Kings & Tuscan Days. . .

From the Fool—

My friend Jeremy reads a lot, and he likes history. You learn lots of lessons from history, he says, like it repeats itself unless you learn it, and then it might not. The bad parts won’t, I guess he means. I don’t know if there’s any good parts to it. In school we studied George Washington, but that was about as far as it went with being good.

But Jeremy probably knew about some king back then who was pretty good, because he’s saying we’d be better off with a king. “We’d save a lot of money,” he says. The deal is, kings cost a bunch, with all the diamonds and stuff, but still you’d save way more from the TV ads. Billions, probably.

And whoever the king was, you’d have time to get used to him. If he was evil, at least it wouldn’t be a big surprise, and you could figure how to deal with all the evil. Problem being, sure, that it’s kind of a pig in a poke, but a pig in a presidency isn’t much better.

I asked Jeremy, well, what about democracy? Didn’t we fight all the wars to preserve our way of life? “Kings would fight just as many wars,” he said. It sounded logical when he said it.

“The big thing,” he said, “is we’d all be nicer to each other. The way it is, with elections and stuff, we all wind up hating each other and screaming and saying nasty things on the Web. With a king, we could just hate the king.”

Maybe it’d cut down on greenhouse gases.

—From EF—

This week I have the utterly blissful pleasure of being with family, here in Tuscany, walking across a 14th century stone bathroom floor to take a 21st century leak, sitting down to many glorious meals in Jo and Fra’s kitchen, and hearing the rain-refreshed brook purring at the bottom of the yard. What satisfies me most, though, is sensing how the four of us are not only family, we are tribe, woven from the same weird cloth.

The kitchen conversation is ripe with laughter springing from a shared sense of humor, bent as all hell and delightfully wicked. Stories abound. Jo is a professional translator and Conrad is working at the revision of one of our novels, and I am trying to accomplish revisions to our travel itinerary, so when the dishes are cleared, the digital devices come to roost. It looks like the modern version of the Three Bears — Jo has a big laptop, Conrad has the iPad, and I’m making do with my ancient iPod. Tappity-tap, in soft-shoe time.

Silences are comfortable. Time proceeds at an amble. Conrad goes down to the bottom floor to ride the exercise bike and stick French in his ears, Johanna takes a break from working on a short story translation by reading a New Yorker article on Donald Trump, Francesco is surrounded by a pile of books and photocopies, preparing tomorrow’s history lesson for his middle-schoolers, and I have finally caught up on the trip’s finances. We had some sun today, and the laundry dried outside on a line under the peach tree. (Last night the last of the peaches went into the piquant salad.)

The air is clean and earthy. There are absolutely no cars unless we need to go to town. Two crows gave a concert worthy of the most out-there grunge band while I sat out under the fig tree and pigged out on the poetry of Audre Lorde. And the four members of this tribal family are very, very pleased to be together.

—From CB—

I try to avoid lots of politics on this blog, as most of what I might say has been said ad nauseam. And I’m not hot for subjecting readership to my own therapeutic rants. I’m moved, though, to make a general comment.

I tend to be more critical of those of my own political persuasion than of the other side, simply because I feel a stake in us being more rational, sensible and basically decent. When I see the Left engaging in the same degree of spin-meistership as the Right, it stings to the core. Most recently, I’ve been bugged by the term racist.

Using that word as an adjective is perfectly valid: a racist act or a racist comment is a distinct action with potential or actual effect. But racist as a noun offers a very slippery slope. We’ve spent our working lives as theatre-makers charting the complexity of the human animal, a character as a teeming menagerie of personae, often self-contradictory, and thwacking a melodramatic label on a character’s forehead is utterly repugnant to me—even if I loathe and despise that person.

My mother would go on a rant about “all the niggers in North Omaha.” Racist words, no question. At other times I heard her comment on Jews, “dagos,” Danes, Catholics (though she married one), “queers,” anyone on welfare, any foreigner who was getting “foreign aid,” etc. etc., as well as most of her own relatives. It was dinner-table talk, not action or overt behavior, not even relevant to her when voting, and in the most extreme contrast to the way she treated people. Sitting at that dinner table, some indeed would call her “a racist.” That would change nothing, though you might feel, as I confess I did, more virtuous than her.

