Oh, Anaïs

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

source: Facebook
[Couldn't find any credited photos of her]
For most of my years at college, I worked at the school science library. For 15 minutes a week, we were sent to the stacks to make sure our assigned rows were in Dewey Decimal order and our books were not being devoured by their bigger, heavier peers or worms (a real problem).

By the time I was in my last year, I had risen to student supervisor level and was in charge of overseeing a huge swath of books, making up about a sixth of the entire upper level. My section included folios -- large books that had to be laid on their sides in order to fit on the shelves, ecological maps, in-depth psychological studies, and diary collections. I was, for some reason, particularly drawn to the diary collections, most probably because I didn't understand why they had a place in a science library. John Muir, I understood. Anaïs Nin, less so.

Perhaps her collection of diaries were considered a cross-sectional study by the Psychology department? In any case, I dusted and rearranged around her collection, wishing I could take a break from my studies to read them all, but I never got around to them before I graduated. Reading Anaïs Nin's entire collection of diaries is still on my bucket list, but I haven't ever again been able to find more than three different diaries from her collection. In the meantime, Brain Pickings seems to adore her (as well as Susan Sontag) and publish excerpts of hers on the regular. Here are some of my favorites ...

source: Brain Pickings
[Fall, 1951]
To me Acapulco is the detoxicating cure for all the evils of the city: ambition, vanity, quest for success in money, the continuous contagious presence of power-driven, obsessed individuals who want to become known, to be in the limelight, noticed, as if life among millions gave you a desperate illness, a need of rising above the crowd, being noticed, existing individually, singled out from a mass of ants and sheep. It has something to do with the presence of millions of anonymous faces, anonymous people, and the desperate ways of achieving distinction. Here, all this is nonsense. You exist by your smile and your presence. You exist for your joys and your relaxations. You exist in nature. You are part of the glittering sea, and part of the luscious, well-nourished plants, you are wedded to the sun, you are immersed in timelessness, only the present counts, and from the present you extract all the essences which can nourish the senses, and so the nerves are still, the mind is quiet, the nights are lullabies, the days are like gentle ovens in which infinitely wise sculptor’s hands re-form the lost contours, the lost sensations of the body. The body comes to life. Quests, pursuits of concrete securities of one kind or another lose all their importance. As you swim, you are washed of all the excrescences of so-called civilization, which includes the incapacity to be happy under any circumstances.
Given my love-hate relationship with New York City, I (quietly) yelled "hear, hear!" in my head when I read this. Not that I've ever been to Acapulco. But there are so many so-called paradises around the world.
[Winter 1948] 
We receive a fatal imprint in childhood, at the time of our greatest plasticity, of our passive impressionism, of our helplessness before suggestion. In no period has the role of the parents loomed as immense, because we have recognized the determinism, but at the same time an exaggeration in the size of the Enormous Parent does not need to be permanent and irretrievable. The time has come when, having completed the scientific study of the importance of parents, we now must re-establish our power to revoke their imprint, to reverse our patterns, to kill our fatal downward tendencies. We do not remain smaller in suture than our parents. Nature had intended them to shrink progressively in our eyes to human proportions while we reach for our own maturity. Their fallibilities, their errors, their weaknesses were intended to develop our own capacity for parenthood. We were to discover their human weakness not to overwhelm or humiliate them, but to realize the difficulty of their task and awaken our own human protectiveness toward their failures or a respect for their partial achievement. But to place all responsibilities upon them is wrong too. If they gave us handicaps, they also gave us their courage, their obstinacy, their sacrifices, their moments of strength. We cannot forever await from them the sanction to mature, to impose on them our own truths, to resist or perhaps defeat them in our necessity to gain strength. 
We cannot always place responsibility outside of ourselves, on parents, nations, the world, society, race, religion. Long ago it was the gods. If we accepted a part of this responsibility we would simultaneously discover our strength. A handicap is not permanent. We are permitted all the fluctuations, metamorphoses which we all so well understand in our scientific studies of psychology. 
I am finding that though I have not yet been achieving many of the "successes" I'd hoped for when I was a teenager or a college student, I have had the luxury of time to think a lot about what things and life mean to me, and it seems that everything will be okay.

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