As told by Anais…

“I am aware of being in a beautiful prison, from which I can only escape by writing.”

“Don’t wait for it,” I said. “Create a world, your world. Alone. Stand alone. Create. And then the love will come to you, then it comes to you. It was only when I wrote my first book that the world I wanted to live in opened to me.”

A spy in the house of love.

Two weeks into 2021, and after just one week back at work, I am tired and over it all. All the stress and anxiety from 2020 has rolled forward into the new year and it’s just this endless cycle of I cannot be bothered leave me alone what am I doing with my life? Ever so often I remember this tweet, which so perfectly encapsulates my vision for my life.

My dream job is no job” Yes Lord! I am grateful to still have a job and a source of income during these unprecedented times (one year later), but my soul needs more. A mansion by the sea with lots of windows sounds exquisite. I don’t even need a mansion; I will be happy with a two bed apartment with a balcony. My passions are existing- I love being alive and well- and being left alone. I am looking forward to the day when I can just be a woman of leisure.

In less dreary news, I am officially on my third book of the New Year! The first book was The Fishermen, and the second was Anais Nin’s A Spy in the House of Love. Granted, the second book is only about a hundred pages long, but I am still pleased by my progress. I have been familiar with the name Anais Nin, but I only really got into her a couple of years ago when I came across her quotes and felt inspired by them. I decided to check out her writing and I got this book in 2019 as it was supposedly her most popular book. When I first started reading this book, I could not get past the first few pages. I thought what the hell is this and put it aside. But after reading The Fishermen, I was in the mood to read and decided not to buy any new books until I have read (or attempted to read) all the books I already have. Surprisingly, when I picked it up the second time I found it much easier to read.

A Spy in the House of Love is set in New York and follows Sabina, a restless woman a la Madame Bovary. Sabina is a woman who seeks to live life like a man by enjoying sex with multiple partners without the emotional attachment that is expected of women. She is however married to Alan, a man who is presented as her safe space and whom she feels she cannot live without. She lives this double life by pretending to be an actress appearing in plays in other cities when in fact she is just a few blocks away in a hotel. The stress of trying to maintain this other life weighs on her and it is exhausting keeping her lovers secret from Alan, and vice versa. She likens her behaviour to that of a spy, and refers to herself as an international spy in the house of love. Sabina reminds me of Madame Bovary in that they both seem bored, and their attempts to find some stimulation do little to reduce this feeling.

The plot is pretty flat, and for me I think it is just Anais Nin (the writer) using Sabina to convey her real life feelings. Ms. Nin had several concurrent relationships, and at the time of her death she had two husbands. There is no climax, no resolution, just a hundred pages of writing. I did enjoy the writer’s use of words, but sometimes I found the descriptions long and confusing. The timelines were also a bit confusing to me; I could never really figure out if we were in the present or past. It is an okay book, but I will stick to the Anais Nin collection of quotes.

Tomorrow is Monday and I am dreading it. I have to clean my room and cook for the week, but I will more likely try to savour the remaining precious weekend hours by staying in bed, reading a book and finishing up my Netflix shows.

Becoming

Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.

Anais Nin.

Love love love

There is only one happiness in life; to love and be loved. -George Sand.

I am a sucker for love. Yes I roll my eyes at the couples on the train excavating each others mouths with their tongues. Sure I cannot bear to watch public declarations of love, and I scroll past gushing posts on Instagram. It is true that I have never found a proposal romantic, and while everyone else is in tears at “The best proposal ever omg”, I am sat there with a blank look on my face wondering what all the fuss is about. But goddammit I have seen The Notebook two times and if that doesn’t make me a soppy lover-girl then what does?

Seriously though, I do love love. I love how two people, who were once strangers, can come to care deeply for each other; how their lives become blissfully intertwined and the thought of a life without the other is unbearable to consider. It is truly a blessing to be able to find another soul whose presence eases the burden and drudgery of life- a Soulmate. It must be amazing to have a companion so one does not have to face this world alone; a companion to help stave off the inevitable loneliness that is always lurking around waiting to pounce.

“How we need another soul to cling to, another body to keep us warm. To rest and trust; to give your soul in confidence: I need this, I need someone to pour myself into.”- Sylvia Plath

I like proper love, not the toxic mess people refer to as passion a la Gossip Girl and other dramas. When I say love, I don’t mean the Chucks and Blairs of the world who continue to hurt and betray each other with words and actions but claim they have a passionate relationship. I like love: Two people who genuinely care about each other’s well-being, and who do things to make life easier and happier for the other.

