“It is my belief that the immature artist seldom thrives in idyllic surroundings. What he seems to need, though I am the last to advocate it, is more first-hand experience of life—more bitter experience, in other words. In short, more struggle, more privation, more anguish, more disillusionment. These goads or stimulants he may not always hope to find in Big Sur. Here, unless he is on his guard, unless he is ready to wrestle with phantoms as well as bitter realities, he is apt to go to sleep mentally and spiritually. If an art colony is established here it will go the way of all the others. Artists never thrive in colonies. Ants do. What the budding artist needs is the privilege of wrestling with his problems in solitude—and now and then a piece of red meat.” Henry Miller from Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch.
It’s been years since I’ve read Henry Miller. When I was a young man in my late teens, I read Tropic of Cancer which was a good enough shock, and then I read his trilogy, The Rosy Crucifixion which basically turned my life and my world around. I didn’t know you could do that with language. That you could be allowed to do that with language, more like it… and not get hanged by the tongue and castrated by the good citizens’ brigade.
I never got a degree—one of the few things I regret—I quit my school career two weeks before the semester was over—I kind of wish somebody would have given me a good kick in the ass back then and told me to quit after the semester was over and then go do a lot of stupid things in as many places as possible. I seem to remember one of my professors trying to talk me out of it, and to at least finish the semester. However, I was a rather stubborn young man. Travel when you’re young, I say. Preferably before going to the university, it’s the best thing. I do everything backassward, and though I always get to where I’m going, I’m usually several years behind schedule…
But no, I couldn’t take another minute of school, not another second of trudging through campus—and I was lucky enough to attend a gorgeous campus with some pretty amazing professors—like Miller says, idyllic places are wasted on the young wannabe creatives… I was 20 and thought that I was the best thing that had ever happened to poetry. I needed, sorry, I wanted to write a book that would blow up the world. I still do, but now rather than blood and bowels, I’d like to blow it up with flowers, persimmons, a splattering of red pepper, just a little bit of gore and a few nasty little bugs to keep things interesting… appropriately enough, one of my first attempts at a collection was called Welcome to Chaos.. and that was the reason I quit school.
I needed to do something more important than school… what was school anyway? I would be dead by the time I’d reach 30, and who gave a damn about anything? I wanted a revolution, and mostly I was fighting it in my head. What I needed to do was a hell of a lot more important than any class in any university. I needed to write my opus. I wrote it. I am very proud that I completed that masterpiece, though I certainly hope the few copies I printed are no longer in existence anywhere. It was horrifyingly bad. About 400 pages of masturbatory angst ridden immature poetry.
Henry Miller told me that it was possible. Little did I understand how long the process took, and that the prize is not in the finished product, but the journey lived while trying to attain your goals. Thank you Henry, you are and will always be my hero.
I stopped reading Miller many years ago for two simple reasons. He was too big an influence on me, and I wanted to have more books by him to read that I had never read before for later. Later has arrived, and the other day when I visited the Henry Miller Memorial Library, I remembered why I love that old saint.
Unlike so many of my other literary heroes, Miller finally got rid of all his demons, he won the battle with himself and became a saint. He attained what so few people ever do, he became a wonderful human being who loved life and was one with himself and god, and thus a god in the sense that God is the Universe and everything that surrounds us and is us. He was ok with it. He did it through words, though that’s not the only way. There are as many ways to become a saint as there are human beings on this planet. It really shouldn’t be all that difficult, there are so many roads to choose from, and yet it is the hardest journey of them all.
Peace & Love,
PS: My favorite book by Henry Miller is The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder.
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