Another Version of My Early Life
The original vision of childhood is a sense of wonder at everything. I have seen that sense of wonder in my children. I must have had that, too. I recall being fascinated with many things as a child, enjoying playing with fire and water and digging in the earth and building things especially model airplanes.
When I was five my parents took me to see the film “Cabin in the Sky.” Ethel Waters a big black woman, had the lead role. In fact all the actors were blacks. I was frightened by a figure that appeared in little Joe’s nightmare who had horns on the top of his head and called himself Lucifer Junior.
My mother used to leave we with a Mexican lady, Maruca Martinez, wife of the painter, Alfredo Ramos Martinez, in the afternoons to be taken care of. Mina, her maid, frightened me by telling me that if I was not good she would throw me down the stairs into the hands of the boogey man in the basement. Coquitta, (really Maria) their daughter who was crippled from polio frightened me too. I wanted to be part of a family, but I did not belong anywhere.
Sometimes my mother also left me with the sculptor, Jane Rosen, and with her mother’s friends like Tante Nana and Fraulein. I hated the old ladies in black veils. She also left me at the convent on West Adams with Mother Valerean. She left me with Gwen in the desert and left me at Big Bear Boys Camp where I was very homesick and frightened. She sent me away to boarding schools. The message I got was “You’re no good. We can’t do anything with you. We don’t want you. You don’t deserve anything of your own. We don’t love you. Nobody likes you.”
The only positive people I can recall in my early life were my grandparents Elmer and Katie Staude, in Texas, and Betty Frank. I did not like my mother’s motherland her entourage in Los Angeles. I remember being sent away from them because I made too much noise.
I loved to read. The first book I remember reading on my own, with help from my mother who read to me a lot was Robin Hood. There was also a book of fairy stories and legends I enjoyed. I particularly liked the stories of St. George, of Perseus, and of the Dragon.
While I was away at mass, with my mother, my father would stay home and listen to Wagner. I decided that Grand Opera was his religion, and it seemed to be much more exciting than the boring masses I had to attend with my mother.
Baptism, First Communion and Confirmation meant little to me. They were rituals I went through to please my parents. I found going to Church was very boring.
At age 8 I was sent to a Catholic military school, St. John’s where I was indoctrinated with traditional Catholic catechism and internalized guilt feelings regarding sexuality. The nuns frightened me with their images of Hell and the Devil who I feared would punish me if I was not a good boy.
FDR died in 1944. My grandfather died at about the same time as did a young boy who lived next door to me, John Clyde, Andy Clyde’s son. That was my first encounter with death.
In early adolescence I awakened to a sense of the spiritual through poetry and the first stirrings of love in my heart. For me God has always been most approachable through the body of a woman. It is She that evoked wonder in me and led me to turn to him, our creator, in gratitude.
I attended Catholic school for a few months when I entered adolescence in order to prepare for confirmation. I recall that I was fascinated by the emerging sexual beauty of some of the young women in the class, but I was taught that it was sinful to have “lustful” thoughts about women. One should not notice their bodies, I was told, but think of spiritual things instead. I felt guilty about masturbating and was told by the priest to hold a rosary in my hand. The pain would prevent me from continuing. It didn’t. I struggled against these sexual temptations for many years.
At Webb School I was also required to take classes in the Bible as literature. This bored me, but I enjoyed a class in comparative religions in my senior year taught by Mr. Wilson. He had pictures of figures from Greek myth on the walls of his classroom. It was with him that I first developed a real interest in the meaning of myths and symbols. I also was fascinated with the stories told in Bullfinch’s Mythology and particularly the stories of adventures, heroic journeys and the like. When I got to Webb I had an ambition to read every book in the school library, and I just about did. (It was a small library).
As a boy I was impressed with the poetry of the English romantic poets. I think this set the tone for my worldview and religious ideas and feelings. I feel there is a strong continuity between my early romanticism and my later idealism. I have never felt willing to accept mundane reality as it is, as the only world we can know and experience. Already as a youth I accepted the notion of multiple realities and the Buddhist view of the world as an illusion, though I often get caught up in identifying with my own personal suffering and am unable to practice this view in my daily life.
