Flat White

Why I write or Hemingway’s chicken suit

29 August 2021

12:00 PM

29 August 2021

12:00 PM

Flat White lore is rich with stories of those who didn’t quite make it and those who did make it but we really wish hadn’t, and those who may make it very soon if we don’t do something to stop it.  

For example, did you know that Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull once pitched a column to the Speccie about vertical integration and climate change based entirely on the Abbott and Costello ‘who’s on first ‘routine, but it didn’t go ahead when they couldn’t agree whether to publish in Mandarin or CCP. Besides Julian Burnside found it ‘Too Jewish’ (the title of his self-help book on Greens pre-selection). But you’re never going to hear about that in the mainstream media. I blame Murdoch. 

Which brings me to Ernest Hemingway and whether he would have written for Flat White. I’ve been watching SBS during lockdown, which is like the MSM without ratings, and in particular Hemingway the 45-part documentary on America’s greatest drunk writer other than Norman Mailer and maybe F Scott Fitzgerald when he wasn’t sober. I’m wondering how a favourable documentary about a SWAM (Sexist White Alcoholic Male) who wasn’t Bob Ellis managed to get past the SBS gatekeepers.  

The series, which unlike his sparse sentence structure, and protestant pathos is very long, self-indulgent and full of knowledgeable female academics talking gender spectrums rather than about traditional female roles like romantically raising children in a Paris bedsit on your parents money, or attending the bull fighting and having drunken affairs with Spanish matadors. But still worth the view if you are drunk, depressed and considering suicide while writing a novel because you can’t get past the critical second paragraph.  

As related by one female Ernest Expert while she’s field dressing a deer, at one point a despairing, ageing Hemingway disembarks from a private aircraft and tries to end it by walking into the still-turning propeller, and of course the Flat White writer in me thought: Walking into Propellers, what a great title for an article about the upcoming federal election.  

This is a series about words and the best words they quote Hemingway saying is that, ‘there is no left and right in writing. There is only good and bad writing.’ But he wrote that when he was sober, so as a SWAM it doesn’t count and if the organisers of the upcoming but covid delayed Melbourne Writers Festival could please stop rolling around laughing now. 

I often hear that the best thing about lockdown is all the time it gives you to write. But it’s a false economy and more like when you let your dog out into the backyard because she keeps bringing you the ball when you’re writing and you say go on then, have a run you furry, wet nosed bitch. There’s the sudden look of betrayal, the behind sniffing, then the sulky return to the kennel. 

When I write about writing, I often think of my kind school friend Khoi who is not a writer and doesn’t look like Hemingway but who has taken to Facebook during the pandemic with its lockdowns rituals and please have sex with me Dan memes. None of this for the strictly non-political Khoi though. Some evenings to please himself, he posts lonely selfies wearing a slightly tired, yellow chicken suit. When some cynic-friend comments: ‘Did you lose a bet Khoi’, he responds; ‘I feel like I won a bet!’ Which is very Hemingway when you think about it and note the effective use of the exclamation point. 

He also performs karaoke, singing Elvis – his favorite, ‘Love Me Tender’, that gains favourable thumbs-up from his excitable online female fan base in Vietnam. Sometimes he sings while wearing the chicken suit at the same time. When I ask why he posts, he says. I’m at my happiest when I’m singing karaoke.’ 

And I realize writing is my karaoke. And that’s why I write for Flat White because it makes me happy and most importantly stops someone getting ahead of me in the writer’s queue. Let’s face it, writing is really about revenge and remembering all the things they have done to you, whoever ‘they’ are, and sometimes it helps if you wear a chicken suit while doing this. You should try it. 

Michael Scammell’s articles are all free-range. He writes at https://mdswords.wordpress.com and Tweets at @MichaelScammell. 

Hemingway: the documentary is currently streaming on SBS on Demand.

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