Perhaps, in the political arena, it’s an effective tactic to use that term as a tribal designation, but I have my doubts. I could readily label Trump a “bullshit artist,” because that implies a special skill, a mode of operation. Using the term racist for him or his supporters implies, to me, a purity of intent, a dedication, a concrete affliction like HIV and tends to take the spotlight from the other foul warts and carbuncles of his soul. It’s too reminiscent of the days when having a 1/16th or 1/32nd strain of “Negro blood” defined you as black-clear-through, all-black-all-the-time.

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Late Fool. . .

—From the Fool—

The guy who reads this and tells me if it should be it’s or its is on vacation, so I’m late. I don’t mind being late unless somebody’s waiting and wanting me to get diarrhea. But maybe the world is not hung up waiting here.

He said how great his flight was. He’s been seeing waterfalls and mountains, but what really stuck was Frontier Airlines Flight 612, which he called Steampunk Torture Drone. He squeezes down the aisle, no problem if he’d remembered to smear himself with lubricant. He locks himself in.

Amazingly, his knees fit, even when the passenger ahead tips the seat back. The airline is thoughtful: the seats don’t tip back. They do have a fold-down tray big enough to post a post-it note or even to hold a steno pad if you like to write sideways.
They don’t do free food, wanting to keep you fit, but you can buy packets or cans of gargle and glop. You can buy their Breakfast on the Fly, $4.99 for a cup of coffee and packet of M&Ms. The housefly is extra.

The high point of my friend’s flight—which I call him that even when he says it’s (or its) its and not it’s and I don’t see why—was the announcements. Usually you tune out of the No smoking and check your flotation device and get ready to die. Frontier is more poetic, though later he thought it might have been a mistake, when the flight attendant announced, “Please remain seated when your seat belt is fastened.”
“It haunted me all day,” he said. “the poetic allusiveness of it.”

I’m not sure what poetic allusiveness is, but I think he obeyed the instructions.

—From CB—

Being on vacation, I am appropriately vacant.

—From EF—

Why didn’t I take my Fool drag with me on this journey? There have been so many times I could have used that red nose, bald pate, frowsy side-hair-sproings, and, above all, the vocal attitude.

I have been a traveling clown-show of clumsy pain, hobbling along with a walking stick and a not-yet-healed second new hip—a slow wide load, not anybody’s key to feeling empathetic when they have to get to their own place FAST. You never realize, until walking becomes difficult, how much walking there is, and I didn’t have my Fool’s Guardian Angel as we were getting on the train to get to our blessed week with Johanna in Italy. Our room in a nice cheap hotel in Amsterdam had been at the very end of their furthest wing. We met our friend Theo for breakfast in a cafe across the street, but then had a long walk to his building to wait for the handicap-taxi (much cheaper) to go to the train station. Once in the taxi, it became clear that they had other stops to make, and by the time we got to the train station we were an hour behind schedule.

So at the Amsterdam airport I was already in walking distress, and twisted by anxiety. We found a no-frills wheelchair at the airport and were jouncing down the endless corridor to EasyJet’s gate, with minutes to spare. An angelic young woman left her compatriots at the security inspection and helped get me and Conrad (dragging our two carry-on bags) down the miles and miles to the gate that was about to close. We wouldn’t have made it without our Angel.

People were walking at their own pace with wide loads all across the corridor, and we needed to claim space to pass. First I tried a sweet little “toot-toot”, but that didn’t seem to be up to the severity of the occasion. I shifted to a brash Fool-voice Onk-Onk, and that not only seemed to clear the path better, it cracked up our Angel. “I like that  one.”

What fun it would have been to continue as the Fool and just bull through all obstacles and not give a shit. Instead, we still had to traverse long distances from plane to bus, bus to train, train to train—in Milano we jumped on at Car Four and struggled down toe aisles to Car Seven—and I got more and more embarrassed. I’d held it together that far, but when we had to ask two stylish people to move their luggage from our seats, well . . . I wish I’d been able to roar profanities, but settled for collapsing into muffled sobs. Felt good, though.

