Getting Rid of It. . .

—From CB—

At some point, accumulation becomes a curse. As one enters the age of the endgame—EF 82, CB 81—you begin to lie awake in the dark hearing the choir intone, “You can’t take it with you.”

Money is easy. We made our wills long ago, realizing that drunk drivers proliferate.The bank accounts offered little challenge. They’re just electrons and store easily. We have to depend on the good will and good sense of our kids in dividing up the other stuff of value, house and car and the like. The rest of it is what keeps me awake at night.

Books galore, some artwork, furniture, and tons of knickknacks. I can only say take what you like and junk the rest, or invite the hordes to descend to loot it. Neither kid has room for much: one lives in Italy, the other in a San Francisco apartment already stacked to the brim with books.

What’s more perplexing is our product: stacks of our printed books and manuscripts, videos, boxes of reviews & press, and eighteen large bins of puppets. If we’d gotten famous, we could donate it as archive material, but we’ve always flown under the radar in mainstream theatre, alternative theatre, public radio, puppetry, and fiction. And mostly way under the under-the-radar.

Not a big problem for me that it all gets junked. I say that repeatedly, and might believe it someday. But the truth is, my work is just one step down from my kids. Of course the kids don’t sit in a shelf, they don’t get stored in bins, they don’t proliferate, they grow and change. They’re their own creatures.

But a playscript or a novel or a puppet is a child to me, as Jeff Bezos’ net worth is a creature to him. It’s part of who I am, and we fight for survival, just as the Argentinian ants, attracted by my muffin crumbs at the keyboard, scurry around to avoid my malevolent pinch. I’ve had many other fellow artists pass—it seems to be a common thing at this age—but I’ve never had a conversation with them, since they’re dead, about what they’ve left behind.

Ir’s a crapshoot, as I learned from being on grants panels. Something gets said, and the whole discussion shifts. Ten thousand bucks vanishes or looms in the blink of an eye. (And those were the days when ten thousand bucks was a lot of money.) You can only live the life that you live. You can only spawn the work that you spawn. All the rest is the movement of tectonic plates, making the mountains rise or the sea gush in.

###

Honey. . .

—From EF—

I’m in the process of writing the second book of my memoir, and getting closer to the beginning of our second Great Heave — having our own theatre building again. The first one was in Milwaukee with the newborn Theatre X, and that was an epic change. The night we opened our space to the public, I got pregnant—after many years of trying in vain.

The second theatre was in Lancaster PA, a gorgeous candy-box of a space. It was the wig-bubble of an interior decorating firm that wanted a tasteful setting for their wares. They bought two adjoining two-story buildings, combined them and then removed ceilings to make it a two-story space. Adding a curved staircase to an upper balustraded walkway halfway was overkill, but now it was ours: it felt as if we should be performing Mozart. We renovated it into a beautiful little theatre, and I remember the great lustful surge toward our opening as I slogged through day after day and week after week of meeting with officials who all needed to be groomed. You have no idea how many impediments there can be to using something for a theatre.

And how many contributions it takes to pay the bills. I’ve always been our company’s chief accountant, and I remember with great fondness writing those contributions in the ledger—scads of tens and twenty-fives, sometimes fifty, and the astonishing thousand. I hand-wrote every name, remembered every face, and warmed with gratitude.

Then we moved to Philadelphia, renovated a third theatre with an apartment in the back, reveled in being part of an active theatre community, and kept our art and our bank account alive by jumping in the van and hauling ass around the country. So many miles, so many people—memories that formed a heart-scrapbook. And then we moved west, to my beloved California.

In writing the memoir all these images come flooding in, and sometimes waking at dawn I find myself struggling to swim to the surface of my present world. So many layers, all of them flowing into each other. In the real world I’m in the final stages of the California Sales Tax report. That’s the heart of our work now, what we write and publish. Live performance sank with Covid, though we have dreams…

I’m logging the names of people who bought books in 2022. It’s like the building contributions from 1982, I know every name, I can see every face. I guess that’s the opposite of mass marketing, but so be it. I love the warm hit I get from seeing those names and places. These are my people, my colleagues, my co-conspirators, my friends. They’re our tribe. We made a journey last fall to visit as many as we could, and we hope to do it again this coming year. Love is sticky as honey, and just as sweet.        

###

Grunting Along. . .

—From CB—

This morning, making coffee, we got into a spat—a trivial thing but one of those moments that happen over the course of sixty-two years, when you just can’t let go, when words elicit a reply that elicits more words, and on and on, like a hot potato you can’t let drop. Sometimes its very triviality makes it all the more toxic: what fools we, to be stuck on this merry-go-round.

It ground to a halt, both a bit pissed and wanting to drink our coffee, and then Elizabeth said, “Could we dis-gruntle now?”

Then followed a dialogue on the oddity of disgruntlement as an active verb: to disgruntle. During the course of which, we dis-gruntled.

I’m not one to believe that to believe that conscious changes in language change anything—that’s a disgruntlement for another time. But in the case of disgruntlement/disgruntle I could make an exception, at least on a personal level. The former is a static state, anchored in a solid, two-ton -MENT. The latter is active, implying though not stating a direct object: ourselves or me. It suggests change.

What would our marriages or our politics be without disgruntlement as a fixed entity? Both sides of the growing fence: we vote for the cat who appeals to it: he/she best channels my anger—no, not anger, that implies being out of control, and most of us want to sit down to dinner. We call it outrage, fervor, commitment to a righteous cause, but most of us don’t go out on the street with guns.

