How Precious Was That Whileby Piers Anthony
Piers Anthony tells his own remarkable life story in this candid autobiography, a volume that is sure to intrigue and entertain his many fans-and infuriate his critics. The book begins with a review of the author's early years, revealing new and telling details about his upbringing at the hands of two brilliant but often careless parents, including a riveting… See more details below
Piers Anthony tells his own remarkable life story in this candid autobiography, a volume that is sure to intrigue and entertain his many fans-and infuriate his critics. The book begins with a review of the author's early years, revealing new and telling details about his upbringing at the hands of two brilliant but often careless parents, including a riveting section about their harrowing experiences as expatriates in Spain just before the Second World War.
But most of the book focuses on the past fifteen years since Bio of an Ogre (the first volume of his autobiography) was published, a time both of personal progress and professional frustration for Anthony, as his works became increasingly ambitious while his sales began to slow. He offers cautionary tales on the pitfalls of the "bottom line" publishing mentality, as well as scathing portraits of several well-known publishing figures.
Candid, opinionated and endlessly fascinating, How Precious Was That While is an intimate self-portrait by one of the most intriguing writers of our time.
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How Precious Was That While
By Piers Anthony, Beth Meacham
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2001 Piers Anthony
All rights reserved.
My first sexual experience occurred, as I remember, at age four. I was in bed alone when an attractive young adult woman entered the room, uncovered me, removed my pajamas, and addressed my bottom. She was very pleasant and soft spoken, and her touch was gentle. She required me to lie on my right side, facing away from her, and she ran her soft hands across my buttocks and into the cleavage between them until she found my anus. She spread some salve on it, then firmly pushed something in. I jumped, surprised, as this was new to my experience, but she told me to relax, that it was all right, so I eased my clench and let her continue. She reassured me as she worked it well inside me, and I was not really discomfited despite the strange penetration. In fact there was a special quality to the sensation, arousing my interest. It turned out to be the nozzle of a hose, sliding on and on in once the sphincter had been breached. When it was firmly set, quite deep, she lifted the other end of the hose high and used a pitcher to pour water into a funnel. I turned my head so I could see as she smilingly did it. The cool water coursed down the hose and into my rectum, filling me up. There was a transparent place in the hose, where I could see bubbles pass, so I knew the fluid was going into my body. This was a second type of penetration, with its own odd pleasure. But she didn't have enough water; the pitcher ran out, and she had to pause to refill it, with a friendly exclamation of surprise, as if we were accomplishing something unusual. I was evidently taking in more water than expected, but there was no problem; she would keep it going until enough was in. That's about all I remember, over half a century subsequent.
Years later I learned what this procedure was. It was an enema, done to clean out my bowel in preparation for a tonsillectomy. I'm sure I had to sit on the potty thereafter and blow all that water out again — I have a very obscure impression of that — and later I must have been given ether or something to render me unconscious, and later yet I must have had a sore throat. I vaguely remember being told I could eat anything I wanted, like ice cream, but for some reason I wasn't very hungry. So it was done, and nobody thought anything of it. But I remembered that pleasant experience with the young woman who had touched me so intimately and shown me what could be done with that part of my body. My horizon had been broadened in a way I was never to forget, as this narration shows.
Another night, at home, I dreamed. I was with my sister and the nanny, and we stopped at a gas station. I thought the nozzle of the gas pump would be put in the car, to fill its tank, but suddenly I was lying on my stomach on the ground, my bottom was bare, and they were putting it into my anus. I was caught by surprise, just as I had been at the hospital, and exclaimed with protest, but to no avail. The fluid came, filling me, pumping me up, making my body expand, but the feeling was in its way pleasant, with a special extra quality. And so I remembered that dream.
When I was perhaps eight, I dreamed again, of being held in the arms of a lovely young woman who somehow had access to my bottom and was running something deep into my rectum. "Only ten minutes more," she murmured reassuringly. I didn't mind; the whole experience was pleasant in a way I wanted to continue. I did not understand either dream at the time I had it, but, looking back from the vantage of adult sexual and anatomical experience, I believe I do now.
I am thoroughly heterosexual; I love the look and feel of women. I like every part, and really appreciate long hair, but the sight of breasts or inner thighs truly electrifies me. Even a cartoon picture of a woman with her skirt rising attracts my attention. The idea of anal sex with a man repels me. But I think back on the lingering effects of that early anal contact with the hospital nurse, and I wonder whether something like this couldn't make the difference, if a man were of borderline sexuality. If he oriented on the rectum rather than on the woman. Homosexuality surely has a strong genetic component, but there are cases of identical twins, one of whom is homosexual, the other heterosexual. Did someone, in the name of medicine, exploit the private parts of one, and lead him to an orientation that solidified in adulthood? The association of the enema hose, with its copiously jetting fluid, is obvious. I am, as I mentioned in BiOgre, suspicious of the medical establishment's seeming fascination with the anus, even using it to take temperatures. Is there a consequence no doctor would like to acknowledge? I have seen comments about men who do "like it in the ass" in the course of heterosexual sex play. I have no real evidence, but at times I do wonder.
