Readers > Philip R. Sullivan
As a boy, I attended Boston Public Latin School; and sometimes after school, I'd walk down Avenue Louis Pasteur and along the Fenway to the Museum of Fine Arts (a freebie in those days before breakneck competition had pushed art prices out of sight). One of the works that most captivated me consisted of a large canvas by Paul Gaugin depicting a group of Polynesians, their haunted facial expressions more than reinforced by their desolate postures. Perhaps, I thought, the reason for their consternation lay in the three queries that Gaugin had taken the trouble of stashing in the picture's corner: Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going?
The painting invariably evoked an eerie response from me despite the fact that I had the good fortune of already knowing the answer to all three questions. Thanks, that is, to the highly traditional religion in which I was raised, I'd already been appraised of who I was: a child of God and heir to heaven. So not only did I come from God, I would eventually return to Him, living in beatific happiness forever. If I played my cards right. Congruently, the very word "religion," as I'd discovered, came from two Latin roots, meaning "to bind back."
Struck me as strange though, even at the time, that Gaugin's painting was able to elicit such a vividly personal response. After all, given the fact that I already had a handle on the answers to life's BIG questions, I didn't have to waste time standing around like Gaugin's natives, puzzling spookily over what life was all about. But, of course, that's the sort of thing great artists are able to do to you. Using imaginative representations, they can evoke recognition at a gut level of complexities that simply won't give way to simple formulas.
At any rate, from that time until the present, I've tried to make sense of our human world. And growing up in an intellectual milieu pervaded by modern science, it's not surprising that my focus gradually shifted from contemplation of the Supernatural to a lifelong study of the Natural. After four years at Holy Cross College studying with the Jesuits, I returned to Avenue Louis Pasteur, though now to Harvard Medical School. My focus by this time had started to shift from "man, a little less than the angels" to man's place in nature, within a world of "all creatures great and small." And I have tried in my novels to evoke the sorts of themes that Gaugin depicted so masterfully in his visual art.
Philip R. Sullivan
** More from Philip R. Sullivan **
First time I published a book was in 2005. I kind of stole its title from John Irving, whose old novel, The World According To Garp, allowed us to enlarge our understanding of life by comparing the way one individual human being viewed the world with our own particular ways. The World According To Homo Sapiens provides a parallel lesson of sorts by comparing the way all of us humans experience the world with the ways other less exalted species deal with their own life situations. True to tell, my book was influenced by many years of teaching students at Harvard Medical School and residents at the Massachusetts General Hospital.
I also gradually learned a lesson from this guy who'd gotten the attention of Socrates many centuries ago: Protagoras was a highly regarded philosopher of the era, but he'd grasped the fact that most folks prefer listening to a point made through a story than through a bunch of highfalutin' talk. So in 2010 I published an account of Cal Connors, a fellow in the midst of an identity crisis who tried to jumpstart his life as if he were a different person than his earlier self. Quite literally. And since he (and I, heh, heh) had always wanted to be a singer/songwriter, The Same Lonely Songs turned out to be an account of his subsequent adventures with Elusive Dreams, a traveling country band.
Philip pretending to be Cal Connors