Now we’re safe and happy, and I have nearly a week of loving, peaceful comfort. Then, onward.

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Ye Olde Bucket List. . .

—From the Fool—

Somebody asked me what I had on my bucket list. I guess they made a movie called that. It turns out you’re supposed to make a list of stuff to do before you die off, and it better be good. It doesn’t include Eat enough or Look at flowers. It’s big stuff like Sky-dive into Paris or Play the ukelele.

So I tried, but I didn’t come up with much, even when I Googled. If it involves riding an elephant or wrapping a snake around me, I’m pretty happy doing not much. What kinda got me into gear, though, was thinking what I don’t want to do. There’s a lot to be said on that score.

Stuff I think I probably won’t ever do—

—Shoot people. Which if I don’t have a gun I probably won’t, although you never can tell for sure, but if I do pick up a gun I hope it won’t have bullets.

—Climb up the outside of a skyscraper, because what if you meet a window-washer coming the other way, or a bird banging into it?

—Go to Chad. I just don’t see the point.

—Be a card-carrying member of anything. I always lose them.

—Vote for somebody that really sounds mad.

—Run for President or anything else. Although maybe you get free meals.

—Visit Old Faithful geyser, because you don’t know exactly when it’s going to shoot off and you might have to wait an hour or so just standing there like a dope and having to go to the bathroom just from thinking about it.

—Take off all my clothes in San Francisco, although people do but probably catch cold.

—Cheat on my income tax, unless I get some income.

—Join the One Percent. At least the One Percent they talk about. I probably am one percent of something.

I guess in general I’d like to leave my campsite cleaner than I found it.

—From EF—

Medicare really cares about pain. They rate it from 1 to 10, and every time a nurse checks in on you at the hospital you have to give them a number. I’m not sure zero is an option, but it seems like a good idea to me, as does Spinal Tap’s idea of the possibility of 11.

When I go in to physical therapy I need to come up with a number, too, but it isn’t quite so easy. In the hospital, it clearly means right now, this moment. For PT, it might have been 7 when I tried to get out of bed in the morning, but then as I limbered up it could have gone down to 1, and if my PT appointment came before the time to take my next ibuprofen, it might be back up to 3. It’s a juggling act to figure out why they want to know, and what’s actually true, and what will look best.

We went for a final hail-and-farewell to the ocean, last chance before leaving, hoping to communicate that our upcoming affair with other oceans wouldn’t weaken our undying commitment to this Lady we love. It wasn’t chilly, but the wind was the max we’ve ever chosen to endure while sitting with our picnic. Another time, we’d have picnicked in the car, but hey, this was special. It was zesty enough to require hanging onto the sushi tray at all times to prevent it from taking off like a frisbee.

Was that a 10? Have calm and balmy days earned a 2 or a 3? Is a rating of 1 an insult? How the hell do you judge the ocean? When I think about it that way, then I start to qualify my perception of pain. How does the occasional sharp stab compare to a constant dull ache? And if it throbs, does that add another 2 points? When I hurt, I try to do something about it, to adjust my position, take an aspirin, toke a CBD, listen to music that reaches my soul.

And when I visit the ocean, I’m totally open to whatever She’s doing at the moment. A nice active chop is no less enjoyable than a slick swell or a thrilling foamy-topped crash. Maybe I should think of pain the same way, and see where that gets me.

 —From CB—

Getting ready to go. For me, that’s the worst part of travel. Once you’re launched, it’s a different sort of anxiety, and it comes in 52 varieties. But in the preparatory stages, it’s only two issues: Is there time? and What have we forgotten?

When we were doing very heavy touring years ago, the juggling act was extreme. No electronics, so all connections were by phone and mail, and besides the normal questions of how we connect with home base, pay bills and book the next tour while we’re in the midst of this one, there were our two kids—the clothing, the books, the toys, the homework. It was so much more complex.

