Anais Nin spent a lot of time trying to write to the bottom of her self. She obsessed over her diary, calling it her "opium pipe," and although friends, family, and doctors urged her to put it down for the sake of her own health, Nin couldn’t quit recording.
Like most diaries, Nin’s are often both confessional and mundane. She rehashes therapy sessions, analyzes the subtext from dinner parties, and details her encounters with an on-again-off-again boyfriend. The fact that her shrink, Otto Rank, was Sigmund Freud’s foremost protégée, her friends were illustrious artists living in Paris, and her boyfriend was Henry Miller (whose wife June was also hot for Nin) didn’t hurt her chances of publication, but, initially, it wasn't enough to find Nin a buyer for the more than 15,000 cahier pages. Nin was 62 when her journals were finally published in 1966. She died in 1977.
The seven volumes span 43 years of her life (they don't include journals that Nin wrote from the ages of 11 through 28), and are documents of personal investigation and self-portraiture so candid that they bring to mind the film-world phrase “unflinching portrayal." Her fiction, essays, and erotica are similarly forthright. Nin was uncomfortable with preconceived notions, surfaces, and stereotypes. When she became too familiar with herself or anyone else, she dismantled her deepest convictions and reassessed them. Obeying a compulsion to explore personal identity as a means of understanding human nature, Nin repeatedly breaks her mirror and pieces it back together. The result is a glittering, fractured mask of self and other. Here are five of Nin’s most luminous reflections.
1. “The truly faithless one is the one who makes love to only a fraction of you. And denies the rest.”
Nin was a bit of an Ethical Slut, which is to say, she had a moral approach to intimate relationships that eschewed the conventional regard for monogamy. Cheating, by Nin's standard, is not defined by having more than one lover, but by a lover’s failure to embrace their partner wholly and fully. This implies that one should love their partner(s) not in spite of physical or psychological imperfections, but including or even because of them.
2. “Pain is something to master, not to wallow in.”
Nin was prone to emotional anguish that sometimes manifested itself physically, and though she was drawn to the opiate-craving June Miller and other dabblers, she was suspicious of drug addicts and their avoidant behavior. She believed in confronting all feelings, positive or negative, and struggled to come to terms with the discomforts of her hypersensitive constitution.
3. “The only abnormality is the incapacity to love.”
When we allow ourselves to be tyrannized by notions of normalcy, our best interests can become alien to us. Maybe, as Nin suggests, we should stop having monstrous "debates" about who should be allowed to marry or semantic disputes over the definition of family. Instead of trying to define what’s normal, we should recalibrate our connection to that which is natural: our ability to love. Otherwise, as Nin says in another entry, we’re liable to put ourselves "in bondage to the past."
4. “And the day came when the risk it took to stay tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
Seeing a tarantula molt is like watching a person lying flat on their back trying to wriggle out of a pair of skinny jeans very, very slowly. Afterward, the tarantula is so vulnerable that even the smallest disturbance can seriously injure it. It’s not a comfortable process for the spider, but staying in the undersized exoskeleton isn’t an option. As Nin points out, there are moments in life when taking a risk and making a change are absolutely essential for personal growth. But even if the change is unavoidable, making it takes courage.
5. “We are going to the moon—that is not very far. Man has so much farther to go within himself.”
Astrobiologists may be pursuing intelligent life elsewhere, but Nin believed in endless possibility, beauty, and variety here on earth, and she longed for others to feel the same way. As she says in the first volume of her diary, “I want to be a writer who reminds others … I want to prove that there is infinite space, infinite meaning, infinite dimension.”