A friend replied to a FB post that I was perpetually critical of others’ comments on issues without venturing to post my own ideas. That’s probably true. As for example: In regard to the current Supreme Court, I feel that proposals to impeach several justices or to pack the court are utterly futile and will ultimately turn progressives against the current Administration for “doing nothing,” and while I agree that something should be done, I have no idea what. The fact is that I’m as critical of my own ideas as I am of others’.
I do feel that a great deal of what passes for political dialogue is at worst posturing and at best howls of rage. I tend to vote straight Democrat though surely aware of the party’s shortcomings. I prefer the lesser of two evils rather than the greater of two evils.
And quite true: I avoid confrontation. Until about the time I was in fifth grade, I was in a lot of fistfights. I rarely came out on top. Worse, I rarely remembered what started it. There followed a lifetime of acting and writing for the stage, which confronted me daily with the immense complexity of human behavior. In the pieces that moved me most strongly, the political statement was an impossible dialectic. The characters who most appealed to me were those for whom I felt an equal measure of empathy and revulsion. I could only “take a stand” at the expense of my notion of hydra-headed truth.
Yet I can see that critiques of others’ efforts can have the same depressing effect as posts that urge utter despair or claim America has a record of evil unique in human history—kind of reverse spin on “American exceptionalism.” Better, many would feel, to drive your car into the swamp than just to sit in the parking lot.
Bottom line is that I don’t know what I’ll do till I do it. I think the criticism is just, but I doubt I’ll ever learn to play the piano or some other desirable things. Probably the best I can do is to give more thought to the practical implications of whatever I say out loud and, with that voice in mind, to choose to say it or not.
It was a strange weekend. Amazing music makers were assembled at the Kate Wolf Music Festival in Laytonville, CA, many many more than usual due to the fact that Covid had cancelled 2020 and 2021, and due to the fact that this was not only the 25th KWF but the final one.
We didn’t get out of the house at 6 AM, we got out at 6:30 and then had to get gas, so it was 8:45 when we got to the gates—45 minutes later than opening. That meant we stood in line in the blazing sun for two hours to get stamped and braceleted, then found that the only places still open for camping were at the complete ass-end of the site, a twenty-minute walk from the music stages.
Every day hit 100 degrees. Those who had come for many years said it wasn’t hotter than usual, but I was three years older than I’d been before, and it sure clobbered me harder. The Supreme Court decisions were an additional blow, and it wasn’t the celebratory high I’d been expecting.
It was a different high. I got into more long lovely conversations than ever before. I was blissed sitting in the dappled shade by the little river watching the clad and unclad people of all ages reveling in the clear cold water. I oozed tears of gratitude when a camp security guy stopped his little putt-putt cart to ask if I could use a ride. I was profoundly moved when an artist I’d been anticipating for the whole festival was wobbly from age and heat and was lovingly (and respectfully) supported by the artist who shared his in-the-round slot. They rocked gospel together to a standing-room crowd.
Kate Wolf is/was a different kind of festival. The volunteers patrolling the roadways to pick up trash could hardly find any. The volunteers keeping the check-in line of standees off the road were saying, “Keep yourself safe, we love you, you’re doing great.” Strangers passing each other on the paths said things like “Great hat!” and “You’re lookin’ good!” Somebody with a lusty lemon tree at home brought a carton of lemons to give away, and a guy on the fire crew asked, “Can I take them all? I can give them to my guys and bribe them to stay hydrated.”
We got home Sunday morning, picked up our regular sushi and hauled ass to the ocean for our ritual picnic. It took a moment to realize that the car’s thermometer said it was 66 outside, not 99. I thought for a moment I was upside down.
This is Father’s Day, when thoughts turn to fathers, so I’ve given a rain check to my pontifications on politics, whoh are currently beyond-depressing, to muse upon fatherhood.
Two thoughts. First, the nature of the role is (a) enormously important, and (b) a total crapshoot. Of course there are utterly horrific fathers who do much more damage than, say, horrific auto mechanics or chess players. But I would guess that most halfway-intelligent dads call up memories of utter incompetence, bafflement, guilt, the whole squad of demons that tweet in your head. And there’s an awe that the kid survived. It starts with the terror that you might drop the baby or let the head fall off, and it never ends. Most of us try to do our best, and “best” is like the shifting floes when Eliza’s crossing the ice.
For myself, I’m grateful to my own dad for deserting the family when I was two. My mom painted an honest, very objective portrait of him as I grew up; she still loved him despite his huge flaws, especially booze, but I think we wouldn’t have gotten along—he wanted no kids, and I was inadvertent.
It’s a roll of the dice whether you acquire someone to model yourself on or model yourself against. For me, he served as the latter: above all, as a role model for responsibility—in his case the self-serving LACK OF.
When I met him at the age of 29—he just showed up—I realized how much we had in common and how differently two folks can play the same bridge hand. He was addicted to alcohol, I to work. He had a travel bug that led him to a lonely trailer in the Arabian desert, I to a career touring across the USA with a mate who liked the itinerant life. He had an artistic instinct with no outlet whateoever; I made a career of writing & performing. He was a loner who found company in bars: I was a loner who found it in theatre.
And the issue of responsibility. He retreated from it so much that when his second wife was diagnosed with cancer, he tried to reconnect with his first, my mom, whom he left because she was pregnant. Reconnection was a real possibility, but she was a very practical lady and saw the old question marks.
By his second wife, he had four daughters. But very little fathering: his work was overseas in construction and oil installations, and he’d come home just long enough to start another baby. According to his sister, he made every one of his daughters swear on a Bible not to have a child. When I met them briefly at his funeral, none of them did.
This wasn’t a wild-haired hippie; this was a guy from the “Heartland.” What I have to thank him for is (a) a negative example of fatherhood that’s made me try harder, (b) a sense of the immense complexity of simple human beings, and (c) for his part in giving me life.
Sunday, mid-afternoon, turning onto I-80 East from Highway 37, I saw the great golden hills as loose-skinned furry creatures begging to be petted, and my heart lifted. Not just because in the evening I’d hear John McCutcheon do a solo concert in Grass Valley, although yes, I’ve been looking forward to that since it suffered a Covid-rescheduling in January. No, something about the first sight of those hills tapped an aquifer of memory.
It came from our 2005 co-production with Foothill Theatre: Long Shadow. That collaboration had been years in the making, starting with their presentation of a staged reading of our play Hammers in 2002. That didn’t lead to a full production in their Nevada City season, but it started the ball rolling in a mutual exploration of how we might work together on something. They had an idea, but it was an edgy one.
There had been a murder in Nevada City in 1944. A young man was found in a mining ditch after a hunting trip, a bullet in his back. No suspect, no motive, but suspicion grew around a colorful local “other,” Bill Ebaugh, and all efforts to find him and investigate came up empty. He was a loner, a woodsman, a big man with a full beard and hair down his back when men were clean-shaven and barbered. He did have lady friends, and many in the town thought he was odd but harmless. Others thought he was a dangerous criminal, and the town polarized to the point where some businessmen posted a bounty—$300 dead or alive. Without accusation, arrest, or trial, he was found and shot dead.
It hit home to us, since we ourselves had recently lost a close friend, also a loved/hated renegade, shot in a stairwell in Los Angeles with no motive known and no arrest ever made. We struck a deal with Foothill to collaborate, and that led to a long series of trips on the I-80 to do endless research at the historical society, do scene improvisations with their company of actors, come back and work on script, then do it again next month. Three and a half hours each way for a stay of three or four days in which we grew closer and closer to the artists at this fine theatre, and fell in love with Nevada City.
I loved the place and loved our theatre friends. The process of creating a play from this painful history knit us together for a time, but after Foothill Theatre closed in 2009 we didn’t go often to what had been, for a few years, almost a second home. Later, as we’d set out for our annual long-haul tours of that started on the East Coast and worked our way back, I’d hit the I-80, see those hills and the pine forests that followed and remember those times in Nevada City. One year it was really special: we started by driving straight through a rainbow.
Now we have a link again. When our son married, we inherited his lady’s wonderful parents, and a few years ago they moved from the Midwest to Nevada City. We’ve had some family Thanksgivings and Christmas celebrations, and this is not our first shared John McCutcheon concert. Nevada City is a second home again.
A post on Facebook asked, “Do you say ‘I love you” to yourself?”
My first response would have been something snarky, but I’m trying to lessen that impulse. The second would have been a simple “No” and then getting back to work on something useful. The third, just trying to think it through.
The motive of the question, I think, wasn’t literal. It was a roundabout way of saying that if you don’t value yourself, if you think, “I’m a scumbag,” then you’re likely going to be one.
For me, the question is difficult—apart from the fact that I don’t much talk to myself—because of that sneaky word LOVE. To me, it’s outer-directed. Yes, I can say that I love Elizabeth, meaning that I value her, I’m attracted to her, I’m curious about her, I feel responsible for her and to her, I’m grateful to her, and her times of happiness are essential to mine. Yet she’s the Other. I’m not her, will never be, and it’s that strange interplay between Self and Other that’s for me so much a part of what I mean by love. Love isn’t evaluation; it’s a desire to be together.
So responding to the initial question: no, I don’t love myself, I’m stuck with me, and that’s okay: I think I get better with time.
Contradictions are part of the deal. I think I combine an intrinsic sense of self-worth, instilled by a very loving single mom, and a brutally objective satirist’s eye, perhaps instilled by a very dark view of the world and what I share with that world, though given spin by an impulse to laugh. I’ve described my near-pathological sense of responsibility—knowing from the age of four that my mom needed money and not knowing how to make some—but I can usually tell the difference between self-flogging that serves a purpose and what’s just for the gratuitous pain of it.
So I can’t really pass the “love me” test. I have the same responses to myself as I do to the characters I write for stage or page: they have a million contradictions, self-doubts, grandiose expectations, blind spots, times of sweetness, noble aspirations, embarrassments—and I try to empathize with every one of them, including me.
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