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Sunday, May 18, 2014

MY FRIEND HENRY MILLER


Continuing to look for where my own art impulse came from. I know it is in childhood somewhere, because all the way along I longed for art expression. I had self-esteem issues that were debilitating, stopping the kid from doing something I might want to do by telling self I'm not able for any of a number of possible reasons. I'd learned to believe that anything I thought up had been thought before. Anything I can do, somebody else can do better. Or I'll never be able to accomplish, I don't know enough, am not detail-oriented enough. The list can go on forever because these roadblocks are arbitrary, imagined for the particular occasion. All through school I was taught from all directions that if you're going to do something you gotta be great. You gotta make an A. You gotta make a lot of money. You gotta be a leader. I never wanted to be any of that, I, myself. My learning mind was engaged in trying to figure out how this world works and how to get used to its ways and enter that jumble and make a living. It was hard for me to learn it well enough to believe I could jump in and swim. I didn't want to learn it. Gave it a go in college years and a few years after, but it didn't take. I only knew what I did not want as far as work or career is concerned, yet at the same time I had wants that were inaccessible, like a half a million dollar Italian sports car, teenage stuff. In my teens, music was the first art form I paid attention to, rock & roll. Little Richard's early songs had some pretty good lyrics, so did Chuck Berry's. I was drawn to songs with more or less artful lyrics and musicianship. Always listened closely to individual instruments in the bands. Never learned an instrument. Too much chaos in the air at home to allow for learning. And too much chaos inside my head. I knew no one who had ever heard of art. Yet I had a longing inside for some kind of artistic self-expression, believed only gifted people could do art, and it had to be learned with years of training, or so I'd been led to believe. This was the Fifties when abstract expressionism was happening in New York and nobody outside New York knew about it, except in the universities I had no access to.
 
 
 
It is looking like the longing to write came from the childhood years of lying in the bed at night crying from frustration and rage, I felt like I had valuable things to say, understandings I wanted to write down so I'd remember them. I didn't write them because I had no privacy. I was given a diary for a birthday and never wrote in it knowing mother would read whatever I wrote and tell daddy what she saw. I learned to keep to myself any ideas or insights, new understandings. I'm recalling at an age of around ten I'd been out riding the bicycle on an old dirt road through a big field that seemed endless to a kid. I listened to the crows and watched them fly. They were saying haw, haw. It was not caw, but haw. I listened and listened. It was always haw, not caw. Later, at home, excited about my discovery, the kid told daddy the crows are saying haw, not caw. That set him off. NO THEY DON'T--THEY GO KAW, emphasis on the K. By this time, the kid was accustomed to it. Of course, they say KAW. Nothing came of that. By this time I already knew better that to try to talk to him, but was so excited by the discovery about the crows, I kicked myself later for being so ignorant to forget rule number one: do not attempt to talk to him--you know better. That was probably the last attempt I made. It was excitement that made me go against what I knew, so I got with myself about letting excitement take me out of control. He taught the kid self-control because every attempt to approach him with positive attention was turned immediately into negative return. At age 14 crying in the bed at night, the kid got with self and made a vow, I will never cry over them the rest of my life for any reason. That was the end of it. Never cried over anything having to do with either one of them again. Didn't have a problem with crying for some other reason. It was in that time I secured my heart in a vault and forgot the password. School was my safe zone. It's where I found others I liked who liked me. School was where my friends were.
 

 
I had a longing to write, but could not write. It was all I could do to write a one page paper for a class. Had zero command of the language. Had a natural gift for spelling. Or so it seemed. By the end of high school I could not write anything that would make sense. Had a longing to learn the language. By end of high school, I could not read with even minimum comprehension. I dove into reading when school was over. I wanted to go to college, but knew I could not read. Tried taking some classes and learned I wasn't even ready to start. Didn't even consider taking an art class, self-esteem on the bottom of the ocean. Didn't believe they'd even let me in. I was drawn more to learn the language, learn to read with comprehension, feeling a longing to write, knowing I did not know how to write. I read as much as spare time allowed. Bought paperbacks of best-sellers from drugstore paperback racks. Found some interesting books there. Found The Third Eye, the story of the Tibetan monk. It blew my circuits. The ultimate escape from my reality. But I knew I could not sit still that much. Read Alan Watts' The Way of Zen. Didn't get it, but got it read. Some understandings sifted through the chaos of my mind and were retained. It was an introduction to future readings of journals of Zen monks, like Hakuin, that served later to inform reading Chinese and Japanese poetry with a little better understanding than without the peephole into the spiritual vision of the East. I gradually took an interest in Eastern religions, Buddhism and Hinduism. From what I saw in the reading, it was the same as Bible teachings, different places, different names, the same stories. I was going the way of mind, the path of knowledge. I knew I was the bottom of the barrel where knowledge was concerned, and I wanted to correct that. I wanted to learn how to read and learn how to write. I felt like I had something to say without knowing what it was. A rumbling within needed expression.
 
 
 
Here, again, Henry Miller enters. I found a friend when Henry Miller entered my life. Getting close to the core of the matter now. Almost finished  rereading his Colossus of Maroussi, I am seeing, page after page, how I retained what I learned from him and what I learned from him became my own way of living. He encouraged my interest in art. And he encouraged my interest in writing. The interest was already there. Upon college graduation, I worked a year, saved money, sold everything I had with the exception of some LPs and books. Spent a month in Athens. Went to the acropolis half a dozen times, the museum of antiquities, and went to Crete and took a bus from Iraklion across the island to Phaestos to see the ruins of Knossos, the beginning of Greek civilization. And back to the mainland at Athens, took a one day tour bus to the ruins at Delphi. Reading earlier today I came upon his visit to Delphi and before that his visit to Crete. I had forgotten that Miller was the motivation for me to want to go to those places. He published the book a year before I was born. It was almost thirty years after his visit that I was there. Nothing had changed in those places. Reading it now, I can see in my mind's eye the places he saw and wrote about. We took the same road across Crete, and I saw the same landscape he saw. It really is as magical as he tells it. By magical I mean it has a glow about it, like an aura that is not visible, though it enhances the visible, gives the feeling that it's alive. So it's Henry Miller where I got my fascination for Greece, modern Greece more than ancient Greece, though the Greek plays are a pinnacle of art. It is still a regret within that the library in Alexandria burned and took so much we'll never see. It makes what we have all the more precious, Medea, Prometheus Bound, Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone. They make Shakespeare seem provincial. It is looking I have to point to Henry Miller for the core of my impulse to art by writing. Meher Baba came along later and opened my heart with a can opener. It took awhile. By this time in the life, I feel like my heart has opened sufficiently that I can live by a balance of head and heart, and write from that balance. And from the balance possibly be able to write something from time to time worth reading.
 
 
the dalai lama
 
 
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2 comments:

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  2. My heart cries at the repression that took place in your early formative years.The cruelty you endured in order to survive but my heart sings when I realize how much you have learned and how you have grown and the man artist you have become. All of our experiences collectively are what makes us who we are today. You have a wealth of experiences and the depth of your being shows through...

    These last few blogs have been an exhilarating and educational experience for me...Looking forward to the next one.

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