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Monday, May 19, 2014

READING HENRY MILLER: TO LIVE AND BE AWARE

henry miller

 
Over the last several days I've found some remarkable insights by way of Diana Toma's prompt in the Daily Creative Practice, where the art impulse came from in self. It was quite a subtle place to go to. I danced around it, spiraling in on the core of it, finding much inspiration toward art and writing from Henry Miller. "Just happen to be" reading his Colossus of Maroussi, a little at a time, rereading by a whim. Picked it from the shelf thinking I'd like to revisit Greece with Miller and dip into his writing again. Pinned down to name a favorite American writer, it has to be Henry Miller. He speaks to me like no other writer has. I've read biographies, memories of him, a lot of what he's written. Haven't read any of his Rosy Crucifixion trilogy, Sexus, Nexus and Plexus. They're too long and I'm a slow reader. I've wanted to read them since they were new, but thick books turn me away on sight. I don't care who wrote them. I'd like to read From Here To Eternity, by James Jones, but it is about four times too long for me. I've been saying of myself in the years after high school I could not read with comprehension. I read Colossus of Maroussi age 22. I picked it up to read it again half a century later to see what I missed, to enjoy it again, to read Henry Miller again. This time around I have found I comprehended more than I thought. It even felt like I had almost memorized the book. I didn't remember a lot of details, but saw a way of thinking, of looking at the world, an attitude toward life I have gradually shaped into my own life. No other writer I've read has seemed like somebody I know, a friend of many years. I found at the end of four days of self-examination looking for the origin of the art impulse in self, it was Henry Miller's influence. I've retained so well what he had to say, I realize now I was reading much closer then than I thought. I see in retrospect I had adopted Miller's way of seeing, his attitude toward life. When I started writing the daily blog, I had reasoned for myself over several years that first person observation is closer to the reality of living in this world than third person, I instead of he. I is more direct, more experiential.
 
henry miller by kalman aron
 
I set out with the notion that this blog is a record of one person's point of view and experience in one place, in one time. I decided at the start not to make any attempts to promote it, just let it be a daily journal. I chose not to make it spiffy online journalism of short paragraphs dealing only in the obvious. Since I tend to long paragraphs naturally, I decided not to chop them up into USA Today speak. I said, I don't care. I'm not in it for money, nor am I in it for popularity and maximum number of viewers. Decided to go ahead and write long paragraphs as I felt like doing. Paragraphs are getting closer to one sentence every year, to one phrase: See Spot run. I decided not to honor that progression, or degression, whichever, and do what I feel like doing. I saw Miller wrote in long sentences and first person. The influence is obvious to me now, but it happened unconsciously. I would never set out to write like Henry Miller, nor would I set out to paint like van Gogh. If ten times as many people would read it if I wrote short paragraphs, I don't want ten times more. I don't care how many see it. First, it is a journal to self, made public because I'd never do it for more than 4 days otherwise. Online gives me a deadline, makes me do it. I don't know who's seeing it, except for some friends, and don't know what others make of it, except for a few friends. That's enough. Feedback is important in any art form. I need feedback, practical feedback, mainly to know if it is connecting with anyone and how it's connecting. I've learned from feedback that when I write with a certain intent, though not stating the intent, it comes through. I've wondered over that one for years, how to get intent across without stating it directly. Turns out, it simply amounts to: intend it. That's one I like to play with in writing, seeing how intent comes through without consciously willing it. I don't mean for you to think I take myself so seriously by calling myself a writer that I'd compare my writing to Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, Henry Miller. Not at all. It is only recently that I've allowed myself to refer to self as writer. I write every day, the original and only intent of the blog. It's been five years of writing five or six days a week. So I call myself a writer. It doesn't mean I'm writing for the New Yorker or the Nation. Just the act of writing makes me a writer. If I ran several hours every day, I'd call myself a runner. When I paint, I am a painter. The blog is my art form in this time. Learning by doing. When somebody asks if I'm an artist, I say, "Sometimes." Sometimes I'm just filling up blank space. Sometimes I may even touch art in a sentence or two.

