One True Sentence
I have been in a severe writing funk ever since Covid hit the scene. Before that I was fairly vomiting out words at a pace equal to the water flowing in a rapidly moving river. I was kind of delusional at the time, suffering from some heavy personal losses and a few emotional setbacks. There's a lot of things I don't particularly do well anymore which shouldn't be too surprising considering that I recently reached my seventh decade on this wobbly little planet, and as the Grateful Dead used to say, "What a long strange trip its been!"
This morning I bought a book entitled One True Sentence based on the famous statement by Ernest Hemingway where he explained that his writing process was based on trying to create one true sentence and taking it from there. The premise of the book was to ask several writers and academics their favorite sentence from Hemingway's works. I love books that delve in the mystery and magic of great writing. I bought this one also because I know that I need a good kick in the ass, nudge in the right direction, or solid nod of the head to get my own juices flowing again.
I've decided to go through some my old stuff and look for the sentences that I'm most amazed that I came with; there are a few.
From- A Forward Looking Boy
One night I was walking home south on Estes looking up at a big full moon and feeling about as sad as a young man could possibly feel; I stopped beneath a streetlight to stare up at the moon for a moment; it really was a glorious sight, but I felt like I was dragging my feet instead of walking, and my poor heart felt like a small sack of cement that I was carrying around for the hell of it.
Hemingway was famous for his simple style, a poetic way of writing prose where a few words mean so much more than you would think possible. He also wrote complex sentences that did the same. I wrote this sentence about a time where an era (the 60's) was coming to an end. My roommate got busted for selling weed, and the girl that I was in love with told me that she didn't love me. I walked home to my parents house one night, and I came the tiniest little intersection in Corcoran. There was a huge full moon poised directly over the street light. I was only about a block from home but stopped to look at the moon and have a Carl Sandburg moment in the middle of the road less traveled. It was beautiful moment despite the sadness that I was feeling. I hate trite similes. The one about my heart was spot on.
From - Roadkill Lines the Road to Heaven
Road 36 that leads east and then north out of Corcoran is dangerous for dogs; I know this because of the two dead canines I've seen lying moldering on the side of the road within a few hundred yards of each other, forgotten pets whose only value now is to remind those who pass by of both the transitory nature of existence and the lethal character of four wheel vehicles moving at high speeds.
Another complex sentence, I include this one because it reminds me of the time when I could pull things out of nowhere merely by being observant. I would drive to practice in Visalia everyday and notice things, and by notice I mean seeing how ordinary things often carried a lot more meaning than we suppose. I was border line crazy a lot of the time, so I saw a lot of things that were hidden behind the billboards and peeking out of the shadows, and I paid a pretty hefty price for being able to use such things for inspiration.
From - The Lazarus Letters
“Dad’s dead; I was giving him a shower, and he collapsed; I picked him up, he looked up at me and died.”
The thing that Hemingway meant about writing one true sentence is that you had to write something that conveys the pure truth. A lot of people don't understand that Fiction is largely biographical and should, in most cases, be more truthful than isolated facts. I would call it transcendent truth, the kind of truth that everybody shares. A lot of Hemingway's work was based on his own experiences in WWI and in the pre-World War II period in Europe. At the deepest part of my battle with depression, I wrote a short, stream of conscious novel entitled The Lazarus Letters. Rereading it, I found that it was largely autobiographical. If you are going to write good fiction, it needs above all other things to be based on truth. The sentence above was spoken on the phone by my older brother as I was coming to pick up my father to take him to the doctor. Detailing how you found out your father had died is about as truthful as you can get.
From - The Holy Wars
"Churches are a good thing, no, make that a great thing, Son, but never go around thinking that they ain't people in them that don't need punched in the nose from time to time."
I put these words in my dad's mouth in a short story I wrote to convey my problematic experiences with organized religion. For one thing, nearly every time I went to church on Sunday, I found my self lusting after the preacher's daughter, my girlfriend at the time. Dad never actually said them but he was a lot less pompous and holier-than-thou than most religious people I knew. My first experiences with Church was a lot less spiritually smooth than it should have been, and I mainly came away with the idea that there's a lot more hypocrites in this world than there generally needs to be, and a lot more than you would suppose sing hymns on Sunday mornings. I'm kind of glad that I came by my spiritually the hard way though. It seems to stick to your ribs a lot better when you have to test out everything you learn to see how it stacks up against observable realities. And I ain't saying that because I trust scientists any more than I would trust a Baptist preacher, or a car salesman for that matter.
From - Old Dudes Fishing
"That old thing drove like a tank."
I wrote this sentimental story about three old friends and the cold, hard reality of inevitable change. One of the friends is forced because of age related illness to go and live with his son's family in the Bay Area and the other two are force to confront the bleakness of their own future. This was the last sentence of the story, and I set it up when the main character remembers the night that his life-long neighbor and friend's dad died and the three of them sat up all night in the bed of an old Chevy truck talking about life. He never mentions the truck out loud, but his friend knew him so well that he throws this line out before he leaves to go home. The incident that inspired the telepathic conversation was real. Me and a friend sat on a ditch bank drinking beer the night his dad died from cancer. It's a simple line but the message it conveys is very deep and very real.
From - Fathers and Sons
What I also didn't know was that because of this "settling" thing I was also under an obligation to recreate the world anew for her every morning, to fill her heart with wonder and amazement, to never let her for moment doubt the beauty and power of her own imagination, and mainly to prove to her that at all times she was the very epicenter of our universe, not only of my individual world, but of the part of the universe that we created together.
This is the most painful sentence I've ever written. I had just read a passage from Harold Bloom that mentioned that he thought that most of Jane Austin's heroines basically settled for comfort and safety rather than true love. It was only after I thought about it for a while that I first understood what true love really meant, and several years too late to save my marriage. In my defense, I never had anyone to teach me the lessons I needed to understand the true nature of things. I was a just punk kid when I found a girl who was willing to overlook all my shortcomings and take a chance with me. Every thing I knew about love came from TV commercials and Frankie Avalon movies. I didn't know squat about love. I don't think my dad did either. If he did, he sure didn't share it with me and any brothers. He was exceptionally loyal to mom, and loved her in his own, self-taught way, so my brothers and I learned to be loyal too. But that wasn't ever enough.