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Thoughts on Growth From White Wine & Hemingway

[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]

The other day I drank 8 ounces of dry white wine and read through notes I'd written in the pages of my favorite Hemingway book, The Sun Also Rises. I didn't mean to read through my notes. In fact, I'd forgotten I'd written notes in the book at all. Hemingway is one of my favorite writers in spite of (or maybe because of?) his propensity to drink too much. He famously said "I drink to make other people more interesting," which seems exactly like something a drunk would say.

So I was drinking the driest white wine, listening to Nordic instrumentals, and flipping through my Hemingway notes, when I stopped to jot down some thoughts, and those thoughts, are this. I hope you like them.

I have been thinking about how life can make us sort of flat, like gingerbread people. One dimensional. And how if we just do all the things we’re expected to do we get very stale and harden and lose any taste or sweetness. Maybe those were the people Hemingway implied were boring. Maybe they could have used some white wine, too. But despite our blandness, I thought, most of us still smile our gummy smiles and go through the motions like tall Pez dispensers. But that’s not really living.

And I thought about how so many of us aren’t anyone we’d be proud of. I thought of how a gingerbread person crumbles so easily, and how most of us crumble like sugar cubes, too. And I thought about how hardened I’ve become, expecting nothing of anyone and everything of me. Life shouldn’t make us flat at all, it should make us free, it should make us round but also edgy. For some reason it doesn’t because we’ve all got our faces in screens and we’re all trying to be someone we’d be proud of, or something. And I thought about how easy it is to be kind but how rare that is too, and how everything seems kind of gray without kindness and maybe if we were all a bit more kind we'd be proud of ourselves more often.

And then I thought about how we have to be taught kindness, so if a child doesn't see it they won't emulate it and then I thought about how hard it must be to raise a child because the world is so full of horrible things and there are potholes everywhere, deep potholes, filled with monsters grabbing our ankles and if nobody shows us how to run or jump or tame the monsters, they'll grab you and pull you underground and believe me when I tell you how hard it is to find the surface once you've been pulled underground. Maybe we all need a taste of that, a taste of a fall, a face-off with a monster, or else we wouldn't really be living either, we'd just be existing in a world that's monster-less and that's not quite right either.

And I thought about how we want our children to live in the sun and smile and be loved but they have to find a monster somewhere, or else what kind of person would they become? Probably a gingerbread person, I thought. A gingerbread person who isn't stale because they're unfulfilled but whose flat because they never had to fall beneath the earth and pick themselves back up, flat because nothing has ever been hard, flat because all they know is comfort and joy so comfort and joy aren't enough. And I thought about that old saying about hunger, how the best spice is hunger, and how so few of us are really hungry anymore.

Then I thought about a time I went to a restaurant with a man who complained about his seafood, whose face was round and fat, who hadn't ever not had dinner and how he only complained that the bass was dry because he wasn't really hungry, and the waitresses eyes were so tired because she probably saw a million men like him, in tailored suits with red cheeks, drunk on whiskey who complain to her about their seabass. And even though she wasn't the one cooking the fish she was somehow meant to bear the brunt of if. I gave her a $20 bill when I left hoping she wasn't going home to fall down her own pothole but no one can know these things for certain.

And I thought about a job I had working for a homeless shelter. There were always people begging for money, loitering, crying, shivering, starving. I was poor, sort of, but not poor like them, so I used to buy oranges and give them away and one day a young girl said, "Fuck you, I don't want an orange I need money," and I don't blame her. So one day I gave her a beer and she smiled and I can't help but feel like I fed her a monster, but I also knew that her life was so hard and painful and cold that any sort of escape was a welcome one. And I thought about her hair, long purple braids that were dreadlocking and frayed. She didn't want a place to stay because she couldn't do drugs in the shelter and drugs were probably the best thing she had. My life has been so easy, comparatively.

It was just Christmastime and I'm not a fan of gingerbread but I like that it exists, like its scent, like that there is a season for it because seasons make things special. If you're tired of your life, or feel bogged down in drudgery maybe it's time for a new season. Christmas is over and winter is slowly going to turn into spring and that's the perfect time to make a change. Make a move, take a new job, make a new friend, book a vacation, foster a puppy, fall madly, stupidly, recklessly in love. I saw a postcard of the grand canyon in a gas station outside of Phoenix. And I thought about how a tiny square card couldn't possibly capture the majesty of the grand fucking canyon. How asinine. Why send a postcard when you can just go? Why stay stuck here, when you can just grow?

P.S. Buy a collection of Hemingway books here, plan a trip to the Grand Canyon, or learn about the National Homelessness Law Center.


Sarah Rose

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