I am a baby boomer, so Anaïs Nin has been a huge influence on my development both as a writer and as a woman. She has liberated my inner voice and has given me the courage to be honest about my feelings. For years I've been entranced and transformed by her style and how she gets to the core of human emotion, as she wrote with transparency and the wisdom of a sage. Her intimate language flows like a river, with soft murmurs and occasional raging rapids. She was able to say all the things I felt inside but was unable to easily express.
The more familiar I became with Nin's work, sensibilities, and passions, the more I realized how much we had in common. We both believed that journaling captures living moments. Also, we both began journaling at the age of 11 as a result of a loss in our lives. Nin began writing as a letter to her father after he left the family. I did so in a Kahlil Gibran journal my mother gave me after my grandmother committed suicide. In a sense, we both turned to journaling as a way of coping and healing from the pain of our losses.
In many ways, I feel a resurgence of Nin's work. A couple of months ago I sponsored "Anaïs: A Dance Opera" (Janet Roston, director/choreographer; Cindy Shapiro, composer, librettist) in Los Angeles. It was a sensuous, compelling, and thought-provoking performance -- a wonderful portrayal of the amazing woman Nin was. More recently, I was excited to learn that executive producer Brandon Milbradt had optioned 50 short stories from Nin, including the collections Delta of Venus, Waste of Timelessness, Under a Glass Bell, Cities of the Interior -- Ladders to Fire, Children of the Albatross, The Four-Chambered Heart, A Spy in the House of Love, and Seduction of the Minotaur.
When I asked Milbradt what inspired her to option Nin's short stories, she said that that about a year ago she wandered into her favorite bookstore in the East Village in New York City, and was drawn to a stack of Nin's books. She sat down on the bookstore floor and began reading and devouring her words. She found herself completely captivated by her writing. This passage particularly resonated with her:
"I am a winged creature who is too rarely allowed to use its wings. Ecstasies do not occur often enough. Reality doesn't impress me. I only believe in intoxication, in ecstasy, and when ordinary life shackles me. I escape, one way or another. No more walls."
As Milbradt continued reading Nin's works, she found that phrase after phrase and passage after passage washed over her in a moving way. Milbradt said that while she's nearly 40, she was first introduced to Nin's erotica when she was in her 20s. She recalls thinking of her as being smart and titillating. She loved the rhythm with which she wrote and how her words were "hot," deeply intelligent, and profound. "I'd never read anything so visceral and so thought-provoking...a commentary on our deepest fears, desires, and shames [as women]," she said. Now, in revisiting Nin nearly 20 years later, Milradt sees a different layer, as she relates to her curiosity and hunger for life and the passionate pursuit of the ordinary.
The task of optioning short stories, like any other creative endeavor, is a journey requiring tenacity and deep passion. Milbradt's project is in the early stages of development. She began the process by writing letters to Nin's estate representative, Tree Wright, describing her passion and her vision. It was important to her that Wright knew she wanted to tell Nin's stories elegantly and with integrity. After a few months of back-and-forth correspondence, Milbradt was touched when Wright invited her to Nin's old home.
"I became quite emotional when I walked into her office. It was overwhelming. It felt magical. I want to do right by Anaïs and the Trust," she added. Milbradt shared that already many actresses have expressed a great deal of interest in the material, and she's excited and enthusiastic about the possibilities. She said, "As a feminist precursor to women like Gloria Steinem and Lena Dunham, Anaïs was controversial in her time, but she has tremendous relevance today."
The fact is, Nin took risks in her exploration of the feminine character and sexuality. She acknowledged her struggles with sexual identity while living primarily in a man's world. Milbradt concluded that exploration is a brave endeavor in 2016, but in the 1940s, "it was unheard of."
Milbradt and I have similar sentiments about Nin, how she resonates with women, and how she pulls us into her essence. Many people have described Nin as a universal mother and priestess--a mother to all, and the best psychologist for women. Her way of thinking and expressing herself has helped so many individuals give a voice to their own feelings and experiences. Many Nin supporters and fans are seekers who love reflecting and examining their lives and those of others. Perhaps as children they might have also felt misunderstood by their elders, and maybe even felt like old souls beyond their years. Nin simply had a way of empowering women, enabling them to be their own entities and inspire them to follow their bliss and live up to their full human potential, as expressed in the tenets of humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow
Nin's writing is a dose of magic. Magic cannot be explained; it appears, we bathe in it, and we relish every second of its presence in our lives. All we can do is bow our heads and, in return, express gratitude. As author Valerie Harms said about Nin, "Her presence is felt everywhere instantly. She is like the sun, giving light and warmth and nourishment to people, enticing their creative selves to unfold, like flowers in bloom."
Milbradt is fascinated by the juxtaposition between Nin's seemingly demure persona and her provocative writings and the duality in her life. She's very interested and excited to explore this in her own creative work. Further, she says, "I'm dying to introduce her to a new generation of women."