Last night, I dreamt I was drinking scotch in a tavern. There was a man alone sitting in the corner, chomping on his cigar and sipping his single malt. The bartender was flirting with two leather-faced women who painted their age with pink lipstick. The women were distracting. They didn’t realize the only other sound in the bar was the man shuffling his papers.
Annoyed at the interference, I decided to go to the bathroom and then leave. Walking past the loner cigar-chomper, I caught a glimpse of a scribbled line. “Fish, I love you and respect you, but I will kill you before this day ends.”
This is a place where one talks to strangers to bring them home or to never go home again. But I muster the courage to squeak out a feeble question.
“Excuse me, are you Ernest?”
He sneers at me through a puff of blue smoke and mutters, “Do I know you?”
“No, but I love your writing. It inspires me and helps me in what I do. You look smothered in your work, so I’ll leave you alone.”
“What do you do?”
“Umm, I’m an ad writer.” Even the sound of it coming out of my mouth makes me sound like a fraud.
“An ad writer, you say. You make it sound so trite. You sell your thoughts for money. Don’t we all. All of us, whores on the way to the corner, trying to make a buck while not drowning in our never-ending traffic of thoughts.”
“I guess so.”
“I know so. The world doesn’t value you until you do something great. For me, it’s writing a book that some critic decides is good enough to recommend. For you, the critic is the business client. My critics are predictable and loyal to their position. Your job is much more difficult.”
“I write one book every five years. Then I have years before I have to show people I’m still good to them. You have to convince your customers every day.”
The stool behind me crashed, and one of the ladies was giggling in surprise and embarrassment on the floor. She shakes it off and asks for another shot of vodka.
“Mr. Hemingway, do you have any advice for me?”
“First, stop buying the cheap scotch. Life is a wonder. Sometimes I wonder why I’m alive, and other times I wonder why I’m still not dead. When the dreary thoughts vanish, I enjoy a good sniff of scotch. Ask for expensive stuff. The bartender won’t offer it unless you ask. He’ll assume you’re cheap like all the other rats who enter his slum.
Second, business is like writing. You have to find your own style and stick to it. Don’t worry about what others are doing. You’ll hate them if they’re doing it better than you. You’ll hate yourself for not being better than them. And if your competition is bad at it, you’ll hate them because they are just bad at it.
Be yourself, kid. Don’t fret about the bastard across the street. He’s a bastard. Not even his father could stand the look of him.”
“Isn’t there something to learn from observing what the competition is doing?”
“Yes. You’ll know what you won’t be able to do. But your mind will keep focusing on what they do, and somehow their inferior thoughts transfer to you. Study music, go to museums, draw, write, dance, have sex. Whatever you do to relax is where you will find the door to inspiration. I drown myself in drink in places like this. It clears my head and my imagination.”
“I’ll let you get to your scotch. Thanks for your sage advice.”
As I walked out of the bar, my chest was numb with excitement.
I had just met Ernest Hemmingway.
More than just a chance encounter, he shared a secret that is transferrable to both my writing and my business knowledge.
Stop worrying about what the competition is doing. They’re all bastards. Get inspired by things they don’t understand.
Imagination is the key that opens the door to inspiration.