I did one of those things we do less and less of in this day and age. I took a book off my book shelf to read. Okay, right there one wonders if in the not too distant future that will become an archaic sentence. Will we have books and bookshelves that insomniacs thumb through in search of something to fall asleep by, or stay up by, in my case the former, but there’s more. The book had been sitting on my shelf for quite some time, decades, in fact. I kept meaning to get to it. Vaguely remember who gave it to me, even glanced inside to see if he had written his name. It’s a classic you see, Henry Miller’s The Tropic of Cancer. Not for the easily shocked or faint of heart, it has the reputation of being repeatedly on one of the most banned books list. Certainly, in 1934, it’s sexually explicit words were instantly censored. Yet, at that time it was published. Why? Because how Miller wrote, not what. His style is a poetic prose of his chaotic and yet amazing writer’s life in Paris.
One of his first gems is: “I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive. A year ago, six months ago, I thought that I was an artist. I no longer think about it, I am.” He goes on to say that, all that is literature “has fallen from me” and that he does not write a book, he writes a “prolonged insult” and several other vicious labels for what is about to come. In short, Miller is free. He doesn’t care, he revels in his words and spins magic with them. He goes to the dark side and to the sublime in a blink.
The question for me really isn’t would the great writers of history have blogs and eBooks, because I think many would, but would we find them and single them out as great writers? That I don’t know. I know that when I work with writers coaching them, I ask them to find writers that give them permission to be more daring. You don’t have to write like Miller, you just have to get your truth out, push your boundaries as much as possible. Use someone else’s courage to find your own. Find your freedom, wherever it lies.
Unfortunately, there is the age-old conflict of finding your artist within and yet living outside the confinements of “making money.” We hope we can do both, but there is a risk, a downsizing, an adjustment of expectations. Not many of us, like Miller, can proclaim, from that, “I am the happiest man alive.”
Even now, I am telling my authors (see the VSW Blog on Dragon’s Den), how all writers are entrepreneurs. It’s true, but it’s also the balancing dilemma. There perhaps isn’t the reverence of the artist and the patronage, and the community, there was in Miller’s day. Who would be helping Henry Miller get out his eBook, or learn the technology, if he didn’t have it? Let alone put a roof over his head. I am almost certain, no one, or maybe a few small presses would publish him. He might be self published. He might find his community online or through MeetUps, but who would see his words in the crowds of techno words online? In the future, it is doubtful that anyone will be stumbling around in the half-light looking for an appealing title only to rediscover Miller because he has been sitting on your shelf for decades, instead, more likely, the future upgrades in technology may ensure our next Millers will be deleted or lost forever.
Strangely, Miller has now become “literature” and that may be making his ghost laugh. In our material world, in our search engine world, we are often stepping away from that. If you don’t know what you are looking for exactly online, in the age of eBooks, if it has not already gone viral, who finds it? That is the tragedy and the challenge of our future as writers. Perhaps it always was, in some ways, but it has become a self-help world, where time is the largest luxury. We have to create or recreate our communities and make them stronger despite our temptation and necessity to stare at screens.
Yet, whatever the future holds, the simplest triumph is still available. Always find a little freedom in your writing, or a lot, even if you can’t be the happiest man alive.