Memory: I’m a little girl on family vacation and we’re driving the Pacific Coast Highway across those incredible public works bridges commissioned during The Great Depression. It made me lightheaded to look down and see the crashing waves and to see those old dates carved into the gorgeous stone work of the bridges. It’s beautiful and terribly inconvenient in Big Sur. Those two go together often.
It was no surprise that we stopped into the Henry Miller Memorial Library just off the road. My father would have missed it but my mother carries a fantastic bloodline or arts, writers, and creators of all types. She’s always had a credible aesthetic and she instilled in me a great love of art and literature. I owe her a debt of gratitude for my good taste and although she offered no direct instruction, the thing about good taste is its undeniable relationship with bad taste.
As a child, I had no idea who Henry Miller was but I did know that I liked places where the drinking of coffee or tea was encouraged and where adults seemed totally at ease without children without stooping to the kind of grotesque plastic children’s programming I had been apprenticed to turn my nose up to in favor of vibrant and authentic creativity. Even though it was somewhat quiet, there was something deeply relateable about the space that permanently impressed itself upon my grey matter.
How far does such influence spread? Aside from the practical implications of Henry Miller’s censorship battles as well as the relatively common ground of subject matter that we share, I also imprinted on the notion that redwoods+beach=optimum space for thought. I went to college not so terribly far away from the spot at UC Santa Cruz where I got my beach, my redwoods, and my weird fucking hippies.
Inside the library, Miller’s works hang suspended from the ceiling.
I can’t think of the Henry Miller Library without thinking of Big Sur and its impact on literature as a whole. A massive portion of my favorite modern creatives have spent their due time in Big Sur. Some lived there when it was a bohemian backwood with no access to modern city living and convenience. I’m already a lover of the great outdoors and my partner and I take advantage of every change we get to indulge our urge to bust out our backpacking tools and get away from it all. I know many nooks and crannies and places to get away. Still, I’ve always had an urge to be a “writer in residence” near the Henry Miller Library and live in a tent for a few weeks on a massive creative binge so I can feel a little closer to “the source” or “the muse” or my “self indulgent fan girl wannabe writer compulsion.”
“I am surrounded by lunatics here, people screeching every time I pull a trigger, yelling about my blood-soaked shirt, packs of queers waiting to do me in, so many creditors that I’ve lost count, a huge Doberman on the bed, a pistol by the desk, time passing, getting balder, no money, a great thirst for all the world’s whiskey, my clothes rotting in the fog, a mootrcycle with no light, a landlady who’s writing a novel on butcher-paper, wild boar in the hills and queers on the roads, vats of homemade beer in the closet, shooting cats to ease the pressure, the jabbing of Buddhists in the trees, whores in the canyons, Christ only knows if I can last it out.”
-Hunter S. Thompson, letter from Big Sur August 4, 1961
Right now, the Henry Miller Memorial Library needs a lot of financial help to update their facilities for disability access, retrofitting, health, and safety issues. Under the leadership of Magnus Toren (or, Hippie Sven, to his friends) the library is more than just a novel stop on the road the way it was when I was little. Now it hosts incredible events including film, readings, and a lot of really impressive music. I’m impressed that the space is not content to rest on the laurels of nostalgia, lazily inspiring that little spark of intrigue that makes your average tourist wonder what it might be like to commit social suicide and live a life of decadent, bohemian poverty and art before they laugh off the absurdity of the idea and buy a trinket to remember that feeling of life and energy when they get home. It matters that art lives rather than being merely showcased.
So if you have some cash, send it over to the Henry Miller Memorial Library. They do have some good schwag for donations right now. In the $25-$149 range you’re already getting admission to a fundraiser celebration party where you will be appreciated as a generous benefactor and a video thank you from Hippie Sven which is pretty much priceless and you know it. They’re also throwing in a bumper sticker so that everyone on the road and in the parking lot knows that you know your esoteric art and literature. The gifts get better as the donations go up.