When there's something left to say
My sister’s room is littered with Hemingway quotes, pictures, books. She drinks Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale because it’s named after one of Hemingway’s short stories — and it doesn’t hurt that it also has a pretty high ABV. Hemingway has infiltrated our house. Even downstairs at my dining table I face a black and white “Ernest Hemingway as a young man” image. We got a kitten mainly because we fell in love with a ball of fur, but also because Hemingway had a thing for cats — please see Hemingway house, Key West. We were going to name her Hemingway, but her SPCA title, Lee Lee, stuck.
One of the quotes that my sister has painted on a small canvas board reads: “There is nothing to writing, all you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Sitting in front of a blank screen, hungover and groggy, realizing that I’d forgotten to write my column, I wonder how much I can bleed. How often can you bleed, and for how long? Do you ever stop bleeding? Maybe I need a typewriter. Or maybe, just maybe, Hemingway was not as right as my sister would like to think. Maybe as she pores over his work in her messy room, Lee Lee batting at her dangling shirt sleeve, she’s just a lazy college kid. Maybe her room is too messy, she’s too irresponsible to have a cat, and her endless “research” will not result in a 50-page thesis. Maybe I’m not a “writer.” Maybe I’ve stopped bleeding. What is left to say?
And yet, there’s always something to say, that needs to be said. Even when I reflect on my current condition as a horrendously lazy, unnecessarily stressed out, recklessly spending college almost-graduate, I still think I have something to say. I want to convince myself that my life goal to bartend and “write” is silly. I want to train myself to write resumes and apply for jobs and save money.
But that paragraph where I questioned my sister’s Hemingway research was about as far as I got. Because I don’t really question her quotes, her pictures, her stacks of short stories. She loves them. Yesterday as I lay in my sister’s bed, curled up with our fuzzy calico, I watched her carefully re-pin notes on her wall. Lee Lee and I watched, nodded. Yes, yes, that’s a good place for that. I realized in that moment that I was content.
I am content with my answer to the question: “Are you going to be a teacher?” My answer is always, “No.” I am content with the fact that I haven’t exercised in two months. I am content with the stacks of clothes in my room, as long as I know which one is dirty and which is clean. I am content with my plan: Move to Charleston with my sister and our cat and start our new lives. I am content with my desires: I would like to travel, but I don’t feel any sense of urgency about leaving quite yet.
I tell myself to at least consider getting a real job. And by getting I mean, thinking about maybe kind of applying for something akin to a real job. But then I ask myself, “Why isn’t waitressing a real job?” I make a lot more money than my friends with unpaid internships. They’re planning for their future, but in a way, so am I. Fodder. I’ve got fodder on fodder. I’ve got stories. I’ve got people. I’ve got lives I tuck away in the back of my mind, because why not keep them around?
I tell myself that I am not Hemingway. I won’t argue with this. When I say that I’m a “writer,” it means that I write about myself in a newspaper column. I will not say that one day I’m going to write a novel, or even a short story. I don’t know if I could. But I don’t want to scoff at myself. I don’t want to rob myself of an opportunity to be kind of reckless with my life for the next five years. A lot of people want to build foundations. They want routine. They want stability. I want these things too! Perhaps more than anyone else. But I want them differently.
My favorite drink is a soy latte with an extra espresso shot. This is my routine. Why can’t I decide if
I get the latte in Charlottesville or in London? My favorite author is Flannery O’Connor. If I can read her on Gordon Avenue, can’t I read her in California too? My favorite person is my sister. We want the same things, why would we ever have to leave each other’s side?
My boyfriend and I visited his aunt and uncle’s mountain house this past weekend. His uncle asked us about our futures, prefacing the question with the comment that he knew we’d been answering this query a lot recently. I took a deep breath, ready to stumble my way through an explanation of what I may do with my limited skill set. Stewart’s uncle nodded, accepting my future plan just as he accepted his nephew’s future — the kind that involves resumes and interviews. Then he told stories. So many stories. About traveling the world with his brother on $6,000. About sunburn because he didn’t know better and a long day on the whitest beach, because he did. I thanked him for the trout dinner, the beer and the tour of his scenic property. In the back of my mind I thanked him for the stories.
Hemingway was not content with his life. That’s why he wrote. I cannot pretend to be the tortured artist I’ve always envied, because even when I feel pain, I have so many ways to tap into joy. That quote about sitting down and bleeding was wrong. You don’t need a typewriter. You just need something to say.
Connelly’s column runs biweekly Wednesdays. She can be reached at email@example.com.