But it still feels the same. We’re two days from departing for a month in Europe, visiting our daughter and other friends, with some extended time in Iceland. We have all our reservations, electronic connections, and packing; we have our house-sitter; we have a list that’s a small fraction of what it used to be—and we have the same level of adrenalin. Everything seems a rush. Everything that can go on hold is on hold. It almost seems that going to the ocean and to a party two days before we leave is like crossing the street with your eyes closed.

It’s partly a function of age, I suppose. We’re more wary of where we step, and we’re less madly improvisational. We also share, between us, about 150 years of experience in what can go wrong. And apart from the myriad disasters that can befall “sinners in the hands of an angry God,” we know that most everything is survivable.

And, for me, it’s partly a struggle with that lifelong challenge to live in the present moment, not the future. So much of my work has always been geared toward a future product—the book, the play, the performance—that it’s my habit to look at the path that gets me there as something less real. Food and sex: those are in the here and now, but most other stuff is marked for the future. Seeing the sea or the forest: take a photo so I can look at it later. Hearing music: it’s great, I’ll set some time to listen to it when I can really listen. Not really the way to live a life, I know, and I make slow strides toward living. By the time I die I should’ve gotten the knack of it.

 

 

 

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People & Light & Art. . .

—From the Fool—

Way long ago I was little. I was about three when it hit me: there were an awful lot of people.

It started out easier when there was just Mommy and Daddy, and then even simpler when Daddy split. But then suddenly Gramma and Grampa. Then the babysitter, and another babysitter because the first one got drunk. I didn’t know how many babysitters there were in the world, but it seemed like a lot.

Then Uncle Frank got a TV and we went over to see it, and suddenly millions of people, but little tiny ones. Then into school with all the kids on the playground and I was only one. I learned to count to a hundred, but I was scared to go any farther.

But when I learned to read I discovered obituaries in the paper. That made me feel better for a while. Some of these people were dying, so there’d be more room for me. But people were getting born, and that never made the news. The corporate media don’t want us to know.

The biggest problems now are all the wars and finding a parking place. I don’t know how to solve that, because once we’re born we don’t want to go away. So the big worry now is jobs. Too many people and not enough stuff to do, or not enough that makes money, even if we all eat burgers. I guess that’s why they invented war. It’s a job-creator.

But I guess if the world gets too crowded, you need to run it like a business. You fire the ones you don’t need, and they just disappear.

 —From EF—

I always have loved the late afternoon light, the gentle wash of gold that kisses the Sonoma hills (or wherever I happen to be). A few years ago, I noticed that as the year progresses into fall, here at home the light often gets meaner — harsh, flat, unkind. I have wondered if our ozone layer is getting old and tired. But I still love sensing the changing of the light.

In a week, we’ll know for the first time what the light is like in Iceland. As we fly to visit Johanna in Italy (and Theo in Amsterdam, and Peter in Zurich), we get to stop an extra week coming and going in Iceland because we’re flying Icelandair. They offer this at no increase in airfare, although we know that those two weeks of simple living are going to be damned expensive. Hey, what’s money for?

So we’ve rented a camper van for the first week and intend to mosey around the entire ring road before flying out. It isn’t high summer, but still the days and evenings will have light we’ve never seen before.

The first time I spent time in the Netherlands, I understood Vermeer. Yes, the light is different, and he nailed it. Our human eyes don’t remotely match the acuity of trilobites, incredibly ancient little hard-shelled sea critters who could see stars humans can’t even see, although one wonders why something that lived in the mud needed that. I say, why the hell not? Light is a marvel, and however you perceive it, it’s still a marvel.

We have a dear friend who is a myofascial therapist, incredibly skilled at getting muscular knots and constrictions to agree to let go. But Ed’s ability to photograph the light of Iceland is stunning beyond comprehension. For years now he has returned like a salmon swimming upstream, returning again and again to the land that has captured his soul. In turn, he captures its light and brings it home to share.

How’s this for coincidence? When we land in Iceland, Ed and Raina will arrive at exactly the same time. We have a breakfast date, and can share the same dawn.

