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On Henry Miller and self-discovery

Who am I? Where do I belong?

Rain on the attic windows . Bed the night before pre-11.

No wonder I’m up at 5.00 a.m.

A dream remembered

I wanted to recall a dream, get a brief from my psyche on my current mental state (as if I wasn’t already aware of it). It was a common theme; they are almost taking on the significance of a recurrent dream.


(Photo credit: U.S. National Archives)

The dream

We, a troop of soldier buddies, are holding a badly defended barracks cum out post on a Pacific island.

The Japs are on the coast but are leaving us alone, we become complacent and relaxed. A gate guard leaves the wire mesh compound to take a leak and is leapt upon by a Jap and his throat slit. I, and others, retreat hurriedly to the cover of a set of tumble-down outhouses but are quickly overwhelmed. I wake before the inevitable.


What could be clearer? I feel trapped, hemmed in. But by whom? Or what? The Japs (the enemy) are they TVL? Home? What do they represent to me? Curiously enough as Japs I see them as Mowden Hall school boys playing a serious game of “Japs and Commandos.” They are “us,” just on the other side. They are more canny, more conquering, more determined than my lot are. The wire-mesh fencing is an inadequate defence

Our attitude is too laid back

So? Am I saying that I am ill prepared? Poorly defended? Weak? Enough of this.

When I first woke (4.30am) I was reflecting on the ebb and flow of my moods. Swings from impatience and anger to cynicism and contentment.

People provoke me by looking too closely over my shoulder.

I remember (to my shame) an outburst of anger when a fellow student at the SCA tried to learn more about a particular project, how impossible I was to work with and never settled down with a creative partner and how techy I get when anyone (except the client) wants to play around with my programmes.

[23 years on from this event and 18 years on from this diary entry I find I am 8 months into cognitive behavioural therapy. deep feelings of hurt provoked by my parents divorce when I was a child have wounded me; I cherish praise, loathe criticism. I seek applause, or retreat, or fight it.]

Volume 4 of Anais Nin’s Journal

I wish I could have begun with her childhood diaries, or at least 1931 in Louciennes, Paris. I can commune with an ageing woman who evidently attracted much attention from younger followers.

One thing which could soon influence this journal of mine will be an increasingly descriptive stance on the world and the people around me and not deep and tedious introspection.

No longer the book of self-analysis but the book of observations.

As a teenager I was clear in my mind that I was a born observer.

I stood apart from the world the better to see it. I would go to parties not only to take part but to tick off another experience and then write about it. Adulthood brings with it a crusting over of earlier enthusiasms Adulthood brings with it a crusting over of earlier enthusiasms, unless of course the indulgent world encourages and develops those early desires.

Character sketches. Like drawings.

Can I do them? I must.

Can I picture the people with whom I am familiar , let alone newcomers?

Dad, for instance, (give me two years and several million words), or Mum, neither of them simple people in analytical terms. Are any of us? Dad would hate me to say it to his face but Dad is taking on many of the traits of Granny. Surly, though (as yet) not so specifically commanding. I have few doubts that his desire to have me and Darlingest resident in Eden Hall are selfish as house sitters and pet providers while he’s away, as part-time cooks when he’s home and as free labour as decorating continues to be necessary, The traumas of his current break up with wife No 3 could turn into a Hardy-esque catastrophe , if only he wasn’t so public school and conservative. He stamps his foot and thinks P will return to him to cook his meals and do his washing. He sulks and becomes ill to persuade N to give up things which matter to her so that she will nurse him. Selfish and egotistical people don’t change Selfish and egotistical people don’t change.

I have little doubt that through-out school he was the horrid dictatorial prefect that I became at 13 before a rebelliousness and individuality was given free rein, no doubt let loose because there was no parent ready to counsel me and contain it. It made me kick the system. I wouldn’t credit him with the wit or adventurous nature of a Flashman, more the rule observing nit-picking Granny.

Everything must be just so.

Thankfully he has in recent years chilled out. Though clambering over the carpets of Eden House in bare feet must be one indicator of the Granny who is trying to get out, as is the need to park cars out of view should he look through his kitchen window. Mum is an artist Mum I honour with the title of artist crushed by the middle class moves of the North East. Had she left the area to study art, had she travelled more in her youth, had she never committed herself to the first gallant youth in a sports car who turned her down, had she never given up her own ambitions (more worthy and lasting if less profitable than my father’s), then perhaps she’d now be the cranky, Bohemian, artist she wanted to be. (and the kind of nutty arty types she gravitates towards).

A recent one week intensive course in fashion drawing at St. Martin’s School of Art released a natural flare which had previously been confined by a rigidity of formal technique (art as geometric drawing). Suddenly her work has more life (though she’s yet to find her own style, her personal Voice, if she ever will. Years of running the house, four kids, a daily help and various au pairs meant that a clichéd pride in the house put crisp tidiness before the liberal jumble of books, pots and pans, newspapers and prints you find at the P’s in Barton. They have always been the kind of family to whom I have aspired to belong. Not pushed by greed, never threatened by what the neighbours will think. Continental, laid back, pots and pans in the sink. Continental, with J, whose wit and intellect I admired long before I met Darlingest.

I don’t have the nerve to be as blasé about money as Henry Miller, though in my better moods of “truth” I believe it matters little to what I hope to do with my life, though a little (enough) to have our own home, to run a car and to ski each year would be welcome. What in fact I crave is enough money to do more of this, precisely this, whether it makes a bean or not!

A diary is not book-keeping with words

Finding Anais Nin and Henry Miller (at last) as allowed me to escape the book-keeping approach to my earlier diaries. Then the intention was to do little more than catalogue the events of the day, the week, the year (the cycle).

Now, hopefully I can do much more.

Here I can let vent, discuss, record, consider, practice my observations, try lines, invent words and phrases. Now, reading like a graduate, I can put notes in here (not in the Arch lever files). As before I will dip in years later and find (or not find) reflections on those years gone by.

[This visit comes over seven years later – 9th January 2000. & I return on 27th February 2010]

Dare I compare myself with the likes of Anais and Henry?

In my teens and early twenties I shared much of Anais’s sexual hunger (I adored the erotica she wrote and knew her for this alone for a decade or more). Today I relish the gutsy frankness of Henry Miller, flavoured by sticky fingers and his insatiable appetite for cunt. He didn’t have to intellectualise about loving a person the way we did. I hardly enjoyed (or enjoy) sex for sex’s sake.

There must be a person at the other end.

“There’s nothing wrong with it if both people enjoy it opined Suzi on one of our very few affair like reprieves in September 1989. She was justifying her repeated infidelity, a trait I worried about in her when I first met her aged 15 in 1978.

If I’d known Anais Nin in my youth (20’s) I would have been her Hugo making money not in the City, but in the cash crazy world of advertising in the 1980’s. Hard when my inclination was to scrap it all and do a Henry Miller . If only my hunger had been to find a personal voice and not a public (and paid) one. Though I’m struggling with “Tropic of Capricorn” after the narrative and journalistic rumpus of “Tropic of Cancer” I am still inclined to pick out a few truths.

I am still keen to hear someone else’s voice justifying and provoking my difference:

“At this a faint smile panned over his face. He thought it extraordinary that I should remember such things. He was already married, a father, and working in a factory making fancy pipe canes. He considered it extraordinary to remember events that happened so far back in the past.”

And so Henry Miller goes on to indulge his memory on a rock fight that killed a boy when they were only 8 years. Like HM I relish dredging up, reliving and reviving childhood events. I love to dissect the pain and pleasure of past relationships too, especially the passion and punches of yours truly and ‘Suzi Bean’.

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