“[Fitzgerald] had told me at the Closerie des Lilas how he wrote what he thought were good stories, and which really were good stories for the Post, and then changed them for submission, knowing exactly how he must make the twists that made them into salable magazine stories. I had been shocked at this and I said I thought it was whoring. He said it was whoring but that he had to do it as he made his money from the magazines to have money ahead to write decent books. I said that I did not believe anyone could write any way except the very best he could write without destroying his talent. Since he wrote the real story first, he said, the destruction and changing of it that he did at the end did him no harm.”
-Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
Hemingway was still appalled, even years later when he wrote down the exchange in A Moveable Feast. As for me, I don’t know what to think. I know that all three of us agree that the thing must be written, and written in its entirety. Nothing can be intentionally left out: it won’t stay away; the work will not complete. But could I really cut it out at the end? Could I ruin the thing I’ve created? I don’t mean to imply that my own work operates at the level of either of the two literary giants, but its completion in my own eyes would be the object of destruction. Others might like it more—they might not even consider it selling out—but I’d know.
These thoughts come to me as I contemplate the assignments I’ve been given. One is the run-of-the-mill, “write a ‘memoir’ which extrapolates a moment from your life and then reflects on it.” It calls for the basic plodding thought process that many English classes aspire towards: an unnecessarily didactic narrative with an “engaging hook,” and too many “describing adjectives” (to use a redundant term). However my English teacher has been generous in allowing me to take to an unconventional formatting: I’m modeling my “memoir” based on a format implemented by Rumi (a Persian poet of the thirteenth century), where a semi-prosaic section sets up and introduces a conceit, to be maintained and explored by a series of long and short form poems. I am excited by the prospect. I like the artistic and intellectual freedom offered. But there are limits, and this scares me. It scares me because, in this long form artistic attempt, I might run across something that was real art. And could I set that down, were it to conflict with the obvious moral-reflective narrative I’ve been asked to construct?
The second assignment is this blog post. Before I sat down to write this, I spent over an hour creating a piece of philosophy that I believe to be true, and that I was proud of in craft and in thought… And it was utterly unpublishable. It was too hard-worded; too uncompromising. It went against the wishes of my audience. It did not fit the assignment. I finished writing it. I said to myself, Emerson wrote “Speak what you think today in hard words and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again.”
And then I sat down to write this.
Isaac Schott-Rosenfield, class of 2017