—From CB—

Arts critics have multiple functions. They’re consumer guides: is this show worth your time and money? They’re promo sources, producers of quotable blurbs. They may try to be aesthetic theorists if the editor gives them more than six column inches. They’re entertainers, charged with producing words that are fun to read. They’re absolutely essential to the artist as career-makers, utterly useless as contributors to making the art, except as they produce audiences for it, if they do. I excoriate them and am eternally grateful for their existence.

Some brilliant and caring people choose to do this. I myself spent thirteen years moonlighting as a National Endowment for the Arts site reporter, visiting theatres nationwide, seeing shows, writing short reports that went to the panel making decisions on grants. It was soul-wrenching at times, but it had a single, clear function—to convey to a panel of professionals what the experience would have been had they been there.

There’s another kind of response that’s all too rare. On Friday I spent an hour at the coffee shop with a friend whose play I’d just seen. A lot of problems with it, I felt, yet great potential. I’d asked him if he’d like some detailed feedback, he said yes, so we met for coffee.

I preface such conversations with the statement that I never offer response to something unless I feel a strong potential in it; that I can only respond as if it were my own piece, with the eyes of a mad dentist searching for every cavity; that I take no responsibility for whether I’m right or wrong, that it’s entirely up to the artist whether or not something strikes a chord.

It was a lovely hour spent. I hope it proves to be useful to him. For me, it was a rare chance to have a freely-given gift accepted—whether it becomes a centerpiece of his table or gets shuffled off to Goodwill. It’s a gifting that should happen more in theatre.

It happens a bit within writers’ circles. In theatre, there’s a huge time pressure toward opening night, and a mindset—unless there are weeks of “previews” or follow-up productions—that shrinks the collective brain down to cast and crew. When a show has opened and it’s the end of creative work, there’s great awkwardness in response unless it’s a masterpiece.

If we could learn how to ask, and how to give…

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Risk. . .

—From the Fool—

Lots of times when I don’t think I’m being funny I turn out to be funny. And times when I think I am, I’m not.

It might be where people are standing, so if you see me from the bright side I’m funny, but shadow side it gets pretty desperate.

These days you can’t tell if somebody thinks he’s being funny or not. I guess we try to develop a talent for deniability. Plus, there’s lots of people who are armed against any misunderstanding. My uncle Ed used to do a big laugh if he said something funny so you knew that you’d better chortle it up if you knew what was good for you.

Serious and funny have a lot of definitions. It’s like love and money. It all depends on more than is dreamt of in our philosophy.

 —From EF—

I was thinking about my responses to seeing live theatre, and suddenly “circus” popped into my brain-pan. Specifically, the difference between high-wire work and trampoline gymnastics. I love the goofy ebullient joyous flips the trampoline makes possible, and I am highly entertained. I like being entertained.

High-wire is entirely different. Something crucial is at stake, and every moment is intensely present, but also intimately linked to what is to come. I remember holding my breath during most of the film Man on Wire. Would I call this being entertained? Yes, I would, with another vital dimension added.

Most reasonably well-done theatre is entertaining and I am happy that it exists. Trampolines for everybody is a good thing. But I wish there was more wire-walking. Do you know what I mean when I say that in the latter case, everything is connected, and everything comes electrically alive from the previous moment, and something is at risk?

Yes, we all know that the lines have been written and memorized and directed, but in the moment, they are kicked into our awareness by what happened a nano-second before. You can almost see the lightning bolts, whether it’s comedy or tragedy. OK, I’m exaggerating, and an audience doesn’t really want to be electrocuted or exhausted. But for me, I want to know that the interaction matters.

I saw a short piece from Dell’Arte’s Slapstick at a theatre conference years ago and then saw the rest of it via film. Funny? Entertaining? It was all I could do to keep my skivvies dry. And every single damn moment came uniquely from the moment before. The physical acrobatics were so extreme that if somebody lost concentration for a moment there would be a trip to the E.R. They were on the high wire, and they took you with them. And when you realized what the plot was dealing with, how dark and how painful, they still had you right there.

