Every day, I encounter a new challenge to the idea that things can and should be open and real.

Be it social, political, or personal, serious or trivial -- every time, I ponder the implications.

I hope you'll join me in the conversation!

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.


KathArine said...

I love this post. Although I've gotta say that if I remembered this line at all, I might like Hemingway better than I do. I do remember Peter, though. He was important to me, too! (Hi, Peter!)

I love the idea that we do get the chance to follow through. I'm going to think about some things I'd like to follow through on.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all that. FB has been amazing from that aspect of closing very long orbits that might never have got home.

Always considered that road to hell quote to be something of a koan, you've done a great job.

Alan Alda's autobiography goes into great detail about when his hollywood parents had his dog stuffed when he was a child...he considered it formative and not in a good way.

OK, so the reason I remember this one quote so vividly is Jo-Darse and I had an opinion about how some of our homework needed to be properly appreciated...occasionally we'd haul some beers out somewhere off campus and then read Bukowski or other stuff out loud. Somewhat in the barbaric yawp category. One of those times I think I was reading that passage of Hemingway out loud and it just shattered us both. Deep, cutting and hilarious at the same time. From that point the quote became a shorthand for the whole ball of wax.

Anonymous said...

Indeed it did! Hi kids, it's Margaret. As fellow denizens of the South Street Ashram for Wandering Mendicants and Wayward Friends, Will and I also adopted the 'unbought stuffed dog' as shorthand for the whole ball of wax, and so it entered the lexicon. Do you ever make a comment (e.g. unbought stuffed dogs), laugh your ass off, and turn around to a roomful of blank stares? Either the most wonderful education imaginable has devolved into an inside joke, or the rest of the world just doesn't speak the same language. My friends, you remind me that it's the rest of the world. . . .a shared language of what is real matters. Much love!

The EDG said...

Thank you all for your great comments...of course there are multiple takes one could have on this story, but this is the one I choose at the moment. Maybe one of you could take the "not my fault" part and run with it! (Crane's "The Blue Hotel," Good Will Hunting, ad infinitum).

Glad we can still find each other when we need to speak the same language from time to time....

Anonymous said...

And your The Dream Is Always the Same blog post also hit real close to home, gal. Except in my dream there's usually an exam I somehow didn't study for...and a class I don't quite remember ever attending...just to add that special twist.


Anonymous said...

That was permanently engraved in my memory when I first read it years ago.