Last week’s sailing in the western Caribbean seems far removed from the stacks of laundry surrounding me.
It doesn’t seem real that we swam with dolphins four days ago. That only five have passed since we parasailed with friends in Grand Cayman. Or that Jamaica — the land of “no problems… and only situations,” where the header photo was shot six days ago — should feel as fuzzy as any ethereal memory freshly minted by dreams. How is it that the good feeling created by vacations carries over, while the concrete specifics of good times wash away from memory… minutes after they happen?
My husband and I’ve been home less than two days, enough time to work through seven loads of laundry. I didn’t realize we owned so many clothes. But somehow, it’s the clothes that anchor the reality of our dreamy cruise vacation with Texas friends. I remember wearing the red ruffled tank with the shimmery pants on Monday evening. Wednesday saw me in white denim cropped pants and Caribbean blue tank. Thursday, a Hibiscus red cotton skirt with an indigo blue tank.
Each outfit carries a care label, which I follow to a T. Cold water wash. Tumble dry low. Lie flat. Line dry. And though I have no clothes line, the chair backs of my patio table make perfect personal valets to dry wet shirts and pants upon. Yesterday’s warm sunshine and strong winds witnessed four “loads” hanging across those metal chair backs.
Even now, I marvel at how easily this trip fell into place. I didn’t expect invitations extended in late January to two Texas couples to be received so positively…. that they would rearrange planned events in their lives to make it happen… all to join me and help celebrate my husband’s recent retirement. When I thanked them for coming, they said they were honored to be asked. All week long, we took turns saying how wonderful a time we were having together. And how nice it would be if we could make it all happen again.
But here’s the surprise souvenir from my time away: I return to laundry and “real” life knowing that it will be okay if the miracle of traveling with these dear friends never happens again. Because when something is good enough the first time, fine enough to feel like it belongs to the world of dreams rather than waking life, repetition becomes unnecessary. Once becomes enough for a lifetime.
Which makes me wonder whether there are greater lessons to be learned in what happens in everyday life. In those things, like laundry, which require routine repetition.
Sitting outside my borrowed balcony, I thought about life, then recorded an odd mix of thoughts — regular schedule programming stuff as well as that which tends to interrupt the norm.
Questions like — “What to buy for upcoming birthdays?” — mixed with — “What to think about my Arthur Andersen gal pals retiring?” — led to one on the limits of photography: “Is it possible to capture the way a particular vintage of early light washes over surfaces to soften steel rooftops, while making a far-off tree defining my horizon, turn red and aglow, each limb and leaf separate and distinct?
The camera is poor help in recording glimpses of reality. Maybe its fully programmable nature is in part to blame. After all, the images it takes are limited by what it’s programmed to record. Since the sky shouldn’t be mauve, light-washed with orange, perhaps the camera filters out those glorious shades so that the sky ends up bleached of color. And while the red of the horizon tree is there, its distinctive shaped edges are lost in translation. By the time the camera and its lens has done its best work, that glorious tree has become a mere smudge of itself.
Looking at image after failed image, I began to wonder whether the camera didn’t do its job just right. That is, what if the image the camera actually captured, WAS the reality of things? What if it was my eye or mind that allowed me to see a different reality, inviting me to see something more than that which was really there to record by machine? Perhaps I looked out on that tree and saw not only its goodness and raw beauty, but as “like calls to like”, could it be that I beheld hints of hidden reality, shimmering beyond my camera’s ability to capture?
Stories of old friends, told around the table Saturday night, made me wonder similar thoughts, regarding the direction of my life. They all have such grand plans. And hearing them dream made me wonder whether I was living my quiet life as I should or whether there were other, more important things, I should be devoting myself toward.
One gal pal, recently retired from her high-powered tax career, is helping to plant a new Methodist church in Kentucky. Another is making plans to travel to Africa, with hopes of helping women and communities by sharing her business expertise. Another, just returning home, after years of living in South Florida, is looking forward to finding another job. Not so much for the income, but for connections with the new community she is transplanting into. She knows not what, only that there will be something with her name on it.
Can I see myself in Africa? Or helping to plant a church? Or entering the work force again — especially in days of a shrinking job market? No. Not really.
But do I dismiss too quickly? Is it possible my own distant vision, when it comes to seeing my own abilities and potential, is as faulty as this morning’s camera lens, when focusing on the sky and that red tree? Do I white out multicolored adventures by concluding they aren’t for me. Could my regular scheduled programming of life keep me from focusing properly on a fuzzy horizon?
If not Africa or church-planting, then what else might be lying just beyond that horizon whispering my name?
