I’ve been a lover of myths, fairy tales, folklore, and just plain old stories for as long as I can remember. My mom used to tell me that long before I could read, I would stay up late at night looking at picture books. She was a young mother, barely eighteen when I was born, and worried that I wasn’t getting enough sleep. But Mom let me “read” after her mother assured her that I would sleep if I were tired. I had a wise grandmother.
In 1959 we moved from Ohio to Azusa, CA where I was enrolled in the third grade. In the middle of the school year, the folks bought their first home in nearby West Covina. After the move, younger brother Tom began attending the elementary school that would eventually also be mine. They had a different plan for me to finish third grade.
For the rest of the year, on his way to work, Dad took me back to Azusa each morning for school. After school I hitched a ride with my third-grade teacher, who also lived in West Covina. Mom picked me up at my teacher’s house.
Dad’s work hours were such that I got dropped off maybe an hour or so before school started. My “green room” was the school library. That library time might have been used for homework. But I was one of those kids who did their homework even before going out to play. There was no homework left to do.
The library was not exceptionally large. But it had plenty of books to interest this third-grade reader. I got hooked on the tall tales, mythological stories, and whatever else I could find. I spent many mornings with Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill and Hercules and Poseidon and Thor. The supply of fantastical stories seemed endless. I looked forward to spending those mornings with the heroes of my imagination.
My interest in stories continued into adolescence and young adulthood. I read a lot — Three Musketeers, Lord of the Rings, Foundation Trilogy, and Dune, just to name a few. But eventually life, as it does, got serious. I needed to read a lot for college and then for work. There were jobs, a family, bills to pay, grass to cut. The stories that captured my imagination at age eight became memories. Sure, I read a bit of fiction now and then. But even that reading increasingly dwindled away. Non-fiction became the staple of what little reading I did on my own time.
But as is wont to occur, things took a turn in mid-life. I went through a painful divorce in my late thirties that sent me on a journey of intense introspection and into a quaint little bookstore not far from the University of Texas campus. It was run by the Jung Society of Austin. My therapist had sent me there to find a book called What Men Are Like — a good book, by the way, but non-fiction. Turns out the Jung Society also offered a number of interesting classes. One caught my attention — Myths for Men. How could I not sign up?
One of the basic tenets of Jungian psychology is that ancient stories contain important psychological insights, having remained in human consciousness through a repetitive aural tradition spanning millennia. Repeated tellings by multiple generations of storytellers stripped extraneous details from these old stories. What remained were psychological essences that provided important observations about our shared human experiences.
The class was an eye-opener. Not only were we playing in my sandbox, but we were taking a deep dive into personal issues faced by me and others in the class. It was a great comfort to find out that my struggles were shared not only with my classmates, but with multitudes of men who came before us. I began to realize I wasn’t as broken as I thought.
I have retained my interest in stories as well as Jungian psychology, though I have to admit with less fervor than in those years following my divorce. But the insights that I gained into my personal psychology, as well into what makes us all “tick”, has greatly enriched my life.
I just regret that I never got around to thanking my dad for the gift he gave his third grader by dropping him off at school all those mornings.