I have never read Henry Miller. I have always intended to, but it just hasn’t happened yet. I thought of him lots, mostly with regards to Anais Nin and their superfamous rampantly sexual goings ons. Though to be honest, I was never sure how much was written from the point of view of occurrence and how much was poetic license. They were writers, after all. I’ll grant that some of my best erotica is certainly stylized experience, but the fantastic will almost always be exactly that…
When I’ve pictured him in my mind, he’s kind of a cross between thompson and bukowski, with more emphasis on those things sensual. I imagined him with a cruel mouth, a sensualists mouth, a wry smile, a certain amount of impatience, both with himself and the world around him. I don’t know why I have this image. To this day, I cannot recall if I’ve ever seen a picture of him. I imagine, like Thompson, he’s an explorer of the spirit, of that beyond the veil of everyday existence. Slightly less illicit drug use? But an explorer nonetheless. Like Bukowski, he strips it bare, he tears at truth until she is naked before us, shreds of illusion clasped to herself at some habitual attempt for modesty. We know all too well that modesty suits truth as well as vanity suits compassion.
(when I speak of compassion I am not speaking of interference, the kind of compassion that ‘god-minded’ folk tend to inflict on indigenous cultures. I’m speaking of the ability to empathize and act accordingly. Sometimes the most compassionate thing one can do is to walk away from someone. But this is a rant for another day. And don’t get me started on “altruism!”)
I’ve been compared to Henry Miller (no, not my hairline, though there was that period when I was 19 and my hair fell out in spots all over my head..33 spots by the end of it…it all grew back, so…) which made me feel kinda weird. I’ve never read the guy. He seems to inspire polarized opinion when it comes to his writing, personality and lifestyle. I’ve heard him described as the most overrated, overinflated asshole who ever called himself an “artist.” I’ve heard tell that he is a most underrated luminary and intellectual, one of the greatest of any time, much less his own. Surely there must be a middle ground here somewhere.
I admit, often I forget that not everyone is like me in that they are consistently seeking balance in all things. Perhaps he would be enamoured of this notion that he causes such controversy. Indeed, I believe he was no stranger to it within his lifetime, though I have no way of knowing how he actually felt about it. I have friends who thrive on drama, even while insisting they can’t stand it. It inspires them to tread carefully, this manic emotional juggling act. If that’s what works, why not?
So, for a long time, it’s been my intention to read Henry Miller. I have this very oldfashioned, slightly romantic tendency when it comes to books. Or, rather, when books come to me. If there is an author of some classic or pertinent import, someone I know that I should, will, want to read at some point, I won’t go looking for them. I’ll let them find me when the time is right. It doesn’t always happen that way, but when it does it’s always exactly right.
For instance, I read The Fountainhead at age 13 because it seemed a natural progression from the vapid self indulgence of Holden Caulfield at 11 and the embittered reclusiveness of Sylvia Plath at 12. Wrong. It was long and tedious, how I imagine a russian winter might be like (or northern ontario for that matter..) and hopelessly adult. After my youthful idealism had been righteously tromped on by cold hard reality and the dualism of man, my almost 14 year old self found respite and a kindred spirit in the character of Dean Moriarty. Where Howard Roark was a slave to his own ideals, striving to remain true to a self that couldn’t help but be limited by self imposed blinders as to the nature of man, Dean Moriarty was a freedom fighter. An unapologetic rogue, a rapscallion of the highest order, an empty vessel, seeking to be filled with life and all her richness, whether it take the form of gold, music or tears.
I started hitchhiking the summer I turned 14. Short trips, triangle mountain to thetis lake. Metchosin to downtown victoria. Victoria to the ferry terminal. Vancouver to the kootenays…and beyond. Across countries, continents, cultures. Jack Kerouac was where I was at when I was 14. I don’t remember how the book came to me, but it did. I’ve still got the same copy, all the significant passages underlined.
“Sal, we gotta go and never stop going till we get there.”
“Where we going, man?”
“I don’t know but we gotta go.” was one of my favorites, but the classic, the mantra, the one I’ve tended to live by
I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars….or something like that..
But I never wanted to be the shambler, I was always convinced that I would be Dean. Someone else would be Sal, would catalogue the mayhem, keep track of the chaos and I would merely dwell within, allowing it to carry me where it would.. “It’s an anywhere road for anybody anyhow.”
