There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.

Ernest Hemingway

On this day in 1899, famed American writer Ernest Hemingway was born. If he were still alive today, he would have been 120 years old, possibly still writing stories of war and adventures in Cuba. Ernest Hemingway penned some of America’s classic twentieth century novels, from For Whom the Bell Tolls to The Sun Also Rises to To Have and Have Not. The world celebrated his birthday today in the upmost fashion. In Key West there was a “running of the bulls” along with a Hemingway look-alike contest (a Tennessee banker won). In New York City’s Mulberry Street, it was announced pop-up shop Nolita will be selling updated versions of Quacker Marine Supply hats, one of which was made famous by Hemingway in a Life article decades ago.

As a result, though a wonderful raconteur, a man of rich humor, and possessed of an amazing fund of knowledge on subjects which interest him, Hemingway finds it difficult to talk about writing—not because he has few ideas on the subject, but rather because he feels so strongly that such ideas should remain unexpressed, that to be asked questions on them “spooks” him (to use one of his favorite expressions) to the point where he is almost inarticulate…The occasional waspish tone of the answers is also part of this strong feeling that writing is a private, lonely occupation with no need for witnesses until the final work is done.

George Plimpton, The Paris Review (1958)

For all his weird flexes and need for adventure, his carefree and wild mentality, Hemingway was a private man when it came to his writing. Though not absolutely superstitious and not necessarily self-conscious, Hemingway believed in talking away the idea. The magic behind the idea of the story dims a little the more one discussed it to the outside world. The veil of mystery is lifted. The abstract becomes concrete, leaving not much for the reader to imagine at the time of the final draft.

…we sometimes forgot that this was a writer who had in his time made the English language new, changed the rhythms of the way both his own and the next few generations would speak and write and think.

Joan Didion, the New Yorker (1998)

The fascinating thing about Hemingway’s writing style is that the reader is not meant to take the place of the protagonist. We are not living the story out in our own eyes, but rather, we are watching a film in the cinema. Hemingway’s words guide us as if we are a sideline at the front. Hemingway loved five, four of which were his wives and the last one his ultimate love: words. Each word in a Hemingway publication was a puzzle piece, a clue to the inner workings of the lit giant. He desired perfection in his imperfect grammar. He rewrote the ending of A Farewell to Arms thirty-nine times before deeming it a perfect ending. When he was a twenty-something working at the transatlantic review, Hemingway would rewrite some of the submission to practice his craft, switching and omitting and adding a conjunction or two. Probably the most fascinating thing about Hemingway was that he never gave up when he reached the brick wall of writer’s block. He would “go on” and jump over the brick wall, taking his most helpless draft and turn it into a grand masterpiece of art.

Probably the most fascinating thing about Hemingway was his susceptibility to continue forward. He never gave up when he reached the brick wall of writer’s block. He would “go on” and jump over the brick wall, taking his most helpless draft and turn it into a grand masterpiece of artistry. This could be taken beyond writing and into the many aspects of general life.

Happy birthday Ol’ Hem and may your writings and life story continue 120 more years.

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