I’m walking home from the Lake Bar in Oak Park, enjoying the evening tide – kids running in the park, frazzled parents getting home for supper. I’m surprised to find myself in a leafy green neighbourhood among big houses. Surprised, because, among the soot and grime of this functional industrial city I’d been wondering where the big houses were.
A sign outside a lovely wooden house stops me in my tracks. I drop my bag and scramble for my camera, as if the house is in a hurry to be off somewhere. It is the birthplace of Hemingway, legendary author and stealer of my imagination, light on the hill of my small potential.
I first heard of Hemingway in 1989, in an elevator on the way up to the editorial floor of the newspaper where I’d been employed as a cadet. I was 30 years old – a good 10 years older than the rest of the cadets. A man who was my superior stepped into the elevator, turned to me and said: ‘you write like Hemingway’.
I shrugged, having not heard of Hemingway (I know, go figure), somewhat sure I’d just been paid a compliment.
As it turned out, that superior loaded me with editorial gifts that were outside the hierarchical blend of industrious entitlement that is a busy newsroom – and an absolute boon to a woman starting her career later than most. I was a cadet shouldered with stories that ought, by right, have been given to senior journalists, and I paid a high price for his faith in my future.
Just before I was banished from a the heat of a metropolitan daily newsroom to the tepid waters of the women’s pages at the Sunday paper, I was at the pub with the other cadets at the end of a long day. We sat in a circle, laughing and chatting, and Richard, who was a couple of years older than the others, rocked back on his chair. I can still see his tippy toes just touching the ground. Charged with beer and bravado, he grinned at me and said:
“Sleeping with X has really paid off for you!”
I stared at him, his words piercing my consciousness slowly; the ethereal, wandering rumours taking form.
“Richard,” I said matter of factly. “I am a lesbian.”
And Richard promptly fell back on his chair and somersaulted into the wooden bar.
I will be forever grateful to my superior for allowing me those few moments of glory in a hard world.
And to Hemingway, for shining the light.
All day yesterday I was waiting for the point of my day, confused in this hard city, longing for something of import to me.
And here it is, around the corner, Hemingway’s house.
To this day I have only read one of his books, The Old Man and The Sea.The others I will read when I have time to read again and besides, I still don’t know what it is about Hemingway that makes him great or that makes my writing a small mirror of his.
I’m still not an educated woman, just a literate one who makes her way through ‘culture’ like fish in the sea, which is to say I’m drawn to what nourishes me, ignoring the incomprehensible rest.
In other words, I love what I love – and I love that someone thinks I write like Hemingway.