Worlds. . .

—From EF—

If truth be told . . .

If you google this, you’ll either be directed to a popular memoir or a TV series. In popular terms, I guess that’s just about right. But for me, the significant thing is the “if.”

When I was little, that “if” was a walloping big critter. I learned early on that it just wasn’t smart to tell the truth, and it took me decades into a good marriage to get it right. I look at what’s happening in our political culture now, and I get the creeps. I remember how easy it was for me to learn to lie and how soon I lost sight of the fact that I was even doing that.

Is that what’s happening? Is there some imagined threat that’s so pervasive and so horrific that it’s sunk into the subconscious beyond reckoning? If that’s the case, what the hell is it? What is the monster we dare not name? I have tried to bring my childhood fear into focus, but it resists. It’s somewhere in my deep core, in my right to exist. I feel it’s extreme to say that we have created a society that regards truth as life-threatening, at least for some, but have a look at where we are now.

For nearly twenty years, I was a pathological liar. You couldn’t ask me the time of day and get an accurate answer. OK, that’s an exaggeration, but not much. When I look at memory closely, I see that most of the time it wasn’t a question of avoiding punishment for wrong-doing, it was a warning to avoid truth. But what is truth? And why can it feel dangerous?

From my present perspective, I can hazard a guess. There’s a theory that extreme psychological danger can cause a separate personality to hive off, one who accepts the role of guardian. My first ally was The Liar, and she got really good really fast. Others followed, but she was the champ. If she was in charge, Elizabeth could fade back in the weeds and feel safe.

As a nation, are we so freakin’ threatened that we need an internalized liar? What would collapse if we confronted our history of slavery and con-games and abuse of power? Do we not have any other choices? What would happen if we realized that we’d given the car keys to a psychopathic liar? Could we survive that?

When I was brought face-to-face with the failure of my most grotesque tower of lies, the void was a very attractive future. Instead, I was presented with absolute unqualified love, and a clear picture of the grief I had caused. Somewhere in my core I had enough sand to face fighting back to reality, but I don’t think I’d ever felt such pain before.

If that’s where at least 30% of us are now, what’s going to carry us through? Snark and condemnation and contempt aren’t going to do the job. If our core problem is that we don’t believe we exist as a connected family, shaming and exile don’t look like a good path.

Part of what happened to me was that I could be heard. I could open my core and not be blasted into outer space. At first it sure didn’t feel good, in fact it was hell, but I was stronger than I knew, and I was in the grip of an uncompromising lover. I can’t remotely imagine how this happens on a broader social level, but I’m working on it.

—From CB—

Crime headlines from today’s NY Daily News:

Family seeks justice for Bronx man who died in police custody
Indian woman cuts off longtime rapist’s penis
Judge haunted by early release of nursing home shooter
Teen accused in carjack murder points finger at accomplice
Jury selection set for Bill Cosby’s sex assault trial
Crazed Times Square driver says he set out to ‘kill them all’
NYC jeweler robbed, shot by 4 men years ago, mugged again
Anthony Weiner’s ex-flames speak out on his sexting with minor
Charges shed light on sea cucumber smuggling at US border

No question but that we have bigger problems than sea cucumbers, though anybody’s extinction is a serious issue. But what I’m noting—not as an expert but just as a consumer of our collective toxic waste, is that the normal workaday world of malefactors, whether petty thieves or big-league mobsters, doesn’t really merit headlines these days.

It’s the crazies, the impulsives, the “no-motive-determined” guys who get the front page—unless it’s a terrorist or a hate crime, in which case a third-rate carnival act becomes a headliner. But even those seem like slow-motion impulsiveness, imitation of somebody else’s deed. The President fulminates against importing Mexican rapists and killers to protect the jobs of good native-born American rapists and killers. We certainly have no need to import them: they seem to be one of our major industries.

Granted, we’ve never been a peaceful land, though at least we haven’t had a civil war for a hundred fifty years. And we have more labor-saving devices at hand: between 1999 and 2014 there were 185,718 homicides and 291,571 suicides with guns. Might be contributing to our obesity epidemic: it takes so few calories to pull a trigger.

