Lessons from Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast about that simple thing that we let get far too complicated… LIFE
I recently finished reading Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveabe Feast, his classic memoir of Paris in the 1920’s when he was just starting out as a writer. It is filled with irreverent portraits of other expatriates such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, our man who who wrote The Great Gatsby (whom I found out was a total lightweight at drinking and his wife was a crazy ass bitch from this book), memories of his first love and wife, Hadley, and insightful recollections on life and his writing.
As I read the book I highlighted my favorite quotes and passages by Hemmingway and now I’d like to take some time to share them with you. Much of his passages are filled with a subtle meaning on finding happiness, being content with what you have, and simply enjoying the simplest moments in life.
“…And We were Young and Nothing was Simple there…”
Do you ever feel as if there are times in your life that you hunger for something yet can’t seem to pinpoint what it should be, why, and how to achieve it in the first place? You could hunger for a change, a person, a sign, a breakthrough, a connection, an experience, a reason, a chance…
In the following passage Hemingway ponders on this hunger before and after an evening dinner with his wife, Hadley…”wondering how much of what we felt on that bridge was really hunger.” He writes:
“It was a wonderful meal at Michaud’s after we got in; but when we had finished and there was no question of hunger any more, the feeling that had been like hunger when we were on the bridge was still there when we caught the bus home. It was there when we came in the room and after we had gone to bed and made love in the dark, it was there. When I woke with the windows open and the moonlight on the roofs of the tall houses, it was there. I put my face away from the moonlight into the shadow but I could not sleep and lay awake thinking about it. We had both wakened twice in the night and my wife slept sweetly now with the moonlight on her face. I had to try to think it out and I was too stupid. Life had seemed so simple that morning when I had wakened and found the false spring…But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight” (p. 57).
I suppose life would be boring and bland without this kind of hunger to eat at our conciousness. When you think about it, though, as Hemingway notes, sometimes the hunger in our lives is similar to that in which we feel on a night when dinner is only moments away and so the waiting becomes the hardest part to finally satisfy that hunger.
We crave it, want it, dream of it …and when we do get it …and we’ve satisfied that tireless, unwavering hunger…well as far as life goes, these kinds of moments are are like bliss..as well as rare.
But, they only lasts for so long, and then the hunger returns.
However, this isn’t a bad thing. It is our hunger, want, and desire that makes us get up in the morning and do amazing things with our day and lives. Without it, we’d be lazy fools who watch life pass us by.
I don’t know about you, but I hunger for so much in this life of mine.
To make matters more tricky, often times what we hunger for contradicts the other pieces of life we crave: To travel the world or to establish a career and a life in one place. The love and companionship of a serious relationship or the spontaneity and freedom of a single life. To do what you love and possibly make less money or to do what is expected and make more money. To let go or hold on. To take a risk or to play it safe…
Of course, the grass is always greener on the other side. And we will always hunger for something more and something different. We will always wonder what if I did or what if I didn’t.
“…But we did not know that night and we were very happy…”
“We both touched wood on the cafe table and the waiter came to see what it was we wanted. But what we wanted not he, nor anyone else, nor knocking on wood nor marble, as this cafe table-top was, could ever bring us. But we did not know that night and we were very happy” (p. 176).
Those are good nights, right? You know, the kind when reality sort of dissapears and you feel that everything in front of you at that very moment is all you need.
They usually happen on nights surrounded by your closest friends and there’s nothing but good conversation, laughs and talking of old-times. Or evenings spent with someone you love and there’s nothing you’d rather be doing than sitting on that couch with that person doing absolutely nothing but the very act of sitting next to them. Or nights when you’re working on something your passionate about and nothing could possibly distract you from what you’re presently consumed in.
Those are GREAT nights and GREAT moments.
And these moments are hard to come by. As we get busier and our schedules got more filled with this and that…life gets more complicated (because, of course, we let it), we loose sight of those simple things that used be all we needed.
I let that happen too much lately…
“When we were very poor and very happy.”
“There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differed from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it. But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy” (P. 211).
This was the last paragraph in A Moveable Feast. For me, this brought everything together. It makes me laugh a bit because I think about how ridiculous I’ve been to let the stress of, well, life in general, sit so heavily on my shoulders.
Life shouldn’t be stressful. It should be a blast. And sometimes we have these periods in our lives that seem so complicated…when we’re poor, or heartbroken, or lost, or stuck. Yet, when we look back on them, we realize we really weren’t really that unhappy. Maybe we even begin to think they were some of the best times we had… Funny how our mind let’s us forget the tough times and remember the good ones.
Your Life as a Moveable Feast
Let’s not loose sight of those simple things that used to be all we needed. And let’s not wonder so much what if I did or what if I didn’t.
Rather, let’s just do what we think is best for ourselves. Because in the end, when we look back on our earlier days, it won’t matter what was bothering you, who ruined your day, how hard you had it, or how much money was in your bank account.
What will matter is if we strived to satisfy that hunger in life to best of our ability, being the best person we can be, and learning from both the days that are a blast and the days that are just sh*t. As the Boss song goes, “Someday we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny.”
I hope your life is a moveable feast.
(Written 4/25/2010 – Beijing, China)
What did these quotes from Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast mean to you? How do you personally reflect on them?