 
This was quite a revelation in self awareness finding how closely my early years were influenced by Henry Miller, to the point he has been a great influence on the way I live, the way I write. My artistic sensibilities were educated and inspired by Miller. My friend Jean used to tell me I am the perpetual college student, that I live like a college student. Part of what she meant was I live on the very least I can get by on. Like, again something applied from reading, Marcel Duchamp said, It's not what you make, it's what you spend. From reading Miller's writing and Duchamp's interviews, I learned the importance of living frugally. The less money I make, the less my contribution to the Pentagon, two-thirds of my tax dollars. I never felt right paying taxes to keep a war machine going, didn't like it, couldn't do anything about it, but I could arrange minimum contribution to the machine by living on the minimum. In retrospect, I learned that thinking from Henry Miller. Could possibly attribute same to Henry Thoreau. It was that kind of thinking I was drawn to, quiet civil disobedience. Miller had plenty of Thoreau influence. I think something in our society is nuts, I don't have to participate. The Sixties taught me the futility of political resistance. This time we're in now has taught me to stay out of politics altogether, don't even concern myself with pictures of politicians on facebook. Just keep on scrolling. I like the kind of civil disobedience that doesn't get me arrested and hit in the head with one of those cop sticks they get a cheap thrill out of bullying demonstrators with. I leave that to the players. I'm not a player. Lyndon Johnson and the corporate press made me a non-player the summer of 1968. Five years previously, he'd taken power by coup, the day the American dream of democracy died. I withdrew from all political activities. My only political act is voting, despite knowing voting is a joke on us. Pretend participation. Pretend having a voice. I divorce myself from concerns over American democracy. It is also from Henry Miller I developed and interest in American cultures, American history and awareness of politics. I've taken too much interest, just by paying attention. I see self withdrawing further from paying attention. I don't even care what Bill Maher or Jon Stewart are saying this week. They used to make me laugh. Now they make me think: stop making stupid people famous, the republicans they use for jokes.

 
Reading Colossus, I was in a time of wanting out of a screwed up marriage that didn't have a chance, two people didn't know each other turned out not to like each other. I was longing for the freedom to be on my own, no more being bitched at, gamed with, mother-in-law from hell. I saw too much of her in her daughter, realizing it would be a life of liking her less until it turned to living with miserable hate. I wasn't going to do like my parents and live in agony pretending we're all happy in Jesus. Her games got outta hand. I arrived at our address after six months in the Mediterranean. Some man I'd never seen was there with her. A friend from college days. It was a setup. She knew what time I'd be coming in. I walked in the door, saw him, knew her game and rejoiced inside like the young do now, pumping a fist in the air and hollering the Rebel yell, Hail Yeah! I had a lifetime training in keeping a straight face, not letting anything show but surprise. I went straight to him, shook his hand and said glad-to-meet-ya in the best cocktail party style I knew how. He was so nervous it made me feel mean, but I saw what was happening and it made me want to be mean. Didn't need to. This was the kickoff, I was on my way. No problem. Henry Miller saw me through that time. He showed me how to find my equilibrium alone without backup or being kept in line by a force outside myself. He was going it alone after a divorce, doing it well, revealing for me the interior life is the most important. Hooray for the freedom to have an interior life. Miller taught me to let go of concern over other people's judgment and expectations. Looking back to the time Henry Miller entered my awareness, I see now he became something of a lesser spiritual guide.  Since earliest childhood I knew I wanted to live alone all my life. That speed-bump was a mistake that needed settling. Miller was turned against religion, just like I was. He showed me how to live a life of self-awareness, self-education and fun. Enjoy your life. Live your life. Follow your own light. I did not know where that thinking started, and now it's spread out before me like a map on a table. I might want to read his book on Rimbaud again. I have to say, Thank you, Henry Miller, for my life. He's like a facebook friend; we never met, though we're awfully good friends. He didn't know it, but he ranks among the closest friends of my life. I didn't know it either. I have to say thanks to Diana Toma for the insight and to Ruth Schowalter for setting up this momentum called DCP that I have benefitted from in my interior existence and it's fun. Jerry Lee: a whole lotta fun goin on. Rock and roll all night.

 
 
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1 comment:

  1. My gosh Tj...You even resemble Henry Miller...Good job you have done with your life... Missed the blog this morning since I needed to leave early but enjoyed it now...another good read!

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