I’m older now. I’ve lived long enough that the epiphanies, the realizations, the gospel truths I became aware of when I was 23, those things that I would carry with me forever! Because they were immutable, unshakeable, universal. Many of those things have fallen by the wayside. As concrete as they seemed at the time, there is always that one daisy who doesn’t give up and keeps pushing at the foundation until the stone cracks and the new ideas are allowed to grow.
So, the 13 year old who insisted she would never read Ayn Rand again grew to be a 30 year old, who came across Atlas Shrugged. Hesitant, yes, but open to the possibility that there could be something there for me. Oh my yes. There’s no way I could have read that book even at age 28 and felt the same way about it. Levels of self that I didn’t even know existed popped up and demanded not only recognition, but allegiance. Freaks. Who could have suspected that there was even one antisocialist bone in my delightfully bohemian body?
So there it is. Sometimes it takes a while, but when the time is right, the ideas convey that much more. Except when the reality doesn’t live up to the hype. I always wonder, in an instance like this, if in fact the literature speaks to me in a resonant way, is it because I look for something. I want to have synchronicity, connection, intellectual sensuality. Robert Anton Wilson makes my brain do back flips. He strokes my synaptic pathways in ways I never thought possible. I learned that when I was 19. I know that in that instance, it was the writing, there was no expectation of how I would react. Therein lies my hesitation. All this hype, years (since I was 17, when someone told me my writing reminded them of Miller. “Wasn’t he that guy who had sex with Maria de Madeiros and Uma Thurman in that movie about Paris in the 30’s?” “Um, yeah. Something like that. ” I’m suddenly very aware of perhaps why the books did not find their way to me after that exchange. For the trivia buffs, by the way, Uma Thurman and Maria de Madeiros went on to have roles in a movie together a few years later, though they never had even one scene together, much less a kissing session…) of anticipation, building up and so I decided, enough! This is the year I read Henry Miller!
For chrixtmix my folks bought me a gift certificate to a site that sells books (yay, books! I love books!) and I bought myself Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. Then I bought myself Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett and Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman and I acquired Artemis Fowl and some Richard Feynman (my favorite physicist!) and I even started into book five of the Malazan series!
I’m beginning to think that I’m scared. I can just imagine the places my brain would go if I let it.
“What if he sucks and since some dude who wanted to impress upon our 17 year old self how sexually liberated he was by comparing our teenage ramblings to that of an american who had extramarital affairs with a hot french woman in the 30’s told us we’re reminiscent of him then we must suck! For all time! Not just when we were 17 and were far too intelligent to be taken in by his attempts or far too ignorant of who Henry Miller was to realize there was a sexual angle being played there (yeah, unaware of boys and their ploys at 17…uh-huh..), but even if we were too smart to fall for his clumsy seduction that still means we’re comparable to someone who is overrated and boastful without any clout to back it up!”
“What if he’s awesome and that means that we are so much more talented than we originally thought and should move to Iceland and write our memoirs vaguely disguised as a novel until we get distracted by something shiny and end up following a guru who hugs people through India being completely sure that we are on the path to what it’s really all about without ever having to consider that we could have just as easily found that answer in Iceland if only we had sat still for longer than 12 seconds at a time!”
Unbridled madness. It’s just going to get kooky from here so I’ll quickly come around to the reason I started in the first place. After writing last night about validation I found it kind of cool that when I visited Gala Darlings’ site tonight, I found this quote by Mr. Miller.
“No man is great enough or wise enough for any of us to surrender our destiny to. The only way in which anyone can lead us is to restore to us the belief in our own guidance.” -Henry Miller
How absolutely marvelous, I thought. The man is channelling himself through a gorgeous and insightful sometimes pink haired ladyI happen to find delightful. Ok, perhaps it’s time. I’ll give him a whirl. I’ll read the book with callous disregard for any preconcieved notions I might have of his style, scope or content. Without any expectations of…ok..well, perhaps just one.
I mentioned earlier, how I had always felt I was destined to be Dean Moriarty, the lover of life, the dreamer of dreams. Later I came to realize that I felt quite intensely that I must be more of a Sal Paradise, the scribe, the shambler after the sparkly ones. I hated the idea of merely keeping track, doomed to history as the one outside of it.
But like I also mentioned earlier in this post, I aspire to balance in all things. So this shall be my one expectation of the writings of Henry Miller. That the life lived is worthy of celebration as expressly related by the one living it. If this expectation turns out to have a basis in reality, then perhaps the writings of Henry Miller and I are not so far removed from each other after all..
“The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.” -Henry Miller