Key West recently celebrated Ernest Hemingway’s birthday. Papa, as he was fondly called, is 119 years-old. Key West, as you probably know, was home to Hemingway from 1928 to 1940. Hemingway did some of his best work there. After alienating many of his friends because of an affair, he divorced his wife and married Martha Gelhorn. Strange as it may seem, he imposed a self-exile on himself, leaving Key West and moving to Cuba. There he wrote perhaps one of the best stories ever written. The Old Man and the Sea.
It’s the crowning masterpiece of a large set of literary accomplishments from a hardworking writer. The story isn’t long. But it’s packed with style and character, and it turned the literary world on its ear with its stark, simple writing. It earned him both the Nobel Prize and the Pulitzer Prize in 1953. As a writer, I admire this especially in a world where so much writing is bombastic and self-aggrandizing.
I’ve always admired Hemingway’s writing though his personal life leaves a lot to be desired. Hemingway was no saint. Make no mistake about it. But none of us are. We struggle in the human condition, each of us making our share of mistakes, and all we can hope for is forgiveness and mercy from ourselves, each other, and God.
Hemingway once said the most essential thing a writer must have is a built-in “bullsh** detector.” I know I must drive my wife crazy, but I guess it’s the writer in me, so when I hear something that’s odd or hard to believe, I always ask: “Who said it?” Or “How do you know this?” And when she tells me who told her, I ask: “How do they know?” At this point, she sometimes grows frustrated, but the writer in me has to ask. Maybe like Donald Trump I’m wary of fake news. Though I think our motives are far different. I want to verify the facts. Our president only wants to acknowledge the ones that fit into his bizarre sense of reality
It’s not that I don’t believe things that I read or are told to me. It’s just that when things don’t make sense, my built-in bullsh** detector goes wild, clicking like a metal detector over a pile of pirate booty buried in the sand off the nearby Garden City Pier.
Another thing I learned from Hemingway is that if you want to accomplish something, you have to park your rear-end in a chair and keep it there till you’ve made some significant headway. He started work somewhere between 8:00 and 9:00 each morning and pretty much stayed with it till way past noon. He would have his maid bring him a sandwich and something to drink and leave it outside the studio door over the carriage house where he worked.
He would then finish up his writing early in the afternoon. Not a bad day’s work for a writer who had to labor in the oppressive heat of Key West without air conditioning. Only then would he stop. He would then spend the next hour or so with his wife, Pauline, where they would often swim nude in the only inground pool for 100 miles around. Under penalty of being fired, his housekeeper was given strict orders not to disturb them or pry.
Hemingway no doubt could have gone on for another hour or two, but he once said that when you drain the well, you have to give it time to fill back up. As a result, he always made it a point to stop short of putting everything down on paper. That way when he came back the next day, he would already be deep in the middle of a scene instead of staring out the window, wondering what he was going to have for lunch that day.
Hemingway had a reputation for being a boozer, a reputation he deserved. But did you know he had a rule to never drink before writing and to never drink while writing? A lot of writers think alcohol makes them wittier, cleverer, or somehow opens the heavens so that the muses throw themselves at their feet. Hemingway was smart. He knew what seemed so ingenious during an alcohol-fueled writing session was just a lot of crap. His own built-in bullsh** detector wouldn’t allow even himself a free pass.
Hemingway rarely missed a day of writing. There were exceptions. The day his new fishing boat, the Pilar, was delivered was one of them. I can only imagine the excitement when he got news it was docked not far from his house. Not much got written that day, or the next or the next, or the day after that, but the creative energy triggered that day more than compensated for the time away from his writing table.
Wherever you are tonight, Papa, I hope you know what a difference you made in literature. I also hope you know that that built-in bullsh** detector is as important today as it was when you lived on Whitehead Street in Key West.
Happy Birthday, Ernest. Enjoy your lunch, savor your swim, and tell St. Peter I said to pour you a couple extra ones. You deserve it!
To leave a comment, please click on https://billhegerichsr.wordpress.com/2018/07/23/life-lessons-from-papa-hemingway/ When you visit, don’t forget to view the Carriage House where Hemingway wrote.
I’ve had the most amazing experience this past week, an experience that ranks up there with the capture of Blackbeard or the invention of the spyglass. A lot of people use the word amazing recklessly, but this was truly amazing. Shortly before the Fourth of July, I had the pleasure of witnessing my daughter’s promotion from lieutenant to lieutenant commander at the Coast Guard Station Sector Charleston in SC.