There are other things. One of the most traumatic events of my childhood was not something that happened to me, but to my sister. I call it rape. I describe it in the "Reprise" chapter, but since it wasn't in BiOgre and had a lifelong effect on my awareness, I'm covering it there too. My memory begins with me alone in a strange room, but I knew my mother and sister were near. Then I heard my sister's voice, rising, protesting, saying no, no! So I walked through the short hall and came to a room where my sister was sort of sitting on a bench or table, and several adults were clustering around her. They held her and did something to her, and she screamed, but they did not relent. They held her arms and head, and I think I saw a splash of water. Mainly I remember her little feet thudding against the surface of the table, as she vainly tried to run away. But they were merciless. They made her hurt as much as they could, then let her go, crying. One of them turned around at that point, and saw me standing there in the doorway. "He saw!" she said. And the memory fades out.
It took me more than fifty years to fit that stark memory into the framework of my other memories, to piece the puzzle together. That was my sister's tonsillectomy, a considerable contrast to my own. Mine was like pleasant sex; hers was like violent rape. It was in Spain, in 1939, time for what was routine minor surgery in those days, though today it seems there is no need for it. But in Spain, so soon after the Spanish Civil War, many things were lacking, including safe anesthetics. So, they said, they would do it without anesthesia; it was after all a small, quick operation. "Not on my child!" my mother exclaimed, and they agreed to find an anesthetic. So she brought us in, left me in the waiting room, and took Teresa on into the clinic.
That's where it changed. The personnel snatched my sister away from her mother, put her on the table, held her in place, jammed a fixture in her mouth so she couldn't close it, reached down her throat, and cut out the tonsils, one, two. Done. My mother was horrified — and so was I, understanding nothing of it except the savagery. So sharply was the memory isolated from the rest of my experience that even when my sister told me later how a man had cut into her throat, I didn't realize that it was that she referred to, and years later when my mother told the story, I still didn't make the connection. They say that traumatic memories can be buried for decades, to surface later in adult life, such as in cases of incestuous rape. Well this memory remained with me throughout, unburied, unconnected, until the isolated puzzle piece suddenly snapped into place, and I understood the meaning of the horror. So I am inclined to believe in the reality of buried memories. Had it happened to me, it might have been submerged completely. But no, my sister remembered it, in fair detail. She doesn't call it rape. What horrifies me additionally in retrospect is that this is the way children are often treated by adults, across the world, and some is more brutal than this.
As a general rule, my early experiences with doctors were negative, as detailed in BiOgre. They seemed to exist to hurt children. They jammed spoons down throats to make a child vomit, they stuck painful needles into flesh, they poked tender orifices uncomfortably. Once I was taken to a female doctor, in America. She uncovered my uncircumcised penis, saw that the foreskin covered the glans, took hold and forced the skin down so hard that it split. This had to be done every so often, she explained, so that the skin would not close in again. In the following days my penis slowly healed; a scab formed over the end, causing the urine to splatter, but finally that cleared. I had been punished by another doctor, this time for having a natural penis.
Only when I was about sixty did I learn the meaning of that, listening to Dr. Edell on the radio: doctors have this notion that the foreskin will never be able to retract, if not forced to in childhood. But the fact is, he said, that it loosens naturally at puberty, and should not be interfered with before then. Nature does know what she is doing, and should be allowed to take her course. Apparently this isn't more generally known because so many boys in America are circumcised — a ritual, Dr. Edell explained, which they try to justify on the grounds of hygiene, but which has no real effect other than to reduce sexual sensation. And there's the true unspoken agenda: it is intended to prevent boys from masturbating. It doesn't, of course. With the increasing recognition that masturbation is natural to the human condition, the medical urge to cut away the offending skin seems to be slowly fading.
When my wife was pregnant, the subject of circumcision came up, and I said I would not permit it. We were not Jewish or Arabic, so there was no religious reason. The doctor said, in that forced reasonable tone reserved for unreasonable folk, that he would have to have a talk with me. But as it happened, both my children are daughters, so that battle never was fought. There are countries where they do worse to girls, infibulation, cutting out all their external genital anatomy, apparently without warning or anesthesia, just holding them down and carving while they scream, sometimes killing them in the process. Those cultures have no more sympathy for the "unreasonable" ones who protest this barbarism than certain American doctors have for those who protest circumcision. Culture tends to override reason, and ignorance abounds, in medicine as much as anywhere else, ironically.
So how did this all come about? My grandfather's Quaker family left Ireland because of the onerous vaccination law. In those days it wasn't a simple matter of a quick needle; they sliced open the flesh, and deaths sometimes occurred from the process. When my grandfather, Edward H. Jacob, got established in America, he married Edith Dillingham. They had five sons and a daughter, of which my father Alfred was the fourth.
Alfred graduated from an American high school and went to Dart-mouth College. His brothers advised him to make a good effort at the start, to impress the professors; thereafter he could coast. He also chose one of the rarer musical instruments to play, the bassoon, to be more certain of a place in the school orchestra. After breaking in at college, he learned that he ranked something like sixth in a class of six hundred. He hadn't even been trying to learn much, just to make an initial impression. He thought about that, and concluded that American education was not for him. So he set his sights on a better educational institution, the University of Oxford in England, widely considered the finest in the world. That decision was to change his life in more than the academic sense.