Lenny Bruce could do that for you too, and so could a clown like Dimitri, so it doesn’t have to be a play. But whatever it is, I am happiest when it holds me in the palm of its hand and leads me, second by second, to its destination at the other end of the wire.

—From CB—

Some day I’ll be toast. Or more accurately, some day I’ll be burnt toast. Most adults would agree, except those who expect to be raptured.

But as brainy anthropoids, it’s possible to carry two utterly contradictory thoughts in mind simultaneously. It’s almost a requirement for living past the age of two. In this case, it means a full logical understanding, based on Daddy’s funeral, that we’re mortal, and making big bets that we can subvert it.

The key is in symbolism. We can charge the machine-gun nest if we visualize the flag waving in front of us or the symbolic death of being thought a coward. We’ll shoot ourselves in the head for getting an F in Geometry rather than suffer the brain-blast of failure’s humiliation. Symbolic thinking makes us the most glorious, most hideous species on the planet.

The lust for money, lust for power, lust for fame, lust for lust—many sources, I imagine. But I can’t help feeling that much of the dynamic is a weird perversion of the universal survival instinct. If I can only accumulate enough bucks, enough clout, enough trophy pussy, enough column inches in the press, I’ll survive. If the rest of my species crashes and burns, it’s their problem: the survivors are those who’ve honed their insanity to Olympic heights.

I think it’s possible somehow to comprehend fully that you’re mortal, that you’re a temporary test model, and at the same time to try to keep chugging as long as you can. I’ll enlist medical science and music and lots of green vegetables, and that’ll have to do.

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Comedy and the Cat Bowl. . .

—From the Fool—

I almost got hit by a truck. Not really a truck, a pickup really, but he thought he was a truck. I had the Walk sign but he ran the red. White pickups are the ones to watch out for.

Fools get no free passes. I jumped out of the way and said some words under my breath. The First Amendment says you can say what you want, and the Second says it better not be too loud.

But I wondered why did he do that? Red means you stop. Even if just for a Fool. And pedestrians have the right of way. And God said, Thou shalt not kill. We take exception to that if there are oil fields involved, but I don’t even have a car.

I came up with a number of possibilities, in terms of the driver’s primal urges:

  1. He didn’t see the light, or he was colorblind, or he hated the color red because his grandma wore ruby red lipstick along after it was appropriate.
  2. He felt traffic laws restricted his Constitutional rights, given that his pickup was just as deadly as a shotgun. Plus, the Constitution says nothing about traffic lights.
  3. Red was communist.
  4. His dog—part mastiff, part German shepherd—was running 30 mph in the back of the pickup to keep up with it, and couldn’t stop in time.
  5. I looked like a Democrat.
  6. His girlfriend had left him and he wanted to kill anything that moved.
  7. If he scored, the YouTube video might go viral, fragments of Fool flying into the distance, and if that happened his whole life would change. He didn’t care how.

My friend Ernie said, “Maybe he’s just a dickhead asleep at the wheel.” That’s possible, but I don’t like to think bad of people.

 —From CB—

Several weeks ago I heard an interview with a stand-up comic, and realized I might learn some things about writing from an immersion in study of this form. And so I’ve viewed a half dozen comedy specials, with more to come. And indeed, there’s much to study: exposition, setup of the premise, the rhythms of phrasing, word choice, transition, surprise, and what comprises the performer’s unique “voice.”

What strikes me so strongly, though, is what they all (four men, two women) have in common: dick jokes, pussy jokes, and unbridled rage at life’s most trivial irritations. Nothing entirely unique in that: Aristophanes, Rabelais, and Shakespeare gave us a healthy dose of each, though perhaps in different proportions. Lenny Bruce was relatively unbridled, but I don’t recall any ten-minute riffs on the finer points of butt-fucking or wiping babies’ asses. I wonder if their Netflix contracts specify a specific number of minutes on specific topics.

