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Sunday, May 11, 2014

IMITATING HENRY MILLER'S ART

 
fiddle head fern

A week has gone by since Trish Weaver's prompt for a theme, life imitating art, art imitating art. I've meant every day to pursue the prompt, but didn't feel ready. I like the clever pictures some people have made in response, posing next to a painting or a sculpture in the same pose. I want to do it in writing. How to approach it has been a puzzle. It came to me in the middle of the week that I am reading Henry Miller's Colossus of Maroussi, a book that influenced my life more than I know. I'm discovering its influence as I read, remembering much that was forgotten. It has influenced my writing without me knowing it until now, reading Henry Miller again after fifteen to twenty years of not reading anything by him. A few times I've found interviews with him on YouTube. I'd forgotten the flow of his writing style, which I'm loving even more now than then. I'd bought the Penguin paperback in a bookstore I found in Athens when the ship I was on spent a few days in port there. I made a bee line to the Acropolis that stands on a hill in the center of the city. I didn't know anything about it except that these were foundation stones in Western Civ. Then, I was in the last month of being 22, barely literate, buried under a mountain of responsibilities to other people's expectations. In the time of the life when I didn't know how to be responsible. Still don't, but really did not then. I was in a state of confusion like a blender on HI chopping walnuts that look like atrophied brains. I was reading JD Salinger, Albert Camus, Jean Genet, the darling of the French Existentialists, an idealized unrepentant criminal who could only write in prison. The French writers appealed to the government to let him out, he's such a flower in this world. Out of prison he could not write, and was a menace to society. He was a thief who idealized the life of a thief. In popular lingo of today, he had no moral compass. And he was a brilliant writer, Rimbaud again, this time in prose. In 1972, I had the privilege by way of chance to see an opening night performance of Genet's play, The Balcony. Royal Shakespeare Company in London with actors like Ian Holmes, Vivien Merchant. I didn't care what night it was for the play, I was in awe of the opportunity to be in London at the same time it was playing.
 
 
jack in the pulpits
 
I was reading some pretty heady stuff in the infancy of my literacy. I chose reading that would pull me along, reading that required close attention. If it wasn't out in front of me, almost beyond my reach, it bored me. I felt so incredibly uneducated, coming out of high school barely able to read with comprehension, unable to focus attention, rejecting religion as a tumor on the brain, the few controlling the many, looking for the perspective that was my own in the great Unknown of the interior self. I was in the waist of my own hourglass and didn't know it. I was passing from the world of living by other people's expectations to living by my own. Reading got me through the time when my head was in a knot.  Reading was something like looking out the window of a mental institution at the trees and birds. In that time of reading novels of WW2 French Resistance by Sartre and deBeauvoir, I was identifying with freedom fighters resisting the fascist invaders. In childhood, identity was with the Indians resisting the genocide by white man bearing superior technology, the Colt .45 and new diseases. Theretofore, my life had been ruled by expectations of others. Upon release from the Navy, I would begin same day the life of living by my own expectations, all obligations in the past. From that day onward I lived by my own obligations. Had jobs, of course, but they allowed me my own mind, would not have one that didn't. A momentum of learning was begun that carried into the education years and beyond unto the present and beyond. It was philosophical learning I sought, though in my case I wanted living philosophy, not analyzing the paragraphs of Plato. Reading philosophy I look for the practical understanding as it expresses in everyday life, the playing field where we live our lives. So long ago I have no recollection where it came from I read someone say of philosopher Hegel that his philosophy was a mansion and he lived in a shed out back. I wanted whatever philosophy I lived by to be the house I live in, be it big or small. I went with small. My home is the Air Bellows schoolhouse. It's where my parachute landed me.
 
