes place in a college or university writing program. My writing laboratory is all of you. I am a student of the University of YouTube, blogging and emails to my dearest and closest friends.

Once a writer masters the short story they can migrate to novels. Some writers migrate back John Updike, Carol Joyce Oates, Bernard Malamud or Stephen King.

The move is easier than. Writing a book or novel is a capital investment of time and effort. Best to get your learning done someplace else before tackling the dragon of a book.

There is a certain art form to the short story. The beauty is the civilized brevity of the short story. You have to be patient with the muse. Connecting the dots to make it all come together is the real fun.

Being “Over There”

The bestselling fantasy writer Terry Brooks explains it another way. He says that writers are not all here. A part of them is “over there”- “over there” being whatever world they are currently writing about.

He states that writers live in two worlds. This world with friends and families and the imaginary world of writing. He talks about how compelling the two worlds are because they make demands of the writer’s time.

I found that interesting because soldiers talk about “over there” being where they deployed. A part of them is always there. Struggling to take apart or make sense of what happened. For me writing has allowed me make peace with both worlds.

Writing is the undoing of the trauma war.

 

 

Book Review: Malcolm X

Guys,

The Autobiography of Malcom X, as told to Alex Haley, is one of my all-time favorite books. What I really loved about the book is the strength of his words. The reason I love the story is the power of the idea to able to change yourself through education and discipline.

Autobiography of Malcolm X

The Autobiography of Malcom X, as told to Alex Haley

The book is much more than a story of a dynamic and controversial black leader it is the story of being able to hold yourself to an ideal and to change the world around you with that ideal. Much in the way generals command armies or the way Jesus and Gandhi affected the lives of billions.

A Way to Think about History

Think of history as a long banquet table. Each of the guests at the table represent a period of history. Before them is a feast of ideas and experiences. Each guest has something to say about the time they lived in.

Looking at history as a guest, you can talk to and share ideas. That is the essence of these emails. I try to explain the why, how and when of the time period. Looking at the time period of Malcolm X is complicated. Complicated because it deals with the ugly issue of race. Like war, it is a subject that gives both us meaning and how we handle it defines our culture.

At the beginning

When you look at the issue of race you are looking at the idea of skin color. Before America was settled in the early 17th century African slavery had been the primary labor force for producing wealth in Europe for almost 200 years.

As America grew so did the hunger for slaves. The overwhelming majority of slaves shipped to the New World were captured and sold by other African tribes. The majority of native tribes in Eastern Africa are Muslims.

Slavery is not new. In Islam, slavery has a long tradition. A beaten people are sold off as war booty. Usually in one generation the enslaved tribe becomes a part of the new, conquered people.

The idea of multi-generational slavery system is a European invention.

Slavery in Africa

Slavery in Africa

Europeans developed an idea over several centuries that should not enslave each other. They could fight each other, kill each other in wars, but they did not enslave each other. Christians did not enslave Christians.

The great advantage of Africans is they that were outside of the European community. Most of the Africans were Muslims- a constant source of irritation for the west, even today. For the first time race becomes a marker who can be enslaved and who could not.

Slavery in America

As America grew so did the need for cheap labor. By the time of the American Revolution in 1776 there were 700,000 African slaves in America. The ideals of freedom of the American Revolution passed by the African- American slaves.

With the invention of the cotton gin in 1794 there is a huge demand for labor. Most slaves are shipped south to work on large plantations. Cotton is the boom of the early 19th century. It leaps from $150,000 a year to $8 million a year as an industry.

Cotton was the engine of wealth in America. It was centered on the South where the majority of plantations were due to good soil and yearlong good weather. The fuel was slavery.

At the time of the American Civil War 90 years later there were almost 2 million Africans slaves in America. Most of the slaves have been in this country for three to five generations. They have lost all knowledge of their homeland, culture and customs.

Whipped Slave

A Slave Who Bears the Scars of being repeatedly beaten

This American Experience is very different for most immigrants. Many take great pride in their culture and continue to speak their native tongues for several generations.

After the Civil War and Emancipation a great watershed in American black history was the Great Migration to Northern cities just before the First World War. According to the 1910 census, blacks were overwhelmingly rural and Southern.

Three out of four lived rural areas and nine of ten lived in the South as a result of working on large plantations. A half century later, almost three-fourths of them would be city dwellers. An overwhelming majority would have little to no education.

The Great Migration North

As America prospered from World War I, the Great Migration was a bitter disappoint for most blacks. Their rapid infusion into large, northern cities soon produced ghettos. Blacks soon found themselves, again, segregated as second-class citizens.

Blacks were kept out of white neighborhoods by threat of violence. Racial discrimination was made worse by the Great Depression. Many blacks faced economic hardships as a part of their daily life.

This is no different than other new ethnic group coming to America except one- blacks did not choose to come here and the color of their skin is a defining trait in how they are treated.

This is the world that Malcolm X was born into in 1925.

Malcolm’s Early Life

I believe that Malcolm X is one of the most influential figures of the 20th Century. His journey from a street hustler, to a prison cell to his trip to Mecca is a fascinating story of transformation and the power of choices.

To his admirers, he was a courageous advocate for the rights of blacks. He stated that the right of Americans is not about “freedom” but really about “equality.” He indicted white America in the harshest terms for its crimes against black Americans. His detractors accused him of preaching racism and violence.

Malcolm Little was born May 19, 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska. He was the fourth of seven children of Grenada-born Louise Little (née Norton). She was of mixed European ancestry and heritage. She had red hair and passed this onto Malcolm.

