For the last two years I’ve been reading the top 100 novels of all time. I read a couple of hard ones (requiring a lot of concentration, like Ulysses) then I throw in a Hemingway novel, which are quite easy to read. Presently, I’m reading Islands in the Stream.
I was introduced to fiction by two sons, Ramsey and Tyler. Both of them are great fans of Hemingway. Tyler in particular seemed to be infatuated with the bohemian lifestyle of Hemingway and his friends (pictured above in a Paris bar). His fictional stories mirrored his real life at that time, living in Paris (or other exotic places) and hanging out with his friends all day long and not working a 9-5 er.
I have found myself now being lured by that mirage of utopia. I mean, if God told me to create a New World (or Heaven if you prefer) it would be a small village on the sea (like I live in now) or in the Alps. In that village, I would have no responsibilities, but to get up and come down to the café and sit and drink coffee. Now Hemingway et al, consumed alcohol . . . but alcohol has never been one of my vices . . . yet.
But that would be my utopia. No meetings that I HAD to attend. No one counting on me to do x, y and z . . . by tonight and if I don't do them, I'm just an asshole. Just good coffee, beautiful views and real, deep, meaningful conversations with true friends. These would be friends that accept me warts and all where I would wear no mask. I have no friends like that right now, but I have had a handful in my life.
But I’ve noticed something; a common theme in all of Hemingway’s books, and in many other areas of life. For example, I just restarted my film club. On our first night we had 13 people. We watched, The Adjustment Bureau. In that film the men in the “bureau” (who worked for the chairman, who may represent God or god) made an interesting comment. They said they controlled (in a fatalistic way) humanity for most of their history. Twice, when things were going really well, they took off the controls. The first time people were in control of their own destiny, people left utopia and created the terrible Dark Ages. The second time they stepped back, humanity created WWI, the Holocaust, WWII, then to the brink of nuclear holocaust . . . so they stepped back in to fix things. Of course that is pure fiction.
But in fiction, and in reality, the Hemingway et al gang couldn’t leave utopia alone. Here they lived on the beach or in Paris and all they have to do is, like Solomon recommended, was to enjoy the fruits of life . . . but they had to screw it up . . . each and every time. In the Hemingway novels, the characters always messed things up by having affairs with each other’s wives, killing someone in a drunken, jealous rage. Then suicides would come. Then in his fictional mirror and in his real life, alcohol washed the beautiful canvas into a blurry mess. What's wrong with us?
I think one of the greatest gifts, and lesson from Solomon, is to learn to accept utopia . . . leave it the hell alone, and enjoy each taste of good coffee, each sentence in a deep conversation with a dear friend.
My children are my best friends because they do know me warts and all. I savor those moments in the coffee shop, which are becoming rarer and rarer these days, as my piece of utopia. But in the life to come, I will spend my days walking in high mountain meadows, listening to beautiful music, sipping coffee with dear friends, and learning to leave utopia alone. If only we could do that now. If only. Crap, I've got to finish my coffee and go catch a plane to Phoenix for a meeting!