I’m mindful of those long-ago days of church when the minister would begin his sermon with “Our text for today is…” and then stumble on through twenty minutes of restful homilies that preceded the jingle of the collection plate.
But he normally chose something that caused no stir, something that led inevitably to a predictable moral the way the school bus followed the same route to school or the dog wandered toward the papers he’d been trained to.
Just once, I thought, could he choose a more provocative text. “Our text this morning is from Genesis 10:26 “And Joktan begat Almodad.” What might have flowed from there
Was Joktan a pig? How did the kid turn out?
Was he trying to beget, or was he trying not to beget?
Did he do it by himself, or did a woman help him toward the begetting?
Did they pray before they got on with the begetting?
Did he intend to? Did he have the foggiest notion how much it cost to feed another mouth?
Clearly Almodad carried forth with the begetting, but did he do it at public expense or make something out of his life?
Did Joktan admit that he was the dad? Did he have to pay child support?
Did he believe in spanking?
Was he the one who chose that silly name?
Is that all he ever did to get his name in the Bible?
Did he do it with his wife or with his concubine?
Did Jews do it more than Presbyterians, or did they just boast about it?
Our pastor was a pretty liberal guy for Iowa in 1953—he did sermons against South African apartheid, though I can’t recall any words about race in the USA—but he never got into the gnarly issues around begetting. I wasn’t quite an age where that became a major concern, but I was getting there.
They had to do a hopscotch around the sexy stuff in the Bible. The Song of Songs was obviously about Jesus’ love for the Church, though I never saw two breasts on Westminster Presbyterian Church (though I carefully looked). The commandment against adultery was illustrated, in our Sunday School book, by a farmer pouring water into a milk container. So clearly only farmers did that sin. Not sure if we ever got to Delilah or Bathsheba, but that was around the time I decided I’d be an entomologist, so maybe I missed the good parts.
Back to the subject: there’s a lot to be said for begetting. I recommend it for those who have the urge, as long as you don’t name your kid “Almodad.”
As it turned out, my own experience with begetting was really good.
I jumped the tracks hooking up with Conrad Bishop, and I didn’t know what I was doing. He wasn’t like others I’d fallen for, and I knew he had a dark surreal streak that I might never understand. Our first theatre work together was a violent nearly wordless murder scene from Woyzeck, and I knew it was powerfully disturbing even before the class responded. Yes, he read lush poetry to me, but there was an edgy undercurrent in what he drew and in the pencil-written letters scribbled during our first time apart when he went home from Northwestern. I said yes in a heartbeat when he proposed making love: “I’d like us to be together. Would you like that?” We plighted our troth in the back seat of an old Chrysler on the cold November streets of Evanston, and both knew immediately that this was permanent. In the words of the song, “The road goes on forever and the party never ends.”
His career became my career, and I didn’t have to give anything up. I wanted to be in theatre, and he was theatre for me. We worked as a team to achieve his goal, a Stanford Ph.D. and a college faculty career. The first job in South Carolina was a hinky byway, but the second one in Milwaukee, the Fine Arts School of UWM, was solid. So it was amazing how easily we became outlaws. The after-hours theatre group we helped spawn, Theatre X, became significant for its theatrical rule-breaking and we found ourselves out on the street. We didn’t look for another job.
Our off-the-map theatre company had a good thirty-five years. After the first five, things had shifted and we splintered off on our own to make the work that was ours to make, work that could only grow in our own hands. We’d sweated and gritted our teeth for the Ph.D., left it on the shelf when Theatre X got us pregnant out of academic wedlock, wept when we decided to leave, and knew we’d find our own way to keep going.
It was weird to be nomadic outsiders expecting to support ourselves and two little kids with what we could write, book, and perform as a duo. Fame and wealth never happened, but that wasn’t what we were chasing. You don’t get that in community centers, little theatres, prisons, high schools, and social service agencies; what we did get was performing face-to-face for real humans, without benefit of stage makeup or nifty lighting, and seeing in real time how it mattered to them. We made a life in theatre and made a living in theatre.
Suddenly the kids were on their own, I was sixty and it was time to break the rules again. We moved across the country, losing all the grant support and funding we’d worked so hard to achieve in Pennsylvania, but we had the nearby ocean and a miracle gave us a house we could buy. I’d been dreaming of California since we left in 1963: now we had our home. What we did not have was the touring network we’d built in the eastern half of the country and we learned the hard way that we couldn’t build one again from scratch. We stayed in Sebastopol and sent our storytelling on the road via radio, recording and producing Hitchhiking Off the Map in our home studio for three and a half years. Then we took a deep breath, started touring again, and made the best work of our lives. It hit the peak with Shakespeare’s sprawling masterpiece embodied by two humans and two bins of puppets—King Lear in a hundred tumultuous minutes.
Now we’ve drawn a new map and found a new way to be. Authors. Words on paper. Books. Eight of them between covers, two more in the immediate pipeline. We’ve seen our 80th birthdays come and go and have more or less absorbed the pain of leaving live performing. But it ain’t over till it’s over. Even if Covid took us off the road, the party hasn’t ended yet.
Normally, when encountering a Facebook post starting with “Men!” I skim past. I don’t really want to deny anyone’s actualities; nor do I want to defend any indefensible demographic; nor do I want to feel personally superior to others of my own gender. That’s all a lose/lose deal.
But I was drawn into the long-standing fray about the toilet seats of the world: up or down? Not that I really have any skin in the game. We have two cats, and if I were to leave the lid up, I’d find them having a slurp. I don’t need that.
But this issue isn’t something addressed in my Stanford doctoral studies. Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, Nietsche, Marx—none of these had the temerity to address the issue. Of course, those who were users of the old-fashioned privy with a hole in a board, or a convenient olive tree, would have had no occasion to wrestle with this issue. But in that case, is their philosophy truly relevant to our present needs?
One might approach it Platonically: does the Idea of “toilet” come with the seat down or up? Legalistically: does an “originalist” reading of the Constitution prescribe that it’s innately Up or Down? Sociologically: does this chronic controversy disadvantage heterosexual coupling and give an advantage to the gays?
Indeed, there are advocates of the principle of Immediate Need: if you need it up, flip it up; if it’s up and you need it down, flip it down. But does this not introduce a pernicious relativism into our culture of concrete principle?
And what about the idea of Freedom? As more women are elected to Congress and suffer the shock of a midnight squat into ceramic chill, will this induce legislation that’s the first step on a slippery slope into dictatorship?
I have no answers, but for households where this a significant point of contention, I would suggest getting a cat or a dog. It thereby assures gender equality: everyone will be obliged to raise or lower the lid.
A weekly view of the world we
wake into every morning.
Books and Media by
Bishop & Fuller
a historical fantasy
AKEDAH: THE BINDING
a novel of promises broken or kept
a novel of blue-collar ghosts
a novel of puppets & renewal
50 Years in the Making
A Memoir of the Creative Life
35 Snapshots for the Stage
A Novel of Dystopian Optimism
From Inanna to Frankenstein