A young Henry Miller looks around the home he now shares with his wife Mona. He turns to his library:
“Every book on the shelves had been acquired with a struggle, devoured with gusto, and had enriched our lives.”
Henry and Mona’s new home is more than they can afford. It is a paradise, simple and clean. Miller gives us an impression of space, wide polished floors, and an absence of clutter and disorder of any kind. A phrase that struck me: “not one object too many.”
I feel shame at my own clutter, my own unread books, piles of papers, books acquired too easily, pages held on to for no reason I can fathom … It’s a tottering teetering mess of shelves, bags, and boxes, strewn with crumpled and torn pages, and old forgotten books half-buried underneath.
A twisted instinct to gather all these things to me and hold them here. It all has some purpose: each book, each scrap of paper. Each speck of dust. Every atom of the world has potential meaning, and Miller ends his chapter by talking about how he would read the world, both at home and when out for his daily walks. He would read everything, a glutton. He would devour his books and then, out for a walk, he would read everything he saw: faces, buildings, street scenes … All of these stored away like passages from a book. With hindsight he can say he was storing all this up for his future work, but at the time did he know what he was doing? He was proceeding like all those full of life, seekers of joy, artists: alive, senses open, led along wherever life would take him. The natural state for an artist: chaos. The natural state for one who has learned to live in the moment.
Miller’s new home, tidy and ordered, is an oasis amid the chaos, a moment’s respite. Life throws up these flashes of calm sometimes, a blessing to anyone whose time on earth must otherwise be entirely chaotic.
(I’ve been reading Plexus by Henry Miller.)