Doing No Harm . . .

—From CB—

I’m in the periodic limbo stretch. Just finished stages of multiple projects—6th draft of a new novel, interior layout on another ready for publication, billionth rewrite of a short story (well, start with a title like “William Blake at Starbucks” and see what happens to you), etc.—and wondering what’s next.

Fortunately, this next week I’ll have my fingers in papier mache, creating a mask for a friend, and that’s a project with a finish. Words are another matter: they never dry up. Words are like politics: there’s always something more to do.

Which brings up the election. Bots run rampant in my brain at 2 a.m., stilled only by counting my breaths or imagining myself screaming Whee! Whee! Whee! in a crowded subway. (Those who know me would find that image uncharacteristic.) Writing—even writing political Facebook posts—is a form of vaccination: immunizing oneself by taking in a less treacherous form of the virus. Writing is pretty harmless.

Excluding, of course, words for a demagogue or a California proposition or a legal brief—those can have their effect. But a short story or a novel, not so much. That’s scant comfort, of course, if your readership numbers in the dozens.

Yet there’s a certain grim comfort in the notion that you’re doing something that (a) is up to your standards, (b) has integrity, and (c) does no harm. Organic farmers, massage therapists, and chess masters can share this, but most professions run the risk, however slight, of ending in something hideous.

Not without exceptions. Uncle Tom’s Cabin may be credited or damned for promoting abolition, causing the Civil War, pushing Black stereotypes, mixing protest with sentiment, inspiring the theatrical “Tom show,” etc. (Nevertheless, a compelling story, in my opinion.) So it could be that our words might have effect, at least if we were a best-seller second only to the Bible. But we’ll just have to risk it.


Silent Presence . . .

—From EF—

Our son Eli came to visit today. I’m not sure if we’ve been together at all since the virus moved in. There might have been a time early on when we sat distanced with masks in his apartment in the Mission, but I’m not sure. What I do know it that it’s been a long time.

We had our daughter with us back in February when I had my weekend 80th birthday party, and Eli was with us then too. She was here for a week and then got back home to Italy in the nick of time. God, that party was a blessing. I got to see and hold my beloveds in a bunch, and then the doors slammed.

So today was very special. We had coffee at HardCore, picked up sushi at Fiesta, went home to prep the picnic, and then went out to the ocean. Sun, waves, sake, and a gull. Conrad and I always go to the same spot, and when we have scraps we delight in making a gull happy. Today we didn’t have scraps, but we had a gull. I can’t be sure it’s the same one we’ve entertained in the past, but she stayed with us the whole time anyway. At first alert, standing, watchful, and then just hunkering down in a warm sandy patch nearby until we got up to go. Silent presence.

Back home I puttered in the garden, gathering some arugula for Eli to take home to Meg, and some catnip for him to take to their cats. Dinner happened without drama. Mostly, the three of us were together in the house in afternoon comfort, playing with the cats and then sitting in silent presence. We had a good meal and Eli went home.

I think it’s the ultimate intimacy, silent presence. It feels so good, like walking alone in moonlight. Nothing asked, nothing judged, just being there. I remember nursing; no way to meter the milk, it just happens.

I look forward to the time when the stream of life runs gently again for all of us. For now the two of us are our own still waters, our own embraces and our own silent presence. If you are someone I love, I am with you too. The next full moon is on Samhain, Oct 31st, and that is when the veil is thinnest between the worlds. When you are in silent presence with all you hold dear, I will be with you too.


Salt Point / / /

—From CB—

Sunday we opted out. For the day, at least. No news, no email, not even plucking a weed from the vast half acre of our existence. The wars will go on, people will shoot each other, the President will go to the can, major criminals will enjoy a cook-out, but we won’t be there. It’s their loss, not ours. We went camping.

We’ve spent many nights under canvas. Our first trip to Europe in 1969— except for a week in a London B&B, four days in an Irish castle, and one overnight in a Polish hotel—we were three months in a pup tent. Same the next year, and other years thereafter. In the States, lots of festivals, odd weekends here and there, and since coming to California the destination has usually been Salt Point.

It’s a state park and campground on the coast about two hours north. We stoked the cats with plenty of water & food, explained that we’d be coming back and they could babysit each other for 24 hours. We took a picnic lunch for the seashore and Cornish hens for supper, a roomier tent than in the early days, and of course my iPad—I could let go my oversight of U.S. foreign policy but not my rewrite of Chapter 22.

In fact I never touched Chapter 22—the world will have to wait. The trees, the sky, and the waves crashing, sending their spray high above the rocks—well, I took some stunning action photos but got impressive images of my thumb.

 But it’s not the photos we go for, it’s the presence of the ocean itself: twenty feet away as we eat picnic and stare, a few hundred yards away as we sleep. It’s being in the presence of the womb. Not a warm, motherly womb, but a birthgiving tumult of unimaginable force—so frightful in its healing roar. Takes me back, for a moment, to a line in Chapter 22, in fact: “that moment when you squeeze out of the birth canal and get the fluorescents full blast and think, Oh crap, now I’m in for it.”

 And we’re always IN FOR IT, always have been. We go back to the news, the cavortings in high public office, the bombs falling, the daily grind, the multifarious hemorrhoids of life. But it doesn’t take much—just an afternoon and a night—to remind me of the inexorable and blessed tide of life.


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

Books and Media by
Bishop & Fuller


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