March 1, 2013

My Inspiration: Anaïs Nin

“Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country.” ~ Anaïs Nin

By way of introduction, I thought I might say a word about the writer who opened up this genre to me. There are lots of great erotic classics that inspire me, from early practitioners like John Cleland and the Marquis de Sade, to more recent classic authors like Pauline Réage and Terry Southern.  But the one writer who inspires me most is Anaïs Nin.

I grew up in the Midwest in a family where touchy issues were avoided at all costs and silence was the rule of the day.  When I wanted to find out about something, I always turned to books—too embarrassed to admit to my friends just how ignorant I was about things like sex. Like most kids I knew, I did a lot of bluffing that I knew more than I did.

Delta of Venus was first. I can’t remember anymore if I read her diaries first—they’re so closely intertwined—but I do recall buying Delta because I was terrified that I would be stopped or carded or worse, that alarms would go off, blaring “she’s buying a book about sex!”  But it was the local mall book chain, so the clerk just rang up the purchase without a second look (it probably helped that I was tall).

I devoured the book.  It was so specific! It was one thing to read feminist handbooks about sexuality and quite another to read Nin’s passionate words about how it really felt.  I have written elsewhere about how she rescued me from relying on the ineptitude of teenage boys for experience and taught me to expect so much more.  She also made me want to write about those feelings and to try to capture them in words, something I kept to myself—or a select audience—for many years until Lori Perkins announced the launch of Ravenous Romance and suddenly the penny dropped.  Hey, somebody might want to read these stories just like I read Nin!

Nin had an interesting and complicated life that included incest and bigamy, which show up in her stories, where she often seems to be examining and healing the eruptions of life. The very first story in Delta features both incest and rape which shocked me, but didn’t stop me. I hungered for the vicarious experiences both of her characters in the erotica and of her own life in the diaries and novels.  I loved how she used writing to transform herself from a banker’s wife into an artist surrounded by like minds: writers, painters, dancers, filmmakers.

Nin not only gave me the power to understand and explore my own sexuality, she also taught me the power of writing to transform.  I had been raised to dream small, but her adventures helped me learn that I could expand my world if I were willing to dare to do so — and found a new love, a new country, a new career. I’m still learning that lesson, still finding roadblocks I create for myself. I have to remember her words:

“Dreams pass into the reality of action. From the actions stems the dream again; and this interdependence produces the highest form of living.”

Thank you, Anaïs.

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  • LizEverly

    Bravo. Wonderful, inspiring post! I love Anais, too. It’s been years since I’ve read any of her books, but they definitely left an impression on me.I think I might revisit her books soon. I remember seeing a movie about her, too. Can’t remember the name….

    Reply to LizEverly
  • Elizabeth Shore

    She’s indeed a classic unto herself – and for good reason. I remember being both shocked and fascinated upon first discovering her. I, too, was brought up in the midwest and know the rule about not discussing sex, which is Do Not Discuss Sex. Great post!!

    Reply to Elizabeth Shore
    • Post authorcmkempe

      Thanks! I’m so glad I got over my upbringing 😉

      Reply to cmkempe
  • madelineiva

    I saw Henry and June first and then read one of her books when I was pretty young. I loved Henry and June. Though in reading her works I think she comes across as much stronger than she did in the film. I’d been reading mostly romances in my life at that point, and so when I read a scene she wrote about a would-be publisher molesting her, I was waiting for the typical total ish heroine reaction. Yet her reaction was complex and complicated. She could be startled and find the interaction clumsy and upsetting–but she didn’t retreat into a sexlessness because of it. This fact scrambled my brain at first. She owned her sexuality and therefore owned her self more completely. I admired that tremendously.

    Reply to madelineiva
    • Post authorcmkempe

      I was so excited when the film ace out. It wasn’t everything I wanted, but it was good. I too found that she had surprising strength or one one ho seemed so physically slight she had such outsized courage. I know I learned much from her example.

      Reply to cmkempe

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