I got inspired by Alexander Eliot’s The Timeless Myths. What came up for me does not quite track with Eliot’s themes, but the mind has a mind of its own and will go where it pleases.
Alexander Eliot wears the mantle of Joseph Campbell. Eliot writes of the mythosphere—the intangible. “It is the collective mind field of conscious beings, including microbes, bugs, dragons, fairies, elves, goblins, ghosts, angels, demons, gods, and even Gods, along with us eternally would-be humans.” Eliot says the mythosphere also “structures and controls the swirling of gravity, magnetism, electricity, light, and heat.” Eliot’s writing feels like a chronological and cultural kaleidoscope. He writes poetic prose that takes the shape of psychically graphic color infused mosaics. I am inspired by his style.
When I was at some age under 10, I recall telling my mother of some troubling incident, some clash, among my peers. Just a moment of childhood confusion. She looked at me and said, “Children can be cruel.” It was like having the rawness and instability of human instinct plunked down in front of me.
During Christmas eve night, in my very early grade school years, I awakened with the need to go to the bathroom. As I passed near the living room, my aunt Edith came near to block the view, but to no avail. I glanced at the door ajar, and caught sight of the fully decorated Christmas tree shimmering in the shiny veneer of the door. This virtual image exploded in a second the magical mythosphere of Christmas morning–receiving gifts and surprises delivered by the red velvet clad legend. I could hear my parents talking off in the kitchen. The thrill was gone. It was they and Aunt Edith who were behind things, not the red velvet clad, jolly legend.
At that young age a feeling of disappointment and realization rushed through my body. I still see in my mind’s eye, as if I were an onlooker, the awakening into the real world that drew my face down into a sadness. I cannot recall if or how the feeling persisted. What I do realize is that some of my childhood had faded.
Sometime in my early childhood, I was aware enough to gather that a married couple who were family friends had separated. I went to my parents and asked why and how people did not stay together. They told me that people change. I did understand the words, but at that age I think Though I understood their explanation, I recall that I did not feel any wiser about couples breaking up.
I am guessing that from age 12 or 13 I served papers every evening to maybe 55 homes in my neighborhood. I was an industrious kid to do this for about four years faithfully. But I did this because my father told me he did not want you sitting around after school. In any case, I think I merit the honorific given to our mail carriers: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
One of my customers was a very striking older woman who was an artist. She set up a drawing contest for children, and I won. I got to know her and she at one point told me that her husband was no longer around. I asked “Why?” and she told me he had decided he did not want to be with her anymore. This surprised me and made me pensive and wonder about life and people.
As a kid—what’s the age of a kid? Anyway, as a youngster just starting to explore the world, I was trusted to meander out into the side-walked neighborhood while visiting Aunt Lucy and Uncle John. Around the corner at sundown, I encountered an elderly man sitting on his front steps, and I greeted him and say down. He had a delicate build; his head was slightly bent down, and his posture closed. The overall color of his clothing matched the dusk light. In any case, it was a sociable moment. At length he shared that he had lost his wife and he so missed her. He then proceeded to tell me that he felt so bad losing her that he had stripped all the wallpaper off the walls of the house. Hearing this, the man had captured my entire attention. I recall wondering what he might have been trying to get at. I was not entirely comprehending what I was hearing—rather, I was overtaken by the mystery of it. This was a moment that cast me into an introspection that broke, relentlessly, into my innocence and blind trust of sunny life. This encounter was a foretaste of what I was to learn in downright from Buddhism, that there is disappointmet, dissatisfaction, suffering in life.
World War II veteran and husband of Aunt Lucy, John T. Dickey, told that as a young child, he became alarmed by one of those churchy predictions that the world was soon going to end. He took his worry to his mother. He said she told him, “John, the world ends for someone every day.”
I remember as a kid seeing the film The Bells of St Mary’s with Father O’Malley (Bing Crosby), and Sister Mary (Ingrid Bergman). These were people like I was encountering at Christ Our King grade school every day. But there they were up on the big screen in black and white. Movies started me on my own “magical mystery tour,” and I’ve been on that tour ever since.
I remember as a kid seeing a film about Franz Anton Mesmer, and being struck with wonder.
I remember seeing a film about people breaking into an Egyptian tomb and finding a mummy and hovering over it.
I remember as a kid seeing the film Caesar and Cleopatra with Julius Caesar (Claude Rains) and Cleopatra (Vivien Leigh). This view of the ancient world stunned and mesmerized me, and the spell has never gone away.
In high school I saw Quo Vadis with Leo Genn as Petronius, the Arbiter of Elegance in Nero’s court. He fell in love with Eunice, played by Marina Berti, his Spanish slave girl. The unforgettable Peter Ustinov was Nero, Emperor of Rom).
I also saw Julius Caesar with Brutus (James Mason), Caius Cassius (John Gielgud), and Julius Caesar (played by the magnificent Louis Calhern). Of course, there was Mark Antony played by Marlon Brando.
Then The Egyptian with Sinuhe (Edmund Purdom), Pharaoh Akhenaton (Michael Wilding), Bella Darvi as the seductive courtesan. Sinuhe, being besotted with this woman, asks her name. She answers, “In their foolishness, men call me Nefer—beautiful.” Peter Ustinov again appears as Sinuhe’s servant Kaptah, and the captivating Gene Tierney plays Princess Baketamon. All these characters I was well aware of, for I had met them in the first novel to pass before my eyes: Mika Waltari’s The Egyptian.
I remember hearing The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot read to our English literature class by a professor who was also a Catholic priest. I was a sophomore at Catholic University, Washington, DC. Prufrock’s story bowled me over, took me by surprise, and shocked me out of my unconscious innocence. I was being invited into a psychological mise en scène, that I had not as yet known. Prufrock is tortured by alienation, isolation, and the diminishing power of the traditional sources of authority. Why did this frighten me awake? Because my Roman Catholic worldview was of life was hopeful and rational, and death would have no sting. The dark archetype, Prufrock, spoke of despair.
The classroom had been fitted out with a dais two steps high. The professor, dressed in his black suit and clerical collar, sat behind a desk, and we had an unobstructed view of him. He was most likely of Irish descent. His hair was white and wavy, and he looked to be in his early 50s and he had a wiry frame. As he read Prufrock, you could tell he was a sensitive soul, and from the look on his face it seemed he was affected by the melancholy that saturates the poem. The tone of his voice was tenor with a slight tremulousness. This did everything to enhance his elocution, his mastery of the cadence of the words, and the desperation.
As the story of Prufrock washed over me, I felt a shudder of awakening rush through me. As a young man I was finally among the elect. I had finally broken through to the realms of worldly ennui, and secular sophistication.
I was not on the basketball court or the football field. I dreamt my adolescence away with:
. P.I. Tchaikovsky’s Capricho Italiano op. 45,
and Rimsky Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol Op 34 and . Scheherazade—one of the most passionate and amorous pieces of music ever written.
. Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the left hand.
. Pines of Rome (Italian title: Pini di Roma), a four-movement symphonic poem for orchestra completed in 1924 by the Italian composer Ottorino Respighi; also, his Fountains of Rome.
. Pictures at an Exhibition, musical work in ten movements by Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky.