More Gold from Henry

Henry Miller
I apologize for not being more constant in my blogging. If you know me, then you know that discipline is not my strong suit (unless we’re talking about eating healthily). Life has been full yes, with guests and travelling between Mexico and Maui, but a disciplined person would have managed, would have written none-the-less. Not me. I’m going to change that though, somehow.

Henry Miller is the inspiration that always gets me back to the machine, without fail. His voice comes through loud and clear, unadulterated, matter-of-fact. He reminds me that we all have a voice and, with work, can find it too. But more than that, he often writes about the difficulties of writing and how to overcome them. He came to writing late in life (thirty-three), so had to develop his talent through nothing less than hard work and discipline.

I think though, that what I find most inspiring is that he was a courageous writer who wrote what he wanted and didn’t stop to allow the potential consequences to overwhelm or derail him. He was honest and unforgiving, direct. I think that’s why I love his writing and love him (yes, I do love him because through his word I have come to know him and his heart – anyone who reads his work will know him too). And I am encouraged by his no-holds barred approach to the craft.

In the book Henry Miller on Writing, a compilation of excerpts from his work addressing the craft of writing, we are treated to what he calls his Commandments and Daily Program for writing that he followed somewhat religiously in order to be productive. Finally, we also get to see an outline and notes for the various projects he was working on at the time (a Major Program presumably related to his WIP; a Minor Program that appears to contain smaller select writing projects, articles and the like; a Painting Program because he was an avid artist and also liked to sketch out themes and ideas related to his WIPs; and an Agenda that contains a list of things “to do” including a reading list, visits to specific art shows and day to day stuff like “Varnish water colors or use banana oil and get framed for A.”

It is the Commandments and Daily Program that bear rich fruit for this would-be writer and I hope you’ll find them interesting and applicable to your work in some way too. All italics and notes are HM’s unless otherwise indicated.

1.    Work on one thing at a time until finished.
2.    Start no more new books, add no more new material to “Black Spring.”  (his work in progress)
3.    Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
4.    Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
5.    When you can’t create you can work.
6.    Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
7.    Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
8.    Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
9.    Discard the Program when you feel like it – but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
10.    Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
11.    Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.
If groggy, type notes and allocate, as stimulus.*
If in fine fettle, write.
Work on section in hand, following plan of section scrupulously. No intrusions, no diversions. Write to finish one secrtion at a time, for good and all.
See friends. Read in cafés.
Explore unfamiliar sections – on foot if wet, on bicycle, if dry.
Write, if in mood, but only on Minor Program.
Paint if empty or tired.
Make Notes. Make Charts, Plans. Make correction of MS.
Note: Allow sufficient time during daylight to make an occasional visit to museums or an occasional sketch or an occasional bike ride. Sketch in cafés and trains and streets. Cut the movies! Library for references once a week.
*My note: I have to say I was thrilled to learn that HM also at times feels groggy in the mornings. There is hope for me yet.
So you tell me, what do you do to main discipline and reach your goals? 


Yesterday I realized that the transcription of Miller’s “Notice to Visitors” to which a link was provided was full of errors. Unacceptable. A search for another more accurate version turned up nothing. So here it is reproduced for posterity’s and correctness’ sake.

The undersigned wishes to inform all and sundry that he has long since left the Abode of Peace, that he no longer has any comfort or inspiration to offer, and that even the migratory birds avoid this spot. Prayers are offered up daily – without charge. The garden has been transformed into an open air Vespasienne. Look toward Nepenthe when you water the flowers. If you are seeking Truth travel a little farther south : you will find it at Ojai Chez Krishnamurti. Be kind to the children – they abide. For a metaphysical treat stop at the Big Sur Inn which is also a haven for stray cats and dogs. Life along the South Coast is just a bed of roses, with a few thorns and nettles interspersed. The life class meets every Monday regardless. Refreshments are served when demanded. Those interested in celestial navigation are advised to first obtain a rudimentary knowledge of integral calculus, phlebotomy, astral physics and related subjects. The use of liquor is strictly forbidden on interplanetary flights. When you come please be so kind as to check your neuroses and psychoses at the gate. Gossip may be exchanged during the wee hours of the morning when the gremlins have left. Please bear in mind that this is a small community and news travels fast. (Carrier pigeons are provided when necessary.) Fans and other obnoxious pests would do well to maintain silence. Questions relating to work-in-progress will be answered in stereotype fashion in the columns of the Big Sur Guide at the usual space rates. God is Love – and in the ultimate Love will prevail. Remember, man is the ruler, not Saturn! Let us do our best, even it if gets us nowhere. In the midst of darkness there is light. “I am the light of the world,” said Jesus. He said a mouthful. Light, more light!


