Hemingway on leisure

A great piece on Ernest Hemingway’s approach to leisure:

Hemingway had a zeal for making the most of life, not only in his professional vocation, but in his leisure time as well. Papa always wanted to be where the action was, not just as a spectator but as a participant; he wanted to experience what the world had to offer firsthand, with all five senses. In this he certainly succeeded, becoming not only a war correspondent and writer of classic novels, but a hunter, fisherman, sailor, amateur boxer and bullfighter, and world traveler. Few others in modern history have seen, heard, smelled, tasted, and touched so much. …

Papa embraced what he called “the fiesta concept of life.” He was always seeking after excitement and adventure and looking to have a “hell of a good time.” Hemingway’s friend, A. E. Hotchner, “had never seen anyone with such an aura of fun and well-being. He radiated it and everyone [around him] responded.” He was always looking forward to what was around the corner, and began each day with high expectations for what it would bring. In fact, he typically stood on the balls of his feet, like a boxer, seemingly ever ready to move, to fight, to leap into action, to go.

To get at the fun he so relished, we popularly imagine Hemingway taking a loose, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, party-on kind of approach to life.

But as Hotchner explains, Papa’s philosophy of leisure was actually the opposite of spontaneous…

The gusto with which Hemingway attacked his “leisure” time not only created incredible adventures for himself, but for those who enjoyed the exhilaration of being pulled into his orbit. As one friend remembered, “He generated excitement because he was so intense about everything, about writing and boxing, about good food and drink. Everything we did took on a new importance when he was with us.”

The fact that Hemingway rigorously planned out his good times, Hotchner adds, did not mean that there was no flexibility.” A visit to Paris that was supposed to be a two-day trip, could turn into a two-month stay. But it did mean that Hemingway, whether at home or on vacation, had a detailed idea of what he wanted to do each day — the places he wanted to visit, the people he wanted to see, the activities he wanted to partake of, the restaurants and bars in which he wanted to eat and drink. As Hotchner observes, each day “was set up carefully before it dawned or, at the very latest, at its dawning.” …

Hemingway wanted a life filled with excitement, drama, and real interest, and understood that those qualities wouldn’t just happen — they had to be intentionally planned for and created.

It’s a secret to good livin’ that commonly goes unrecognized. Even those who plan out their work days, don’t think of planning out their leisure time. Folks head into the weekend without any idea of what they’d like to do with it, and end up piddling around the house, surrendering to the inertia of television, and feeling restless come Monday that they let another 48 hours of potential fun slip away. Or they take trips without a real itinerary in mind, spend the days a little aimlessly, and return home feeling like they could have made more of their rare vacation time.

Plotting your “off hours” can help you make much more out of them.

It doesn’t mean scheduling out each hour of your evenings or weekends, nor carrying around a clipboard of activities on your vacation, and continually checking your watch to keep yourself moving between them. It doesn’t rule out flexibility, changing plans, and taking unforeseen detours. It doesn’t even necessarily require planning too far ahead.

“Everything we did took on a new importance when he was with us.”