Sometimes I am reminded just how dangerous an education can be. Learning is the vehicle that can carry the human race far into the stars or deep into every imaginable hell, both literally and figuratively, but it’s the figurative that gets us into the most trouble.
I have been learning—and practicing, in a sense—the mythos of Romanticism almost as long as I have been able to read, and I don’t know when I first learned to conjure imagination from scribblings on a page. I am a Western child of the 1950s and 1960s, brought up with middle class morals and the aesthetic of a thousand years of civilized culture, steeped in the poetry and heroics of The Illiad & Odyssey, The Idylls of the King, The Tempest,and ten thousand others.
From my beginnings I chipped away at the ivory, looking for Helen, Penelope, Guinevere, Miranda…even Nimue, Circe, Persephone. We can’t escape them. We read to our children (or today show them the movies) and tell the stories of Belle and her Beast, Cinderella/Aurora/Snow White and their Princes. Most of the time the only place to find them is in the stories, in our imaginings.
Because of the infection of learning, I suffered the foolish sculptor’s disease. Still do, I’m afraid. The curse causes me to imbue unsuspecting hearts with properties that are rarely present, or at least devoid of the antidotal kiss for a suffering frog. The expectations are too high. The reality not quite “she who is milk-white” and with the blessing of the goddess steps off the pedestal and into “ever after.”
It is costly. Heartache learned as a child—with attendant titters of embarrassed laughter and later sometimes very real bruises—last far into aging memory, especially when it is renewed often. Every invitation denied, letter spurned, affection unrequited is a misplaced hammer blow that leaves a blemish in the perfect statue and drives home the fact that illusion and imagination and perfection are not reality.
The myth is that the statue was perfect. It doesn’t say, however, that the sculptor was not.
A bit of insight: I watched My Fair Lady tonight. First saw it when I was in seventh grade. When Eliza, dressed to attend the ball that is the final “test” of his teaching and her learning, came down the stairs in Professor Higgins’ home, I was again that gawky eleven-year old boy who couldn’t breathe. Audrey Hepburn at that moment is Galatea, and I saw the statue come to life.