Ernest Hemingway on Why Hunger Made for Good Discipline

By Brendan O’Meara

I hate being hungry. I can’t focus. I get angry. Irritable. Get that man a slice of pizza. Anything!

So years ago when I first read A Moveable Feast, one of my favorite books, by Ernest Hemingway, his sketch “Hunger was Good Discipline” struck me as total BS.

Hemingway wrote,

You got very hungry when you did not eat enough in Paris because all the baker shops had such good things in the windows and people ate outside at tables on the sidewalk so that you saw and smelled the food. When you were skipping meals at a time when you had given up journalism and were writing nothing that anyone in American would buy, explaining at home that you were lunching out with someone, the best place to do it was the Luxembourg gardens where you saw and smelled nothing to eat all the way from the Place de l’Observatoire to the rue de Vaugirard.

In a few words this sounds like a nightmare, skipping meals, but I’ve lived it. To this day. Because money is tight and nobody is buying what I sell and the government must take 50 percent of anything I do make. I eat a vegetarian diet because for $70 a week, it feeds me and my wife.

There’s the gnawing at the gut that Hemingway says,

There you could always go into the Luxembourg museum and all the paintings were heightened and clearer and more beautiful if you were belly-empty, hollow-hungry. I learned to understand Cezanne much better and to see truly how he made landscapes when I was hungry.

This was where my infantile reader mind flew off the handles. If I were looking at paintings on an empty stomach, the growling would far distract my senses from anything other than the most primal need to eat.

But upon re-reading this section, I realized this wasn’t food-hunger at all. It was the hunger of the hustler, that when you deeply want something, when you can’t think of anything else other than whatever-that-is, that hunger creates the discipline to hit the page with rigor.

Hemingway says,

You dirty phony saint and martyr, I said to myself. You quit journalism of your own accord. You have credit and Sylvia [Beech] would have loaned you money. She has plenty of times. Sure. And then the next thing you would be compromising on something else. Hunger is healthy and the pictures do look better when you are hungry. Eating is wonderful too and do you know where you are going to eat right now?

Of course he visits a cafe to eat and get “tight” as Jacob Barnes or Lady Brett may say. And of course he refers to his lecherous ways by “compromising on something else,” but if we look past that we see the discipline all artists must have to succeed.

Here again we see hunger for food as a conduit for the deeper hunger of literary stardom and artistic integrity. His deep pursuit for telling stories created the discipline. He had a ritualized morning schedule that only the truly hungry ever adhere to (more on this soon).

A Moveable Feast is such fine read, of the famous writer looking back to a time when nothing was certain, when the belly was empty, and hunger was, in fact, good discipline.

Episode 22—Jeff Krulik on “Heavy Metal Parking Lot,” “Led Zeppelin Played Here,” and His Kinship with Oddities

Written by Brendan O’Meara

This is a special episode of #CNF, the podcast where I speak with writers, authors, reporters and now filmmakers, in the genre of creative nonfiction.

Yes, Episode 22 features Jeff Krulik, a documentary filmmaker who has the parking-lot genre nailed. He made Heavy Metal Parking Lot (see above) among other wonderful documentaries.

I worked with Jeff on an exciting project called Kentucky Confidential, headed up by John Scheinman (Episode 9 of the #CNF Podcast, go listen). You’ll find Jeff’s videos as well as my Bourbon Underworld stories.

In this episode, Jeff talks about the origins of HMPL as well as his latest movie Led Zeppelin Played here. We talk about freelancing and the financial realities of the biz, as well as his kinship with Maryland and oddities, those people on the fringe.

Here are some selected links from the episode to further educate yourself on all things Krulik. Follow him on Twitter @jeffkrulik and visit his website jeffkrulik.com.

Here’s the Deadspin article that has become the definitive history of HMPL.

One last call to action: Please subscribe to my newsletter. I try and send out a monthly dispatch of five cool things I’ve read, heard, or consumed.

And subscribe to the podcast. It’s a wing of my “brand,” and getting people on board will only help me churn out bigger and better work.

Thanks!

Love,

Brendan

Voice: What is it exactly?

By Brendan O’Meara

Listen.

Some writers get confused about voice. What is it? How do they attain it?

I had voice. Then I lost it. Then I found it again.

In high school and college, I had what I like to think of as a voice distinct to me. I was a raw writer, but at least I had that intangible sound.

Then I went to grad school. Grad school sorta ironed out all my wrinkles, the wrinkles are what made me me.

We had a visit from a prominent literary agent who stood before us and lamented the MFA voice. That made just about every person in the lecture hall shift in their seats. Bwat, bwat, bwat!? How, like, how could he SAY something like that!? The nerve! Well, I’m not submitting my book of boring-ass essays to HIM!

That stuck in my ear like the incessant ringing I deal with every day (Thank you, Metallica. You complete me.).

Basically in the MFA program, not intentionally, there’s this sense that in order to be a Writer, you need to write with florid prose and basically Joan Didion-ize yourself. Don’t do that.

