Thinking of Henry Miller

I’ve moved rooms, again. I’ve moved five times since I’ve been in Prague, and I’ve only been here four months. It’s really not all that unusual for me to move so often, but I’ll save all that moving talk for another post. This is about Henry.

I’m currently staying in a hostel. This hostel names their rooms after colors. My last room was “Beige”, and now I have moved into “Ruby”. I’ve also stayed in “Lavender” and “Purple”. Funny enough, my “Beige” room had lavender painted walls; not that that means anything, but I like to pull connections out of nothing. The night before I was to move, I had been lying in my bed in the “Beige” room, and sort of mentally writing. I do this a lot. I imagine that I am writing. Sometimes I am smart about it and actually write these moments of genius thought down, but not often- so my genius is often lost. I was thinking about the first time I had ever read Henry Miller. I’ve been reading Big Sur, by Jack Kerouac, and I was thinking about the part in the novel when he mentions a possible visit with Henry Miller. That’s all that is mentioned in the book, but I know what happened because I had read all of the other accounts from other writers. Maybe it was Carolyn Cassidy or maybe it was Henry or perhaps it was Kerouac himself that had told the story. The plan was for Kerouac to sneak quietly into San Francisco, and meet Ferlinghetti, and together they would drive to Big Sur to have dinner with Henry Miller, and then Kerouac could settle into the cabin, but it didn’t happen. Kerouac came roaring into San Francisco with his bourbon and drinking buddies, and never made it to dinner. Kerouac was already deep into his alcoholic depression, and going to Big Sur was his attempt to try to clear his mind and confront his demons, but he didn’t succeed. He ended up drunk, disoriented, and threatened by the dramatic coastal environment. Where Miller saw life Kerouac saw death.

The book is depressing, even without the part about ditching Miller. It’s depressing because Kerouac is loosing it, and I can recognize the serious depression, delusion, and alcoholism that he is experiencing. The depression is too familiar, and as mine is increasing in its strength, I feel like I don’t need Kerouac, I need someone else. I need Henry.

The first time I ever read Miller, I was staying in a hostel in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was the Princes street hostel, and it was 1998. I had been trying to find work but couldn’t get a job anywhere because of not having a work visa. I had paid for a full week’s accommodation, and bought food for a week, but once that week was up I had no money. I had managed to find work in a hotel, but I was fired after two days. I had never been fired in my life, but I didn’t make a very good maid. I wasn’t fast enough in my cleaning. So far it remains to be the only job I’ve ever lost. I was feeling dejected and nervous about what to do next. There was nothing for me to do, but to wander the city, and go to every museum because they were free. I would sit under the castle and want to cry because of the upcoming homelessness and winter, but it was too beautiful to cry. It was a desperate time, but there wasn’t much I could do except look for work, wander the streets, go to museums, and read.

I had been sitting on the top bunk aimlessly staring out the window when I had noticed Henry Miller’s, “Tropic of Capricorn” on my flatmate’s bed. I was curious to read him only because I had been told I wouldn’t like him. My boyfriend had said that to me when I was 20. He had been reading Anais Nin and Henry Miller. He had told me I wouldn’t like Miller that I would think he was too vulgar, but that I should read Anais Nin. He had felt she was more my style. I ended up reading Nin, but I didn’t care for her writing. Too flowery and perfumey: vagina’s like petals, and sex like every bed had silk sheets. It didn’t appeal. He was wrong about me liking her at that time, but I still trusted his judgement on what I would like and not like so I didn’t try to read Henry Miller.

But, that was five year’s before, and he was, in ’98, engaged to another woman, and I was alone traveling and poor in Scotland. His opinion no longer mattered. Henry was waiting for me. My flatmate gave me the book, and as I read I found myself laughing out loud at his vulgarity, and his boastings and rantings. I remember thinking, “how can a person write like this? How can a person be so free in their expressions. How can a person love life so much?” He spoke to me. I wanted to be as free as he demanded I be— that all people be. To not live among the dead that walk around in the “daily processes”, but to soar with the living. Don’t just get by. Do more than get by- live.

I think in many ways the dead can speak to us through their writings. They tell us to get up, to keep going, to have some passion, and to not give up. To wake up and see the world. The real world not the illusion of the world. I had thought about being a writer. I had written stories as a young girl, but I had felt insecure because really what did I have to say. Writing was for the “intellectuals”. I put all my energy into acting when I was young, but the moment that I read “Tropic of Capricorn”, and saw the way that Miller wrote, I knew at that moment that I wanted to be a writer. In a small way he changed my life. He crossed over the barrier of death and shook me, and gave me permission. I haven’t read a book by Miller in a couple of years, but he comes to my thoughts every now and then.

My move to Ruby was tedious. I only had to move down three floors, but I didn’t bother to pack so it took too long. It should have been a lot easier than it was but the close proximity of rooms made me lazy. I had managed it though, managed to make the chaotic move. The new room has several beds. I could have a huge slumber party I have so many beds. The beds have the graffiti of people who have traveled through Prague and stayed in the hostel. On one of the beds in huge black permanent ink is written, “READ HENRY MILLER NOW.” At one time someone passed through this place that was like me, someone who also was changed by the writer. Someone who also felt that Henry Miller was needed to be read. Now.

An unknown stranger writing on a bed in a ruby room. Look at us talking to each other, and we’ve never even met. See, connections out of nothing, and yet, it’s still a connection.

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