How often do you experiment?

Today is March 20 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you experiment?" To navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well, it will be necessary from time to time to experiment. A young woman once asked French-Cuban-American Anaïs Nin the following question: “Question: I am interested in so many things, and I have a terrible fear because my mother keeps telling me that I'm just going to be exploring the rest of my life and never get anything done. But I find it hard to set my ways and say, ‘Well, do I want to do this, or should I try to exploit that, or should I escape and completely do one thing?’”

In her response Nin emphasized the need to experiment with one’s life and said “One word I would banish from the dictionary is 'escape.' Just banish that and you'll be fine. Because that word has been misused regarding anybody who wanted to move away from a certain spot and wanted to grow. He was an escapist. You know if you forget that word you will have a much easier time. Also, you are in the prime, the beginning of your life; you should experiment with everything, try everything.... We are taught all these dichotomies, and I only learned later that they could work in harmony. We have created false dichotomies; we create false ambivalences, and very painful one’s sometimes -the feeling that we have to choose. But I think at one point we finally realize, sometimes subconsciously, whether we are really fitted for what we try and if it's what we want to do.

You have a right to experiment with your life. You will make mistakes. And they are right too. No, I think there was too rigid a pattern. You came out of an education and are supposed to know your vocation. Your vocation is fixed, and maybe ten years later you find you are not a teacher anymore or you're not a painter anymore. It may happen. It has happened. I mean Gauguin decided at a certain point he wasn't a banker anymore; he was a painter. And so he walked away from banking. I think we have a right to change course. But society is the one that keeps demanding that we fit in and not disturb things. They would like you to fit in right away so that things work now.”

Nin’s own life was an experiment. A Sady Doyle wrote in "Before Lena Dunham, there was Anais Nin-now patron saint of social media," an April 7, 2015 article published in The Guardian “In her lifetime, Nin was an oddity: for one thing, she was a woman who wrote explicitly about sex from a female point of view. Her work included frank portrayals of illegal abortions, extramarital affairs, and incest, all of which Nin wrote about without judging her female characters. That’s brave in 2015; in 1940, it was career suicide.”

In her lifetime critics railed against Nin and called her irrelevant, a joke, a fraud or in the words of one detractor, “a monster of self-centeredness whose artistic pretensions now seem grotesque.” That changed in 1966 when Harcourt Brace published The Diary of Anaïs Nin. The existence of the diary, a monumental life’s work that Nin was completing in secret – even when radically edited down for publication, it spanned seven volumes and 50 years – had long been speculated about in literary circles. So began the age of Anaïs Nin, feminist icon: worshipped by young women who believed she had provided the first real account of how a woman could thrive in the male-dominated world of literature. She toured the country, giving readings and speeches.

Fifteen years after her death her image was tarnished when the public learned she had two husbands: Hugh Parker Guiler in New York and Rupert Pole in California. Moreover, the 1995 publication of Deirdre Bair’s award-winning biography contributed to the character assassination by painting Nin’s as a woman who, in the words of The Philadelphia Inquirer “lied and fornicated the way the rest of us breathe.” Review after review focused on Nin solely as a sexual object: someone who’d had too much sex, and the wrong kind of sex, and should therefore be punished.

In recent years, however, social media has helped to rehabilitate Nin’s image and is taking place not because her work has changed, but because the world has changed to make room for her work. As Doyle noted “Twenty years after the great trashing of 1995, the landscape is different. The world of 2015 is, essentially, Nin’s world to claim. To blur the boundaries of life and fiction, as Nin did, has gone beyond being an acceptable tactic of experimental writers, and is now practiced by reality-television producers and popular novelists alike. Similarly, for a woman to write about her sex life has not been shocking since the invention of Blogspot. Self-publication, too, has lost nearly its stigma, thanks to the fact that ‘real’ writers and civilians alike are expected to do it. Like many great and ‘mercilessly pretentious’ experimentalists, she wrote for a world that did not yet exist, and so helped to bring it into being.”

Nin lived a life of experimenting. How often do you experiment?