But one does wonder why the richest, strongest country in history goes off its nut so often. Lots of reasons proposed, depending on your place on the political spectrum. But I wonder: they say that enough days in solitary will drive an inmate crazy. Are so many of our people locked in solitary without their even knowing it?



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Cats & Books…

—From EF—

We’re gonna get kittens, soon. Our only cats have been ferals, ever since Conrad discovered in 1968 that he had a pretty severe cat allergy. We’d treated ourselves to a pair of (unrelated) Siamese kittens once we’d settled into our house in Columbia, SC. We both love cats. Conrad was pleased that one or the other of them would hop onto his lap as he sat at the electric typewriter (remember those things?), which he did early and often.

When he began erupting in sneeze fits, he somehow thought it might be a reaction to the typewriter ribbon, which actually did outgas a pretty strong smell. The big Olympia desk machine had an internal fan, which blew warm air upward into CB’s face, caressing the cat en route. Maybe the cat wasn’t so much expressing affection as it was indulging in the ancient cat-art of parking where it’s extra-warm.

When the uncomfortable round of allergy scratch-tests came up with the verdict, we had to give away our quirky friends and all their offspring. We’d initially intended to breed them, hence getting unrelated kittens, but the sellers hadn’t been accurate in assigning gender. We didn’t have a male and a female. We had two females. Siamese cats are pretty vocally active, and when in heat they’re astonishing. These two ladies appeared to come in heat every five minutes.

We sent out a “seeking Siamese tom” message and connected with a dude who was very proud of the male prowess of his cat, a big critter who was lumpy and muscle-bound, more like a Rocky-style bulldog than a slinky Siamese, but he did have balls. The cat, I mean.

However, when we got him home and he met the ladies, he hid, first under the bed, then in the closet. Only one of our cats was actually in heat, but as soon as the tom arrived, the other one upped the ante. He must have come out of the closet, because both cats came up preggers.

The vet warned us that we were facing big trouble, that we had to keep the moms sequestered far away from each other when the time came in order to avoid attacks on rival kittens. We did our best, and made them separate birthing-boxes. They delivered within twelve hours of each other, and all went well.

The cats hadn’t read whatever the vet had read, and they were having none of it. They picked up the kittens and lugged them all into one box, and took turns with nursing duty, giving each other time off. We enjoyed the kittens a lot, until the allergy verdict arrived, but at least we had them for a while.

Now Conrad’s allergy appears to have gone south. We tour our theatrical offerings and stay in lots of houses with cats, so it has become evident that age does have some rewards. CB’s the one who popped The Question: “Let’s get a cat.” Knowing that we’ll always have some away time, I suggested getting two littermates. Voila.

But hey, it’s Mother’s Day, and I have very fond memories of those long-ago Siamese ladies who knew how to do it, far better than the vet.

—From CB—

There are stages in a creative work just as there are stages in pregnancy. At one point you’re flying high, at another you’re carting a sack of potatoes. Bio-pics of artists rarely show the process of revision, much less the revisions after revision. For good reason, perhaps: it’s hard for an actor to conjure up a crazed, lighting-struck frown of genius over moving a comma or finding a different way to say “suddenly.”

Certainly if you’re a sculptor in marble, you can’t decide, post-chisel, that Laocoon needs an extra snake around his shoulder or Aphrodite requires fuller endowments. Language is more forgiving, except for the writer who’s still using vellum. Paper is cheap, and electrons more so.

I generally enjoy rewrites, though I hate making decisions: I always know I can rewrite the rewrite. Still, an extended span in the “rewrite” mind can be a challenge. For me, indeed, it’s a different mind, more akin to the difference between making love and raising the resultant offspring.

Right now, with Elizabeth’s input, I’m getting three of the little brats off to school. We’ve just gotten editorial notes from the publisher of our forthcoming novel GALAHAD’S FOOL, so it’s back to changing diapers on the five-year-old—the book has been that long in making the rounds. Meantime, we’re wrangling through the second drafts of CHEMO and Elizabeth’s solo show SURVIVAL. They’re at different stages, but it’s all that slow uphill climb. There’s often nice scenery on the way, but none of that first wild plunge of the roller coaster.