“I want you to laugh, to kill all your worries, to love you, to nourish you. Oh sweet bitterness, I will soothe you and heal you. I will bring you roses. I too have been covered with thorns.” -Rumi

I love love in all its forms; romantic love between lovers of course, but also love among friends, sibling love, love between mother (or father) and child, human and pet, Lioness and Cub. While I may not care for the public/performative aspect, I do enjoy the little glimpses of love. One of my favourite ways of experiencing this is through letters. Perhaps it’s the fact that letter writing is a dead art, and frankly unnecessary in today’s age, but letters are just so romantic, much more so than text messages or direct messages on social media. Another thing is the effort people in the olden days put in their letters; honestly people seemed to have better grammar and way with words back in the day. I guess all the shorthand we use nowadays has limited our expression to some degree.

Every now and then, I come across a letter written by one lover to another and I devour it hungrily- first racing through it and then going over it slowly, absorbing all the words and letting them wash over me.

Listen, some people have loved and been loved in this life-lucky bastards. I will now share some of my favourite love letters.

To start of with is this beautiful letter from Physicist Richard Feynman. The letter is so moving that I wrote a post just for it. When Richard wrote the letter to his wife, she had been dead two years, and the letter was only read 30 years later after his own death. This was a love that transcended time and death, a love not predicated on what one could get in return.

I adore you, sweetheart.

I know how much you like to hear that — but I don’t only write it because you like it — I write it because it makes me warm all over inside to write it to you.

***

And now it is clearly even more true — you can give me nothing now yet I love you so that you stand in my way of loving anyone else — but I want you to stand there. You, dead, are so much better than anyone else alive.

Next up is this letter from Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf which grips from the very first line. “I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia”. When I think of love letters that is the first sentence that comes to my mind.

I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia. I composed a beautiful letter to you in the sleepless nightmare hours of the night, and it has all gone: I just miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way.

When I first came across this letter years ago, I knew nothing about Henry Miller or Anais Nin. I still don’t know anything about Henry Miller, but I have become a bit more familiar with Anais Hill. It is interesting that Anais was married to another man when this letter was written, and though she remained married to him till her death, she had lots of affairs, and even another marriage while still married! When she died she essentially left behind two widowers. What a woman.

Henry wrote the letter to Anais after spending time in her house while her husband was away. It is so passionate and powerful, and I wonder what went through her mind as she read it.

Don’t expect me to be sane anymore. Don’t let’s be sensible. It was a marriage at Louveciennes—you can’t dispute it. I came away with pieces of you sticking to me; I am walking about, swimming, in an ocean of blood, your Andalusian blood, distilled and poisonous.

***

Here I am back and still smouldering with passion, like wine smoking. Not a passion any longer for flesh, but a complete hunger for you, a devouring hunger.

The Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov enjoyed a lifelong romance with his wife and partner Vera. Naturally they exchanged lots of lovey dovey letters for the forty six years that they were together. The letters have been complied into a tome titled Letters to Vera, snippets of which can be seen here. I was particularly drawn to the excerpt below and I read it over and over again. This is the most succinct description of a companion I have come across, just someone you can tell the most random things that come to mind.

Yes, I need you, my fairy-tale. Because you are the only person I can talk with about the shade of a cloud, about the song of a thought — and about how, when I went out to work today and looked a tall sunflower in the face, it smiled at me with all of its seeds.

When I first read this letter, I came undone. It was written a long long time ago in South Korea by the pregnant widow of the man it was addressed to. The letter was found on his chest when his tomb was discovered by some nosy archaeologists. This, along with the Feynman letter, highlight the other side of loving someone; the fact that they could be taken away from you. It is nice to find your soulmate, but falling in love only increases the likelihood of getting hurt. Imagine outliving the love of your life by several decades. Unbearable. But still as they say, it is better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all.

How did you bring your heart to me and how did I bring my heart to you? Whenever we lay down together you always told me, “Dear, do other people cherish and love each other like we do? Are they really like us?” How could you leave all that behind and go ahead of me?

I already posted an excerpt from this love letter from Jean Paul Sartre and it is so precious that I have to post it again. I always thought he wrote this to his main squeeze Simone de Beauvoir, but it turns out he wrote it to another Simone (Jollivet).

