Honey Talks About Anais Nin

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April 20, 2010 · Posted in Notes from Above Ground 


NOTES FROM ABOVE GROUND


By Honey van Blossom

 

A year after my mother’s funeral, I spent Christmas Eve some years ago with my younger step-brother and stepfather at the home of an elderly Ukrainian man – John – in Cathedral City, which is near Palm Springs.

The funeral had been relatively horrible. My stepfather was a Jew but he got a priest to deliver the eulogy because, as he said, “You never know.” My brother wore movie star sunglasses indoors and took over for the priest and spoke for hours, all of it a lot of crap. Afterwards, my brother solemnly sat us down and said that the mourner who arrived dressed like Elvis Presley had put Voodoo beads in our mother’s casket to replace her rosary and for just a moment my father had wanted to go out and dig her up.

John had a heavy hand when he filled our glasses with a transparent alcohol.

Our father sat unnaturally upright in his chair. He had been misled by the apparent innocence of the white alcohol and had drunk three glasses of it. He had drunk one beer and one glass of Manischewitz Concord Grape wine in the eight-five years leading up to that dinner.

My brother’s face turned red. I had been through holidays with my brother before, so I started to get up to join the women in the kitchen who were cooking an enormous beast in the oven. I did not get up fast enough.

“Mom took me to Christmas mass,” he began. Our mother had not been inside a Catholic Church since 1945, when the Church excommunicated her for divorcing her first husband, the one she called What’s-His-Name, because he hit her a lot. For the remainder of her life, she believed everything she learned as a child, but she felt betrayed.

I edged closer to the kitchen door.

“The priest droned on and on,” my brother, who had never heard a priest’s homily in his life, said. “I felt a fart coming on.”

Our father tilted sideways. I went around the table and pushed him back up. He tilted the other direction.

John — almost ninety himself but with an enormous alcohol tolerance — looked at my brother with an expression of growing horror.

“Then it came: a monumental fart, a fart without parallel, a fart that stunk up the entire church. The windows stained glass windows rattled.”

I shore my stepfather’s rigid torso up with some pillows and went into the kitchen. I heard, “They threw us out of the church.” There was some rushing around noise after Dad hit the floor.

My brother’s girlfriend basted the beast, which was lying in a baking pan, with something brown and said, “Your brother’s been through a lot. He left home when he was thirteen to live with a stripper.”

“Funny,” I said. “I never noticed he was away.” I saw my brother’s ursine shadow cast against the kitchen door, with its pointed ear bent in our direction. “Maybe I wasn’t paying attention,” I said.

So last year, when I took Boryana Rolfe on a walk, and we walked on Hidalgo past Anais Nin’s house, and she said she wanted me to tell her everything about Nin, I didn’t want to do it: Anais Nin had something in common with my brother.

They could be the same person on a psychiatrist’s chart of histrionic personality disorder, the person with an asterisk after each criterion. Nin matched my brother’s self-absorbed grandiosity, all-teeth-shining and charming spider-in-the-web manipulation of all people, really rather remarkable number of sexual conquests and betrayals ““ surely even my brother had something else to do? ““ a consuming hatred of anyone he believed did not adequately admire him, including two farm laborers who walked across a parking lot where he stood waiting for me so that he felt he must shoot them with the revolver he kept in our father’s car in a tool box (He didn’t shoot them. I went back into the office and dialed 9-1-1. All that happened was that the farm workers moved quite a bit faster than they may have customarily done.).

Of course, there are differences. Anais Nin wrote well. My brother has read one book, Cinder the Cat, and he spells “night” n-i-t-e and is not kidding. Anais Nin was a feminist icon for some feminists, and some feminist idolaters.

The Nin hagiographers swallowed the Nin-spun myths without chewing. Robert Zaller, for instance, in his “Introduction” to A Casebook on Anais Nin, (New American Library 1974, “Casebook”) writes that she supported herself as a dancer and model. She never supported herself. Her legal husband, the ever patient Hugo, supported her and paid for dancing lessons for her but she took the lessons too late in life to become a professional dancer. The indulgent Hugo also supported her mother because her violent and abusive father abandoned his family when Nin was ten years old. (Nin and her father became lovers when she was thirty.) Hugo was a good artist, and he was a better dancer, yet he struggled to pay Nin’s enormous debts and payoffs to lovers working as a banker, and her response was to criticize the man for abandoning his own writing.