Call it whatever, rage is a great first stage as a booster rocket, but it won’t get you all the way to the Moon.

A more accurate term would be disgruntlement, and I feel it would be an improvement—whether on the national scene or in the kitchen—for more of us to dis-gruntle. Though granted, this might prove a formidable sacrifice for those of us who like to grunt.

###

It’s All in the Timing

—From EF—

Watching the endless but ever-changing procession of waves at the ocean today, I realized that I was seeing a lesson on how to deliver comedy. I love the muscular foamy wham-bam of a breaking wave almost as much as a good belly-laugh, so I watch closely as they develop. Sometimes the ones that look promising as they come in peter out with a small snort, and others develop last-minute burly shoulders and rock the cliff walls.

I think good comedy, whether it’s solo stand-up or Mike Nichols directing Neil Simon, has a constant undercurrent of unlimited energy. The ocean is doling itself out to you wave by wave, but what’s out there is immense, unlimited, and unpredictable. I’ve done a lot of classic and tragic roles—Lady Macbeth, Hedda Gabler, Medea, Inanna—but probably in terms of percentage of stage hours most of my work has been comedy, much of it our own creation.

Building a satisfying belly-laugh for an audience is not unlike surfing. For starters, it’s a helluva lot of fun. It takes a keen sense of tempo and balance, and if you fall off, you don’t feel so hot. It starts way back in what feels like relatively calm waters, but you can feel the molecules itching and you try to sense their path. You work moment by moment with what you feel from the audience and how you can nurture and shape that. In my experience a lot comes from building a sense that the performer is intensely alive to the audience in small ways and responds to everything. It could be as silly and simple as mirroring an audience sneeze by scratching your ear, in time and on the beat.

Let’s say you’re watching a promising swell coming in. There are two small rocks in its path and then a big one. If it lets its peak get sharp the moment before it starts to curl, out at the first small rock, it will break to foam at that point and by the time it gets to the big rock it’s lost its oomph. The swell that resists the little rock’s giggle and keeps barreling on will crest just as it hits the big time, and it’s boffo.

And then there’s the follow-through. One big swell will hit the big rock, fire off a huge spray, and then deflate. Another one that might look just the same hits the big rock, goes boom, and seems to inspire the rest of the swell that continues to the south to keep a crest of foam unfurling all along the line in a long white ruffle. No two of them do the same thing, because they’re all reacting to a dynamic that never repeats.

It’s ticklish doing this on stage. You bring your own energy, you tease out the tendrils of what the audience has brought to the moment, and you know you’re building a swell. You’ve got a laugh line, but it’s not the major one. If your timing allows the immediate laugh to get big, you’re going to have to start the next laugh from scratch. But if you respond to the first audience snorts by speeding up a little and riding over them, teasing with more of your own energy, you get more snorts. It’s up to you how long to do that—too long, and it all falls flat. Catch the exact right moment, and you release three surges at the same time, and there’s not a dry seat in the house.

I know this in my bones from all my years on stage. It’s a grand feeling seeing how well the ocean does it.

 

Purpose. . .

—From CB—

Why do you write? Not a stupid question—one that comes up endlessly in online writers’ groups—but generally one to be dodged. You can contemplate it for hours, turn it over and around and about, or you can write.

I’ve always found my own answers flippant or bloated, sometimes bits of both. But I guess my reluctance to face the question stems from not wanting to be limited by my answer. I don’t only want to entertain or to change the world or to get famous—from time to time I may want any of those, but in the words of that esteemed Western Cole Porter song, “Don’t fence me in.”

Lately, I’ve found myself thinking about it more. Into my 80’s, I don’t want to accumulate more clutter for my survivors, and words are pretty lightweight. And something more. If you vowed to post on Facebook every cat photo on the face of Earth, people might intuit a purpose (to amuse, to assert cats’ rights, etc.), but your focus would be on your task. For me, writing is like that vow.

I’m returning from an overnight trip to see a John McCutcheon concert. He’s a prolific songwriter and superb performer, well worth the three-hour drive each way. Now in his 70’s, it’s an extremely fertile time for him, he said. And I wondered—whether it’s cat photos or songs or stories—if we simply share a need to proclaim that we’re still alive.

Maybe it’s not much different from the kid who gouges his initials into the school desk or the guy who writes his stories and songs with bullets. Our method cause less damage in asserting our existence, though we garner fewer headlines.

But hearing McCutcheon, I also felt a connection of purpose. His best work creates an empathy with others; I have a chronic urge to understand, from the inside, characters I don’t know, don’t want to know, but at least to empathize. I could not personally, as St. Francis is said to have done, kiss the leper, might not even give him a buck. But at least I want to try to see him.

#

 

 

A weekly view of the world we
wake into every morning. 

Books and Media by
Bishop & Fuller

Mica: 25 Flashes 
more micro-fictions

Flashes & Floaters:
14 Fictions

Elizabeth: One of Many
(1949-74)

Seven Fabulist Comedies

Masks
a historical fantasy

AKEDAH: THE BINDING
a novel of promises broken or kept

Blind Walls
a novel of blue-collar ghosts

Galahad's Fool
a novel of puppets & renewal

Co-Creation:
50 Years in the Making

A Memoir of the Creative Life

Rash Acts
35 Snapshots for the Stage

Realists
A Novel of Dystopian Optimism

Mythic Plays
From Inanna to Frankenstein


DVDs
Stage Performances!

 

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