To quote Brin-Jonathan Butler, who was on the podcast with me, he says, “I want your shit.”

Voice is your shit.

Here’s how I think of it:

You know when you speak with a Brit or an Aussie and you want them to keep talking. Say anything! I don’t care! Tell me what the weather forecast is tomorrow! I just need to hear your voice! That accent!

That’s it…That’s voice…

On the page, your voice, your accent, is what makes you sound like you.

That helps me think through voice and distills it into something far less abstract and highfalutin.

Voice is your accent, what people beg to hear just so they can hear you talk.

Episode 21—Bronwen Dickey on the Tao of Henry Rollins, Binaural Beats, and Her Three Rules for Any Writer

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By Brendan O’Meara

“There are all kinds of people who can easily out-write me, but there are very few who can outwork me.”—Bronwen Dickey.

“Henry Rollins said ‘Music is made by the people music saved,’ and I think stories are written by the people stories saved in the same way. And stories saved me from loneliness and boredom.”—Bronwen Dickey

It’s been a long time between episodes, but here’s a good one with author/journalist Bronwen Dickey.

We talk about her new book Pit Bull: The Battle Over an American Icon, which will hit book shelves on May 8. The book isn’t what you think it’s about, and we dive into that and many, many other things.

Enjoy!

Books Mentioned

The Brothers Karamazov
Riverside Shakespeare
Slouching Toward Bethlehem
The Collected Essays of Annie Dillard
Dispatches
Breath
The Fire Next Time
The Undertaking

Winnah, winnah, lobstah dinnah!

By Brendan O’Meara

Years of being a bridesmaid in several awards categories (two second place Keystone Awards and an honorable mention for the Eclipse Award for feature writing in horse racing) I finally brought home a blue ribbon, or a gold medal Keystone Press Award in the business/consumer category.

Listen.

Awards are largely capital B capital S, but they put fuel in the tank. It means, on some level, that respected peers value your work. For story people like myself, we need the occasional jolt of peer approval.

Oh…here’s the story about a 170-year-old dairy farm in Tioga County, PA. And you thought I only wrote about the sports and the ball games and the pretty little horses.

A new calling?

By Brendan O’Meara

I’ve been bad. Haven’t shared anything here. I don’t think anything I’m saying falls on any ears, but that’s a “me” problem for not being interesting enough, not offering enough value.

That’s merely the truth. I’m not complaining. I’ll keep working.

Speaking of the work

During my lunch break at work (9 p.m.) and grinded out 20 minutes of narrative, two hand-written pages with my No. 2 pencil and yellow notepad.

Those 20 minutes felt so fun. I sat outside in the parking lot against two big planters under the stars, a full moon way the fuck up there.

That’s what I’m finding I love so much about fiction. It’s so fun to play around with these characters and have them say whatever I want them to, trip over roots, get the wind knocked out of them, do nasty things, do wonderful things.

Maybe I’ve found a new calling.

I’ve been knocking my head against the nonfiction wall for over 10 years and nothing has come together. At least with fiction there isn’t quite the degree of reporting needed. There’s some, but nothing like the fact-based stuff.

I’ll probably do the occasional magazine piece or essay if the mood strikes, but at some point you have to come to the realization that you’re not that good and maybe you never were.

Day 8: Before and After

By Brendan O’Meara

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This is why I use a pencil.

Over time they become dull, they shrink, they show signs of the work being done. The Before and After picture says it all.

Set the timer for 30 minutes, put the phone on airplane, and get to work. Beats looking at a screen.

xoxo

Brendan, BrendanBook, InstaBrendan, Britter

PS—New podcast should be coming soon. It’s been challenging lining up guests. Some have been difficult to reach. Others the timing has been off. It’s coming. Thanks for listening. There’s 20 episodes to learn from!

PPS—Share with a friend. Share with your networks. Only if you think it helps.

Day 7: The Screen

Hey, Friends,

I’m always very motivated like right before I go to bed.

Yet when I wake up, the idea of turning on the screen is abhorrent and I want nothing to do with it. It’s blinding. It takes two minutes to boot up. I could be sleeping. The dogs kept me up all night scratching and licking God knows what.

I’m also motivated around mid-morning, but by then I’m usually tied up with the Day Job and say I’ll do it tomorrow. This is lizard-brain stuff, the stuff of resistance.

I do the work in the morning, with a pencil and a yellow notepad, but sometimes in my journal (on a lunch break, while I’m waiting to pick up Mrs. Bread Winner from the train). Paper is easy on the eyes and when the pencil goes from sharp to dull you know you’ve done the work.

xoxo

Brendan, BrendanBook, InstaBrendan, Britter

PS—New podcast should be coming soon. It’s been challenging lining up guests. Some have been difficult to reach. Others the timing has been off. It’s coming. Thanks for listening. There’s 20 episodes to learn from!

PPS—Share with a friend. Share with your networks. Only if you think it helps.