What Hemingway Might Have Said About Facebook

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by Todd Lombardo

Writing, at its best, is a lonely life…He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.

— Ernest Hemingway’s Nobel Prize acceptance letter, December 10, 1954 in Stockholm.

The best writing is true. The best writing doesn’t need much in the way of adjectives and adverbs or prepositional phrases to give it power.

“I lost my way.”

“You broke my heart.”

Writing needs clarity of purpose, a singular idea, like:

“Few things are sadder than the truly monstrous.” Nathanael West, The Day of the Locust

“Life changes in an instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.” Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

“That I remember, even to forgetting I was poor and without an idea for a story.” John Fante, Ask The Dust

“I’m not too crazy about sick people.” J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

“I don’t even know Washington Irving’s name.” Joseph Heller, Catch-22

“He was an old man who fished alone.” Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

“You don’t have to be famous to be great.” Me.

To be mistaken for Hemingway or Didion or Heller would be a reason to live. To find the truth, to get to it sooner. I fail, often. I duck behind unnecessary words to mask feelings. It’s safer. I try again.

I’m afraid.

I do not aspire to Hemingway’s heartbreak or alcoholism or plane crashes or suicide, though I know conflict begets greatness; without loneliness, without pain, the sun would not also rise, and the old man would stay home.

I curse boulders that refuse to roll up the hill. I wonder if I have the only stones, or if I’m the only lonely, though there’s irony in that. I am curious about my lot in life, and yours. Some days I am lucky-ish; others, I’m jealous of what I think I know about you.

Facebook doesn’t help. Facebook and the others are the opposite of great writing, minus the most-clever tweets. Facebook isn’t loneliness, desperation, isolation, except for its unintended consequences. My friends don’t want to know who cried today, or who is frightened about getting older; or maybe it’s the person doing the crying who doesn’t want anybody to know.

Facebook isn’t loneliness, desperation, isolation, except for its unintended consequences.

I post instead about movies and museums and Manhattans, and the fabulous life I want you to believe I live. Maybe I’ll survive because of your perception of me.

Facebook is a game of oneupsmanship. I am guilty of playing.

Guilty.

The other day, dinner with a friend. Career success. Also: recovering from a stroke. The stroke didn’t make it onto Facebook.

Another: Tuesday coffee. The check-in made it onto Facebook. The topic: non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, did not.

Hemingway would have hated Facebook. Our selfie-indulgent, ain’t I great culture has turned sex tapes into fame, con-artists into presidents. We reward the best fake lives, and turn a blind eye to real suffering.

Facebook is the opposite of truth. Facebook is my best life, not my real life.

Truth is what brings us together. Truth doesn’t need superlatives. Great writing is truth, great writing reflects real life. That’s what Norman Lear knew when he created All In The Family in 1971. Truth is what brings the tears in act three, or the Pulitzer in May. In order to write tears, you have to have cried. In order to empathize with suffering, you must first have the scars.

Say what you want about Hemingway, he is acknowledged as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.

Facebook is the opposite of truth. Facebook is my best life, not my real life.

Here’s the thing. Facebook is not us. Facebook is the platform that enables our connections. Letter writing used to be the platform. So were phone calls. And emails. Now, it’s social. It’s up to us to bridge the gap, see the pain, open our arms to somebody’s suffering. Because one day it will be our turn.

Maybe Hemingway would have said, dig. That’s what all writers are attempting to do, right. Dig and search and find, until truth is out in the light. Light tends to scare off the monsters.

Courage takes courage.

Here, I’ll go first.

Todd Lombardo is a Digital Strategist and Editor at Mistress Agency in Los Angeles. Get off of Facebook and check out NPR’s 100 Best Novels of All Time list.