Malcolm X was orphaned early in life. His father, Earl Little, was killed when he was six. Earl was an outspoken Baptist lay speaker, and admirer of Pan-African activist Marcus Garvey. Malcolm states that he was killed by a local white hate group that opposed him.

His mother was placed in a mental hospital when he was thirteen. He lived in a series of foster homes.From age 14 to 21 Malcolm held a variety of jobs while living with his sister Ella Little-Collins in Roxbury, a largely African-American neighborhood of Boston.

Then after a short time in Flint, Michigan he moved to Harlem, New York in 1943, where he engaged in drug dealing, gambling, racketeering, robbery, and pimping.

He was called “Detroit Red” because of the reddish hair, he inherited from his Scottish maternal grandfather. Most African-Americans are of mixed European ancestry.

In late 1945 he and four accomplices committed a series of burglaries targeting wealthy white families. In February 1946, he began serving an eight-to-ten year sentence at Charlestown State Prison for larceny and breaking and entering.

Conversion to Islam and Education

During his imprisonment, he met fellow convict John Bembry. Bembry was a self-educated man he would later describe as, “…the first man I had ever seen command total respect … with words.” Under Bembry’s influence, Malcolm developed a voracious appetite for reading.

In 1948 he converts to Islam. In 1950 also began signing his name “Malcolm X.” He explains in his autobiography that the Muslim’s “X” symbolized the true African family name that he could never know.

He says, “For me, my ‘X’ replaced the white slave master name of ‘Little’ which some blue-eyed devil named Little had imposed upon my paternal forebears.”

In 1952 he was released from prison and he begins to preach for the Nation of Islam. He would be a part of the Nation of Islam until 1964. In 1964, he breaks with the Nation of Islam. That same year he performs Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the obligatory trip for every Muslim who is able to do so.

Malcolm Teaching

Malcolm Teaching

After the Hajj, he visited several countries around the world learning more and more. Upon his return to the US he becomes one of the most sought-after speakers on college campuses.

His Death

February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was preparing to address the Organization of Afro-American Unity in Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom when someone in the 400-person audience yelled out.

As Malcolm X and his bodyguards tried to quell the disturbance, a man rushed forward and shot him once in the chest with a sawed-off shotgun. Two other men charged the stage firing semi-automatic handguns.

Legacy

Except for his autobiography, Malcolm X left no published writings. His philosophy is known almost entirely known from the many speeches and interviews he gave from 1952 until his death.

The book is the story of one of the most dynamic and controversial black leaders in American history. It was dictated to Alex Haley. It was published in 1965, the result of a collaboration between Malcolm X and Haley.

Haley co-authored the autobiography based on a series of over 50 in-depth interviews he conducted between 1963 and Malcolm X’s 1965 assassination. Haley is the author of “Roots: The Saga of an American Family.”

Cropped Roots

Roots: The Saga of an American Family

Both books stimulated great interest in genealogy among all Americans and an appreciation for African-American history.

Malcolm is credited with raising the self-esteem of black Americans. His words and ideas reconnected many disenfranchised blacks about their African heritage.

The Idea of Self-Empowerment

Malcolm’s transition from hoodlum to Muslim Minster is a story of how he educated himself, transcended his circumstances and confronted his rage. His story resonated me for several reasons.

As an Italian-American I know a lot about my family through stories. But I am connected forever to an ethnic group where I don’t speak the language and to a land I have never been to. I see myself as purely American but the world sometimes something else.

Throughout my life I have been characterized by all things, “Italian.” Because of my olive-complicated skin I am more often thought of as Hispanic. Ironically, I speak Spanish but not Italian (I grew up in Florida and all my friends were Hispanic).

Imagine going through life with a Japanese last name but looking like an extra from the Godfather. You’re not “Italian enough” because you don’t have a long, voweled filled name ending in “etti” or”elleni.”

Malcolm’s story tells us that we can transform ourselves through education. By exercising our mind, we define “our reality.” This is only something you can do in America. It is the basis for all the ideals that make us great.

Malcolm X was a man of contrasts. He was a product of the times in which he lived.

Malcolm Pointing

Malcolm At A Rally

Impact of the Book

American Whites and Blacks are victims of Europe. The blacks through colonialism. The whites through suppression, discrimination and murder.

There is in America a conflict between these two victims. Deep down all our secrets are the same. We present the world with a secure self. Deep down there is a timid, craving and terrified self. We, black and white, want the promise of America.

Malcolm’s story erases those lines. His words are lines of poetry and prose. He is a master storyteller telling both fiction and confession of what it is like to a minority in America.

His story is an autobiographical account of his experiences of what is like to be black in America in the mid-20th century. He tells the story directly and without disguise.

Like most great books it is the story of a person’s journey as much as it a work of literature. We see the ghosts of the living and the dead. Of America’s past and her future. Warts and all you get a picture of what America is like, both good and bad.

What I learned from his book and a lifetime of studying war is that most conflicts do not resolve themselves. They simply fade through fatigue and exhaustion.

Both parties simply learn to get along, but they both insist they were right, even as the conflict marches into memory.

This is the story of racism in America. The bottom line is that no one is going anywhere. The essence of the book is a mystical communion where Malcolm comes to terms with his anger. He learns he will never win, but can make a difference in helping people reach their potential through education and example.

Even in a great war there is everyday life. It is a book of ancient themes. I loved reading it.

Bibliography:

X, Malcolm., & Haley, A. (1987). The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley. New York : Ballentine Press.