I’ve never had problems with writer’s block, but I can see one way it can develop. After a long span of picking lint off each of 80,000 words, it may not be so easy to get back to the terror/thrill of facing the blank page or screen. Add to that: I’m 75, hence more selective in the stories I want to tell. At 40, no problem pursuing an affair with any story impulse that gives you the eye. Now, the choice carries more weight. I don’t want to be nine months pregnant and bring forth a gopher.

But what’s next? Several ideas are starting to snuffle up to the top. Meantime, I’m very much looking forward to facing that blank screen again. At least till I actually face it.



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Dark Thoughts Today…

—From EF—

When we wrote our memoir, something emerged from looking at the long span of time. Lo and behold, cycles surfaced, a recurring meme of focusing intently on a desired life goal, working effectively to actualize it, then finding after about seven years that we needed to do it all over again. It was always painful, and always necessary. It never meant that we’d been wrong in the beginning, only that life had moved on.

Back in 1968, we’d climbed up a notch on the academic ladder and joined the faculty of the University of Wisconsin’s School of Fine Arts, but when the extracurricular bud of Theatre X bloomed into a full-fledged performing ensemble, we had to make a choice. All our investment, monetary and emotional, had been toward the goal of a career in academic theatre, and suddenly we saw it through a different lens. Our hearts had shifted gears, and we jumped into the unstable unknown. The next years were vibrant, bonding with our new theatrical family.

When we hived off to found the Independent Eye in 1974, Theatre X went on to make its own mark, a long fertile life until its closing in 2004. Our departure had been viewed by some as a betrayal, but we all found a healing and even did some collaborative work. But nothing lasts forever, and what was painful in the demise of Theatre X was that those who had been our best friends came into divisions that turned them tooth and nail against each other. We still loved them all, and couldn’t take sides. It’s only very recently that those toxins have lost some of their punch.

In our spiritual life, we took a huge energetic leap in entering into the neo-pagan world, and found wonderful guides, friends, and lovers in the Church of All Worlds. When that organization’s central core fell apart, when partners became enemies, we couldn’t stop loving the people we’d loved, we couldn’t take sides, we could only watch it all fall apart. Once again, those who had been closest were tearing each other apart. It was painfully familiar.

It’s happening again. Our Full Moon Circle, assembled little by little over several years, has been our spiritual anchor, a collection of individuals from different traditions who all knew how to hold sacred space and could blend their work to move healing energy to great effect. We were really good at staying on point and accepting our different ways in the interest of a common good. Until we weren’t. Life outside the circle has made changes.

What the effing hell is this cycle? Sentient admirable people have bonded, done wonderful work together, and the center did not hold. Not with Theatre X, not with CAW, and now not with our worship group. As in past years, we will keep putting one foot in front of the other, finding where the new path leads, and being profoundly grateful that our own bond has always been grounded and steady. But we miss our creative brethren. Change hurts.

—From CB—

News today that they found five unexploded WW2 bombs in downtown Hannover. The area was evacuated and they disposed of the bombs.

Would we could be so lucky with other unexploded ordnance. Starting, obviously, with the litterbug rubble of war—the cluster bombs, land mines, radioactive ammo, the soldiers and civilians with parts shot off or junked, the shattered minds, the hospitalized, the homeless, the children growing into the tradition of their fathers. Every war, even those pre-gunpower, have left their unexploded bombs in every heart—set to ignite the next.

People have written about the costs of war for millennia, and today it’s less fashionable to glorify the enterprise. We accuse candidates of being warmongers or hawks and elect self-proclaimed peace-lovers, but somehow the circumstances dictate. The circumstances always dictate. The rhetoric of launching war is finely honed.

As a leader I would be no more virtuous. I would be persuaded, despite sleepless nights, of the necessities. And that somehow this will be the last: this will bring it all into balance. And stopping the massive industry of defense—it’d be like stopping the heart in hopes that the pancreas would agree to work overtime.

I have no proposal to make, no anchor to my feelings, no hopes other than that human incompetence might save us from doing clownish deeds. I do feel that we might start by self-examination, since that’s the only arena for which we can bear full responsibility. What separates us from our fellows? What impels us to a collision course? What self-righteous grit in our eyes blinds us?

Can we clear the unexploded ordnance, from past or current wars, that lies embedded in our heart?


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Joy & Stuff like That…

—From EF—

A lovely day today, our Sabbath—warm, sunny, available. We took our biweekly picnic to the ocean, braving the brisk wind but determined to sit outside on the bluff, enjoying it all the more because it wasn’t the blithely easy thing it will be a little later in the spring.

Around us, everything’s so goddamn fraught. Talking with a friend who is beginning to question how long she ought to fight for the means of existence, being a woman beyond childbearing whose skill sets are no longer cutting edge in the workplace—what use is she? Well, I said, she is really good at joy. She’s nurturing her aging mother and taking pleasure in these waning but beautiful moments of togetherness. She has a strong bond with horses and is renewed and strengthened by the animals in her care. I went out on a limb. Joy, I said, is Gaia’s food. Drink deep and radiate joy, that’s a good job.

Joy’s a tricky gig. I think it’s distinctly different from pleasure or happiness, it’s primal and gusty and difficult. There can be an element of joy in profound howling grief. One thing’s for sure, it isn’t small.

I wake when the sun is streaming through the fan window into our bedroom, painting its image on the warm wood of the ceiling, and I think, “Thank you for this beautiful red day you have given us.” I go down to the kitchen and drink the first cup of water of the day, hot from the little thermos pitcher I keep by the stove, and have a bump of awareness: I can have hot water, clean, abundant, whenever I want, and there are so many who can’t.

I fall into bed deliciously tired at night, and I have my beloved naked by my side, with sweetly soft pillows and coverlets nestling us, and I think of those who shiver on newspaper pads in piss-fragrant doorways.

And I fall back into that childhood blare, “Clean your plate, there are kids who are starving.” I never really got that, how my eating food I didn’t want would help those who didn’t have it. I had a point. If I didn’t really want it, it wouldn’t do anybody any good, whether I ate it or not, unless I gave it to the dog.

So it was a great comfort to remember the words of the poet Jack Gilbert:

                                       There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.

That’s a gnarly one to parse, but it’s worth it. I will not praise the work of 45, and I will not make him the gatekeeper of my life-stream. I will do what I can to stem the tide of his destruction, but most of all I will do what I can, alone and with others, to foment joy. Drink deep, Gaia!

—From CB—

Second draft of our novel CHEMO, and it continues to be a challenge to prevent our main character Victor from going off on a dystopian riff that he thinks is quite brilliant, even though he hardly has an image of himself much higher than that of a hairy worm. He needs his own blog, I guess, and then he could limit his blather in the novel.

One riff that will probably survive the next draft goes like this:

I envied her complex simplicity. As loony as she was, she possessed a dignity that transcended the dreary files of Stipson Associates and my own eavesdropping. Once in a while, you’re able to look at human beings with an unfamiliar eye, as if looking at puppies or a beast who was once a pup, who eats, excretes, mates when possible, aspires, loves, cries and dies. You see these creatures born out of one womb. Three or four billion wombs, in fact, but all one; form, structure and chemistry the same, the implacable urge of the push. A single billion-pocketed goddess spawning its creatures broadcast.

It wasn’t me said that, it was some guru on the remainder shelf. But it struck me. Every human is a tryout, a sketch for the idea. It could look this way, that way, it could live its life by whatever principles, embody whatever contradictions. The nose could be shaped this way, the mouth pursed like that. One grows up to write an opera, one to rob a Seven-Eleven, while one toddles into the path of a truck. And having made a try, the womb resorbs its tissue. Every once in a while there’s progression, a breakthrough, a creature who shows what’s possible. We celebrate these characters or we crucify them, but things are never the same.

The comfort is that whatever kind of shit you pull, you’re part of the experiment. As is the guru on the remainder shelf.

 In the novel, Victor has a lot to answer for, but probably won’t.


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Potholes Abounding. . .

—From EF—

We have been blessed with a wet juicy rainy season, and the weeds have profused (is that a word?), i.e., there’s a whole helluva lot of them and they’re BIG. The ground is still moist, so yanking works for the time being, producing a good satisfying upper body workout. Not so easy to deal with the profusion of potholes.

We live on what might be called a back road, if it weren’t for the constant pounding traffic. Pleasant Hill Road is a poster child for potholes, big hearty fellas that can twist a wheel like a pretzel. When we go to our favorite local grocery store, we navigate this unstable asphalt with great care and breathe a sigh of relief when we turn onto Lynch Road.

Half a year ago, Lynch was as bad as Pleasant Hill, but then somehow it popped up on the county’s list of Things To Do and got a royal make-over, a real one that tore up the palimpsest of raggedy-ass patches down to the nubbins and then put down a cushy smooth blacktop. It felt luscious, like eating ice cream. But nothing happened to Pleasant Hill Road.

I got so rankled that I bought a can of blaze-orange spray paint and outlined every damn crater so they’d be easier to spot. Not long afterward, the holes got patched, and it was at least a week before the patches fell apart and left us as riddled as before. When do we qualify for the deep repair, the inconvenience of dodging the street-eating machine that gets right down to the fundamentals, screws up the traffic, but then rewards us with a real road that might last a while?

And how do we do this for the potholes in the body politic? Quick fixes and hot patches have to be fought for, tooth and nail, but even so that won’t keep our wheels in alignment. The absurd patchwork needs the attack of the street-eater. The confusion and detours will piss everybody off, and it’ll be hell to find how to pay the bills, but the wheels are coming off and something has to happen. I pray that it can be non-violent.

—From CB—

Halfway through the 2nd draft of our novel CHEMO, we’re starting to figure out what it’s about. I don’t know yet if we’ve found the emotional center of it—how it feels to tell & to hear this story, what wants to move us to owning it emotionally—but we have to trust that that will come as we continue. As I’ve said before, I rarely start out with “something to say.” My process has always been to stick out my nose to be grabbed in the jaws of the bulldog—the story—and spend the rest of the time flailing this way and that while trying to figure out what the contest is all about. Why am I exploring this? What lost city am I searching for?

We’re also rehearsing (and rewriting) SURVIVAL, a house-concert show for Elizabeth. Finding its heart was easy; the trick is in plotting a piece that has very little story. Of course “story” can mean many things, but for me as for Aristotle way back when, “plot” is the foremost element of drama. It might be a tightly-woven cause-effect sequence or it might be a series of jokes (that’s called stand-up comedy) or it might be images with no realistic linkages, but for me there has to be a sense to the selection and the ordering, and they have to add up in a way that evokes some passion within me—besides anger at a waste of time.

On Sunday I saw a piece by renowned theatre-maker Robert Lepage. I won’t go into specific critique, other than to say that for me it was a ten-minute play stretched to an hour and a half, clever stage mechanics and projections camouflaging an empty center. To others, it was brilliant theatre. And I have no doubt it was meaningful to the artist who made it. To me, that’s the disturbing thought. It calls to mind the times I’ve put my heart out on the sacrificial altar and had response much like what I just wrote about Lepage’s piece.

There’s no way to take out insurance against superficiality, and no technique to prevent barking up the wrong tree. The only way is to shave the odds by working and working and working and working and working.


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VHS, SVHS, DV, DVD, Ye Gods…

—From EF—

We’ve been documenting our theatre productions on video for a long time, at least thirty-five years. Eventually our theatre was able to upgrade our equipment and we got ourselves a new SVHS camcorder, a significant bump in quality from the plain old VHS tapes we’d been making. From then until the lurch into digital camcorders, all our archive tapes were on SVHS. Lotta shows.

Once we graduated into the world of mini-DV and making our own DVD’s, we started a slow process of dubbing our old tapes onto digital media, relying on our old SVHS camera as a playback source. (SVHS won’t play on a regular garden-variety video deck.) We didn’t move fast enough, though, because recently our SVHS camera went belly-up. All those wonderful productions lost? No way to transfer them without spending thousands of bucks at an AV service?

