The writings of Henry Miller burned through me like wildfire the other day. I don’t recall what I was doing, possibly gardening, or where I was, perhaps waiting outside the probation office, but key passages from many of his classic novels and overlooked memoirs seared my imagination like never before.
I always wanted to teach a Henry Miller-themed nonfiction writing workshop but doubted it would have attracted enough interest to fly. I also wasn’t sure how I was going to teach it but I sensed a potential session would produce the most extraordinary writing from participants if they managed to let go of everything repressed and traditional American about them. Moreover, I have also always wanted to write about the only woman I ever met who reminded me of everything I read about Miller’s second wife, June Miller, if June Miller had lived on the Oregon Coast and had come of age in the era of smart phones, rap music, methamphetamine and yoga pants. (I think I’ll leave this project for later.)
Below are some of my favorite Henry Miller lines, many of which found their circuitous way into the rain and gig books. In fact, Miller’s entire unconventional career provided a section of the literary road map I used to publish my books and hustle up an unlikely audience for them. As I try to reinvent myself and my publishing life, I will have to consult this map again on how to get the writing (on real paper) out. I’ve done it before and believe I can do it again. I must try. This time, however, I don’t have any money to pay for printing. Henry Miller didn’t either, in the early days, none, and yet he managed by inventing new methods. Of course he had June to assist him, somewhat.
A paragraph from the The Air-Conditioned Nightmare: “Often, on returning to my studio at midnight, I would stand at the table and register in this celestial sort of ledger the innumerable little items which constitute a writer’s bookkeeping: dreams, plans of attack and defense, remembrances, titles of books I intended to write, names and addresses of potential creditors, obsessive phrases, editors to harry, battlefields, monuments, monastic retreats and so on.”
Lines from Tropic of Cancer:
“These are night thoughts produced by walking in the rain after two thousand years of Christianity.”
“Ideas have to be wedded to action.”
“Get off the gold standard of literature.”
“The earth is not an arid plateau of health and comfort, but a sprawling female with a velvet torso that swells and heaves with ocean billows.”
“That the task the artist implicitly sets himself is to overthrow existing values.”
“I have nothing to do with creaking machinery of humanity. I belong to the earth.”
“Let us have more oceans, new oceans that blot out the past…”
“The great incestuous wish is to flow on…”
Henry Miller’s advice in Big Sur and The Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch:
“The most important thing (for a writer)—how to reach the public, or better, how to create your own public—still remains to be faced. Without a public it’s a suicide. No matter how small, there has to be an audience. I mean, an appreciative, enthusiastic audience, a selective audience.
What few young writers realize, it seems to me, is that they must find—create, invent!—the way to reach their readers. It isn’t enough to write a good book, a beautiful book, or even a better book than most. It isn’t enough to even write an “original” book! You have to gig that book with all your heart in order to gain traction.” (I changed one word in the last sentence.)
Lines from The Colossus of Maroussi:
“I like men with weather in their blood.”
“With this troupe of linguists, jugglers, acrobats, and water nymphs things went whacky right from the start.”
“There is no salvation in becoming to a world which is crazy.”
“We’ve got a language…we’re still making it. It’s a language for poets, not for shopkeepers.”
“It isn’t money that sustains me—it’s the faith I have in myself, in my own powers. In spirit, I’m a millionaire—maybe that’s the best thing about America, that you believe you’ll rise again.”
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