Nin supported her married boyfriend Henry Miller with Hugo’s money until Henry got old and pot-bellied, and she also took money Hugo intended for her mother’s rent to help Henry. Henry Miller writes about her famous journals, “The chief concern of the diarist is not with truth”¦.” This is a circumlocution. Casebook, p. 6.) Nin lied all the time. Big lies. Small lies. A spectrum of medium-sized lies. See, Diedre Bair, Anais Nin A Biography, 1994, G.P. Putnam’s Sons). Also, see, Salon’s interview with Diedre Bair at http://www.salon.com/weekly/bair960729.html. (Retrieved March 7, 2010)

Salon asks Bair, “Why do you think Nin was so severely denounced for having lied in her own diaries?”

“,,,,’ (W)hen Nin’s diaries were published, women in the ’60s, in the dawning of the feminist movement, were reading these diaries and were saying, “˜Oh my God, here’s one woman who really had the perfect life. She went around the world independently, she lived independently, she did whatever she wanted, she was in charge of her own sexuality, her own finances, everything. We all want to be Anais Nin.’

“Many, many women I know left their partners, changed their sexual identity, just totally changed their lives, and in many instances really messed up their lives. And then it gradually filtered out, well, you know, she not only had one husband, she had two, and one of them was incredibly wealthy, and he paid for everything. She was never really doing anything on her own, there was always this big safety net of all these people. And so people turned against her, because the diary wasn’t the truth.”

Bair may have unintentionally omitted from her interview comment about the women — going back probably at least to Georges Sand (1804-1876), continuing with Kate Chopin’s The Awakening (1889), Virginia Woolf’s masterpiece Mrs. Dalloway, and A Room of One’s Own (1929), and Anne Desclos’ novel about sexual submission, The Story of O, (1954), who all wrote much better than Nin, and who wrote with dimensionality and insight, about women’s lives and struggles towards freedom.

That anyone believed Nin at all mystifies me. She wrote about her mental health that she was “sick, very sick,” and she was right. By sheer will power she turned her personality disorder into art, and that was obviously a perilous thing for her to have done to those who read her books. I had not believed her when I was ten years old, but, of course, I had always known my younger brother, and most adults did not have that advantage.

When I was ten, the year before Nin’s other husband Rupert Pole was my science teacher at King Junior High, my mother had her hair done at Elida Casteneda’s beauty salon and Elida colored her hair twice a month and permed it every two months. Before the 1960s, most Silver Lake women never went outdoors with regular looking hair. Between visits to Elida, my mother wore metal curling rods at night.

The women of that time did not have normal bodies. Neither women nor girls sweat. They rested. They baked things.

Ladies wore pointed brassieres that made their breasts resemble torpedoes during the hey-day of the military industrial complex, or like the grilles of Buick automobiles.

Ladies wore full body girdles that compacted the rest of their bodies and made them look like upended trout. Even skinny women wore girdles.

Fat women wore peach tinted corsets with shoe lace-like strings that drew them in.

In this context of 1950s conformity, Nin swam languidly to my attention, brought to me by Elida Casteneda, who smelled of ammonia from giving my mother another perm and from talc so she wouldn’t offend, with her hands open and in them five slender books.

“I have this client,” Elida said. “She prints her own books because no one will publish them. She doesn’t wear any underwear at all, and you can see through her clothes.”

“I hear you read,” Elida said. I was on a turquoise Naughehyde chair with chrome arms, and my head was poked under the shining metal hood that descended over women’s heads to dry their hair, only the hood was shut off. “I don’t understand these books and your mom says I can give them to you.”

As I sat there under the silent metal hood, I knew immediately that neither Elida nor my mother had read a word that was in those five books. They must have thought Children of the Albatross a book about children and a big sea bird. Ladders to the Fire — that must be a book about firemen. I have no idea what was going through their minds when they gave me House of Incest to read. Maybe its title had been stuck to the back of another book or something.

I spent the morning reading a story written monotonously in B minor about the time Nin’s abortionist removed the six-month old female fetus from the author so that Nin would not have to interrupt her creativity for long. I read about all kinds of sex, none of which involved penetration, but which sometimes involved men on their knees in front of the protagonist.

“It’s time to go,” My mother said.

“I am glad you liked the books,” Elida said.

“Really,” my mother said, “It’s time to get up?”

“Honey?” Elida said.

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