Tuesday, March 9, 2010
"Road to Hell Paved with Unbought Stuffed Dogs"
My college friend Peter recently unearthed this long-buried memory for me. Fans of Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises will recognize the title of this post, but just in case you need the backdrop, here's the set up (www.perpenduum.com/2008/07/happy-birthday-yesterday-hemingway/) :
Jake is being encouraged by Bill to buy "just one stuffed dog" to "brighten up his flat" but Jake declines. Bill tells him "it will mean everything in the world to you after you've bought it" but Jake says he'll "get one on the way back." Few things are more clear than that he has no intention of getting one at all, and Bill drops the famous line, "All right. Have it your way. Road to hell paved with unbought stuffed dogs. Not my fault."
It's been a long time since I did any meaningful literary analysis, and I'm not going to pretend to try now, but I am so grateful to Peter for bringing this strange and haunting passage back into my consciousness.
There are a lot of strange, small things that claw at my mind every day. Things that I can't really explain why I think it would be important, or of value long-term. Things that in fact in the moment are utterly bizarre and meaningless, and that run the risk of making me seem nearly unstable. (I mean really, who just buys a taxidermied DOG for crying out loud?)
But Hemingway is on it....and yes, he was seen as a tad unstable, but maybe that is the consequence of living in the Real. He is known to have said something to the effect of I don't know why everyone says writing is so hard, all you have to do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed...........and that he did.
He bled out this idea that we don't know what is valuable all the time, but that it's the weird little chances we take that lead to our closest touch in this world with what is authentic and expressive and inexplicably imporant. Hell is when we realize we didn't exert ourselves or take chances on something being relevant or meaningful, even if at the time we can't explain it at all.
So here goes. Peter, I can't explain why you linger as an important personality in my life. We weren't particularly close friends, we didn't take a lot of classes together, we didn't have a shared social scene. But one thing I do know, my personal road to hell has been missing opportunities to tell people they mattered, they were unique, they stood out and they still enhance my life in ways large and small. That you would pop up with this quote seems about right.
Thanks for doing it, and thanks for reminding me we don't always get to know why something is important, but we do get a chance to follow through.