Comedy has always been heavily based in transgression, and as mores change, the bar goes higher, until at last it’s like trying to squeeze the last blurt out of the toothpaste tube. In a different storytelling medium, Cormac McCarthy faces the task of one-upping himself progressively over 300 pages of human degradation, but once he gets to the halfwit eating turds, there’s not that much further he can go. He does manage, mostly, to make it cohere, to make the atrocities relevant.

But my problem with the dick and pussy jokes I’ve been hearing is that they just aren’t funny. Well, they’re funny in the sense that in junior high just saying “dick” or “pussy” was funny, but I’m somewhat past that. I’ve noticed in these specials an editing technique: at intervals, when the comic goes to the most “transgressive” feces-in-pussy jokes, the editor cuts to audience response, groups of pretty girls laughing uproariously. I guess it gives us permission to laugh at pre-puberty stuff: Well, they think it’s funny, so it must be.

Or maybe my response goes deeper. For someone to get up and rattle at me for an hour, I need to feel they believe what they’re saying—or at least playing a credible character who believes it. That they have a genuine stake in what their subject. With these people, mostly, whether they’re riffing on their girlfriend’s quirks or the challenge of single-ply toilet paper, I just get the feeling that they’d rather be talking about other stuff, but this is what sells to thirty-somethings who’d like to be back in high school.

Much more to be said, and I need to think a lot more about the “rage” component, as a lot of my own joking stems from a firm-rooted rage. What occurs to me at the moment is a sense that “Know what you laugh at” is a pathway to “Know thyself.”

—From EF—

We have feral cats, in varying numbers. In 2000, when we finally got into this house, we didn’t know we had feral cats, but it soon became obvious that somebody who lived under our backyard deck was devoting herself to producing kittens. We subsequently named her the Momcat.

By early 2003 we had succeeded in live-trapping two successive litters and availing ourselves of the local free spay-neuter program, but the Momcat was still untouched and still resolutely fertile. She could con any trap we put out, until the day when I jury-rigged the trap’s trigger and ran a cord through the window of the back bedroom. I provided sardines, went to the window, hunkered down, and waited.

It was a marvel to watch. It took her fifteen minutes to do a ninja sneak into the cage and past the trigger-pedal, and when the last inch of her tail was inside I yanked the cord, watched the gate slam shut, and let out a steam-whistle yahoo that could be heard in Cotati. She got fixed, grumbled and swore, and went back to living under the deck. We now had a tribe of six neutered females, and that’s the way it stayed for years.

Since then, we’ve lost the Momcat and all but two of her immediate descendants. However, a sleek and arrogant black ex-tom has moved in—whom we named His Majesty—and finally came The Nemesis.

From her long-haired gray fur I surmised that she’d probably come from the Momcat, but she has a unique personality. I would have named her Passive Aggressive, but The Nemesis was easier to say. His Majesty wanted to rule the roost at the common food bowl, and everybody else kept their distance.

Not the Nemesis. She would come sit Sphinx-style six feet away, paws folded, totally passive, and look at him. He couldn’t stand it, but there was nothing he could do. He’d lunge and scrap, and five minutes later, she was calmly hunkered down, looking at him. Eventually it got so bad that I’d see her literally a foot away, and he’d pretend not to notice. I loved her style.

Lately, I thought we’d lost her, because she’d looked really arthritic and debilitated and then disappeared, but here she is again. What remarkable recuperative powers. I have seen her with a big patch of her flank torn back, as big as the palm of my hand (raccoon fight?), and watched as she reassembled herself.

Feral animals do that. They survive hideous calamities and heal themselves without our help. I relate to that nowadays. I rest and tend my incision and let time take its course, and without my instructing or managing anything, my body calmly repairs the massive invasions that have enabled my two hip replacements. I don’t have to tell it what to do.

I wish we could understand that Gaia is the source of the Momcat, and that left to her own devices, she could heal herself. Instead, we declare ourselves the masters of How It Works, and fiddle, often with dire results.

However, my body is healing itself, and I am holding out hope for Gaia.

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Struggles. . .