When I was about 15 years old at the end of my sophomore year at Webb School, I traveled to Europe with my parents for the first time. My mother was already in Europe when my father and I left. We sailed from New York on the Liberté, a luxury liner of the French line. I never had so much food in all my life. Tony had an affair on the ship as he had done on the train going from LA to New York.
When we arrived at Le Havre my mother was waiting for us with a little English car a Humber Hawk. We drove through Rouen to Paris. The sky was grey and it rained and rained. The sky reminded me of the skies in some of the French impressionist paintings I had seen in our living room at home. France was more or less as I had imagined it would be. I recall the strange smells in our first Paris hotel room, and the strangeness of the old lady who watched us through a veiled glass door as we entered the building where mother had rented a small apt for us. I learned that such women are an institution in France called the conscierge.
I recall the smell of French coffee and pain au chocolat. In the mornings I had hot chocolate rich with fresh milk and hot croissants. Like a puppy I explored the unfamiliar sights and smells in the neighborhood.
Mother had acquired an escort, Gerard, and his attractive wife or mistress Paulete. I developed a crush on her and enjoyed dancing with her despite the fact that she smelled of garlic. Her full breasts bulged out of her low cut black chiffon dress. I fantasied that I would like to make love to her, but I did not yet know how.
I recall going with my parents to the bar at the Ritz Hotel. I ordered a Coke and Bisquit. I anticipated getting a coke and cookies but instead they served me coke with brandy in it. I felt betrayed and spit out the coke in disgust and made a scene.
We set out in the car and drove south to Tours, Poitiers and the Chateau country which we explored for several days before heading south into Provence. I was particularly enchanted with Carcasonne, which conformed to my image of medieval France. I had just completed an elementary course in medieval history at Webb and now felt thrilled to see a real medieval town complete with towers and encircled by a high stone wall.
I learned of Simon de Montforte and the Cathars and the Courts of Love of the Troubadours. These tales fascinated me and I determined to learn more about medieval France someday. I still love medieval towns and medieval art and history.
The objective of our trip, from my mother’s point of view, at least, was to see as many beautiful churches in France as possible. I can’t remember them all. I had the feeling of being dragged around France from church to church like Eloise in New York. I was impressed with Chartres, Ronchamps and St. Paul en Vence.
We drove on over the Alps to Italy via the Dolomites and Cortina d’Ampezzo. I developed a crush on a pretty American girl there. We played tennis and I longed to play with her tits which I watched bobbing like tennis balls before my eyes.
We left there too soon for mty liking heading South into Italy. We stopped in Verona and in Venice where we stayed at the Royal Danieli and visited the Lido. Later we went to Florence Pisa and finally to Rome. By this time I had eaten too much Italian ice creamn and got sick. I spent most of the time we were in Rome sitting on the toilet or lying in bed in the hotel.
On our return journey we stopped again in Paris and visited Montmartre where I made the acquaintance of a delightful character named Mimiche. He ran a little joint restaurant near the Lapin Agile. He played the cello and told dirty stories. I recall the climax of one story when he unzipped his pants and pulled out his pecker and waved it at the audience. I later discovered that this long thing was not his pecker at all but a rubber. It was some time later before I learned what condoms are used for. At that time I thought it was like a rubber glove.
We then took the Golden Arrow train to London, across the English channel, the luxury boat train of those days. We rode in first class, of course, and I loved how we were served tea and sandwiches. I loved high tea and later had it at the Grovsnor House in Mayfair, where we stayed. I have always enjoyed London. We returned to the USA at the end of summer and I returned to school at Webb in the fall.
I traveled all over the world through my imagination, reading adventure books, horse stories, classics, whatever I could get my hands on. What I wanted to understand really was myself and other people but it was a long time until I discovered psychology. My first study of human nature was through literature. One of my favorite books from my high school days was Jean Christophe, though I never read through all the volumes of the entire long novel.
In my late adolescence I became more committed to writing and to spirituality.
