Friday, September 10, 2010

if you must speak, please don't

Nothing tries to spoil a beautiful early morning in Manhattan like a woman yelling on the 6 train. She takes a seat beside me, her face pointed up toward her standing colleague, her mouth broadcasting something about work and funds and projects. She flips through her manilla folder filled with papers.

I am trying to read A Moveable Feast. Hemingway named it that because he considered Paris itself to be a moveable feast, an experience a man keeps with him his entire life. But I think it just shows his genius because the book itself is a moveable feast. It is a  treasure I carry around in my bag with transportive properties beyond my grasp. My copy is old and worn, with notes inside from a previous owner’s trip to Germany. There are train directions, and something about the Museum of Modern Art. It is a tiny book, and it fits perfectly in my hands.

I'm still early in the book. I just got to the scene where Hemingway discovers this woman who runs a library out of her house. He is poor and doesn't have enough money to pay the membership fee, but she lets him take as many books as he wants anyway. He is touched by her kindness and goes home to tell his wife about what he has found. They have a simple conversation about their evening plans and she says to him, "And we'll never love anyone else but each other." And he says, "No. Never." She asks him how his writing went earlier in the day and he says he thinks it went all right. I think simply, this is the type of love I want.

But the woman is still yelling. I have put my earbuds in and am listening to Philip Glass at near-full volume and I can still hear her. Not even God drowns her out. I look over and see her papers with designs on them for a presentation. Her colleague has a brown leather briefcase. They are both professors. I hear them say words like "dean," "school," "courseload." It's not just her proximity or my countenance that makes her seem loud. She is actually just very, very loud. She seems to have forgotten the most basic lesson children learn: the value of quiet.

I read the same page over and over, but I'm not actually reading. Her voice is a barrier to the deepest part of my brain where literature belongs. Not wanting to do wrong by Hemingway, I close my book. I close my eyes. I paint a picture in my mind of the man I will one day love and the walks we will take along our version of the Seine. I let Philip's repetitive piano strokes fill my mind and serve as the soundtrack for barefoot dances along water's edge.

I open my eyes and see that my stop has arrived. I put my book back in my bag. I adjust my headphones and exit.

I realize it's been a few minutes since I heard her voice.

Once outside, I see that the morning is beautiful.


  1. I think the love that Hemingway described, right there, is what any sane woman wants. We just have a tendency to settle for things that make us constantly feel something, overtaken by the throes of emotion that comes along with passionately dysfunctional situations.

    Don't worry, you'll walk with your dream man. And when you do, you won't hear a single word coming out of the mouths of any auditorially overbearing individual in the vicinity.

  2. I wrote a beautiful comment off the cuff and I swear your blog ate it. I might cry.

  3. Haha, it came through Julene. What you said is interesting: that choosing a passionate rollercoaster love is actually a form of settling. I've never thought of it that way, but I think you might be right.

  4. I love that you kind of equated Philip Glass with God, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

    I'm so happy you have an old AMF. I haven't read Sean Hemingway's revised edition yet, but I know the ending changes. I'm glad you get the original, because it's one of the best ending lines I've ever read.

    Since AMF was published posthumously, the title was actually decided on by Hem's friend A.E. Hotchner, who visited him in Paris and remembers him saying: "If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast."

    I do not what that kind of love. But then, again, I've finished the book.

    I love Hemingway entering your poetry and blog.

    It's a really beautiful thing, finding your calm amidst the screamers. It's necessary for survival here.

    Love you.

  5. Oh, it was totally intentional.

    Now I'm really anxious to finish the book!

  6. Not even God drowns her out...a great line...I had a similar, but unsimilar experience yesterday as I was pen shopping. I couldn't browse in quiet; I was forced to listen to a phone conversation I didn't initiate. I agree, many need to reacquaint themselves with the value of quiet.

  7. @Mary - Thank you! Yeah, I hate when people are inappropriately loud in public. I think it shows some kind of innate character flaw.

    Also, I can say with almost 100% certainty that I have never been "pen shopping." :)