My Eight-Year Affair With a Dead Man
I fell in love with Henry Miller after the first paragraph of the first book of his I read. I was eighteen and preparing for my first trip abroad with my Nana, who, after my Grandpa Lou’s passing decided she would take each of her grandchildren on a fantastic voyage anywhere they/we wanted in the world.
I chose Europe, a place I had never been and pined for. We would start in Barcelona, journey then to Rome and take the Orient Express from Florence to Venice and then to Paris. I bought several books to prep for my trip, one of them being Tropic of Cancer, recommended to me by a friend who would years later become my boyfriend, then my fiancee, and finally, my friend again.
I opened the book and read the first few paragraphs: I read this:
“This then? This is not a book. This is libel, slander, defamation of character. This is not a book in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty… what you will. I am going to sing for you, a little off key perhaps but I will sing. I will sing while you croak, I will dance over your dirty corpse…
To sing you must first open your mouth. You must have a pair of lungs, and a little knowledge of music. It is not necessary to have an accordion, or a guitar. The essential thing is to want to sing. This then is a song. I am singing…”
Those words changed my life. Maybe they don’t sound like much but to me they meant everything. They meant freedom. They carved a hole in a future I felt ill-suited for. I decided, soon after to put off my collegiate aspirations, which I had forced upon myself. I wanted to sing.
“As long as I keep singing, I will find my song”, I told myself
I went to Europe with Tropic of Cancer ringing in my ears and Tropic of Capricorn under my arm. I couldn’t get enough of Miller’s prose, his twisted vision possessed me with such a wealth of inspiration I filled three journals in a single month. I came home from Europe with songs in my head– potential melodies and within a week, started writing my first book.
At the same time, I began collecting what rare editions I could afford. A first edition box set of the Rosy Crucifixion. Crazy Cock. Nothing But the Marvelous. I purchased an original Wynn Bullock photograph of Miller, smoking a cigarette and smiling out the corner of his mouth. It had been hand developed by the artist, a rare treasure. I purchased it from the Library in Big Sur after spending hours in the back room with Miller’s old manuscripts and a gentleman named Magnus, keeper of the treasures.
I took the photograph home with me in a cardboard portfolio and framed it above my bed in an old gold frame.
I would(will) never be the writer Miller was, of course. I would never have the guts to spill onto the page in such a way. I could only be myself and every night I pushed, sometimes until sunrise, until it was time to go to work. It became an obsession. Keep singing…
And through dry spells, when I was overwhelmed, unable to write, tapping my pencil erratically, I’d take a Saturday and drive up to Big Sur and fill up. I’d park my car outside Miller’s old house in the Palisades, picket-fenced and trimmed with rose bushes, not even a mile away from the office I was working at at the time. I’d sit there in my car and I would write.
Find your voice… It’s okay if it’s off key, sometimes.
I kept singing.
Every writer needs a mentor. Mine just happened to have died before I was born.
If it wasn’t for him, I might have gone to college. I might have graduated and gone to work at a studio. Or left the country. There were many books that would later change my life, books like Lawrence Durrell’s Justine and Anais Nin’s House of Incest and Marguerite Duras‘ The Malady of Death.
But it was Henry Miller who made me want to be a writer whatever the cost. Who pushed me and pulled me and overwhelmed me with the power of his words.
Power I hoped to someday possess, if only for a second. If only for a page or a couple of words.
And as I gut myself for the pages I write in the book that this time will see the light of day, I hold on to that hope, and surrounded by the worn old pages of my greatest hero, I keep writing, pushing through the fear toward the possibility that by opening my mouth as wide as I can, I can find my voice. I can sing my song.
I am singing.
Rebecca’s original entry at her Girl’s Gone Child blog