“don’t look back!” what is it about looking back that the gods of the time felt was such a bad idea? (see also: lot’s wife.) can you really ever escape something horrible by not looking back, examining it? in effect, aren’t they saying reflection on the past or considering your past is worthless, even dangerous?
having just finished reading daniel mendelsohn’s personal history “the american boy” in the january 7th issue of the new yorker about his correspondence with author mary renault, it got me thinking about how greek myths spoke to me as a young child with certain proclivities (confession: i tended toward the dramatic.) and although i enjoyed renault’s take on the greeks, it was edith hamilton’s mythology that made that time and philosophy of life real to me in a personal way. renault was interpretive, injecting her prejudices and personality into the stories she wrote about the greeks whereas hamilton was reporting/translating what she found in the original classical texts. it’s possible hamilton’s texts reflected her own personal life in some way, but it was not apparent to me at the time.
but i also never thought of communicating with an author as he did in his adolescence, which now, as i look back on all of that reading i did as a child/teenager/young adult/forever surprises me a bit and saddens me too. i must, of course, exclude my online relationship with the author of “the metropolis case“, but that’s different, isn’t it? today, it’s so easy to find your favorite living author hanging out online; facebook, tumblr, wordpress, twitter, wherever, and they seem so accessible.
what mendelsohn discovered in renault was his burgeoning homosexuality and i had found mine in the television shows “jonny quest“ and “the wild, wild west” instead (those are at least the touchstones of realization for me, i’m not saying they were the only thing that spoke to me of the possibility of a life lived differently.)
mendelsohn was fortunate that renault turned out to be kind and understanding. his leap of faith that she would understand his secret was quite thrilling to read about, but it is also interesting to me that her acceptance of him didn’t seem to embolden him to live more openly. he was an adolescent in the 1970s and he lived close enough to ground zero of the gay liberation movement to have found his way as a young gay man, but each of us must find our life in our own time. just remember: once you do, don’t look back.