I’m Sorry, Mr. Hemingway
A couple of years ago, I set a goal for myself to start reading the American classics. It made me feel smarter to think I might one day know how to namedrop all of our most famous literary icons with real authority. I wanted to know all about the ones about whom my friends say, “Oh my God! He’s my favorite author!”
I especially wanted to fall in love with Ernest Hemingway. I’d saved myself for him, for after I finished writing my own book and was no longer in the middle of any other novels. I wanted to give him my undivided attention because everything I’d read about him pointed towards adoration. I anticipated a long, sexy summer reading about falling in love during the Spanish American War, bullfights in Spain and cafes in Paris, and salty men repairing fishing nets…all being ideas that made me swoon in romantic anticipation. I bought six of his most famous works and downloaded them all at once. Satisfaction was 100% guaranteed. A perfect collection of beach books, right? I nestled in.
Sadly, I found out that Hemingway is not for me. Even though many of the experts love the simplicity of a Hemingway sentence, I do not, and I grew weary of the constant dialogue in his novels in the same way I hate hearing people have telephone conversations in line at Winn Dixie.
I thought I’d never finish fighting that fish in “The Old Man and the Sea” and I wasn’t sure I’d ever get out of Paris before finally getting to the entire point of “The Sun Also Rises.” Reading those two books alone was like a torturous jail sentence so all at once, I was done with Hemingway. This realization was hard for me to accept. My heart broke because I wanted to love him so badly. But I just don’t.
Friends, this is just my opinion and my opinion doesn’t change a single thing about his legacy. My conclusions do not discount the opinions of the millions of devoted Hemingway fans who have cherished his work for almost a hundred years. He is still the genius, the Nobel Prize winning novelist and titan among writers that all of the ‘100 Greatest’ lists proclaim him to be. Just because I don’t like him doesn’t mean I want to have him stripped of his accolades. He IS a legend. He’s just not for everybody…but then again, who is?
When we are assaulted with someone else’s opinion, it’s easy to let our own conclusions become stained by others.
Regular people are the same way. Not everyone is for everyone else. Let me be clear here: It’s ok to not like someone for its own sake, for clashes in philosophy for example, and I have addressed this topic before. (Check it out: Plaid) But what I’m talking about here is that conversation you might find yourself having at the ballgame any given Friday night, the one where someone tells you, “I know who you’re talking about. I heard she’s ________.” I heard… I heard… I heard… and you can fill in the blanks. Ever had one of those? I have. And when we are assaulted with someone else’s opinion, it’s easy to let our own conclusions become stained by the opinions of others. I imagine that if someone told me early on that Hemingway was awful, I wouldn’t have believed it; his reputation is too good, his work too historic, his name too legendary. But maybe I would have. Thankfully, I needed the opportunity to read his stuff on my own before I could learn that I disliked him. I gave myself a chance to get to know him on my own terms, firsthand, before I decided I wasn’t a fan, and then I knew it was a fair assessment. I wish we could give each other, people we know or people we might be meeting for the first time, that same courtesy.
He was not for everyone. Some would say he was not for anyone.
I used to work with a man, let’s call him Mr. W (as in WHAT did he just say!?) He was pretty racist, overtly judgmental, a tad homophobic and he quite brazenly disliked Muslims. He was definitely not for everyone; some would say he was not for anyone. He offended most people he met, eventually, and the ones he didn’t offend personally were put off by the opinions of him that came from others, people who heard from the kids that he’d said this or that in class on any given day. Given just a touch of this kind of covert intelligence, you are probably already summing him up in your own mind. Don’t. If you are already deciding he is probably somebody you wouldn’t like either, somebody you wouldn’t want teaching your children, you are doing exactly what I wish people would stop doing. Most of his students, believe it or not, absolutely adored him. I adored him.
The world is full of assholes.
By the time our children are attending high school, they’re not exactly children anymore. Nevertheless, this is when they really start to meet adults they detest, teachers they abhor, or administrators who aren’t fair. But hey, guess what? College professors are harsh. Bosses are harsh. Spouses are harsh. Life in general is pretty harsh.
All teachers are not for all students, all of our co-workers are not wonderful to work with, all neighbors can’t be perfectly considerate. But who has ever gotten to cherry-pick who they meet and who they have to be around? Sometimes we simply don’t have a choice about who we are forced to coexist with.
Be assured, thinking that anyone who doesn’t conform to our personality preferences should be hated or shunned by others is wrong and impossible and unfair. The frustration of trying to force others to change who they are for us or for our children will disappoint every time. Everyone who’s ever played for a difficult coach, or shared an apartment with a sloppy roommate, or had Thanksgiving with an obnoxious in-law, or faced down a grumpy cop knows of the need to learn that you just aren’t going to like everyone you meet. There’s no time like the present for young people to get used to this and to figure out how to deal. At the end of our time together, most of my students have forgiven my brusqueness because they’ve grown to appreciate what they learned from me, lessons sometimes related strictly to academics but sometimes being much more about life.
Our children will spend the rest of their lives accepting that there’s not a single thing they can do about people they just don’t like.
I had no intention of keeping my son out of Mr. W’s class while he still taught at my school because I wanted Ben to have that experience. It would have made him a better person to get to know that man. Ben will meet people like Mr. W for the rest of his life and he needs to know how to get along with them. He needs to learn how to appreciate the more endearing parts of people’s strange personalities. Our children will spend the rest of their lives accepting that there’s not a single thing they can do about people they just don’t like, people that are just not for them. If we’re lucky, an amazing phenomenon will occur. Our children will emerge from the other side of a difficult experience (maneuvering around tough personalities) more mature and with skin that’s a tad thicker. They need that!
So I wish instead that we could start to teach our kids to give everyone a chance and to treat every experience as an opportunity to grow. I wish our tendencies would not automatically default to calling the principal, or asking to see the manager, or demanding a public apology, or slandering and acquaintance to another person who hasn’t even met them yet. Why not learn to shrug it off and ask yourself if there’s really anything in the world to be done about people you just don’t like. It might become evident over time that everything you or your children heard about someone turned out to be true. OR it might turn out that none of it was. Giving our kids the chance to get to know a range of different people all on their own and letting them learn a little something from everyone can sometimes bring amazing people into their lives. If we are really lucky, even when we discover our own Hemingways, the people who let us down can still teach us something about ourselves, too: like what not to be as a human being. In all relationships, be willing to learn from others. That’s what I’m trying to say. With each disappointment, be willing to forgive people who offend you and then move on. In all interactions with the human race, be tolerant. We are all just regular people doing the best we can everyday.
Let people be. You don’t have to like it.