[submitted for publication in an upcoming issue of Green Egg Magazine]
This is the second in a series of three essays on the Dragon. In particular, how I got connected with the Dragon. The first essay, Kryptozoesis, was published recently in the Winter 2020 edition of Green Egg Magazine. Originally, I imagined just two essays. The second would be called Gyronoetiks. But, since the publication of Kryptozoesis I have thought about this and I now feel that this essay needs to be essay number two. It is far more personal than Kryptozoesis was. It is pretty much biographical. You know what the deal is here. It is the Journey, not the Destination, that Teaches you what you need to Know. So here we are.
You remember Puff the Magic Dragon, don’t you? It was a song written by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary, released in January of 1963. Did you know that it was based upon a poem, written by one Leonard Lipton (call him “Lenny”) when he was only nineteen years old? Nineteen Fifty-Nine! Oh! And did you know this? Lenny is alive and well, living in Brooklyn, New York. Right now. He is 80 years old. He is an author, filmmaker, lyricist, and, an inventor, says Google. I didn’t know about Lenny until about twenty minutes ago. But I knew about Peter, Paul and Mary, and, Puff the Magic Dragon.
Now, my Mom, for reasons unknown to me, decided one day to build herself her own little music box. She had this cheap little brass box with a hinged lid, inlaid with intricate Baroque style designs in red. The lid was permanently attached and had a simple clasp to keep it closed. Mom took two brass kitchen cabinet door handles and affixed them to the bottom to act as bizarre feet for the box. Then, she drilled a hole in the bottom and attached a little music box mechanism to the bottom of the inside of the box with the stem for the wind-up key sticking down through the hole, and reattached the little handle thing. It just screwed onto the stem. Presto! Prestidigitato! You got a Dragon in a Box and all you gotta do is Wind it up.
This was probably 1963 or so. I was only five years old then. But I remember the Mysterious Puff the Magic Dragon Music Box. In fact, I own it. I took it after my Mother died in 1998. Yup. She still had it after all those years. And I still have it after all these years. It is sitting on my dresser in my sleeping room.
Now, there is something odd about this music box. Normally, as you know, you just open the lid and a music box starts playing. Close the lid and the music stops. Simple. Well, not this music box. It is home brewed, after all. It has no clever little mechanism to start and stop the music with the lifting and the closing of the lid. Oh no. As soon as you have wound it up the Dragon starts Singing its Music. Wow! This Dragon must be in a real hurry to get out of the box. But, not only that. You don’t have to lift the lid to let the Dragon out of the box. It just comes right on out. And there ain’t nothing you can do about it.
Imagine me, at five years old, showing my Mom’s Dragon off to my friends in the neighborhood. I would tell them, “You see? You just wind the Dragon up here on the bottom of the box and set the box down. You don’t have to open the lid or nothing. It doesn’t matter if it is locked, even. The Dragon just magically goes through the box and it comes out.” Then the neighborhood kid asks, “How do you fit the whole Land of Honah Lee in such a little box?”
Well… there’s the rub. Isn’t it?
My Father was in the Navy. He was an Officer and he built Nukes. He got reassigned to Japan for a stint in 1964-1965 and we, the family, also went to Japan. Talk about going to Dragon Land! Here we come! Maybe, in Japan, we might find the Answer to the Honah Lee Question. Who knows? Well… the Dragon, presumably, Knows.
While we were in Japan, I got to see the Ocean, and barnacles on the rocks on the shore. I got to take a real traditional Japanese community bath. Yup. A Sento. On my birthday, we got to ride cable cars up to a Japanese Shinto Temple. We saw the monkeys in the trees down below us. I got to invite one friend from school to come along. So, you know what I did? I picked the kid who had bullied me. Needless to say, the relationship was… transformed. Later during our stay in Japan, I caught what must have been Influenza. Hell! I was vaccinated for just about everything because I was a military kid. But you know how it is with the Flu. It is a real shape shifter of a virus. I remember being laid up sick in bed for a few days. So, what did my Mom do? She addressed the Emotional Healing aspect and bought me a brand-new book. A book about Dinosaurs. Oh, and the music box was with us the whole time we were in Japan.
The contents of the Dinosaur book would likely need a lot of revision by now. We know so much more about the Terrible Lizard Clan now, than we did in 1965. But you know what? My interest in those Dinosaurs wasn’t because they were… BAD ASS! I was interested in how you could just dig down into the ground and learn all about a World of Creatures so different from us Humans and so obviously IN CHARGE of the planet! It was the Hermeticism aspect of the whole thing, actually, that must have originally intrigued me. But, of course, I had neither the sophisticated concepts, nor, the circumambulated language, to adequately describe what was obviously not a Thought, but some kind of Inspired Imagination thing… a Feeling, with Imagery Included. Just DIG UP that Secret Knowledge! That’s all ya gotta DO! Sounds like a Treasure Hunt to me.
