Dig, she said
“What’s past is prologue” wrote William Shakespeare in The Tempest, and I see personal evidence of this sentiment in themes resurfacing throughout my life.
One recurrent theme is the itch to burrow under the surface and find out what lies beneath. In Aldous Huxley’s Hands, the process began about a dozen years ago when I dug through my father’s one thousand old photographs of hands. One turned out to be the hands of Aldous Huxley. I followed that research thread as it spooled out from this single surprising discovery.
Harking back, I see how such a pathway probably began. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an archaeologist, then a detective, then a spy. Years later my early urge to dig into matters fed into a career as a journalist (someone who tenaciously follows leads), and it influenced my two graduate school pursuits, first in the history of religions and, later on, in the history of journalism.
From earliest memory I avoided dolls in favor of wildlife, especially insects and small creatures. At nine I observed the weird workings of my glass-fronted ant farm—those little critters really knew how to dig!–and I watched the microscopic bump-a-car movements of teeny paramecium scooped up from the murky L.A. River. The microscope was my requested tenth birthday present.
I kept a pet rat, too, and a skunk named Daisy–she had been, shall we say, cosmetically deodorized. And in the summertime I cultivated caterpillars. They fattened up on leaves I kept in a big box so I could protect the crawlers and watch them progress through the chrysalis stage until they turned into butterflies, when I set them free.
Many of these early fascinations have followed me one way or another throughout my life and work.
I remember once reading in an anthropology class about a ritual in which a native tribe presents three tool-like toys to a toddler to see which one he or she will reach out and choose. That choice is taken as an indication of a life path ahead, a future adult’s trajectory. If I’d had to pick one, I imagine it might have been a shovel, symbolically pointing away from paths not taken and foreshadowing the paths I would eventually take.
So to me, the idea of the potential of the prolog as expressed in The Tempest rings true, and in a different way so does another four lines from the same play:
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t!
I had no idea how meaningful this third line would become for me later in my life, when I ended up writing about Aldous Huxley and his most famous work, Brave New World.