One Life

“Always merry and bright!” is the ironic refrain throughout Henry Miller’s “The Tailor Shop.” Miller doesn’t hide the bad in those times, the dark and the grim; he doesn’t hide his own “bad heart” or the bad in the other people he spent time with. And yet the cheerful refrain rings out: “Always merry and bright!” Because you’ve got to keep your chin up, haven’t you?

As Robert Ferguson notes, Henry Miller by the end of his life was the model of the cheerful old man, “shamelessly proclaiming his happiness” and riding around on his bicycle. Old Miller seemed to know the meaning of life and was a shining example of a happy human being.

But the Henry depicted in the story of the tailor shop is a younger Henry, who has not yet found his way. He is a man in no way to be admired. Not for the things he does, nor for the way he passively allows things to happen to him. He wants to be a writer so he writes books. But he only writes them in his head, in the mornings on the way to a job he doesn’t want to do, and by the afternoon he’s forgotten everything he’s “written” and has to start over again the next morning.

But there’s no point judging him. He’s dead and gone this young Henry Miller. He died so that the old Henry Miller might live. Henry Miller the flawed human being had to make way for Henry Miller the holy man and writer.

Towards the end of the story Henry Miller laments that he only has one life: “One life! And there are millions and millions of lives to be lived.” With this lament the young man comes as close as he’ll get to the truth for many years. The truth that he would discover, and which would liberate him, was that one can and must live a million lives in one lifetime if one is to be an artist. Only in this way, by relentlessly experimenting and reinventing oneself, can the correct formula ever be hit upon. Only in this way can a vital and essential transformation ever occur.

(I’ve been reading Black Spring by Henry Miller and Henry Miller: A Life by Robert Ferguson.)

This entry was posted in books, Literature and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to One Life

  1. jnauthor says:

    “One life! And there are millions and millions of lives to be lived.”
    That’s a great quote to live our lives by.
    Fascinating post, Lee.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.