I've been picking up and putting down Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch for quite some time now. Although I once started and stopped Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer, I decide to give his Big Sur book a look. I like the title and think I might enjoy reading about Big Sur in the 1940s.
Perhaps strangely, what I find most appealing is his epilogue. I read it word-for-word. No skimming. In short, it is about distractions and how dealing with them can become a way of life.
While living in Big Sur, Henry Miller has no email, blog, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram, but he receives letters, newspapers, books, magazines, and pamphlets by mail, three days per week. And although Big Sur is very remote at the time, he has visitors--many.
So it seems there is always something to distract, no matter place or time. He does not need the internet to get lost in consumption, know he should get to work, and look up to find the moon rising.
Despite his entertainment of distraction, the ideas continue to arrive. He jots down words or phrases to jog his memory later, but returning to those notes is always a challenge.
He plans to work at night, but then decides rising early is a better idea. When he rises early, going for a walk seems more productive. Walks always produce new ideas. After walking he looks at the beautiful day and thinks it is too beautiful a day to write something that will only leave him open to unwanted criticism. He paints instead. And what about meals and time with family. He enjoys his family. Then the mail arrives.
He considers chucking it all.
Just live. But what does that mean, to just live?
There is the pile of letters and all of the people who require his help. And the books he has not read and the places he has not yet visited. And then he hears the horn. Mail day, again.
He admits a large part of his problem is in his fondness for the act of writing letters. He thinks back to the many letters he's written, before finding himself in this predicament, selfishly awaiting a response. How wonderful it would have been, had I known it then, to write and say: "Don't bother to make an answer. I simply wanted you to know how indebted I feel to you for being alive and spreading creation."
Eventually he decides to devote himself to his works of creation. From now on I intend to devote the best hours of the day, the best part of myself, to the best that is in me. And to enjoy a few hours of leisure, to loaf in peace. No letters. He will no longer sacrifice his work, leisure, family, and friends. Yet it is clear his devotion is not complete, he is still open to a better solution being proposed. If, however, you can propose a better solution, I shall not spurn it.
He ends his epilogue in an apparent state of acceptance--walking, thinking, dreaming of the future, and enjoying the beauty of Big Sur, the place he calls home.
After writing down these notes to share with you later, knowing I have a tower of books at home, and a variety of other things requiring my attention, I decide purchasing Grace Paley's Fidelity is vitally important. Simply reading a library copy in 2012 is not enough. It is a book I need to own, now.
I'm not sure how Grace Paley popped into my mind, but I toss my pencil and notes into my tote bag and march straight to the bookstore, up the stairs to the poetry room, find the only copy of Fidelity on the shelf, and buy it.
A wave of tiredness washes over me. All of my weekend work has left me depleted. I think a walk will wake me up. So I walk. I decide to make a quick call to my father and see how he's doing. One hour and twenty minutes into my "quick" call, lost in my father's world, his phone battery dies. I start to think about dinner, tax documents, several words I want to look up in the dictionary, email, and all else waiting for me.
I sit on the sofa and write down these additional notes. I realize I am still wearing my jacket and take it off. The best hours of my day are gone.
Is this living? I think so. For now.
I look at the bold new tulips on my table, the fading ranunculus in my bay window, and smile at the good light bouncing off the windows across the street and landing in my apartment.