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Reflections on keeping a Journal, Henry Miller, Anais Nin and other writers

Henry Miller, photographed by Carl Van Vechten...

Henry Miller, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1940 Jan. 22 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


This entry was written up in a hardback, A4 exercise book of some 100 pages on 16/10/1992. In ink, using a Sheafer fountain pen. Most days between March 1975 and December 1993 were covered – then we got married and this evening past time ended – until the birth of our daughter in June 1996 when for good reason there was something to write about – daughter in 1996, son in 1998 – then a shift to a blog and quite soon keeping a journal died in favour of a) reflection on life based on what I’d written and b) keeping a writer’s journal and c) from 2010 almost exclusively in e–learning. There are other blogs on family life, swim teaching and coaching and the memoir of a First World War Machine Gunner.


Friday 16th October 1992




The date in the diary used to have some relevance, without them the day couldn’t exist, couldn’t begin, had nothing to contain it. Now I write when I want, about whatever moves me, when something moves me. I wait in ambush, capture a thought then run with it.


I’m reading like I’ve never read before. At last I’ve found a rich vein of literature which I enjoy:


  • Anais Nin,
  • Henry Miller,
  • Bill Bryson,
  • Evelyn Waugh,
  • Clive James,
  • Bruce Chatwin,
  • Ken Russell
  • and Brian Keenan.


I want to write like Henry Miller, to describe sexual encounters with verve and honesty, to describe my humdrum life as though it had a purpose.


Writing in hindsight H.M. knows that he becomes a reputable writer – this is the narrative thread, the goal he is aiming for. But to copy his style will be like learning to stand upright on a log as it spins, to control it and guide it through calm waters and torrents, even over waterfalls and through the sawmill ‘til the pulp has been turned into paper, the words written in the book and the novel on display in the High Street window.


I somehow manage to have four books on the go at any one time.


Only this can satisfy my boredom freshold: Sexus (Henry Miller), ‘Volume Five: Journals (Anais Nin), ‘Neither Here Nor There (Bill Bryson) and ‘The Letters of Henry Miller and Anais Nin’ Is that all ? In between I have to dip into old (and find new) enthusiasms: ‘Enthusiasms’ (Bernard Levin) and ‘Biographies’ (Clive James).


For the first time I want to quote from them, mark their books as I read them, read what they read, pursue my passions, stir harder the feelings they unsettle … then have a go myself, turn my own hand to these pages.


Bursts of enthusiasm get me through the first 2,500 words – then I rethink it, rework it, but then like running into a tall fence of chicken wire I suddenly can get no further, like a deer reaching a fence in front of a motorway. I must learn a way to get from start to finish in one breadth, not to need to go back over and plod about in the Passchendale of last week’s cloud burst.


I’m finding that no amount of rejigging will save a piece, but rather like a completed painting reworked, the image becomes increasingly muddy as further efforts to repaint it fail. Instead I must relish the write, from start to finish, like the instant prose of an examination taken in lumps of three hours. That’s it ! Set the themes in my head, then run with it for three hours.


I want to get the story of ‘Arts Foundation Girl’ posing four me nude right; I want to get my peaks and troughs of love and Suzy Bean right; I want to get stories of pure invention, be it ‘Little Green Hannah’ or ‘Rewind’ right !


Reading Henry Miller and Ana’s Nin is fascinating as a record of how a writer goes through the pain and ecstasy of the creative process. It’s heartening (and disquieting) to know that I could get nowhere for years; I could still be writing in this manner in a decades time. Fine ! Just so long as I have lead an interesting life to boot.


‘By now I was so feverishly inspired that I took a trolley and rose into the country. Ideas were pouring into my head. AS fast as I jotted them down others came crowing in. At last I reached that point where you abandon all hope of remembering your brilliant ideas and you simply surrender to the luxury of writing a book in your head. You know that you’ll never be able to recapture these ideas, not a single line of all the tumultuous and marvelously dovetailed sentences which sift through your mind like sawdust spilling through a hole. On such days you have for company the best companion you will ever have – the modest, defeated, plodding workaday self which has a name and which can be identified in public registers in case of accident or death. But the real self, the one who has taken over the reins, is almost a stranger. He is the one who is filled with ideas; he is the one who is writing in the air; he is the one who, if you become too fascinated with his exploits will finally expropriate the old, worn-out self, taking over your name, your address, your wife, your past, your future. Naturally, when you walk in on an old friend in this euphoric state he doesn’t wish top concede immediately that you have another life, a life apart in which he has no share. He says quite naively – ‘feeling rather high today, eh ?Ó and you nod your head almost shamefacedly. ‘ (Henry Miller, SEXUS)


And so I can (and will continue) to quote.


Again, on writing, on experience, satisfaction and method of writing, Henry Miller says, ‘It was revealed to me that I could say what I wanted to say – if I thought of nothing else, If I concentrated upon that exclusively – and if I were willing to bear the consequences which a pure act always involves.’


His search for ‘Truth,’ for his ‘Voice.’ Satisfying this ‘must’ called writing. If only I had my Anais (!) …


When I drew ‘Arts Foundation Girl’ I drew the sex and warmth of a horny 19 year old, I drew the revealed lust and smell of sex, I drew with my penis. I held it in my write hand and stroked it across a series of pages capturing what I saw and the way in which I saw it. I wouldn’t sleep with her because that would extinguish the passion I was playing with – I let my excitement add fluidity and texture to each mark on the page. I drew with my entire body, with my hole being. Each time I tore off a page to start again it was like squeezing my balls to stop me coming, each time I got Lucinda to pose differently, to close her sex and turn her back on me, I was reducing the volume, turning down the heat, keeping my dick at heel. If I’d slept with her I wouldn’t have wet dreams still about the moment, that heated game of ‘look and see.’ She is a story I must write and rewrite, draw and redraw.


