The perfect sentence

The Capitol Steps, an improv group that likes to say they “put the ‘mock’ in democracy,” appeared at the annual dinner of the Luzerne County Community Foundation several years ago. One of their skits was introduced as “Ernest Hemingway Meets With a College Admissions Counselor.”
They brought out a table and two chairs. A woman sat on one chair behind the table and the other was placed alongside of it. In walked a young fellow who identified himself as “Ernest Hemingway.”
“Please have a seat, Mr. Hemingway,” the counselor said, “and tell me something about yourself.”
“Well,” the actor began, hesitatingly, “I think there’s a writer in me but there’s more I want out of life.”
“Such as …,” the counselor prodded.
“Well … I’d like to travel,” young ‘Hemingway’ began, “maybe live in Paris for a while. And I don’t even mind if I’m poor. Nothing wrong with poor. And I want to drink, brandy and whiskey and stuff. Lots of drinking. And carouse. Meet all sorts of women. Maybe marry a few times. And hang out with other artists. And maybe fight in a war. And possibly get into bull fighting. And then, after writing some books, eventually blow my brains out, I guess.”
“You’ll want Liberal Arts then,” the counselor advises without batting an eyelash.
I thought it hilarious.
And so sad.
I am a Hemingway fan. As are some of my friends. So when Joe Healey posted a photo of Hemingway raising a glass at a bar in Havanna on Facebook yesterday to mark Hemingway’s birthday, my friend James O’Malley immediately texted it to me. James once suggested he and I independently create lists of ten books everyone should read and then compare them. We each listed “A Farewell to Arms.”
Hemingway was born in 1899 and took his life in 1961. It will always surprise me that we were alive at the same time. I was 12 when he died and had yet to experience him.
My favorite Hemingway work may be “A Moveable Feast,” his memoir. And I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed “The Paris Wife,” Hemingway’s years in Chicago and Paris as told through the eyes of his first wife, Hadley Richardson.
Hemingway introduced the short, simple declarative sentence, the primary tool of the journalist, into literature. He strove all his life to write the perfect sentence. It is not as easy as it sounds.
“All you have to do,” he wrote, “is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
I share this with all my students.
Interestingly, I tell them I would delete the word “that” from the second part and make it simply, “Write the truest sentence you know.”
I delete a lot of “thats.” This particular instance aside, Hemingway gets the credit.

Ed Ackerman