I had been lonely at boarding school up until my junior year when I began dating Nancy Palmer, a girl who lived up the street from us in Hollywood.
I would like to describe the atmosphere I experienced during my last year in high school when I was 17 years old. I was editor of the school paper, The Blue and Gold, and had finally carved out a small place for myself at the school. At the end of the year upon graduation I was awarded a prize for having read more extra books than any other student. I was proud that I had my name in most of the books in the Webb School library. My grades were never extraordinary and I did not get into Princeton the college of my first choice but I did get into Duke so I went there.
After I graduated from high school I spent the summer in England as an exchange student with the Experiment in International Living program. That was a turning point in my life.
I sailed on a student ship, the Arosa Kulm and returned on the Arosa Star. It was lots of fun, but very different from the luxury liners I had sailed on before with my parents. We sailed from the port of New York. This was the first time I was traveling so far away from home alone. I was excited and anxious. What adventures lay ahead for me? I was to be plaed in an English family in Plymouth in Devon. I enjoyed the English lifestyle very much. Thus began my lifelong love affair with England.
I first began to take a serious interest in the divine and to feel some relationship to Jesus Christ when I was 17 or 18 years old, during my first year at Duke University. At that time I became seriously interested in mysticism and began to read everything I could about it.
I thought I wanted to be a writer, so I thought I would major in English. I found the English professors too pedantic, however, so I switched to history. There was one English professor I liked very much–Russell Fraser, who had a student literary discussion group that I participated in with relish. It was called Areopagus, after the original Supreme Court of Athens.
One person was particularly influential on me among my college teachers. That was Dr. Harold Parker, a brilliant modern European historian. From him I first discovered that history was not so much a collection of facts but the interpretation of the relationships among these facts. Equally important for me as mentor at this time was Prof. Ernest Nelson, who was a specialist in Renaissance and Reformation history.
My freshman essay was on Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther. I tried to demonstrate that Werther was a symbol of his age and that Goethe managed to resolve his own personal inner conflicts through his creativity. I had my own share of personal emotional problems at this time myself.
I went to college in the South because I knew that so many of the great modern American writers came from the South and I wanted so much to be a writer. At Duke I sought to write for the Archiveliterary magazine but my work was not published there. Instead I wrote copy for the Playbillprograms. I have always been better at re-working material than creating it from scratch.
I recall my first year Duke where I made friends with young men like Bill Spann, Rusty Stahlnacker and Tyson Underwood, Fred Chappel and Reynolds Price.
Tyson came to visit me in California during our summer vacation in 1955. He had stopped at the bus station en route and dyed his hair black.
My first sexual experience was with Betsy, a beautiful blonde southern belle, in the college dorms. She was so sweet. Yet I rejected her after a while and went for Joanie, a dark haired beauty who I met on a blind date arranged by my roommate, Dick Phillips. I felt so close to her and we had good sex, but afterwards I felt guilty. I went to confession as soon as possible after I had sex.
I was also troubled by what I was learning in my philosophy classes. I wanted to find out my own identity. my values and beliefs. I loved history. I had good teachers like Prof. Harold Parker, Bill Holley and Ernest Nelson, the Renaissance and Reformation scholar. I admired him very much. In my sophomore year I took a class from him on the foundations of Western Civilization.
I will never forget that class. We read Heroditus and Thucydides and Sophocles and St. Augustine. I have always loved the Greek classics.
When I was supposed to go to work for Brunswig Drug Company, the summer after my freshman year, I could not face it and read Greek tragedies as a way of protesting my fate. Eventually I got a summer job as a law-clerk instead.
I enjoyed the chamber music concerts. I remember one concert in particular in which I was making love to Betsy in the adjoining ladies lounge while the quartet was playing.
I felt guilt about sex and confusion with the secular modern philosophies I was being exposed to at college. In fear and defence I fled to a Catholic Jesuit university where I was guaranteed of being taught the TRUTH. However, I was disappointed with the philosophy and theology I was taught there.
