March is Women’s History Month, and there are so many women to honor who’ve carved an important place in history. This month, I choose to highlight someone whose writing has personally changed my life: writer Anaïs Nin.
A Passion for Writing Is Born
Nin was many things to many people: friend, lover, author, philosopher, psychologist, and diarist. In many ways she was a Renaissance woman, fascinating in many areas. As a French-Cuban author, she was best known for her published journals that spanned 60 years.
As was the case in my own life, a traumatic event triggered her passion for writing. When she was 11 years old, her father left the family for a younger woman. Anaïs’s journals began as a letter to him, and as time went on, those pages became her best friend, confidante, and a crucial part of her everyday life.
This is 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.”
A Dept of Feeling
I admire the candor with which she wrote. Her words strongly embodied her deepest sentiments, so much so that readers experience similar feelings. When I wrote my first poetry book, I dedicated it to her and called it Dear Anaïs: My Life in Poems for You.
In my introduction, which includes a letter to Nin, I conclude by saying: “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.”
Here is one of the poems from my collection:
During the yearnings
of my youth, I dream
of the multi-colored love chains
crafted for boyfriends
from gum wrappers ripped in half,
folded four times and woven together
to their height, and ceremoniously
presented as a souvenir of our love,
until dentists shouted that too much gum
rotted our teeth. The sugarless kind
had boring wrappers. In return, the guys
gave us silver bracelets engraved
with their names, and we swore
not to lose them, as our fragile
adolescent wrists were weighed
down with the chain of silver, stamping
us for taken, as if the hunk of metal could
ever stop young wandering eyes.
Nin’s Role in Women’s History
In addition to journals, Nin also dabbled in writing novels, short stories, and erotic literature. For a time she also busied herself with psychotherapy, inspired by her work with Austrian psychoanalyst Otto Rank, who had worked with Sigmund Freud.
What makes Nin’s work so appealing to women is that she provides profound insights into her own role as a woman, a sexual being, and an erotic spirit. This helps others define themselves and understand whom they’ve always wanted to become.
Her written voice is powerful and compelling, and the fictional female characters she created are quite strong. She was not a feminist, although I’ve heard that she was often invited to speak at women’s empowerment rallies and events.
A dear friend of mine, Tristine Rainer, a powerful and accomplished woman in her own right, was Nin’s friend and protégé, and their relationship left an indelible mark on Tristine. Often when I’m at lunch with my friend, she will quote what Nin would have said or done in a given situation.
Once I asked her to share the most important thing 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 Nin’s belief that we can transform ourselves and our lives through self-creation. And that diary writing was a way to do so.”
Here are some of my favorite quotes by Anais Nin:
- Life shrinks and expands in proportion to one’s courage.
- We don’t see things as they are, we see them how we are.
- Passion gives me moments of wholeness.
- The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.
In summary, thank you to all you women out there who, through your writing, influences, and work, have empowered the lives of others. We stand on the shoulders of giants!
Do you have a woman role model? Who is she? Why do you hold her in such great esteem? How has she influenced your life and the lives of others? Are you an influencer? How do you inspire other women? Please share in the comments below!