because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Monday, July 2, 2012

Anais Nin

Today's in-your-face woman's name is Angela Anaïs Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmell. So -- needless to say -- she grew up with an attitude. Of French, Cuban and Danish descent, she moved with her mother and siblings from Cuba to Spain to New York City and, while she quit school at sixteen, she wrote journals from the time she was eleven until she died at seventy-three.

Hanging around with an arty crowd in the 1920's, she took flamenco dancing lessons in Paris and wrote critiques of D.H. Lawrence's work for publication. And then she met Otto Rank, a therapist who had broken with Freud to forge new pathways to understanding artistic expression and the power of women's sexuality. "As [Rank] talked," Nin later wrote, "I thought of my difficulties with writing, my struggles to articulate feelings not easily expressed. Of my struggles to find a language for intuition, feeling, instincts which are, in themselves, elusive, subtle, and wordless." In other words, he helped to unleash Nin's in-your-faced-ness.

Though married to a banker during the 1930's, Nin lived out a rollicking and passionate love affair with writer Henry Miller in Paris and then married Hubby #2 (who she kept in California) while still married to Hubby #1 (who had the common sense to stay in New York City). The fact that she was in her forties at this time and Hubby #2 was in his twenties was irrelevant to the in-your-face woman and she maintained both marriages and separate personal identities (complete with checking accounts in each name and so on) for eleven years until the question of who should claim her on his income tax return forced the issue. Mess though it was, Nin's solution was to go ahead and have the second marriage annulled (she was raised Catholic, after all), but to continue to live with "Hubby" #2 while remaining married to Hubby #1 and swinging from coast to coast as the spirit moved her.

Famous for her fifteen volumes of memoirs, Nin is also famous for her erotic novels, Delta of Venus and Little Birds. And she's famous for having sex with a goodly number of famous men writers and artists, as well. Her practice of living as an in-your-face woman and writing about it, too, made her something of a hero to young women in the 1960's trying to free themselves from social compunctions that restricted them only because they were women. Despite her willingness to speak regularly on college campuses, though, Nin herself didn't embrace the political implications of either her life or her work. Sometimes, in-your-face women are so busy living in-your-face lives, they really can't be bothered to put it all in some big fat social context to make sense of it for the rest of us. Encapsulating her philosophy of life, Nin simply told her youthful listeners, "Life shrinks or expands according to one's courage."

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