God bless eBay. I found an old fancy editing deck of the same make as our now-deceased camera, quite cheap (what would a sane person do with it nowadays?) and actually made it work. I hooked it up to our flat-screen, and Conrad scanned through multiple tapes to select the best performances of each show. Wow, ready to rock and roll.

Not. This is an old analog unit that hooks up with a coax cable, this thing you saw on your granny’s TV with a little pin in the middle. If you’ve got a digital camcorder and want to play it on an old TV, you can get a converter that accepts the yellow/white/red from the digital unit and puts the signal out on the other side as analog. However, it’s one way only: can’t go from analog to digital.

I spent all day today running back and forth to what used to be the Radio Shack, getting an array of converters and couplers and adapters, getting no results, reading the manual for the old SVHS deck and the manual for the mini-DV camcorder, taking a break to cook dinner, then fighting the urge to burst into tears. I even dug up the old empty case from the dead SVHS camcorder, and found one lonely coiled cable inside it. Funny-looking connectors, unfamiliar to me.

Then a distant bell rang. The old camcorder had an alternate dubbing output called S-video, and this playback deck was the same make and vintage. Sure enough, it had an S-video output, and the cable fit. Maybe I could find a sex change that would allow it to have relations with the DV. Looking at the DV manual, I found that, lo and behold, hidden below the normal jacks was an S-video jack!

Yes, Virginia, sometimes geezer equipment CAN get it on with sprightly young things. And right now, as I write this, we’re dubbing our Waiting for Godot from the vintage year of 1983, with CB as Vladimir, Tom Roy as Estragon, and Eli Bishop as The Boy. And I am thanking my tired and gnarly brain for its demon persistence and ability to navigate a labyrinth.

—From CB—

I once heard the story of a man I knew only slightly, a puppeteer, who had a large gathering of friends for his fortieth birthday. He and his mate showed slides of shows they’d done over the course of their career. Knowing puppeteers, it must have been quite an emotional experience—there’s something intensely paternal that emanates from creatures you’ve designed, built and animated over the years. The man then went into his bedroom, lay down and died.

This comes to mind whenever I have occasion to revisit old shows—sorting photos, organizing scripts, dubbing videos. I don’t know if it’s quite the same for theatre artists who rehearse a show 3-5 weeks, run it a month or so, and then on to the next. For us, a new project is a pregnancy, evolves over the same length of time, and then, if it’s born alive, it’s with us anywhere from six months to three years to fifteen. It’s your baby, and you hope the world will love it the way you do. But at the same time, you’re as aware of its weaknesses, its failings, its recalcitrant temperament, as if it were your teenage kid. And it’s hell to let go.

So going back through time, as I’ve been doing this week, in the long multistage process of dubbing archive videos onto DVD, there’s a great mix of emotions. The people I worked with, the work, the audience, the critics, the elation, the despair—not that much, to be honest, comes back, but enough to make it live. Loveplay, Godot, Summer Sisters, Marie Antoinette, Macbeth, Mine Alone, Dessie, Winter’s Tale, Full Hookup, Long Shadow, and more, more, more. Now they’re shadows on a screen.

It’s a blessing to have video, and a curse. It looks at the show with my director’s eye: cool, objective, analytic. What’s lost is presence. It’s a trapeze act as seen on TV: no danger, no breath, no smell. And under it all, the fact that it’s dead.

A week ago, we had occasion to watch our video of a 1983 production of Waiting for Godot in Lancaster, PA. We had houseguests, friends from New York, and Moshe had recently directed a Yiddish staging of Godot, Beate had seen my earlier college production of it, and they asked to see ours. I hadn’t seen it for thirty years. Our friends were effusive in response. Indeed, it worked. And I managed, for the most part, not to take directorial notes. I wouldn’t really have a chance to give notes.

And seeing our son, in the role of the Boy, as a child. Oh ye gods. And Tom Roy is an old guy now, like me.

Still, as I accumulate these signs of mortality, that great vanishing, I understand whiskey better. Aging mellows me. I can only get truly angry at computers and other non-sentient objects—that includes politicians, of course—but otherwise I can picnic pretty happily despite the gnats. The mellowing, though, brings with it an intensification. The taste comes out more fully. You drink it to taste it.