may apples
 
The Charleston years were the learning years, another transition time, a decade of finding out what my interests were and following them. My self-education leaned more and more toward the spiritual, generated by interest in reading 20th Century American poetry, and in translation, French and Chinese, and prose writers of the world. The American writers of the 20th Century were very much my guides, something like taking a deer path through the woods, flow with it, go with its own direction and see where it leads. I came to a place of wanting to let go of looking consciously for my own direction, made the decision one Tuesday at lunch in Frieda's Café to give over to chance, allow chance, see where it goes. I started feeling like a consciousness was directing what was happening in my day to day experience for a few weeks. Feeling at a turning point, I didn't know which way to turn, what the choices were. I let chance have it. Came to a place I felt I needed to step out of my life for at least a few days. Was thinking about taking a bus to a small town I'd never heard of, rent a room in a motel for a few days and nights, stay in the room, eat at a diner, and come to terms with a feeling of stasis in my self. I was visiting with my friend Ann one weekend afternoon when a guy came by to pick up a kitten. Her cat had babies and she was giving them out to their new homes. I have no recollection how we got on the subject, I came to telling of my need to get away for a few days to be alone with no distractions. He mentioned a spiritual retreat between Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach, 500 acres of virgin forest on the beach. It was only $3 a night. It was a retreat for the lovers of Meher Baba. I told him I wasn't interested in gurus. He said it didn't matter, I'd have a space to myself, no programs, no yoga classes, free to roam. Two days of picking up a paperback of Meher Baba's discourses that was laying about in a communal area, opening it randomly, open to chance for my guide at the time, I read the first paragraph on the page my eye fell upon. For hours, both days, I did this. Every time I opened the book I was given a direct answer to one of my big questions, every time. In this way, Meher Baba answered all my big questions in two days. What else could I say but, That was good.  
 
jack in the pulpit
 
For the first time in my life I saw that God indeed is. It was the religion I turned my back to, not God. I found in those two days I had not thrown Jesus out with the Fundamentalist religion as I thought I had. He had continued within as my most inner authority. I did not see that coming. All the years of believing I was an atheist I was fooling myself. I was shedding all that was false from what was real. It blued my circuits electric blue. Major surprise. I felt like a fish swimming in a lake, sees a plump bug, gobbles it down and it has a hook in it, the hook pulls me to the shore as is said in the old hymn. From then on I could not live as if I didn't know God is. My direction had made a 180 degree turn in three days. from outward to inward. I spent the next year reading Meher Baba's discourses, biographies, memoirs by ones from his inner circle. In that time an opportunity opened up to take a job caretaking a farm of 23 head of cows and Christmas trees and live in the house my life had aimed me toward. Came to the mountains to study, to learn, to become one with the earth around me, under my feet, learn the ways of the ones that can't talk as we do, the crows, dogs, cows, trees. The fly walking on the glass, the crow walking in the meadow. They are conscious as I am. We have different levels of consciousness. I live in a world where everything is conscious, the ferns opening up, the wild violets blooming, the bird on the rhododendron branch, the rhododendron. And then I rediscovered Henry Miller, found he had the same spiritual understanding I had, found him all the more interesting. Years later, I wanted to make myself write every day, anything, a journal where anything goes as long as it's decent. Five years of writing every day, I open and start reading Colossus of Maroussi and a flood of memory takes me to seeing how much I live in the world around me like Henry Miller. Then I start seeing I write like him. Long paragraphs. I'd forgotten he wrote in long paragraphs. First person experience, making everyday life experience important. I've been seeing this week that Henry Miller's art form became a subconscious model for my life and writing. I dare not compare or contrast myself with Henry Miller's writing, his is so beautiful and mine is so plain, he gets down into the soul and I maybe get as close as a peep through a keyhole. It's OK. I'm not competing, just putting down the flow of my thoughts, seeing subjective experience the closest we can get in writing to what we call reality, where the spiritual world and the physical world are one.
 
 
quan yin on cloud mountain
 
 
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2 comments:

  1. Tj, this is the essence of why it is such a treasure to come back to this column day after day…"seeing subjective experience the closest we can get in writing to what we call reality, where the spiritual world and the physical world are one." Thank you for being such an inspiration to keep on it.

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  2. I enjoyed this writing about you and how you got to where you are now. I would love to be able to know myself as you have learned about yourself. You have connected your spirituality with your physical being and all the beings in your world. I am still working on my physical and have about given up on my spiritual..Maybe that is why I am in such a funk now a days...Not old age just being unsure...Great blog. Thanks Tj..

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