On France Henry Miller says his friend Ulric had gone to Europe and how this man’s experiences so different from how own approach (and my own).


‘I had more in common with Ulric than with any other friends. For me he represented Europe, its softening, civilising influence. We would talk by the hour of this other world where art had some relation to life, where you could sit quietly in public watching the passing show and think your own thoughts. Would I ever get there ? Would it be too late ? How would I speak ? When I thought about it realistically it seemed hopeless. Only hardy, adventurous spirits could realise such dreams. Ulric had done it – for a year – by dint of hard sacrifice. For ten years he had done the things he hated to do in order, to make this dream come true. Now the dream was over and he was back where he had started. Farther back then ever, really, because he would never again be able to adapt himself to the treadmill. For Ulric it had been a Sabbatical leave: a dream which turns to gall as the years roll by. I could never do as Ulric has done. I could never make a sacrifice of that sort, nor could I be content with a mere vacation however long or short it might be. My policy has always been to burn my bridges behind me. My face is always set toward the future. If I make a mistake it is fatal. When I am flung back I fall all the way back – to the very bottom. My one safeguard is my resiliency. So far I have always bounced back. Sometimes the rebound has resembled a slow-motion performance, but in the eyes of God speed has no particular significance.’ (Henry Miller, SEXUS)


How often have I fallen and bounced back? Have I been an adventurer seeking experiences to write about ?


Quitting J.W.T. and tumbling from a flat in Whitehall Court to a back bedroom in a shared accommodation in Lewisham ? My trip to Gottingen, my run to Grenoble and the Alps ? Have I failed to be either one thing or the other ? Neither reckless idiot on the street of Paris, nor diehard executive in the U.K. Go don’t let me become an Ulric – nor let me stumble far into misery that I will be a pain to myself and my family.


I have enough experiences to write up a lifetime.


Like Henry Miller I make the idle boast about the number of words I have written. To an outsider it is lie a revelation of a serious malady. How could I do this to myself ? I could see it at one of my mum’s coffee mornings, happy to join in as the scrounger of lives I suddenly announce to her genteel gathering ‘I’ve been masturbating since he age of eleven. For the first fifteen years I keep it up once, twice, sometimes four times a day – nearly 5,500 times.’ They look at me in dismay, they look at mum and sympathise, you hear them remarking how much better it is to have me at home than in an asylum. And so I feel when I tell Dad I have diaries which contain a million and a half words, and stories of various half-finished kinds making up another million. It’s not that tears fill his eyes, it’s not that his lip begins to quiver, but you know he is feeling despair – not that I’ve ailed to climb the ranks of some international, not that I’m so impoverished (and inclined) that I’m temporarily living at home, but because I have expended so much time and effort getting nowhere: flagellation in a corner for my own self-satisfaction. Must I prove anything to him or anyone else ? I’ve shown that I’m incapable of boxing up my words in neat little, affordable and predictable packages, incapable of deriving any satisfaction except from my own way of doing and saying things.


I move my life from place to place in boxes: from mother-packed trunks and Tuck boxes to boarding school, to Post office cardboard boxes filled with my books and stationery in London, to the yellow post office boxes I filled with scraps of Paris. ‘My Life in a box.’ Now I keep it in pieces of furniture – cubes which stack one on top of the other. Ready for the next get away. So where next ? To Paris first, then Prague or Milan ? Anywhere to enliven my reflections.


Anais Nin wrote in 1946 about the awfulness of television. Fifty years later I feel we are going through a new phase.


So much of experience is television that fiction must go beyond the first reflection of reality and reflect the reflection. Instead of holding a mirror up to reality, we must hold a mirror to the reality already reflected from our T.V screens. Our fictions must be that much more extreme, more violent, more cookie, bigger, bolder, brasher, faster. Audience are used to gulping it all down in an over-spiced smorgasbord of channels. Can I deliver given this context ?


‘The secret of full life,’ wrote Anais Nin, ‘is to live and relate to others as if they might not be there tomorrow, as if you might not be there tomorrow. It eliminates he vice of procrastination, the sin of postponement, failed communications, failed communions. This thought has made me more and more attentive to all encounters, meetings, introductions, which might contain the seed of depth that might be carelessly overlooked. This feeling has become rarity, and rarer every day now that we have reached a hastier and more superficial rhythm, now that we believe we are in touch with a great amount of people, more people, more countries, This is the illusion which might cheat us of being in touch with a great amount of people, more people, more countries. This is the illusion which might cheat us of being in touch deeply with the one breathing next to us. The dangerous time when mechanical voices, radios, telephones, take the place of human intimacies, and the concept of being in touch with millions brings greater and greater poverty in intimacy and human vision. ‘ (Anais Nin. Journals. Vol 4)


For the second night in a row Darlingest has been typing a marketing essay into my word processor.


This morning I came down at 5.00 a.m. and joined her – two hours later I am still writing. We were joined by Mum; she too wished she was up and at it. I agree. She should be painting – not worrying about the time of day, or night, what the neighbours think or would-be purchasers of her house might think. We joke in the family that Mum like to keep the house tidy and bare, as if it is continually up for sale. I must get her to read Anais Nin’s Journals – about a woman’s struggle to find her creative outlet.


Between them Henry Miller and Anais Nin have written a ‘how to …’ book on writing.


Ray Bradbury, in one slim volume, ‘Zen in the Art of Creative Writing,’ with an abundance of gusto, does what they wrote across a string of books.




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