First he attended Woodbrooke, a Quaker institution which had no examinations and no pressure; students were there to learn what they wished, in the way they wished. He was interested in biographies, and was studying about Ghandi, the great Indian pacifist. He was happy there. And there he met Joyce Maybery, a quiet girl. Her family had experienced its own tragedy, when her father had gone on the maiden voyage of the Titanic, and been lost with the ship, in 1912. Thus Joyce's youngest sister had been born during the absence of her father, whom she was never to know. The relationship of Alfred and Joyce was tentative, subtle rather than overt; they did not even go as far as holding hands. The high point was when they rode to the end of the train line, got off, and walked up a hill there, and talked for the afternoon, just coming to know each other better. But for him, his future had become apparent. He wrote up the experience in detail in his journal of the time. Joyce was the one.
The summer break came, and he didn't see her. He lived for the fall term, when they would be together again. But when it came, she wasn't there. He inquired, for surely she could not have changed her mind about school.
That was when he learned that she had caught a fever, and died. It may have been typhoid fever; she might have drunk tainted water when camping. It may have been misdiagnosed, or she may have been given the wrong medicine. There isn't much way to be sure. Thus suddenly, she was gone.
More than sixty years later it remained difficult for him to talk about Joyce, and I never knew of her till that time had passed. We cannot know how things would have been. Perhaps their acquaintance would have ripened, and they would have married and been happy. I wish it could have been — yet with a certain selfish reservation, because then I would not have existed, and all those who came to know of my novels and the magical land of Xanth would not have encountered them. It is tempting to think that there was some higher purpose in the loss of Joyce, and that it was necessary for the greater good that the well-adjusted child she might have had — not come to exist. So that the gnarled, depressive, imaginative creature later to be known as Piers Anthony could come to be. But I am more cynical than that. I see no higher purpose in the devious and sometimes savage twists of the threads of fate, and I wish my father had not had to suffer that loss.
It is also possible that had Joyce lived, her association with Alfred would have passed. Romances come and go, and there can be many trial associations before the more binding commitments are made. Sometimes relationships don't work out. There was just one small hint, in a comment made by Joyce's mother, "Perhaps that was best," that Joyce's feeling for Alfred did not at that stage match his feeling for her. Yet the relationship was nascent; much could have changed in the next term, had she lived. Women tend to be more cautious about love than men are, but they do achieve it in their own time. And if they were not fated to love and to marry, surely it would have been better to play that out in life, instead of bringing such grief to both Alfred and Joyce's family. They could have gone their separate ways in friendship, without interfering with whatever larger order was destined.
Coincidentally, at that time, Alfred met another young woman, Genevieve. They were acquaintances and friends, but Genevieve was not Joyce, and in due course they moved apart. But there was a good deal more to come, between them, in due course, despite the lack of bells and whistles at the time.
Another time he was to go on a triple date with two friends, but the other two men were unable to make it, so Alfred found himself with all three girls. One of them was Norma Sherlock. As time passed, and he was with one and then another, a friend inquired "Why are you bothering with those others? They aren't close to Norma's quality." He realized it was true, and became serious about Norma.
Norma was the daughter of a doctor, and granddaughter of a Church of England bishop. Her father, Dr. Sherlock, had been devising tests for intelligence, and used his little girl as a model. He assumed she was ordinary. That's why she was named Norma — for normal. Unfortunately for the validity of his norms, she was not; she was an extremely bright child, somewhere in the top percentile of intelligence. She grew up to graduate from Oxford University, taking two Firsts in languages, French and Spanish, an unusual feat. There were four levels, which Americans might see as grades A, B, C, and D. So she had made, in our crude analogy, a double A.
I have a picture of her as she was as a cute child of perhaps three, and another as a young woman of perhaps twenty-three, with typically English floating hairstyle. As a child she had grown her hair so long she could sit on it, but at age twelve decided to cut it. There is said to be a picture of her with her mother, with her shorn hair all on the floor and her mother in tears. I'm with Grandmother; I love long hair on a woman and wince at the notion of such glorious tresses being cut. But my mother was ever a creature of her own will.
Excerpted from How Precious Was That While by Piers Anthony, Beth Meacham. Copyright © 2001 Piers Anthony. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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Meet the Author
PIERS ANTHONY is one of the world's most popular fantasy authors, and a New York Times bestseller twenty-one times over. He lives in Inverness, Florida.
Piers Anthony is one of the world's most popular fantasy authors and a New York Times bestseller twenty-one times over. His Xanth novels, including Esrever Doom, Luck of the Draw, and Well-Tempered Clavicle, have been read and loved by millions of readers around the world. In addition to his bestselling Xanth books, Anthony is the author of a series of historical fantasies called The Geodyssey, that makes the broad sweep of human history into very personal stories. He daily receives hundreds of letters and emails from his devoted fans, whose ingenious ideas are often incorporated into Anthony’s tales. He lives in Inverness, Florida.
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