In my sophomore year in college my mother gave me a book by a Benedictine monk, Father Bede Griffiths, The Golden String. It meant a lot to me. This was the first time that I saw that a religious quest could be taken seriously by an intellectual, which was what I aspired to be someday. At this time I also first read St. Augustine’s Confessions. He became one of my lifetime heroes. Soon afterwards I read The Outsiderby Colin Wilson, which introduced me to Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Pascal and other existential thinkers who became my heroes as well. I was also fascinated by the life and thought of Nietzsche.
When I entered my first year of college I was supposed to join the ROTC but I did not want to. I did not have the courage to say no directly, but I resisted letting the orderly take a blood sample from me. He told m I had better get used to it because there would be a lot of such experiences of such unpleasantness ahead for me in the military. On this basis I decided not to enroll in ROTC. My advisor taught Russian Lit. so I enrolled in his survey of Russian Lit instead. Here I encountered Lermontov, Pushkin, Turgenev, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Thus began my lifelong interest in Russia and in Russian history and literature. (Later in graduate school I specialized in comparing modern Russian and German intellectual and cultural history).
At the end of my sophomore year I transfered to Georgetown. The summer between Duke and Georgetown I drove a traveling bookshop around Cape Cod. Got to know soem interesting people on the Cape including Paul Chavchavadze, a Russian emigré writer. I’ve always had a weakness for Russians.
I was scheduled to go to Europe at the end of my Junior year but instead so as to be near Joanie Knowles I spent the summer working as a counselor at the Big Toe River camp with the crippled children. I see a familiar Pattern here of sacrificing an activity which requires my being alone and taking a risk with loneliness for the security of staying in a familiar place in order to stay with a girl or woman I love.
Beginning in the fall of 1956 I transferred to Georgetown University in Washington DC.I recall reading Jung and Freud and philosophy and searching for the truth and listening to Fr. William Lynch lecture on literature and philosophy. Also Father Martin D’Arcy, Dr Rommen, reading Samuelson and Schumpeter and studying the History of Economic and Political Thought.
I found the Thomism and Scholasticism at Georgetown dry and boring. Instead I turned to the French existentialists and to exploring philosophy through literature. I found great inspiration in a literature class taught by Fr. William Lynch.
To this day literature is my favorite way to access philosophical and religious or spiritual ideas. I enjoy encountering ideas in the contest of personal drama. The evocative images speak to my heart. On the other hand for religious feeling I prefer sacred music. I had some courses in philosophy of religion with Father Martin D’Arcy who I found inspirational, but he was often over my head.
The one philosophical work I remember reading in college that really opened up new vistas on religion for me was William James’ Varieties of Religions Experience.Even today I can hardly think of a work of greater significance for me for James introduced me to the psychology of religious experience. I also became interested in the psychology of Freud and C.G. Jung at this time, as I was looking for a therapeutic alternative to Thomistic psychology.
I recall discovering a different kind of spirituality with Fr Damasus Winzen OSB at Mt Savior. I want to mention one person and a place that had an influence on my spiritual development–Father Damasus Winzen, at Mt. Saviour, a Benedictine community in Elmira New York where I made several retreats before I went to Europe. “Incline the inner ear of the heart and listen to the world of God” Benedict said in the prologue ot his rule. Through Father Damasus and Brother Gregory I discovered the Fathers of the Church, such as St. Augustine, St. Jerome and Origin, and came to appreciate the beauty of the Bible and the Liturgy. At Mt. Savior I sometimes had the sense of being in the presence of God, of experiencing wonder and gratitude at his majesty and glory. With the Jesuits this had been only an intellectual concept for me. Among the Benedictines I experienced it in my heart.
In my senior year in college I became interested in French literature and philosophy, particularly after reading Wallace Fowlie’s book, A Guide to Contemporary French Literature.This led me to embark for a year of study of French literature in Paris. However I did not really know French well enough to read the literature or criticism in the original for enjoyment. I did read some Camus and Claudel and some other modern French writers and even wrote a play modeled on Claudel’s work while I was in Paris. I was still troubled by guilt feelings about sex. It took some years of psychoanalytic therapy to finally move beyond that place in my spiritual and emotional life.