—From EF—

“There appears to have been a struggle.” That’s one of my most cherished Facebook memes, headlined by “my style of housekeeping.” I am in emergency mode again, since tomorrow I get my right hip whacked and won’t be trying to wield mop and broom and vacuum for a while. And then just about when I become capable, we’re taking off for Europe. I can’t tolerate welcoming a house-sitter into a gnarly mess.

It’s never been one of my best-honed skills, but starting with the marathon run-up to opening King Lear, and then touring it nationally, and then getting hip replacement #1, the proverbial hand-basket is parked outside the door. At the ripe old age of 76, it’s time for me to learn how to deal with some periodic professional household help.

There are lots of lists with excellent recommendations for people, and I have a couple of friends who do this for a living. I think I need to start by asking one of them how to cope psychologically. After all, it doesn’t make any sense to precede a helping visit by a two-day marathon of cleaning.

Well, I could start by asking a friend who shared a Geisha day with me—hard to get closer than that. Years ago, we were at a gathering where one of the guys was feeling pretty morose because his birthday was coming up and it didn’t seem as if anybody gave a damn. By chance, she and I shared a glance and started to giggle, discreetly enough to avoid causing offence.

Later we talked and plotted and then invited the dude for the birthday present of all time, the total attention of two ladies celebrating his existence. We wined him, dined him, washed him, massaged him, etcetera, and it was a hoot. And it gave a special new level of bonding to the friendship between her and me.

So if I could partner with this lady in that kind of enterprise, I think I could reasonably ask her to assist me in getting over myself. I’m gonna do it.

—From the Fool—

I’ve had trouble sleeping. I get there okay unless my head itches as if my hair is growing too fast but then I try to think slow thoughts that get me bored and I go to sleep.

And then I start dreaming about walking someplace to catch a bus but I don’t know where it stops and so I just keep walking for blocks past banks and car dealerships and that’s really boring so it’s restful.

But then it’s the hallway at school and I’m looking for my locker but I forget the number. I know there’s something in there that I need, like walking past the banks. I know I must be way out of school for years and years but the smell keeps pulling you back.

Then finally there’s a door. I open the door and it’s little kids. It’s Mrs. Little’s kindergarten and it’s Election Time which is right before Cookies Time. They’re electing Kindergarten President. The big issue is a little girl named Orpah who’s lying flat on the floor. The question is what to do. Should they tell her “You can have two cookies” or should they kick her in the head or maybe let the janitor sweep her up?

But one of the candidates was this boy who looks big for his age, about two hundred pounds, and he jumps up and yells “Fire!” Pretty soon all the little kids are yelling “Fire!” and you could tell who’s going to win and rule kindergarten. But it’s hard to sleep through the yelling.

So finally Mrs. Little yells, “That’s enough, children!” and they all sit down and she tells them to get their rugs and lay down and be ashamed for ten minutes. Which is then more peaceful but I can’t stop hearing the big enormous jumbo little boy yelling “Fire!”

Maybe tomorrow I’ll check out what’s happening in Second Grade.

—From CB—

Walking through our local Farmers Market today, I find the walkway blocked by a small dog, or rather, a small-dog extension. As a slight, gently-bent woman scans a potter’s offerings, her pet—a small rat terrier or a tall rat—is checking out opportunities at the chocolate stand across the walkway. Between lady and dog stretches a long elastic leash.

A humane restraint for the dog, but a challenge to anyone—myself at the moment—who wants to waltz down the walkway. I shuffle one way, the dog shifts cooperatively, maintaining the blockade. As the creature’s human companion contemplates the stoneware, I try various strategies of circumvention, subvention, supravention. At last weighing my options for a surprise punt, I picture a wee fur-ball lofting over the vendors’ tents.

But I simply ask, “Ma’am, could you reel in your dog?” and she replies, “Oh, sorry” and complies. I feel bad for the slightly guilty lisp in her voice, but I proceed.

What promotes the free will and entrepreneurship of one creature risks impeding the pathway of another. The balance of wills is the human art of politics, though at times complicated by small rambling dogs. As it happened, the woman didn’t scream at me for speciesist insensitivity, and I didn’t squash the mutt, and we both walked forth to a day rife with possibilities. May we all find such balance in future encounters.

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