“I am trying to make, before I get through, a picture of the whole world — or as much of it as I have seen. Boiling it down always, rather than spreading it thin.” — Ernest Hemingway to Mrs. Paul Pfeiffer, 1933, Selected Letters, p. 397
“All remembrance of things past is fiction…”— Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast (Fragments)
What began as an interesting side trip, the thing to do just because I was in Key West, has ignited into what I’ll call, for now, an insatiable interest in Ernest Hemingway.
It didn’t happen immediately. Or if it did, I didn’t notice. But the thing that was three weeks ago fuzzy has since grown sharp and clear; why looking through the lens of hindsight always helps, especially when far removed from whatever nouns and adjectives are under study.
Hemingway thought so. The pieces he created grew out of memories, out of real people and places he knew spiced up with questions of ‘what-if’, which he attempted to bring to life using everyday words.
“Actually if a writer needs a dictionary he should not write”, he wrote to Bernard Berenson, in a 1953 letter. “He should have read the dictionary at least three times from beginning to end and then have loaned it to someone who needs it.” (Selected Letters, p. 809)
No only do I sometimes need a dictionary. At times, I like a thesaurus too. And that I regard spell-check as a “must-do” may mean I’ve no business in writing. But… oh well… Here I am at home. Three weeks gone from Key West. So why not begin with a nod to Hemingway’s style by boiling that tiny two-day visit all the way down?
I’m glad I went to Key West. And did all the touristy things a tourist there ‘must do’, like sip margaritas and eat cheeseburgers in paradise at Jimmy Buffett’s place, and tour Harry Truman’s “the buck stops here” Little White House and of course, the beautiful two-story house at 907 Whitehead Street, renovated by Pauline Pfieffer, Hemingway’s second wife. But perhaps surprising of all, I’m glad we stumbled upon a wonderful renovated cinema managed by the local art society, where we took time to view one of this year’s Academy Award nominated films; Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is not, I think, a bad description of Old Town’s main drag of Duval Street.
Though Key West was grand in spite of its touristy tarnish, I feel no need to ever return. To put it all into a coconut nutshell, once a lifetime is quite enough, thank you. For there are so many other places in this big beautiful world I wish to see more. And because of my visit to “Hem’s” place, some of them just happen to be where Hemingway worked and lived and wrote about.
Oh-my-gosh did I ever leave Key West with a strong hankering for things Havana — late 1950s please — and of course, Hemingway owned a home just outside that he shared with wives #3 and #4 — and of course they have names — but in interest of boiling it all down, let me call them Martha and Mary. (As an aside, from what I’ve read, they seem very much like that Biblical pair whose names they bear, since Martha enjoyed her work best and Mary, if not at his feet, at least kept close to Hem’s side.) If not illegal for U.S. citizens, I would travel to Cuba in a heartbeat. And I would peek through those windows and doorways, yes I would, to see where Hemingway lived for twenty years, the place he left fully furnished with clothes still hanging in the closet and liquor lined up on the cocktail hour table and his beloved fishing yacht in the water because he never imagined he wouldn’t return.
And how I would love to go to Paris again but this time see Hemingway’s Paris and then on to Spain, not to run with the bulls but to walk where Hemingway walked, to see what he saw. And before that, to re-read his words all over again in The Sun Also Rises and to remember how in 1926, his way of a writing was the breaking of new ground. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”
Yes, I’ve got the Hem bug bad. Looking back, my low-resistance was there from first unhesitating footsteps — why my husband and I had no more parked our car and suitcases before we were out the hotel door and standing before Hemingway’s brick wall. Ironic how what once was erected to keep out tourists now looks like a gateway drug to me. But that’s a story for another day. Or not.
In the meantime, I’ve plenty of arm-chair traveling to do since Michael Palin’s Hemingway Adventure just arrived in the mail. I’m keen to know what this once Monty Python star saw and wrote of his travels across Hemingway’s world map. But before I set off in that direction, can I ask whether you remember that opening bit in the film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where horse hoofs were made by clopping together coconut shells?
When the solider says — “Are you suggesting coconuts migrate?” — I must confess, off screen, that mine do. The contents I earlier put into a coconut nutshell has migrated all over the map. But then, it’s hard to boil anything down about Hemingway, whether in a coconut nutshell. Or in a book. Or in television. Or in the movies. Or in a museum. That’s why there’s so much OUT THERE about Hemingway. Everyone wishes to take a jab at him. Because the man who wrote sparse prose didn’t live the same way — all those wives — all those travels and all those places he called home — well, they had a way of cluttering up his story line — making it difficult for anyone to put Hem in his place.