In clearing the top of my desk this late evening (pay no attention to the remote controls), I found a stack of pages from the diary I wrote while in prison. As is likely to happen while I’m straightening up, I started reading. I found the following, from July 4, 2015:
10:35 AM, reading Hemingway, A Moveable Feast. The first chapter impressed me. Five pages of intense, lumpy description full of lovely touches where every word seems so well fitted into the whole, like each a piece in a mosaic, that I could rarely find one that I would change. A quote (Scribner, New York, 1964-2001):
“All of the sadness of the city came suddenly with the first cold rains of winter, and there were no more tops to the high white houses as you walked but only the wet blackness of the street and the closed doors of the small shops, the herb sellers, the stationery and the newspaper shops, the midwife–second class–and the hotel where Verlaine had died where you had a room on the top floor where you worked.” (p. 16)
On copying this out I had the thought that perhaps H. had been lied to about Verlaine, and he hadn’t known it–a cheap modern version of the bones of the Apostles–and how it would change things if H. had inserted, after “where Verlaine had died,” the following:
“–so the concierge insisted–“. (Hey, what about “I before E” in concierge?)
And if H. had checked around about that claim, it could be “so the concierge insisted, and it was true” or something like that. I like these additions.
I notice that I’m writing in longer sentences since starting the Great Courses course, Creating Great Sentences. It’s been useful, but some better handouts would have helped a lot, a kind of written summary, because the course as presented [prison classroom] doesn’t allow good note taking. It was the long sentence of H’s–the length of it, being surprising–that decided me to copy it here, and not its quality. I very much like “the sadness of the city” and “no more tops to the high white houses,” but most of the rest seems a mere catalogue until we reach Verlaine. “Where you worked” at the end, this emphasis on the unglamorous, says much about his interest here. It’s the heart of this chapter, as becomes even more evident as the pages go. This five-page chapter isn’t about Paris, it’s about H. writing in Paris.
So if I want to write about Frazier Park, in [a work in progress], I should write about Kat grieving in Frazier Park. I doubt that I can “write about Frazier Park” and make it worth reading; old newspaperman Hemingway just taught me that “you need an angle.”