I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive.- Henry Miller
I recently purchased at a jumble sale a copy of THE HAPPIEST MAN ALIVE by Mary V. Dearborn, a biography of Henry Miller my favorite American writer of all time….This has reminded how important in my own life the writings of Henry Miller have been.
Miller is the writer that perhaps influenced me most in a way apart from the technical aspects of writing and all the parts of a book, that is he didn’t just influence me with writing but influenced me personally, influenced how I lived my life.
When I first encountered Miller in my late teens, what I took from his writing was the compromise one must enter into if one wishes to be a writer and chooses to take a non-traditional route to get there as opposed to Ivy League New York City connections but I also chose the path of least resistance.
When I ran into Miller again, in my early 30’s, life was killing me slowly pulling me down inexorably, the boredom of my corporate flunky job, the contempt I was feeling for my co-workers, the long term relationship with a woman I should have gotten out of years before and which was stifling me, the material possessions that we are deluded into thinking as happiness and the desire to write which had taken a backseat to my mundane day to day existence.
Not to mention my feelings about America….Materialistic, artificial repressed immature America which could put a damper on even the greatest inspiration.
In the end I chucked it all….Now today happily married, living overseas, teaching for a living (which I enjoy), rejecting the material life for the life of the mind, I’m not quite there yet as I haven’t published any of my books but I’m getting there.
And I owe it all to Henry Miller.
TROPIC OF CANCER with that great opening paragraph, perhaps the greatest of any I’ve ever read, of which I put a few lines at the beginning of this post is really to me a book about freedom….Cutting all ties and maintaining nothing to what end? Why, the life of a writer!
TROPIC OF CAPRICORN takes back into biography to show us the roots of Henry Miller….It is biography as inspiration, biography as model for artistic life, it is biography interchangeable from fiction.
Now, Henry Miller also had a tremendous sense of humor….There are two scenes that will always stick out in my mind from TROPIC OF CAPRICORN….the one where the narrator and a friend dress a third friend as a baby and wheel him around town insulting people and the even greater scene where the narrator is confronted by a panhandler who after he offers him more money than what he was asking for reacts with anger and refuses to take it.
I can’t discuss Miller without discussing sex….I would have to say there is something in his writing that explains the basic need for an adult to maintain a sexual relationship with or without the trappings of marriage or a committed relationship that contains more clarity than any other writing I’ve ever read on this subject.
I’ve always maintained he also uses sex as a hook to keep the reader interested so he won’t lose him when he goes off on philosophical flights of fancy and gigantic digressions on literature, travel, and any other number of subjects.
Happiness to me is travelling light, very little in the way of material possessions and rejection of materialism for its own sake….THE HAPPIEST MAN ALIVE makes it clear that this was always first and foremost how Henry Miller lived his life and even when he became well-known in his 50’s he still was short of money.
Success to me is happiness not the things that are associated with happiness….Henry Miller understood this more than anyone….The basic things that makes us feel good-artistic stimulation, sex, doing a job or a task we enjoy….These are what are important.