I’ve had a very sweet Mother’s Day. A long lazy conversation with daughter and then with son, which covers all the bases available in real time. In my mind, a sweet hug with the mother who birthed me and said good-bye, and another to the beautiful woman who birthed Conrad. And a bittersweet salutation of respect and forgiveness for the mother who did her best to raise me. And a phone-machine message of love and distanced hugs to the lady who mothered the lovely young woman who has chosen to spend her life with our son, and if I were fluent in Italian, I’d have done likewise with the mother of our daughter’s excellent mate.
We did our usual Sunday picnic foray to the ocean, the mother of us all. Having seen “Octopus Teacher” has forever changed the way I look at that water. And on Saturday evening, I had an excellent preview to the coming day. Our poetry salon has continued in safe and distanced form, meeting ourdoors in the lovely gathering-place behind the local Episcopal church. We gather to share poetry from memory, and as of Thursday evening I had no clue what I could do that matched the suggested theme: Let’s Remake the World. Then inspiration struck. I sang the “ABC Song.”
Back in 1974 the two of us had made the decision to launch ourselves as a solo duo, so to speak, hiving off from the ensemble that had been our new life-blood since 1969. The time had come when there was a new world we needed to make. It wouldn’t be easy, but it was right, and it led to who we became and who we are now. Our first show as a duo opened that fall, a hectic event. The scheduled theatre had burned the night before opening, and we premiered a week later with our first touring gig. It was called “Song Stories,” being a mix of short sketches and original songs, something I could do without freaking an audience out, being seven months pregnant.
From today’s vantage point, these lyrics were pretty much on point about remaking the world. The best way to “get it” is to read it aloud to yourself.
IJKL, Mama, Mama, Mamamama
Wee-wee — XYZ
Apple, bacon, corn-dog, eat
Food, good, hot ice juice
Keep lettuce, more, no oatmeal
Pickles quick raisins soup
Tickles up vegetables what
Which where when who
Why why why? Water — XYZ
ABCD elephant FGHI junk
KLMN octopus PQRS thunk
(the elephant stepping on the junk)
UVW XY zoo
Angry bad clean dirty
Easy funny good
Hard idea, joking, killing
Love me, love me
Naughty old pity quiet
Real sad truth
Understanding vitamins, war — XYZ
Abstruse banal comatose dog
Enervated flatulent gratuitous hug
Interim jettison kickapoo leak
Manumitted nepotistic ossified punk
Quiddity reify salubrious tart
Undulating ululating varicose wart
Xebec yacal zygophyte
IJKL, Mama, Mama, Mamamama
Wee-wee — XYZ
I generally spend at least half an hour a day practicing genocide. I refer, of course, to weeding the garden. Some green things just don’t belong.
It’s not that I HATE weeds. True, I get pissed at the intransigence of stinky weed, sticky weed, thorny weed, ejaculation weed, etc. But I understand their imperative to survive and replenish the Earth, starting with our garden, and I don’t intend to demean their botanical dignity by disparaging nicknames: it’s just the easiest way to describe them.
But I do feel, in process of wielding my digger, that I’m tapping into a disturbing psycho-political dimension. I’m seeking to purify. It’s what I remember as a small child swatting flies outdoors on my grandparents’ porch or squashing a vagrant ant just because it’s there. It’s the Puritans purging sin. It’s the satisfaction of erasing the chalkboard. It’s patrolling the Web for any linguistic peccadillo. Call it hatred-lite.
Or maybe it needs another word. “Hate” is as slippery a word as “love.” It doesn’t really resemble hatred as we’ve come to think of it in melodramatic action movies, with Nazis grinding their teeth as their blood pressure soars and their kidneys erupt. It’s evoked endlessly to characterize cops, political parties, races, genders, movie reviewers, etc.
The assertion that Inuit languages have an inordinate number of words for “snow” has been largely disproven, but it might be productive to consider that as “hate” plays such a great role in our culture, we need to develop a wider range of words to distinguish its varieties: does it come fluttering down gently, gracing the trees, or blow with blizzard force?
It’s maybe a too-useful word. How much crime, violence, stupid speech or actions that arise apparently from “hate” are the direct result of fear, frustration, humiliation, a desire to tidy up the human race, or that maddening weakness of the playground wimp that magnetically attracts the bully’s fist? We’ve written quite a number of plays, sketches, and prose fiction involving very ugly behavior, but in none of them would I say that the ROOT CAUSE is “hate.” Certainly there are cultures that make it simpler to make the leap to violence, exclusion, etc., but I don’t believe that anyone is “taught to hate,” though we’re taught many things that may lead to it.
I say this only because we’re all looking for ways to mitigate the rampant violence and division in our culture, which makes it all the more urgent to pin down actual motives, not just the blanket phrase-of-the-day. These are just some of the inconvenient thoughts that flit through my head as I go forth to do my daily weeding.
I’m not in South Carolina any more.
I just finished a memoir draft revision of the chapter that chronicled 1966-68, our two years in Columbia, South Carolina, and celebrated again in memory the day when we crossed the state line en route to Milwaukee. Poor Columbia, it had the bad luck to have come right after three years in California, and I came in with a chip on my shoulder. Actually, a load of railroad ties. Many years later I came to understand the South much better and still have great fondness, but those two years—damn, they were weird.
It was the first life-experience after the seven years of unremitting labor that was Conrad’s chug toward the Ph.D. that would launch him into the real life of his academic career. Boom, goes the cannon, and then you land in Columbia. No theatre department there, just one man in the English department that directed plays and taught some acting classes. Now there was a second man.
It was a yeasty two years. We had a cadre of students who were nuts and fearless, who took the very strange stuff we gave them and helped create some of the most powerful and memorable theatre we’ve ever made. Nobody in Columbia gave an eff about plays unless they came from the community theatre, so we didn’t have an audience base to worry about. We weren’t much older than our student actors and we all hung out together in a local bar-cafe that had an underground room lined with aluminum foil. Drinking pitchers of beer inside a baked potato while singing blues and folk songs is a bonding experience.
It started on an agreeably rowdy basis with The Beggar’s Opera, a huge cast of street low-life performing the play that was later the model for The Threepenny Opera. I wrote catchy ditties that people could learn easily and we all had a ball. Next up was a grotesque 180, Woyzeck. The cast came along with us on a demented carnival ride of military abuse and dehumanization, and given what the US was doing in 1967, it wasn’t an abstraction. The next year was Hecuba, victorious Greeks and captive Trojan women all sweating out being marooned on a hot rocky island when the winds won’t blow. An acid reflection on our Asian war.
This was Columbia, South Carolina, and our chorus of slave women were clad in body stockings painted to make them more naked than naked. They wore heavy collars on their necks and were chained together in a line. The Greek soldiers wore armor fashioned from romex and fender-mender to put their ribcages on the outside. It was grotesque, surreal, and effective. Nobody said, “You can’t do that.”
I was overjoyed to leave, to get back to grocery stores that sold fresh produce, to buy cheap table wine that wasn’t Mogen David, to be in a city that showed foreign movies and a climate that didn’t grow moss on my dining room table. But what had been given to us was something we weren’t leaving. It was an experience of working, even if in a bubble, with people who would take risks, say damn the torpedoes, and make art.
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