The air is full of smoke from forest fires 150 miles away. I’m reading Dickens and Barbara Kingsolver and the 17th Century Simplicissimus, with Orlando Furioso waiting in the wings. Trump is trumpeting, votes are being counted, and bombs are falling in Yemen. The December barrage of donor pleas has begun to fill the mailbox. The neighbor’s dog is barking, objecting to it all. Our cats are taking a nap.
How does this all affect my life? Concretely, that is, at this point in time? Not much, actually, except for wearing a smoke mask walking home from the gym and the slow upward creep of my blood pressure. Otherwise, I sit at the keyboard working on Chapter 13, which involves combining it with Chapter 14, cutting 500 words, and figuring what it’s all about.
And I should have mentioned the flags up and down the downtown streets of Sebastopol in recognition of Armistice/Veterans Day. I have no problem with recognizing veterans, but I’m concerned that it’s a bit premature to celebrate the end of WW1. Has it ended, or might it at some foreseeable point? Seems to me it directly spawned WW2, which spawned the Cold War, which fertilized the ground for a dozen little proxy wars, which have led to the current post-colonial/neo-colonial massacres in the name of profit.
We’ve now proudly proclaimed Natioalism as the new religion surpassing all others, pumping out the message that it’s essential to the Survival of the Fittest (namely, us): without the biggest piece of the cake, we’d surely starve. WW1 killed millions, led to an epidemic that killed millions more, lead to another war that broke all previous records, led to the symphonic cacophony—better spelled caca-phony—of the present day. War with Iran? with North Korea? with China? Why not? We might win, and those of us left standing could be proud of our loved ones’ sacrifices to allow us to have a drums & trumpets parade.
On the other hand, we might somehow come up out of the trenches, as they did on the front lines in 1914, and look one another in the eyes.
We’re in limbo. As I write, it’s election day. We’re driving up the I-5, having spent the last week at a theatre conference in Arizona. Now we’re neither here nor there in any way. The outcome of the election is yet to be known. Our theatre friends and artist friends are now far away in every direction; our home and cats are still hours away.
I look out the car’s window and see mile after mile of the Central Valley, the land of bounty and plenty, but it feels so sterile. The trees are lined up for miles in military formation with bare ground at their feet. Many of them are almond trees, and have only a distant memory of their fling with the bees, whose furry bodies have been boxed and crated and trucked to some other location. There are no birds to be seen.
Some fields are bare, waiting for the machines and the water. They’re huge. Modern farm machines are high-tech, and I can almost imagine that they are equipped with GPS to navigate from one side of a field to the other in straight lines. No humans to be seen.
The highway is a solid ribbon of eighteen-wheelers, nose to tail at 65 miles per hour. Cars weave from lane to lane in order to go 80. Nobody is where they are, they’re all on the way to somewhere else. This is normal. Corporate agriculture is normal. This is how we get to feed and clothe and house ourselves. And if we need a snack, we can stop at a gas station and marvel at the many ways there are to package sugar and salt.
But there is beauty to be seen. The sun is getting low and the light is golden. The hills that can’t get tractored are covered with tawny grasses. The aqueduct that carries water south is a stunning blue.
Although the pundits are nattering on the radio, I’m doing my best to breathe and center. I have no idea what’s on the far side of limbo. As they say, tomorrow is another day.
We hold a deep mystery in our lives: the Polish table.
In 1970, we took our second trip to Europe. As in the year before, it was three months and two people on a Lambretta 150cc motor scooter, about 50 km/hr. with our camping gear on the back. From London thru Netherlands, France, West & East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and our first and only time into Poland.
In those pre-Curtain-dropping days, you had to exchange $15 per person per day for Eastern Bloc visas, and given our camping and meal prep over an alcohol burner, there was almost nothing on which to spend this vast wad of zloty. I remember buying three neckties, a tiny book . . . and, apparently, this table.
It’s a cheap little tin thing, 2 ft. by 2.5, spindly folding legs, cream-colored though stained with years of picnics, and it’s given us good service. In subsequent decades, right up to this contemplation of fog on the ocean cliffs, we’ve used our Polish table.
The mystery is this: where did we get it? In Poland, of course. Except that we couldn’t have.
I piloted the little scooter, Elizabeth perched at my back with saddlebags, tent and bedroll strapped behind. There was no room for a table, none. Impossible. It must have been acquired in later years, when we rented a car with the kids. But we’d never gone back to Poland. So why did we call it the Polish table?
Might it have had a Made in Poland stamp on its underbelly? Might we have once made a tacky joke about Polish workmanship? Might it have sailed in from an alternate reality? Might we have sailed in from an alternate reality? We seem to have exhausted all possibilities.
The best we can do, it seems, is to accept the mystery as mystery. An unexamined life is not worth living, they say, but neither, perhaps, is one that can be fully explained.
A weekly view of the world we
wake into every morning.
Books and Media by
Bishop & Fuller
Forthcoming, Available for Pre-Order:
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