I read a quote from Ernest Hemingway once that I thought was so good that I wrote it down in a book of quotes I keep. He said, “I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that feed it.”
That statement contains a lot of ‘stuff.’ Wells make interesting metaphors, I think, for writer-types. Wells are deep, and the waters they contain were meant to be predictable, and refreshing, and ‘available.’ No one would want to come to a well that was dry as sand. And, no one would want to read a book that’s as dry as the paper it’s printed on. Comparing wells of water to ‘wells of words’ creates pictures in my mind that I can easily identify with. The empty well, the ‘deep part of the well,’ the ‘refill at night’ and ‘the springs that feed’ the well — all of those metaphoric references resonate with my writer-self. Good writing takes good thinking. And distilled thought always needs to come as a result of fresh perspective that’s replenished on a regular basis.
Hemingway’s quote resonates with my ‘living-self,’ too. You don’t have to be a writer to see the importance of being ‘restored’ at regular intervals. I think most people understand the need for recreating, resting, measuring or meting out the moments we have to live each day in a way that will leave something ‘in the well.’ At the risk of mixing metaphors, running along in everyday life without paying heed to what’s left in the bottom of the well-spring of my life is not unlike my paying no attention to the balance in my checkbook, but writing checks to everyone I meet, hoping I’ve got money in the bank to cover them. Simply put: that’s crazy.
The most troubling part of Hemingway’s quote for me, however, is not the ‘well’ part. It’s the ‘sick’ part, the tragic part, the ‘verb’ part, or the ‘doing’ part of the quote. Read it again, and you’ll see. Hemingway, that giant writer and wordsmith and genius and tragic figure said in the first two words of his quote something that wasn’t exactly correct. He said, “I learned ….” He said, “I learned never to empty the well ….’ Really? Really, did he learn?
I have a great picture of Hemingway on the wall of my office at home. I often look at it and wonder what his life and writing could have been like if he’d have learned to pay attention to the ‘well-ness’ of his life as carefully as he monitored the wellspring of his words. Such a sad and tragic man; such a sad and tragic life. Ended by his own hand; ended by his own neglect. He failed to allow his life to be filled at The Spring.
Today, I’m going out to the river and watch it flow by.
Today, I’m going to listen to birds, sing me a song.
Today, I’m going to do a ‘mark twain,’ a sounding of the bottom, a measuring of how much water remains in the well called ‘me.’ And as I sit there along that river bank, I hope and pray to God … I hope and pray to The Well of Living Water, that I will have learned something important, again: Every day of my life, I need to practice ‘stopping.’ I need to stop the ‘doing’ of whatever craziness has come my way during each day, while there is still something left in the well, stop, while it is still ‘well’ with my soul.