And like all whiskey, whatever its quality, it all gets drunk up.


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Doing a Buncha Stuff…

—From EF—

The week of the Daughter. Once a year, Johanna comes here. Once a year, we go there.

Preparing the bedroom: years ago, I made special frames for twin beds, to be used stacked or side-by-side as a king bed. Week before last, we had Moshe and Beate as house guests, and the king bed materialized. This week, we had Johanna, and the twin daybed manifested. There was such a delight in preparing the sleeping for both, spreading the clean sheets, arranging the blankets. The hidden delight is that the two twin foam mattresses are from our earliest days in Lancaster, 1977, beds for Eli and Jo. Same ones, with dreams and summer sweats imbedded in their cores.

The Orff concert: I love Carmina Burana, and know it down to the soles of its shoes. The lobby benches were filled by other early arrivers, and we all played musical chairs to give comfort to those most likely to appreciate it. This was a one-night-only concert, and the house was sold out. During Carmina, I noticed a lady in the row in front of us, very bouffant hair. I can’t for the life of me sit still when listening to rhythmic music, but I’m in the minority. So I loved seeing this lacy coiffure bouncing and nodding along with me. When we were leaving, I stopped and greeted her, saying how much I appreciated seeing a kindred soul. I think she was tickled.

Sowing seeds: Johanna gave me packets of seeds for my birthday. My usual habit is to buy starts, but she said I’d enjoy broadening my horizons. I’d done a little and now have mighty favas about to bloom, but most were still in their envelopes. I spent a luscious afternoon being tutored by Jo in the ways of propagation, including how to make mini-pots from newspapers. Our front deck is now devoted to caring for sprouts-in-waiting.

Chaplin binge: we all decided to drink way too much wine and watch Chaplin films. Seeing One AM together was the culmination, rolling with laughter on the couch, celebrating absurdity wedded to genius.

SFMOMA: on our last day together before handing her off to her brother for their own reunion, we hit the art museum. We split off into three onesies and agreed to recombine at 3 PM at the café. There’s something wonderful about doing separate treks and then sharing responses. I spent most of my time being completely flattened by Anselm Kiefer; in particular, one very three-dimensional painting with scrunches of weeds (Die Meistersinger) kept making me fall into it. It was so much like the unkempt fields I would hike as a little girl escaping her house.

Art Explosion: and we finished by joining up with Eli at his art collective’s exhibition. Ye gods, the vigorous artistic ferment, artists of all persuasions and all media, on offer at this warehouse warren. Wonderful stuff.

And then we hugged hello and goodbye. We’ll see Johanna in September on her own turf in Italy. We know this see-saw rhythm from many years, and a parting is blessed by its anticipated reunion. Still, there’s a tug when the hug lets go.

—From CB—

The Moving Finger writes, and having writ,

If it doesn’t, if it takes its first draft as gospel, it might still get published, might still become a best-seller and even give license to kill in service to its great truth, but success will come at a cost.

What the rewrite may do—a danger as well—is more than smoothing out the prose or finding a different way to say “suddenly.” It may give the piece room to breathe. It may, on the other hand, let you see where to trim the fat, and then to force yourself to do it. It may, as with our forthcoming GALAHAD’S FOOL and as with life, allow two characters’ relationship to deepen and evolve in response to his response to her response.

Above all, with persistence and luck, the multiple stages of revision might allow the Moving Finger to see—at least with the visual acuity of its fingernail—what the damned writing actually says. It’s so easy for the Finger to scribble out utter crap for the sake of proving it can scribble.

Better to look at it, to ask “Is that the best thing I can say right now?” and “Is that the best way to say it?”

That’s not to say that everything should be carefully ground and filtered to creamy texture. There’s great appeal, and sometimes great truth, in writing that’s immediate, spontaneous, volcanic—if it comes from the finger of a master and if it’s read with a critical eye. More often, though, the unexamined sentence, as manifest most severely on the Internet, inspires a rewrite, as—

The Tweeting Finger taps, and having tapped,
Gets shoved back up the butt.



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