If there’s one thing to know about me, it’s my reverence for Henry Valentine Miller. Author. Philosopher. Pornographer. His books were banned in America for decades – ultimately sparking the ‘obscenity v art’ discussion that ran parallel or perhaps sparked the sexual revolution (depending on your historian du jour).
What many people don’t understand is why I love Henry Miller. There are the literary reasons – his books are poetic masterpieces. There are the parallels to my writing structure – I discovered him as I was growing as a writer and saw a bit of myself in his style. I’ve loved his writing for so long that I no longer see what parallels were there prior to his influence, but I remember reading him and it felt like I was reading something that I had written myself. It was that kind of moment.
But, literary snobbery aside, Miller has become much more to my iconography than simply a favorite author can be. After all, I don’t go around quoting Nabokov – outside the occasional Lolita quote – nor do I ponder the every thought of my contemporaries like Chabon and Franzen. With Miller, I breathe him in – his very essence – and unless you’ve been privy to the midnight disease conversations of my youth, you probably don’t know why. Perhaps born out of the reflection of myself that I saw in his writing, I simply feel as if we are kindred spirits and, through his novels and philosophical reflections, I have been able to give my own life a bit of perspective and it has allowed the pursuit of my dreams to develop the way that they have.
Miller always dreamed of being a writer. He couldn’t follow the conventional path; dropping out of college after a few months. He drifted from shit job to shit job. He had no direction. Soon, he was 29, married and a father. He worked in New Media – at the time it was the Western Union – or the cosmodemonic telegraph company as he immortalized it. He would soon find love and abandon that family in the name of art – or seven more years of not doing anything. Ultimately – these kind of contradictions are what defines Miller to me, and reinforces his position as a unlikely guide as I try to plan my life out.
Like Miller, I have delusions of grandeur. In that millennial fashion, I always felt that there was something I was destined to do. My love of writing always seemed to be at the center of it. I, too, didn’t want to follow the conventional path for creative types. I spurned the thought of being an english major; usually hating the kind of person that obsessed over the written word in favor of those that lived life. I was in constant pursuit of the contrarian – when I was my most creative, I was often surrounded by those that did not value that trait. When I was surrounded by creatives, I tended to stress the practical. This dichotomy bred my personality today – the constant balance between the businessman and the artist. I bounced on with no direction for so long. And when I was 29, I finally met a girl.
That’s not entirely true. I met the girl a few years earlier and it’s actually this point where my reverence for Miller turns into a bit of “learn from your heroes mistakes.” This girl – let’s call her Alana because that name has a nice ring to it – made me want to become something better. It filled me with the same desire that birthed all art to me. It was a poetic love that I knew from the moment I first met her. And ever since then, the way I read Miller changed.
Miller, always the anti-hero, became the cautionary tale. In a more mainstream example, it’s similar to reading Kerouac at 18 and Kerouac at 29. When you’re young and idealistic, you see the joy and passion and fire that produced the scroll and the masterpiece that is “On the Road.” When you’re older – 29 used simply as a proxy for whatever age this perspective takes over – you see a young, depressed, and lonely man searching for something and coming up empty. It’s factual that Kerouac was a depressed and lonely alcoholic. The joy that he brought to life in his writing are simply literary photographs of something he could never capture himself. Miller, for me, became the same thing. Miller was always chasing love. And he was finding it – he just never was realizing it. His jaded, cynical, and pessimistic world view did not match up with the passion and fire of his writing. His writing was a way for him to create the world as he wanted it – not the world as he lived it. It was that realization that slowly made me see my life in a new light, and instead of pursuing the destiny of life, I decided to let my life create my destiny.
I still hold Miller in great reverence. I reread his books constantly, knowing that there may come another time where his words may change their meaning again – ushering me into a new stage of my life. In fact, as I enter the 33rd year of my life, I go back to his words in Sexus: “I was approaching my thirty-third year, the age of Christ crucified. A wholly new life lay before me, had I the courage to risk all.”
A new life lays before me now, too. Much different than Miller’s, perhaps different than I even know as only hindsight will offer the truth, but I do know that I am prepared for the moment, for that is the only thing that’s important. Perhaps Miller said it best in Tropic of Cancer, “I don’t give a fuck anymore what’s behind me, or what’s ahead of me. I’m healthy. Incurably healthy. No sorrows, no regrets. No past, no future.”