“Tonight I love you in a way that you have not known in me: I am neither worn down by travels nor wrapped up in the desire for your presence. I am mastering my love for you and turning it inwards as a constituent element of myself. This happens much more often than I admit to you, but seldom when I’m writing to you. Try to understand me: I love you while paying attention to external things. At Toulouse I simply loved you. Tonight I love you on a spring evening. I love you with the window open. You are mine, and things are mine, and my love alters the things around me and the things around me alter my love.”

This letter was written by Milada Horakova to her teenage daughter Jana, the day before she was executed for allegedly plotting to overthrow the Czech communist regime. It is different to the other love letters because it’s not between lovers, and the circumstances are sad, but I could still feel the love she had for her child. The letter is heartbreaking because I cannot fathom what she must have been going through writing this letter, knowing she would never see her daughter again and watch her grow up. I also cannot imagine what the daughter felt reading this letter knowing she would never see her mother again. It is quite sad. In this letter she tried her best to guide her daughter as much as she could in a letter, even giving her skincare tips, and critiquing her hairdo. Even in the letter, she mentions her love for her husband (Jana’s father). Milada was eventually exonerated after her death and received a posthumous national award. She was truly a remarkable woman.

My only little girl Jana,

God blessed my life as a woman with you. As your father wrote in the poem from a German prison, God gave you to us because he loved us. Apart from your father’s magic, amazing love you were the greatest gift I received from fate.

***

And so, my only young daughter, little girl Jana, new life, my hope, my future forgiveness, live! Grasp life with both hands! Until my last breath I shall pray for your happiness, my dear child!

I recently watched Glenn Close in The Wife, a movie about a woman whose husband wins the Nobel Prize in Literature. When receiving the award, the husband makes a speech acknowledging his wife and sharing the honour with her. Now if you have watched the film, you know that all is not as it seems. Still the speech was the most memorable part of the film for me, and on its own is really quite lovely.

Really this honour should go to someone else-my wife Joan. Joan truly is my better half; she has made it possible for me to find the stillness as well as the noise to create my body of work. Without her, I certainly wouldn’t be standing here tonight; I’d be at home, staring at a blank piece of paper, my mouth open in stupefaction. My wife is my sanity, my conscience, and the inspiration for every decent impulse I have ever had. Joan you are my muse, my love, my soul and I share this honour with you.

I will end this post with this letter from Humphrey Bogart to Lauren Bacall (who he fondly referred to as Slim). They had a complicated relationship, with him being 25 years older, and on his third marriage when they started dating. Regardless of all that, this letter warmed my heart a lot.

“Slim darling, you came along and into my arms and into my heart and all the real true love I have is yours – and now I’m afraid you won’t understand and that you’ll become impatient and that I’ll lose you – but even if that happened, I wouldn’t stop loving you for you are my last love and all the rest of my life I shall love you and watch you and be ready to help you should you ever need help.

All the nice things I do each day would be so much sweeter and so much gayer if you were with me. I find myself saying a hundred times a day, ‘If Slim could only see that’ or ‘I wish Slim could hear this.’ I want to make a new life with you – I want all the friends I’ve lost to meet you and know you and love you as I do – and live again with you, for the past years have been terribly tough, damn near drove me crazy. You’ll soon be here, Baby, and when you come you’ll bring everything that’s important to me in this world with you.”

Sigh. L’amour!

Some never awaken.

“You live like this, sheltered, in a delicate world, and you believe you are living. Then you read a book… or you take a trip… and you discover that you are not living, that you are hibernating. The symptoms of hibernating are easily detectable: first, restlessness. The second symptom (when hibernating becomes dangerous and might degenerate into death): absence of pleasure. That is all. It appears like an innocuous illness. Monotony, boredom, death. Millions live like this (or die like this) without knowing it. They work in offices. They drive a car. They picnic with their families. They raise children. And then some shock treatment takes place, a person, a book, a song, and it awakens them and saves them from death. Some never awaken.”
― Anaïs NinThe Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1: 1931-1934

Experiment with your life.

You have a right to experiment with your life. You will make mistakes. And they are right too. I think there was too rigid a pattern. You came out of an education and are supposed to know your vocation. Your vocation is fixed, and maybe ten years later you find you are not a teacher anymore or you’re not a painter anymore. It may happen. It has happened. I think we have a right to change course. But society is the one that keeps demanding that we fit in and not disturb things. They would like you to fit in right away so that things work now.

Anais Nin