This is a peculiar age to be passing through. My dad never made it this far; my mom had seven more years, dying at 85. You know you’re in the last act, but you don’t know how long it’ll go or how the playwright will end it: a gunshot, a curtain descending gently, or a messenger saying Godot will come at last. Being a playwright yourself, you know that feeling of having written yourself into a corner—a not-uncommon life experience—but with writing you can rewrite, whereas life is less forgiving.
I’ve faced the keyboard—whether manual, electric, or digital—since the middle of high school, churning out term papers, dissertation, countless plays, grant applications and press releases. Now, short stories and novels. My term papers were read by one person—the prof—and the dissertation by maybe half a dozen. Some of the plays had large audiences, some not, but they all gave us collaborators, tribe, community. Now, it’s back to the handful, mainly friends from previous lives. At each bus stop, a few get off.
Themes common with others my age: I don’t sleep as well. I can’t fish up names when I want to. I have to make an effort not to be prickly on the Web, though I’m generally mellow. Lovemaking gets penciled in on the calendar rather than depending on impulse. I startle to realize that our kids are in their forties. I spend too much on dentistry, and my shape changes a bit each year despite my efforts. My days have a sameness that I sometimes welcome, sometimes don’t.
The invisibility that accompanies age in our culture doesn’t bother me that much, as I’ve felt invisible pretty much since the age of fifteen. I miss directing a lot, performing a bit less, and my choice of writing prose fiction has meant putting myself back in kindergarten with scant possibility of parole. Perhaps the greatest curse of being a sentient 78 is having a clear perspective on how much you don’t know and never will.
I have to admit to a pinch in the gut every time I hear the phrase “old white men” or a snotty dig at “boomers,” or for that matter snotty digs in general, unless they’re funny. I don’t like songs where the lyrics are drowned in heavy molasses or banging on a can. I’m pretty much resigned to the fact that my obituary won’t make the NY Times or even the local daily. More and more, the world seems to me a surreal mishmash: the Three Stooges meet Rambo, with occasional hints of springtime.
Some of these things are natural, others culture-determined, others marks of my peculiarity. I have the enormous blessings of comfort, health, a lifemate, and not presently living in a war zone—in contrast to multitudes of creatures of all species. And I’ve always been in the grip of compulsions I find fulfilling.
What’s to come? Being human, death is a probability, though it’s not on my schedule. What does concern me, seriously, is the old Boy Scout maxim—I was an Eagle Scout—of leaving your campsite cleaner than you found it. Besides the accumulated tchotchkes of 60 years of marriage, I’ve got dozens of show videos, audio files of our 3 radio series, 18 large bins of puppets, 40 playscripts, 200 sketches, 8 novels, 40 short stories, countless photos, two cats—things just got outta hand. And I continue adding stuff to the array.
My other fear about death—besides pain—is the fact that all kinds of things will go on happening when I’m not there. You’re invited to the party, you’ve had a pretty good time, but the party moves on without telling you where.
So I’ll party while I can.
This is our violent Seven.
When we were writing our joint memoir Co-Creation: Fifty Years in the Making, we looked at the parade of years and realized that every seven years we had hit a node of change. Something had to be released, and something new had to be incorporated. This one is shaping up to be a stunner, but it’s right on time.
We’ve begun, for obvious reasons, to start talking about what if. What if the fires come close and we have to evacuate, and what if the fire actually were to take our home. It’s already happened to two families we know well, and to countless others in our area. Nobody’s exempt.
We’re being meticulous about masking and distancing and hand-washing and staying home except for necessary provisioning, but what if? I’m eighty, Conrad’s not far behind, we’re in a vulnerable cohort. If either of us were to survive an infection, would life still be something we could recognize?
And then, of course, there’s the elephant in the room: the election. Already there’s a ginning-up of incitement to violence, no matter which outcome. Could we live under four more years? And what are our options? It took us thirty-three years to get back to California, and we live in a little local paradise. A lot of our life-energy comes from where we are. Our creativity is based in the English language; we adore Italy and our daughter, but we’d be unmoored and rootless.
So there it is, the looming Seven. What are we prepared to change? All the past letting-go experiences have been painful, but the new growth has always been something we embrace with a full heart. Why would this be different? I can’t say I’m not apprehensive, but we’re doing what we can to stay light on our feet. We’ve danced this dance before, but this time the music is more Wagnerian. “One step ahead of the shoe shine, two steps away from the county line”—it sounds different with heavy brass and kettle-drums, but maybe we can dance to it anyway.
A friend pointed out the obvious: the rage factor on the Web is a pandemic. I hesitate to launch a scientific study, fearing the consequences, so this is only in the nature of a thought experiment. Imagine that some poor soul ventures a Facebook post with a single word:
Besides 42 Likes, 16 Loves, 6 Laughs, 5 Griefs, a variety of perplexing emoji’s, and a number of photos of dogs, there are these:
- Why not just go ahead and use the n-word? You casually skim over 5,000 years of canine enslavement that goes unrecognized by neo-Liberalism.
- YO TRUMP!
- Who are you calling a dog, asshole? Stand up and own it!
- What about cats? I’ve never read a more homophobic, cis-gendered, heteronormative, ableist, white male supremacist statement. Yes, the cosy middle-class sit-com picture: this old smelly animal curled at Daddy’s feet, with all that that implies.
- FUCK BIDEN!
- FUCK TRUMP!
- “Dog” is a dehumanizing term. They are feeling creatures. Just take a minute out of your self-centered day and look in their eyes.
- Dog is making God into an anagram.
- It’s not an anagram, it’s a palindrome.
- Is not.
- Just because he humps Aunt Ethel’s leg is no reason to mutilate his nature.
- Who says he’s male? Are dogs always male? He might be a bitch.
- Thanks for this enlightened hate speech.
- It’s a semordnilap.
- God and dog.
- This brings up the horrible moment in Sunday School when they said that dogs didn’t have souls so they couldn’t go to Heaven. That finished Sunday School for me. Religion is crap.
- I hope you never feel the pain of having to put Ragsie down. Your thoughtless note ripped open a wound that’s been there for twenty years.
- You sound pretty fucked-up.
- You sound pretty stupid.
- YO AOC!
- I can’t stand her.
- White fragility, anyone?
- What about the 2nd Amendment?
- “Dog” implies there’s one kind of dog. What do an Alaskan malamute and a chihuahua have in common? They’re two different races. Trying to wipe out “difference” is just a subtle form of racism.
- Racist is racist.
- Racism is not relevant in the world of dogs. They’re all equally oppressed.
- I wouldn’t mind being as oppressed as Buddy. Free food, lays on the carpet all day, gets up to poop.
- Like the current POTUS.
- What I hate about bicycles, they’re fine if they had their own roads, but you get behind one, they don’t move over, they just poke along and you never know what to expect.
- I’m outta here.
After some consideration, I don’t think I want to try this.
A weekly view of the world we
wake into every morning.
Books and Media by
Bishop & Fuller
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