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Anaïs Nin, Diary Writing and Women's History Month

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As a teenager growing up in the 1960s, I heard rumblings about feminism and the power of women. My mother, an avid reader, read Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex. She believed in some of the tenets of feminism, but not all of them. She believed it was a man's job to be the breadwinner, while at the same time, she admired educated and accomplished women who garnered interests or work outside of the home. I suppose her attitude rubbed off on me. In many ways, some of her beliefs also shadowed those of a woman I deeply admire, writer Anaïs Nin. I would like to honor Nin for this National Women's History Month.

During my graduate work at Spalding University, I rediscovered Nin in the course of my research on diaries. Her ideas about the power of journaling resonated with me. I felt Nin was a kindred spirit because we both used journaling as an outlet and a way to heal. I admire her candor and honesty. Her words strongly embodied her deepest sentiments. When I wrote my first poetry book, I dedicated it to her and called it, Dear Anaïs: My Life in Poems for You. My introduction, which includes a letter to Nin, concludes: "You have taught me the intrinsic value of the written word, how to dig deeper into my emotional truth, and the importance of having love in my life. And for this, I thank you."

Anaïs Nin was many things to many people: friend, confidant, lover, author, philosopher, psychologist and diarist. In many ways she was a Renaissance woman, interested and interesting in many areas. As a French-Cuban author, she was best known for her published journals spanning 60 years. Like myself, a traumatic event turned her onto writing. When she was 11 years old, her father left the family for a younger woman. Her journals began as a letter to him and as time went on those pages became her best friend, confidant, and a crucial part of her everyday life. Here's what she said about her diary:

[It] deals always with the immediate present, the warm, the near, being written at white heat develops a love of the living moment. One thing is very clear -- that both diary and fiction tend toward the same goal: intimate contact with people, with experiences, with life itself.

In addition to journals, she also dabbled in fiction and erotic literature. At one time she busied herself with psychotherapy, inspired by and working under Otto Rank, who worked with Sigmund Freud.

What made Nin's work so appealing, especially to women, was that she provided profound insights into her role as a woman, a sexual being, and erotic spirit. This helped and continues to help women define themselves, and understand who they want to become. Her written voice is powerful and compelling and the fictional female characters she created are vibrant. Nin was not a feminist per se, although I have heard that she was often invited to speak at feminist rallies and events.

Tristine Rainer, a powerful and accomplished woman, writer and coach in her own right, was Anaïs' friend and protégée, and their relationship left an indelible mark on Tristine. She often quotes what Nin would have said or done in a given situation. Recently, I had asked Tristine to share the most important tidbit she learned from Nin, and she said "I learned that a crazy young woman in her 20s can become a joyful, wise woman in her 60s. It was her [Nin's] belief that we can transform ourselves and our lives through self-creation. And that diary writing was a way."

For more information about Anaïs Nin, check out this link: http://www.anaisnin.com/

For more information on National Women's History Month, check out this link:
http://womenshistorymonth.gov/

Some of my favorite Nin sayings:

Life shrinks and expands in proportion to one's courage.

We don't see things as they are, we see them how we are.

Group activities weaken our will. They may be a solace to loneliness, but they do not foster the individual creative will.

The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.

We write to taste life twice, in the moment, and in the retrospection... We write to be able to transcend our life, to reach beyond it. We write to teach ourselves to speak with others, to record the journey into the labyrinth.