Today, February 21, 2014 is Anaïs Nin’s 111th anniversary of her birth. She died in 1977.
She was the artist and writer who inspired me to read more books (she detailed and listed classics of literature in her literary diaries and helped in no small way to introduce me to much of the more interesting side of the western canon.
I found her through Henry Miller, who was recommended to me at 17 by a smug faced twenty something dishwasher at the restaurant I was a cashier girl and bartender for, the famed Harvard haunt Bartley’s in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
I found Anaïs searching for another Miller book to read after Crazy Cock and Tropic of Cancer, and ironically, (I would find out later), I found Anaïs and forgot about Henry for awhile , until I got to Henry & June, in which he featured.
I spent a lot of time as an English major and bookish girl trawling the college library shelves and the second hand bookshops of Boston and Cambridge. Nin’s childhood diary Linotte literally jumped from the shelf when I was looking for Henry and landed in front of my feet. How could I refuse a book hurling itself at me? It was a sign from the fates.
I picked up her beautifully written, rather innocent, girlhood journal which began as a letter to her absent father at aged 11 as she sailed across the sea to New York and the new world with her European mother and brothers. I couldn’t put the book down and when it was finished I eagerly sought out the continued series of Diaries which detail her whole life from ages 11 to seventy something. I also read her fiction, novellas, poetry and my personal favorite, her astounding literary criticism and advice on writing. D. H. Lawrence: An Unprofessional Study and In Favour of the Sensitive Man are two stand outs.
As I sit here and sip champagne and blood orange juice and re-read her timeless quotes, I am reminded of how radical her thinking and living was to a teenage girl who loved the lost generation and the 1920s. Anaïs not only encouraged me to travel, she encouraged me to read what I wanted and to write, to paint, to sketch, to meet people, to look for adventure, to see the magic in every day life, to risk things. To question authority and identity and ask myself the questions: is there really only one self or multiple selves? Can dreams ever be actualized? Can a woman really live more than one life? Can life be fantastic some times? What role do I want to play in the world?
Although, like Anaïs, I grew up with an absent father and an artist mother who had to work very hard just to feed, shelter and clothe her and her children, and who was poor growing up, I followed her lead in dreaming big and making plans to see the world and pursue art and culture because that is what mattered to me. I refused to see them as out of reach. And today I have been able to realize those dreams, step by step, of traveling and becoming intimately acquainted with Italy and other places I love. I have pursued my love of photography and writing.
It is not always easy to feel talented or confident about your work but I do try to search for the marvelous in every day life and seek out the fantastic and what moves me.
I try to engage with people who are also questioning life and their assigned roles, other artists and thinkers. I pursue passions and pleasures and try to find a balance…
I can be too much of an extremist, hedonist or dreamer some times in an absent minded professor way, which isn’t always great for paying the bills and attending to mundane responsibilities!
But I have had the attitude that we are here now, we live now, and I don’t want to wait until I am retired to see and experience the world. I also look for art and culture where I live and in creative friendships and partnerships which enrichen and enliven, as Anaïs did with some of the most creative and eclectic minds of the 20th century.
Nin’s dragged up relationship dramas aside, I focus on the brilliant, courageous, rebellious, mischievous, fascinating, multi-layered, artistic, open writer Anaïs Nin was and in her gorgeous, atmospheric, insightful writing, I find that constant source of clarity and inspiration I need to live fully in my dreams and in the day to day.
I owe such a tremendous debt to Anaïs Nin and her work.
You can also find me on twitter quoting her work:
I had always believed in Andre Breton’s freedom, to write as one thinks, in the order and disorder in which one feels and thinks, to follow sensations and absurd correlations of events and images, to trust to the new realms they lead one into.
“The cult of the marvelous.” Also the cult of the unconscious leadership, the cult of mystery, the evasion of false logic. The cult of the unconscious as proclaimed by Rimbaud. It is not madness. It is an effort to transcend the rigidities and the patterns made by the rational mind.
Winter, 1931-1932 The Diary of Anaïs Nin , Volume One 1931-1934
You live like this, sheltered, in a delicate world, and you believe you are living. Then you read a book (Lady Chatterley, for instance), or you take a trip, or you talk with Richard, and you discover that you are not living, that you are hibernating. The symptoms of hibernating are easily detectable: first, restlessness. The second symptom (when hibernating becomes dangerous and might degenerate into death): absence of pleasure. That is all. It appears like an innocuous illness. Monotony, boredom, death. Millions live like this (or die like this) without knowing it. They work in offices. They drive a car. They picnic with their families. They raise children. And then some shock treatment takes place, a person, a book, a song, and it awakens them and saves them from death.
The Diary of Anaïs Nin , Volume One 1931-1934