Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘Anaïs Nin’

21 FEBRUARY, 2014

Happy 111th Birthday, Anaïs Nin: The Famous Diarist on Love and Life, Illustrated

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“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

I believe that most things worth knowing about life can be learned from the sixteen volumes of diaries that Anaïs Nin (February 21, 1903–January 14, 1977) began keeping at the age of eleven and continued until she died at seventy-four — things that have to do with why emotional excess is essential to creativity, why inviting the unknown helps us live more richly, how our objects define us, personal responsibility, the elusive nature of joy, writing, and the meaning of life.

But most enchanting of all are the timeless insights on love and life that Nin — a woman who made her own rules for living as expansively as possible in a society that kept trying to contain her — spilled into the pages of her diaries. Over the past couple of years, those have come to life in a series of collaborations from the Brain Pickings artist series, as I’ve asked artists and illustrators to capture some of my favorite highlights from years of reading Nin’s diaries.

Writer, artist, and frequent collaborator Debbie Millman created a duo of hand-lettered typographic artworks based on Nin’s meditations on love. Both are available as prints here and here, with 100% of proceeds benefiting A Room of Her Own, a foundation supporting women writers and artists.

San-Francisco-based illustrator Lisa Congdon created a trio of black-and-white hand-lettered artworks based on my highlights from the third volume of Nin’s diaries.

In fact, out of this series sprang my yearlong collaboration with Lisa, highlighting women who changed our understanding of the world, which kicked off with Nin:

Explore more of Nin’s wisdom in the archive, including a recording of her reading from the famous diaries, then treat yourself to the recently released Mirages: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1939–1947 (public library).

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12 NOVEMBER, 2013

Anaïs Nin on the Elusive Nature of Joy

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“There are so many joys, but I have only known the ones that come like a miracle, touching everything with light.”

Anaïs Nin (1903–1977) is not only one of history’s most dedicated diarists, but also a vocal expounder of the idea that keeping a diary enhances your creativity. She began hers when she was only eleven years old, originally as a letter to her father who had just abandoned her, and maintained it until her last breath. Her sixteen tomes of published journals span more than half a century and have given us her timelessly resonant insights on such wide-ranging subjects as love, parenting, self-publishing, why emotional excess is essential to creativity, how inviting the unknown helps us live more richly, and the meaning of life. However, since Nin’s diary recorded the vibrant and uncensored fullness of her life — which included a social circle of prominent public figures and a love life of multiple affairs defiant of the era’s norms and stereotypes — the standard editions of her journals, edited by her husband and literary executor Hugh Parker Gulier, suppressed the unfiltered and controversial eroticism, which spilled onto the diary pages. In disguising the eroticism, however, Guiler also amputated much of what made Nin Nin: Her exuberant capacity for emotion.

Anaïs Nin (Photograph courtesy of Ohio University Press / Swallow Press)

From Mirages: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1939–1947 (public library) — the long-awaited uncensored version of volumes 3 and 4 of her diaries, answering such previous mysteries as how and why her affair with Henry Miller ended and what role the effeminate young literary men who surrounded her played in her life — comes this poignant meditation on the elusive nature of joy, which Nin penned in December of 1939, shortly after the flare of WWII, which deeply affected Nin and permeated her psychoemotional landscape:

Over and over again I sail towards joy, which is never in the room with me, but always near me, across the way, like those rooms full of gayety one sees from the street, or the gayety in the street one sees from a window. Will I ever reach joy? It hides behind the turning merry-go-round of the traveling circus. As soon as I approach it, it is no longer joy. Joy is a foam, an illumination. I am poorer and hungrier for the want of it. When I am in the dance, joy is outside in the elusive garden. When I am in the garden, I hear it exploding from the house. When I am traveling, joy settles like an aurora borealis over the land I leave. When I stand on the shore I see it bloom on the flag of a departing ship. What joy? Have I not possessed it? I want the joy of simple colors, street organs, ribbons, flags, not a joy that takes my breath away and throws me into space alone where no one else can breathe with me, not the joy that comes from a lonely drunkenness. There are so many joys, but I have only known the ones that come like a miracle, touching everything with light.

It was precisely this joy that Nin experienced when she got news of the war’s end.

Mirages, revelatory in its entirety, was preceded by Incest: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1932–1934, Fire: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1934–1937, and Nearer the Moon: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1937–1939. Complement it with this exquisite recording of Nin reading from her famous diary and her timeless wisdom on writing and the future of the novel.

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27 SEPTEMBER, 2013

In Pursuit of the Extraordinary: Anaïs Nin Reads from Her Famous Diaries

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“Ordinary life does not interest me. I seek only the high moments. … I want to be a writer who reminds others that these moments exist.”

I often say that the answer to every existential question can be found in the journals of Anaïs Nin, one of the most dedicated diarists in modern literary history — her sixteen tomes of published journals, spanning more than half a century between the time she began writing at the age of eleven and her death, are a treasure trove of insight on love, literature, and human nature. In this rare recording from 1966, digitized thanks to a grant from National Endowment for the Arts and contributions by Pacifica Radio listeners, Nin reads from the first volume, though The Diary of Anais Nin, Vol. 4: 1944-1947 (public library) remains the best in the series — the same gem that gave us Nin on the meaning of life, how our objects define us, why emotional excess is essential to creativity, and how inviting the unknown helps us live more richly.

Ordinary life does not interest me. I seek only the high moments. I am in accord with the surrealists, searching for the marvelous. I want to be a writer who reminds others that these moments exist; I want to prove that there is infinite space, infinite meaning, infinite dimension. But I am not always in what I call a state of grace. I have days of illuminations and fevers. I have days when the music in my head stops. Then I mend socks, prune trees, can fruits, polish furniture. But while I am doing this I feel I am not living.

Complement with Nin on how keeping a diary enhances creativity.

Anaïs Nin's diaries, hand-lettered by Lisa Congdon. Click image for details and more illustrations

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.