I first read the diaries of Anaïs Nin at a young age; not inappropriately young, but at a definite, easily pinpointed and impressionable time in my life. I was maybe twenty or twenty-one, in a serious relationship (in fact, my very first relationship). I was writing a lot, trying to walk an artist’s path. This is relevant because the meat of Nin’s work deals exclusively in art and relationships. You could say the timing was impeccable, or unfortunate–either way, it was irreversible.
When I try to recall that era, it flashes by in a warm blur of discovery. I focus the lens to me, lying in bed, in the very bedroom I occupy now at my family’s house, papers and books strewn about as I absorbed myself in what I believed was important. And I’m not so different fifteen or so years later, though a certain amount of growing up has done its damage, and I don’t place nearly as much value on art. That’s not exactly true. Its worth has shrunk and risen again, formidably. When I consciously diminish it (how disgusting to be so frivolous in this great time of earthly suffering, etc), it never fails to circle back to me, sometimes subtly, other times with the delicacy of a falling hammer. I always seek it when I need recentering; it’s the only thing that truly works. It’s best to just accept that art in its various forms has always been at my center, even in those times I’ve tossed aside actually creating any.
Anaïs Nin is a slippery character. She’s even slipperier now I’ve decided to re-read these diaries. In one way, I don’t respect the actual writing as I once did. I’ve since read novels that are so tightly written and plotted that my admiration for such an accomplishment is hard to describe. To me, it’s on par with (successful) astrophysics. Maybe that’s excessive. Let’s put it this way: I’m not a musician, so I can freely enjoy a variety of music without the nagging constraints of skill assessment. But with literature, in which I’m far more well-versed, that constraint does exist, and it rears its head at unlikely times, one of them being as I’m faced with Nin’s flowery, oftentimes inane prose. Not only that–at times, it can be so, so boring. Yet I do see why she was so special, why she hit the nail on the head for so many readers, most of them women. It’s also enlightening, at times almost painful, to see exactly how she’s been living in my head for these past fifteen years.
Care to follow this journey with me?