When I arrived in Paris in the summer of 1958, after graduating from Georgetown, a young Frenchman I had met on board the student ship I had sailed on from New York suggested that we find a small hotel and share a room. He did not have much money, he said, so he offered to show me around Paris if I would pay for his meals. He knew just the place. It was on the Left Bank, right near the Place St. Michel. The hotel was small and clean but our room was tiny and the bedsprings sagged to the floor when I lay on the bed–as French hotel beds so often do. We stayed there two or three nights and explored Paris during the days. One morning when I got up I found to my surprise that my “friend” Gerard had disappeared. This was right after I had told him I was getting worried about how much money I was spending. He left we with the entire hotel bill to pay. I felt angry and disillusioned. This was a preview of other similar experiences I was to have in the future.
I felt delighted to be in Paris and was determined to learn French properly. I began by attending a course at the Sorbonne, but found it was too much work so on hearing about a pilgrimage going to Brittany I decided to join that. It was run by Pax Christi, a group that grew up after World War Two to help young persons heal the wounds and overcome the stereotypes left from war propaganda and experience.
After the Pax Christi pilgrimage I went to Grenoble to study French.I first visited Germany in the summer of 1958. I was studying French in Grenoble. My parents were traveling through Europe and invited me to meet them in Düsseldorf. We traveled down the Rhine by train and got off in Stuttgart where my father picked up a Mercedes he had ordered in America. It was quite a ritual picking up the Mercedes. I resolved then that someday I would get a Mercedes of my own. We drove to Munich where we visited my “brother” Pierre and then drove on to Salzburg and on to Vienna. There my mother made a diatery cure in a hospital and she and her doctor decided that it would be good for me to make the same cure so I did. What was peculiar about her cure was that instead of following the hospital regime she had a hot plate under her bed with which she cooked her own supplementary meals.
I had been eating too many pastries and pommes frites in France and Germany and had become constipated. The doctor created a culture from my stool and injected this culture into my rectum thereby creating new bacilli to move along the stool through my intestines. I have never suffered from constipation since. My bowels work like clockwork.
I returned to Paris in the fall ready to study. At first I tried to stay in a Benedictine monastery but they through me out after I came home late a few times. I then stayed in a Catholic boys college on the Rue de Vaugerard. After a short time I was thrown out of there also because I did not mix well with the other boys and also refused to adhere to the early curfew imposed on residents of the college. I t reminded me of my life at Georgetown University, until I had escaped and gotten an apartment off campus.
I then moved to a hotel on the Boulevard St Michel around the corner from the Sorbonne. I enrolled in a course on French literature for French teachers from abroad. The lectures were over my head and I could not really do the assigned reading much less write the required essays. I dropped out after a couple of months. While I was in the course I met a nice young American called Greg who had a flair for languages and seemed to know not only French but German Spanish and Italian. He played the guitar and seemed more able than I to live on his own. I admired him and enjoyed our few meetings together. I also got to know a few other students who were friendly enough, but most of the time I felt isolated and alone. This was to be my primary experience in Paris and most places thereafter, feeling isolated and alone.
I spent most of my time in Paris either reading in my room or walking the streets exploring the biways of Paris. Eventually I met an attractive young French girl, Denise, and tried to develop an intimate relationship with her. We never got beyond holding hands. As a good Catholic boy I had ambivalence about sex as she did as well. But I wanted her to be my girlfriend anyway and she refused.
I was lonely in Paris and felt forlorn as the winter set in. One time an old friend of my mother’s Midu, invited me to visit her in her room at the Crillon hotel. She greeted me in a neglige and lay invitingly before me on a chaise longe. I was very uncomfortable, I felt like the boy in the Graduate with Mrs. Robinson. I couldn’t respond to her. Though she was very beautiful she was old enough to be my mother and had a son older than me who I had once played with. I later learned that my “brother” Pierre had had an affair with her. My mother later told me that she was a nymphomaniac.