What made it especially exciting is that I was given the privilege of participating in the event. Commanding officer, Captain John Reed, presented Lieutenant Commander Maureen Hegerich with the document that officially promoted her to her new rank. The second part of the ceremony centered on the removal of her old shoulder boards marked with two stripes, one on each of her shoulders. Once removed, the new shoulder boards with three stripes, were pinned to her uniform.
Her son, Seaman Joshua Olsen, a second generation Coastie, whose father is Master Chief Jason Olsen, did the left shoulder. I had the distinct honor of pinning the new board on her right. I’ve never been prouder of my daughter.
It was a moment she worked hard for. No one achievement placed her in that time and place. Years of hard work, commitment and sacrifice did.
My daughter has served proudly in the Coast Guard for over 21 years, a feat not easily achieved in today’s era when many military personnel are forced into retirement long before they reach that 20-year milestone. It’s hard to beat knowledge, dedication and experience.
And make no mistake about it. Her experience is extremely diversified. Her first billet from 1997 to 1999 was at Station Fort Pierce, Florida as a member of the boat crew and boarding team.
Not one to coast, in 1998, she struck yeoman completely on her own. Most Coasties enlist in a specially designed program to make yeoman in Petaluma, CA. Lieutenant Commander Hegerich pursued yeoman independently while serving at Coast Guard Station Fort Pierce.
From 2000 to 2005, she served at Activities, New York where she witnessed the tragedy of 911 firsthand. In 2005 and 2006, she served at Group Fort Macon at Atlantic Beach, NC where she served as yeoman.
It was after that tour that she enrolled in Officers Candidate School in the fall of 2006. The rigorous training regimen she faced helped make her who she is today. Her first billet after graduation in February 2007 took her to the training center in Yorktown, Virginia where she served on the Command Center Standardization Team till 2009. Her work carried her to command centers around the country making sure protocol, regulations and policy were being followed.
In 2009, she went to Sector Southeast New England on Cape Cod as assistant intel Chief till 2012. That experience prepared her for her next billet at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, DC where she served as program manager for Intel training. Between 2016 and 2018, she remained in Washington working as part of the Sexual Assault Prevention Response Campaign, and then on Human Capital Strategy. Her most recent assignment takes her to Sector Charleston as Logistics Department Head where she oversees engineering, administration, and supply. That entails support of the sector and its outlying units which includes small boat stations, cutters, and aids-to-navigation units.
My daughter’s duties varied widely in each billet. Because of security reasons, she couldn’t divulge some details to me. I will say this, however. The Coast Guard’s motto is Semper Paratis. Along with that, are three virtues their members highly cherish. Respect, Honor, and Devotion to Duty. Because of her commitment to those values and her willingness to put the Coast Guard and her country above herself, she has achieved some remarkable things over the years.
She received the MaryLou Whitney Military Leadership Award in 2005 for Woman of the Year. She has also received several prestigious commendations, but among her favorites are three good-conduct medals, a 9/11 medal, and a number of team commendation awards. Like a mother asked to choose her favorite child, she refuses because all are precious. But she does remember fondly team commendation awards for drug busts and a multi-heritage celebration.
I’ll say this for my daughter. She’s persistent. When she sets her eyes on a goal, she’s unbeatable. And she’s loyal. Something her family and coworkers can attest to. If they were to give an award to someone who boosts morale at a billet, she would win hands down, even if she were competing with the Dalai Lama or Mother Teresa.
I once told my daughter you don’t get to the top of a mountain by falling there. It takes a lot of hard work, persistence, and grace under pressure. But it also takes street smarts. And despite one’s acumen and ability, you’re no leader at all if you don’t know how to bring out the best in people. It’s a trait she has in spades and will serve her well in her present command.
I wish Lieutenant Commander Hegerich much success in her new billet. I’ve met Commanding Officer, Captain John Reed. and several other officers who head key departments as well as a number of yeomen at the Sector. It’s a delicious mélange of skills, experience, and perspectives. I know it’s a fine team assembled in Charleston. Everyone’s keen sense of dedication and commitment to their jobs and one another is as palpable as the ever-present Charleston humidity.
Blackbeard once held Charleston captive with a blockade. He took one of its leading citizens, Samuel Wragg, hostage and would not release him till a bag of medicine was rowed aboard his ship. Till then not one ship moved in or out of the harbor.
With the fine men and women serving Sector Charleston today, Blackbeard wouldn’t dare such a stunt. I’m betting my last doubloon he’d rather take his chances in the shoals of North Carolina with his nemesis, Lieutenant Robert Maynard, who literally handed him his head.
God bless everyone in the Coast Guard who serves our country so selflessly and honorably. May your luck run as deep as the sea and your worries be as light as its foam. And a special blessing to Lieutenant Commander Maureen Hegerich. You do us proud.
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