Henry Miller and Doing More Work

If you want to create – to paint, to write, to make music – you need to do so in the face of the pressures and demands of modern life. It’s about maintaining an inner equilibrium, carving out a space for yourself in which you can work in peace, free to follow your muse in these hours when you’ve put some distance between yourself and the world.

Stand Still Like the Hummingbird, as its title suggests, is a book about finding that place of stillness and quiet in which you can carry out the activity of creation. It’s a collection of essays, but the theme of the artist in the modern age runs throughout. The first essay, entitled “The Hour of Man,” sets the tone, being an essay about the importance of setting aside even just one hour a week in which you turn off all devices – in those days he’s talking about turning off the TV and radio and putting down the newspaper – and thinking about your place and purpose in the world. But other essays on diverse themes – the writers Henry Miller admires, the meaning of money – are also written to the same tune. So, for example, in an essay about Kenneth Patchen, we learn about the poet’s sensitivity, and how his art – “a mantle of fire” around him – served as a kind of protest against the world that also protected him against it. And in “Money and How It Gets That Way,” we learn about the symbolic value of money, and how we might use it without being deceived by it – without getting sucked into the pursuit of money for its own sake, and forgetting that money exists for us: to serve us, the individuals who handle it every day.

The pervading message is: whatever happens, create! Whether it is money, meditation, or art itself, its greatest purpose for the artist is that it helps to create a space in which more work can be done, where the artist can realise herself over and over, and become every day the creative individual she is. Stand Still Like the Hummingbird is one of my favourite books because, while covering many different topics, it sings over and over its refrain of hope for the artist.

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