Cats in the afternoon

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.
– Ernest Hemingway

Key West, a nice place to bleed.

This study/ writing room/ clinic of a self-phlebotomizer, is behind wrought iron bars on the second floor of a small building in the backyard of the Hemingway House. A procession of tourists bearing brochures and smartphones pass a grove of bamboo squeaking in subtropical breezes and climb single-file the narrow stairs to stare in at the den where the master of succinct self-dramatization bled his sanguinity onto the page.

Hemingway’s Top 5 Tips for Writing Well

Damn that’s big.

In the main house, where Hemingway’s second of four wives Pauline removed the ceiling fans and installed chandeliers made of Venetian glass, there are many photos of Hemingway, and of his family members, and of other creatures that are bleeding, or have bled, for Ernest. Creatures with hooves and antlers, creatures with wings and feathers, a maned lion, some very big fish.

There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter. – Ernest Hemingway, “On the Blue Water: A Gulfstream Letter,” Esquire magazine, April 1936.

While Hemingway was in Spain in 1937 and ’38 writing as a journalist about the Spanish Civil War, Pauline ordered construction of an in-ground pool. It cost more than twice as much as they had paid for the sturdy limestone house.

Hemingway left Pauline and went to Cuba to fish in the Gulf Stream. He married another writer. It was the shortest of his marriages because writers should never marry each other, according to Larry the tour guide at the Hemingway House.

A Hemingway feline deigns to be petted.

Many people are there only to see the cats. There are 44 of them, a number that is kept relatively constant by the keepers of the house, who are also the keepers of cat reproduction. These 44 little six-toed hunters are privileged to go where they like and do what they want for their entire lives at the corner of Whitehead and Olivia Streets.

After a visit to the house, one may overhear a daughter saying to her mother: “So Mom, you finally got to see Your Man.”

“It isn’t Hemingway and his big public self. It’s the change in writing that he influenced and was part of. Spare. Not tarted up. With lots to read between the lines, but only if you want to.”

If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing. – Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon 

Written in blood, but cold like ice. You like that kind of writing or you don’t.

(No animals were harmed and no arteries were opened in the writing of this post. But there is a small, gray, five-toed cat pretending to be asleep close by.)

4 thoughts on “Cats in the afternoon

  1. I really need to get to the Keys on of these days. Perhaps when all the kids are out of the house, and I don’t have to worry about school schedules.


  2. I had never been further south than Marathon, halfway down the Keys, and I’m really glad I finally did. Yes, you should go! Big Pine Key is not for high-maintenance luxury vacationers, but you don’t seem that type. 🙂

  3. Amy, the top photo of the beautifully staged writing room with the typewriter made me think of something that happened years ago.
    I once attended a PGA event with a friend who was a non-golfer. After watching a pro place a beautiful approach shot inches from the cup, he looked around in disgust at the applauding people in the gallery and scoffed, “Big deal, if I spent all my time hitting a little white ball around, I could do that too.”
    Without hesitation, a little old lady to his right said, “No you couldn’t.”
    The little old lady was right. Any one who takes up golf knows it’s an incredibly humbling experience, and that very few of us well ever be any good at it.
    Ditto for writing.
    I think many people who attempt to take up writing fall under the same misconception. “I’ll be a great writer, if I can only choreograph the right room, with the right chair, the right desk and the right laptop/typewriter,” only to later find themselves horrified and frustrated as they stare at a blank page.
    Because of this, I highly suspect the writing room pictured here is missing several bottles of booze, cigars, dirty mugs, dirty ashtrays, and other material our mothers would never approve of in their neat homes.

  4. Someone edited the empty bottles and cigar stubs out of the room.

    Yes, John, I agree it takes more than just a writerly room. But I also think Virginia Woolf, in her essay “A Room of One’s Own,” is right that there must be (a) room, literally and figuratively, for writing. Personally, it was an issue for me during the busy family years when I did not have a respected space with boundaries, a place just mine to go and close the door and become invisible and unnecessary to others for a little bit of time.

    I liked this room best of all the Hemingway house and grounds, and went and looked at it twice during our visit. Certainly a writer’s room wouldn’t make someone a writer, but it could help at the tipping point.

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