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June 2012

Tunes for a Monday Morning

Today tunes....

"Man on Fire" (above), the new video from Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes, celebrating the various dancers of New York...

...which reminded me of "Be My Honeypie" (below) by The Weepies, which was also filmed in New York City. I've posted this sweet video before, but it bears repeating!

I hope these two joyous tunes get your work week off to a lovely start.

Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes The Weepies
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes; and The Weepies

Inspired by the land

Copyright c Jackie Morris

Today's recommendation: The Sisterhood of Ruralists, featuring the very beautiful art of  Hannah Willow, Catherine Hyde, Tamsin Abott, and Jackie Morris.  The name of the group riffs on the name of a an older group of artists, The Brotherhood of Ruralists (formed in the 1970s), which was in turn a riff on the 19th century's Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

The image above, "The Space Between the Hare and the Fox," is a watercolour painting (with gold leaf) by Jackie Morris.

The courage to be bad

Tilly in the woods copy

"Most people don't know what they want or feel. And for everyone, myself included, it's very difficult to say what you mean when what you mean is painful. The most difficult thing in the world is to reveal yourself, to express what you have to.... As an artist, I feel that we must try many things -- but above all, we must dare to fail. You must have the courage to be bad -- to be willing to risk everything to really express it all."   - filmmaker John Cassavetes

The path through the woods

"The first draft of anything is shit."  - Ernest Hemingway

At the woodland's edge

"A writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view, a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway."  - Junot Díaz

Tilly June 2012

"Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep."  - comic strip artist Scott Adams

And I call it breathing

Paris cafe life between the wars (a National Geographic photograph, photographer unknown)

 Here are the rules Henry Miller made for himself while working on Tropic of Cancer in Paris in the early 1930s (with the support of his writing colleague and lover, Anaïs Nin):

  1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
  2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to "Black Spring."
  3. Don't be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
  4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
  5. When you can't create you can work.
  6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
  7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
  8. Don't be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
  9. Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
  10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
  11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

Henry Miller's typewriter

Henry Miller Paris notebook

We write, said Anaïs in her famous Diaries, "to heighten our own awareness of life. We write to lure and enchant and console others. We write to serenade out lovers. We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection. We write, like Proust, to render all of it eternal, and to persuade ourselves that it is eternal. We write to be able to transcend our life, to reach beyond it. We write to teach ourselves to speak with others, to record the journey into the labyrinth. We write to expand our world when we feel strangled, or constricted, or lonely...When I don’t write, I feel my world shrinking. I feel I am in prison. I feel I lose my fire and my color. It should be a necessity, as the sea needs to heave, and I call it breathing."

Anais Nin

Anais Nin and Henry Miller

I owe a huge debt to Anaïs Nin, because I fell into her diaries, essays, and collected letters in my twenties and thirties like a fish falling into water. She was, in some ways, a deeply flawed human being, and perhaps she makes a strange kind of hero for someone like me, committed to the ethical and spiritual dimensions of my craft as well as to the technical ones, but a hero and strong influence she remains nonetheless. I grew up at a time when feminism hadn't yet made much of a dent in the curriculum at my university, and in course after course the texts I studied were by men, men, men. I also spent my late teens and much of my twenties in a relationship with an older, better educated man who was very much the dominant partner...and when I came out of that at age 27, I was determined to be my own woman, both in life and art -- but I didn't yet know who that woman was. I knew little about the work or lives of the women writers and artists who had come before me; I had no role models.

So I did what I always do when facing the unknown: I turned to books to guide me. I read every biography, autobiography, diary, or collection of letters by a woman in the arts I could lay my hands on. By happy chance, Anaïs's Diaries were among the first, and they completely captivated me -- for here was a woman asking the same questions that I was, trying to forge a creative life for herself as I was, and although she didn't always do it in ways that I entirely approved of (by which I mean the many lies and evasions she depended on to manage her dizzying number of relationships and affairs), still, I admired her determination to live life as fully, sensually, and intellectually as possible. Throughout her diaries and letters, passages like the one I've quoted here would stop me in my tracks, speaking across the decades from the cobbled streets of Paris to the cobbled streets of Boston (where I was living then).

Anais Nin and Hugo Gulier

Later, I would follow in her footsteps in Paris: searching out the places where she had lived, the cafes where she'd written or talked long into the night with writer and artist friends. But then, in Boston, it was simply her words I needed. The knowledge that another woman had asked these same questions, and found answers to them. And that somehow I would too.

"The role of the writer," she mused in the 5th volume of her Diaries, "is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say. Most of the writing today which is called fiction contains such a poverty of language, such triteness, that it is a shrunken, diminished world we enter, poorer and more formless than the poorest cripple deprived of ears and eyes and tongue. The writer's responsibility is to increase, develop our senses, expand our vision, heighten our awareness and enrich our articulateness."

That was a responsibility I shouldered gladly at age 27. I carry it still all these many years later.

Portrait by Jill Krementz

Anais' writing desk in her last home in California

Images above:  A Paris cafe, in Montparnasse, frequented by writers & artists in the '20s and '30s; Henry's typewriter in Paris; one of Henry's Paris notebooks; Anaïs in Paris; Anaïs and Henry in their later years; Anaïs with her husband Hugh Parker Guiler; and Anaïs's writing desk in California, in a house designed for her and her, um, second husband Rupert Pole (it's complicated) by Eric Lloyd Wright (grandson of Frank, and Rupert's half-brother).

For a taste of Anaïs, go here to listen to her reading from her work (discussing writing with Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell), recorded in 1966.

The book of each of us

Collage: A Writer and her Faithful Black Dog

“There is not one big cosmic meaning for all; there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.”
- Anais Nin

"I write to know what I think."  - Joan Didion

"In a real sense, I am constantly writing autobiography, but I have to turn it into fiction in order to give it credibility."  - Katherine Paterson

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