In time I got to know a group of German students in Paris, outsiders like me. I found them much more open and friendly than the French. One of them invited me to spend Christmas with her in Heidleberg. Another German girl I had met during the Pax Christi pilgrimage wrote inviting me to visit her in Westphalia; so I decided to spend my Christmas holidays in Germany. This was to be a white Christmas.
I had acquired a Porsche as a Christmas present from my parents. I decided to try it out on the winter roads of France and Germany. I went to Westphalia first, driving Northwest from Paris into Germany via Saarbrucken. I went to visit Ingrid, a slim blonde, but when I found she had another boyfriend I cultivated her plump motherly girlfriend Maria. I later wrote a one act play about my relationship with Maria. From Westphalia I proceeded South to Heidleberg. It snowed in Heidelberg while I was there. It was beautiful. I stayed only a few days and then went on to visit my brother Pierre who was then staying in Mulhouse near Basel.
I drove down the highway along the Rhine and suddenly became terrified when my car skidded out of control and I almost landed in the Rhine. I was terrified and telephoned Pierre swearing that I would not drive anymore even if it was Christmas eve and I wanted to meet him. He encouraged me to drive slowly and carefully and to come along. I did and arrived in Mulhouse with no further mishap. Pierre and I talked a long time about our plans and prospects for the coming year. He had just finished studying design in Basel and was going to move to Munich to open an office there with his friend and partner Klaus Oberer (Obei). I was going to write the great American novel in Paris. I returned to Paris shortly after New Year’s.
So I spent my first winter in Europe. It was too cold for me and I longed for the warm sun of Southern California. After over twenty years in Europe I still have trouble with the winter cold.
In Paris I got to know another German girl. We had a Platonic relationship, which was all I felt capable of because of my guilt feelings about sex but when I learned she was screwing other guys I decided to try my luck as well. She was agreeable after a long petting session, but when it came to it I ejaculated before I could even enter her. I felt so guilty about all this that I rushed to confession the next morning. My brother had a more casual attitude to it. Wash it and its as good as new he would always say. But like Lady Macbeth though I washed and scrubbed it I could not wash away the stain of sin in my consciousnesses. For this it took the magic of priestly authority.
The most extreme example in my life of this compulsive behavior was one time when I actually felt so guilty that I told a girl while I was inside her that what we were doing was sinful. She thought I was joking but eventually I convinced her I meant it. she pushed me out and pushed me away. I could not understand why and begged her to let me continue making love to her. She said I was crazy. I ran to a priest and got absolution and then came back to her to try to talk her into making love with me again. It took me many years to overcome these guilt feelings about sex.
At St. Severin in Paris I had my first experience of “worker priests” Through them I learned to think of my workplace as my altar. I learned from Pere Villart at St. Severin that there was a way of taking the mystery and grace we experienced gathered around the altar at mass out into the world of everyday life.
I returned to California in the spring after my winter in Paris. I did one term at Stanford University studying drama and playwriting and then transferred to Claremont Graduate School in Southern Calif where I studied ancient and modern history. I got on the defensive about my religion and wrote papers for my grad seminar in Renaissance Studies in which I tried to show the truth of the Catholic faith embodied in Dante’s Divine Comedy.This was not well received by my professors at CGS. I wrote a master’s thesis in History on “Jacob Burckhardt’s Philosophy of History”.
The next year 1960, at UC Berkeley, I tried to confront modern historicism, Marxism, and psychoanalysis head on but had a hard time holding on to my Catholic faith in the process. I was fascinated with Nietzsche’s critique of Christianity and by Marxist sociology of knowledge. As I was also interested in philosophical anthropology I finally decided to write a dissertation on Max Scheler, a German Catholic philosopher and sociologist. Work on Scheler, particularly his philosophy of religion helped me find a better intellectual footing for my faith. Gradually, however, my faith and commitment to Chirstianity got lost in other concerns. I remained a Catholic but psychotherapy, particularly Freudian, Jungian, and Gestalt psychology, replaced Christianity as my principal frame of reference for a long time.