But these Dinosaur critters were real! They actually existed. Millions of years ago. Before We People all showed up. Sorry. I wasn’t hip to the “created by God in just six days” thing. I was a Heathen Child. But the Dragon/Dinosaur similarity would have been, of course, unmistakable. Don’t you think?
From 1965 to 1970, it was a Kaleidoscope of interesting experiences. Back to the U.S. we came! Shacked up with my Aunt Rene in a run-down house outside of San Jose, up in the Guadalupe Mountains, near a Mercury mine. Yeah! Mercury! In 1965 folks! And yes! I am still alive at 62 with no brain damage. As far as I know. We ended up in Las Vegas in 1966 and I finished Elementary School at Walter Bracken in 1970. I was glued to the TV set for the Apollo shots. Of course! I was already reading science and science fiction books by Clarke and Asimov by the time I entered Junior High School. Food for the Mind. And, Food for the Imagination. Got my first telescope at the age of 11 in 1969. First microscope, a year or so after that. Soon enough, I realized there was just as much DIGGING involved in Astronomy as there was in Paleontology! And, I was already beginning to learn that Biology was in the same Dragon Shape as the other two! Of course, I did not conceptualize it all as Dragon then. But I was already headed down that Dragon Road, years before I finally KNEW it was the Road that I was on. You like my Led Zep Sneak Cameo there?
September 1970. First day of Seventh Grade. Science class. Mr. Westover. Old Teacher! With a Heart of Gold! He was the one who sponsored the Model Rocket Club, and Audio-Visual Club, and took a bunch of us out to Lake Mead to learn how to water ski. Not just a Teacher. A Mentor. It was the second year, I think it was, when he read us Pat Frank’s novel, Alas Babylon, in class.
But Seventh Grade Puberty Inauguration Day was, shall we say? PROBLEMATIC! Good old Mr. Westover popped the God question on the whole damned class! He asked us, “How many of you believe in God? Raise your hands.”
Every body else DID. I DIDN’T. Oops!
I hadn’t thought about the question very much at all up until that point. About all I knew, FOR SURE, was the little neighbor girl in Japan once told me I was going to go to HELL because I wasn’t going to Sunday School. Oh well! Will DEAL with that… LATER! God, to me, was kind of like Santa Claus. I was 12 years old for Pete’s sake! On the threshold of Teenagerhood! Certainly, the time for belief in such make-believe things should be Left behind!
Of course, I had to Explain myself, because, so did everybody else in class. Mr. Westover called upon each student, one at a time, to explain why they believed in God. Plus, me, to explain why I didn’t. It was immediately apparent that I was not a very good anti-God Apologist. But my classmates were also not very good God Apologists. So, we broke even. Or so I thought. I neglected to take into the account, the Mathematics of the situation. I was the ONE out of 40 students that did not… conform.
OUCH!!! That hurt! For about THREE years! I was bullied for being different. But the difference was in what I Thought, or Felt, NOT in how I Looked. Or WHO I loved. What was going to change, was HOW I did my Looking. But I had NO CLUE yet, what was REALLY going on.
You have probably guessed that I am a book person. I am. I never really bought into the notion that book learning is somehow fake learning compared to learning from the real world. My experience has been that the book learning makes the other learning that much more profound. By the time I got into High School I had read a lot more books. Biology. Astronomy. Science Fiction. Books about the possibility of intelligent life on other Worlds somewhere nearby.
I had reflected on the God Question and I became ever more convinced that there is something to the assertion that a Higher Power is driving the Universe. It seemed obvious to me that there would indeed be other intelligent species like us on other planets, and that Evolution had something to do with it. I never believed the notion that what follows from Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection is that WE are all just an accident. Nor the conclusions often drawn from this notion that Life, therefore, must be meaningless, even absurd. Of course, it isn’t! The Higher Power is in the Phenomenon of Life in the Universe. By the time I was 15, I was pretty much a Pantheist. And a good old-fashioned Greek style Teleologist. Oh well! Anyway, it was while I was in High School that I studied Taoism, read Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, and got my first exposure to Islam via Frank Herbert’s magnificent novel, Dune. The follow-on Question to the God Question was, of course, the Religion Question.
What is Religion? Why does it keep killing people? What SHOULD it be?
As we now know it, Religion is a pretty mixed bag, isn’t it? But, for the most part, it is about people helping people, it is about people guiding people. Lifting each other up. It is a SOCIAL thing. It isn’t Religion that is killing people. But it is people killing people in the name of Religion, and, that is both a Social problem and a Religion problem. What religion should be, in my humble opinion, is the Socialization of Wisdom, and that can’t be anything, I would think, but a good thing.
I am over 2,000 words now, so I have to wrap this up.
Suffice it to say this. The Mission of Religion and Storytelling go hand in hand. Religion and Mythic Storytelling go hand in hand. Whereas, Science tells us the Story of how the Universe works, Myth tells us what this Deeper Clarity discovered by Science really MEANS. Science is the Explanation. Myth is the Interpretation. And Religion is the Socialization.