Henry Miller


My Love Affair with Henry

Okay, so you may or may not have noticed that yesterday’s post was an attempt at writing that is more “literary” than I customarily undertake. It was also a rather blatant salute to one of my favorite authors – Henry Miller.

A couple of things induced yesterday’s little writing exercise. First off, this past weekend, I attended the San Francisco Writer’s Conference. (It was amazing by the way. Both inspiring and informative. So many interesting people with stories to tell and a whole slew of editors, agents and publishers to get great guidance and assistance from. I met my hero, Alan Rinzler, who edited several Hunter S. Thompson books and published Rolling Stone magazine, among a mountain of other accolades. Somehow I managed to untie my tongue long enough to tell him I was a big fan of his blog for writers. I recommend it highly to aspiring writers like me out there looking for guidance and ideas.) But I digress.

At the end of the conference we had the opportunity to join a group of conference attendees and organizers for an evening of literary delights. First an incredible, authentic Chinese dinner at the Lechee Gardens restaurant on Powell near Broadway (literary? maybe not, but certainly a delight). After which we visited City Lights Book Store, the original home of work by Beat writers like Allan Ginsberg and Jack Kerouak. City Lights opened in San Francisco’s North Beach in 1953, by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. It is iconic.

The second inspiration for yesterday’s blog occurred when we toddled down the street to the Beat Museum where they were celebrating the life and work of Henry Miller. Coincidence? I think not. We were treated to readings and anecdotes by Magnus Toren of the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur…whom as chance would have it, I happened to already be acquainted with.

My love affair with Henry Miller began in 2002, when driving down the Pacific Coast Highway on my way to Mexico, I stopped in at the Henry Miller Library, meeting Magnus and, more importantly became more intimately acquainted with Mr. Miller. I’d read excerpts of Miller over the years, but had never read one his books in its entirety (yes, I’m looking down at the ground rather ashamedly, but bear in mind I’m Canadian). I fell in love with his Notice to Visitors and decided I had best familiarize myself with at least one of his books – Big Sur and the Oranges of Heironymus Bosch seemed the natural choice.

Once I arrived at my destination in Mexico, I began. I read Miller on the beach, in my trailer, sitting on the hill above the village, and drinking coffee in El Caballero, a local restaurant. This book with such a long and ungainly title resonated with me much like his Notice to Visitors had. I felt like he was right there, talking to me, sharing his tales of living in Big Sur. And what timely subject matter! His Big Sur was my Cabo Pulmo – we were both isolated, broke, with time to spare and good friends, surrounded by a cast of characters almost unbelievable in their eccentricities. I was a convert.

Miller broke the literary rules of his day. He wrote about a huge range of subjects from everyday things like bread, to philosophical issues and sexual liberation. It took some 12 years between when he began to write and the publication of his first novel. From this little factoid, I must say I took great heart to know that even a great author like Henry Miller needed time to develop his craft.

A copy of the anthology Henry Miller On Writing wriggled its way into my hands at the Beat Museum and begged to be taken home. Always the push over, I gave in easily. Together we’re bound for Mexico tomorrow, along with copious conference notes and a barrow full of inspiration.


An Ode to My Valentine

February 14, 2010

Our adultery falls like water from heights infinite. Yet I cringe at the secrets we share as my love lies sleeping. We lay among so many memories, shared, yet independent – the staff of life, wine brought unexpectedly by friends, the quality of both.
We snuggle deeper and the truth of shared anxiety rises and falls like swells on oceans perturbed by weather’s breath. Dear Henry whispers “Big Sur awaits our reunion and the union of Earth and Spirit still.” I quiver at the thought and then…relent.
He understands my dilemma, because he shared it once, so that his words resonate like the bells of Saint Sebastian’s calling home the faithful. He talks of expectations, of mores, literacy, and scoffs at the convention that so many chase like dogs sniffing after rotting hunks of flesh. We are surrounded by blank walls, no window for distraction, yet we turn to our surroundings for inspiration. We share good wine with artisan cheese and bread, good bread. And France, oh France! Would that we could be there together, just once.
But we are separated by time, not distance. Thirty odd years. And yet, it feels like we inhabit the same space. He reads my mind. Tells me what I need to hear each time I turn to him. He is an attentive lover by all accounts and this is no exception. He embraces me with his words, creating tension and a longing so profound that no cavern can compare. I am left breathless and exhausted, wondering how it is that I allow him to penetrate so deep. His heart, like an arrow, piercing mine with his consciousness beyond expectation. Every time.
“Once more,” I think.
And we return again to compart our common compulsion, me and my love, my Henry Valentine.