Thursday, January 20, 2005

A Note for Anais Nin

"She lacks confidence, she craves admiration insatiably. She lives on the reflections of herself in the eyes of others. She does not dare to be herself." Anais Nin

Dear Anais,

That's a rather harsh thing for you to have said, and very judgmental. It isn't very nice either. You could have been talking about me, you know. I don't often admit to myself that I crave admiration, but I do. I want to be admired, but it goes against all the "good girl" teachings that I have ever been taught, the ones about being humble and gracious and compliant. So many of those "good girl" traits have turned on me in the last few years. I thought it was good to be humble and gracious and compliant. And geez, I just can't help it, I've done it so long, lived off reflections of myself in someone else's eyes. If I am not seeing myself reflected in the eyes of others, I can't be sure I exist.

"There were always in me, two women at least, one woman desperate and bewildered, who felt she was drowning and another who would leap into a scene, as upon a stage, conceal her true emotions because they were weaknesses, helplessness, despair, and present to the world only a smile, an eagerness, curiosity, enthusiasm, interest." Anais Nin

Well, see there, Ms. Nin--Ms. Judgmental--you are not without your own shortcomings. And here I thought you were so confident. It must have been so hard on you concealing your emotions like that. Did you ever get so good at it that you could no longer feel anything? That's what happens when we refuse to feel the feelings we judge to be bad. We become numb, and we can no longer feel the good feelings. We lose the ability to feel altogether. Why do we so often have to present that courageous front, only to deny the weaker side of ourselves? Why do we ignore our weaknesses like a red-headed step-child? Why can't we embrace our weaknesses as well as our strengths?

"You live like this, sheltered, in a delicate world, and you believe you are living. Then you read a book (Lady Chatterley, for instance), or you take a trip, or you talk with Richard, 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." Anais Nin

We could talk about this Anais, but you went and died. I wonder, did a "shock treatment" ever awaken you? I know for myself, those "shock treatments", whether it is a person, a book, or a song, they wear off too quickly. Those things are similar to the self being reflected in the eyes of another. They are outside influences. Sooner or later, the person moves on, the book ends, and the song fades and we are left again with the shell that is our self. Surely there has to be something of value within our selves, Anais, something that remains though all else takes leave, something that is there within us that is ours alone, and not dependent on being reflected in the eyes of another, or in the pages of a book, or in the melody of a song. Did the Creator miss an ingredient when he crafted us Anais? Is there something lacking in us? Or are we just blind to our own weird beauty?

There is something else, Anais. The pursuit of the "shock treatment" becomes like an addiction. The effects of the new person, the fresh book, the melodic song wears off too soon, and the hunger returns, and we get this raw sense of desperation, trying to feed ourselves, trying to fill those empty spots that we think must be filled. Maybe sometimes we just need to accept that the adage "less is more" applies to more than just interior design. Maybe we need to embrace the empty spots of our souls and quit looking for the next "fix" to spark our lonely little lives. Maybe it is good to live a little on the hungry side, to be lean, as opposed to being fat and full. I don't know Anais, don't listen to me, I'm just doing a little free-writing here. Don't take me too seriously. It's just some stuff we could talk about, if you were alive.

You said your diary was "the only steadfast friend I have, the only one which makes my life bearable, because my happiness with human beings is so precarious, my confiding moods, rare, and the least sign of non-interest is enough to silence me. In the journal, I am at ease."

Maybe we could have been friends. Though I don't know, from what little I have heard, you sound like you had a bit of a flamboyant streak in you. I can't be flamboyant Anias, I just can't. But dang, I know exactly what you mean about the least sign of non-interest being enough to silence you. It's that "good girl" mentality. We crave the intimacy of close friendships, and yet, we don't want to be a bother to anyone. We think we are the only ones who are hibernating, and not living, so we keep our mouths shut and write our little secrets in our journals, longing for friendship, but afraid to be a friend. And no one else ever knows, until we are dead and gone, and all the clutter of our lives is being removed by those we leave behind. And even then, they may not look at our journals. They may just toss them into the trash with the old college notebooks.

"My dear diary, it is Anais who is speaking to you, and not somebody who thinks as everybody should think. Dear diary, pity me but listen to me."

Yeah well, Anais, that plea might just be a cop-out. We can hide in the pages of our diaries, Anais. We can write and pour out our very souls, and no one will ask us "why don't you do this?" or "why do you put up with that behavior?" or "why in the name of goodness do you never think things through?" No one will challenge us to change, to stretch and grow. Yes, Anais, the damn diary will listen ever so patiently, but honestly, what does it give us in return? Can the diary hold your hand? Can the diary open arms to hug you, to hold you while you cry? Can the diary praise you? Can the diary celebrate your victories with you? Can the diary look you in the eyes and share your pain?

That's what I thought, Anais. The diary itself is a place to hibernate, a safe place where we can be sure we will not have to do anything but write with great flair about our loneliness.

Sorry if I have been a bit blunt Anais. I am still looking for your books. I want to read your words in context, to interpret them within the proper framework. Could you ever have imagined your words would have an impact on women so far removed from your generation? I guess that means there is value in those words we so lovingly inscribe in our little books. It is comforting to know that I can identify with your words. Comforting to know that someone else, in another time, felt the way I feel today. I am your future Anais. I am one who has seen your words, and I have gained insight from them. Thanks, Anais.



  1. Well said... I can identify with much of this. I wonder if in that first quote she was talking about herself. ?? Who knows. This makes me think of something I read recently. Thomas Merton in No Man is an Island wrote something that I think speaks of that "precariousness"... (I'll blog about it sometime) he talks about how we draw each other out in intimacy - out over the void - but we must be able to go back into ourselves when that moment is over in order to not fall into the void. And so for whatever that may or may not add, I just thought of it while reading this.

  2. I too, wrote a letter to Anais Nin.
    I thought you should see it...



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