I like things to be over and done with.
And get very grouchy when things go on and on and on. That was an advantage of our theatre work: there’s a point when it opens, a point when you put it to bed. Even if you love it, even if you have it in touring repertory for years & years, there’s a point when it comes down to “That’s all she wrote!” Maybe something innate in my genes, something from toilet training, or, starting from Cub Scouts, just having too much stuff on my worklist.
And so I suffer frustration with stuff that won’t let go. Stuff that, even doing it today, you have to do it tomorrow. Not so much the bathroom stuff, the food stuff, or even going to the gym, but those chronic tasks that feel as if there’s a finish but there’s not.
Two categories right now. The first is yardwork. We are blest and curst by Ye Gods with care of half an acre. The house takes up part of that, but not enough. It does give us the blessing of space for a garden and stretches of growth that a friend described as, “How very pre-Raphaelite!” But there are certain tasks—weeding, fighting back the ivy and the juniper, picking the scaly growth out of the moss yard—that will never be done till the death of the planet (or me, whichever comes first).
The deeper frustration is creative. Besides our lifelong theatre work (now limping off in the distance), in the last 15 years we’ve written 7 novels (three self-published), 40 short stories (7 published), and three years of weekly blogging. It’s not the same thing.
Yes, some similarities. Rewrites are endless. Every time you perform your play you’re trying another inflection or word choice on that line that ought to get a laugh and never has. Likewise, every time you rewrite a piece on the page, you wrestle with that one inconsiderate comma. But the play gets instant response, even if it’s from a handful of people. For prose on the page, unless you hit it big or write identifiable genre fiction, you’re lucky if even friends will read and respond.
That might feel different to writers who haven’t had the live-audience experience. What’s the difference? I suppose that, for me, with theatre there’s a completion at each performance, even if you have another ten shows that month and two years to go with the piece. There’s an illusion that, for that one day, you’ve ripped up all the ivy, gotten rid of your worklist in one fell swoop, given it your all. Every performance has a beginning, middle, and end.
Right now we’re doing final edits and layout on AKEDAH: THE BINDING, a novel so off-track that we’ll offer it free to friends, and in the 7th draft of an equally weird but more user-friendly novel MASKS, which we’ll shop to agents and publishers. Meantime, I’ll find my sense of finality, completion, whatever you call it, simply in doing, day by day, what I do, whether barbering the moss or excising that cranky paragraph from Chapter 9. Taking satisfaction in that requires a massive soul transformation, but I can put that on the worklist and cross it off when done.
Normally I write my blog entry on Sunday. This is Wednesday. This morning I was walking down Blvd Pasteur in Paris at 5 AM, headed for the bus that would take me to the airport and the plane that would take me home. Now it’s nearly 5 PM California time, but still the same day. Never mind that my body is in 2 AM tomorrow, the sun is golden here and the moss in our front yard is glowing green.
The word disorienting enters the mind, but what feels right is orienting. During this past week, with CB in one hemisphere and me in another, I have felt more keenly than ever how connection is immediate, instant, and constant. I feel we will only survive if this goes viral.
I vist the stones at Carnac again and remember when my dowsing rods were nearly torn from my hands by the energy of the ley-lines. That was only a confirmation of what I’d always felt there, that there’s an energetic webwork girdling the earth, and Carnac is one of the “hot points.” We have another one here, at Portuguese Beach, and when I visit the ocean here I’m also greeting Carnac.
Science acknowledges that mycelium are the internet of the forest, that redwoods shift resources to others who are in need, that there is a vast and caring intelligence in the plant world that we would do well to acknowledge and emulate. It makes me smile to think of trains as human mycelium, that my frequent experience of deep vivid conversation with someone in the next seat, someone I will never see again but whose personhood has touched mine, that these sparks are part of a network.
These two weeks have been dense, fragrant, lively, exhausting, invigorating, and essential for me. A long time ago I wrote this song lyric, and I think I still mean it:
I don’t wanna leave the train, Mama, I really think I wanna ride
And you can change my station and my destination,
And I’ll cope on the other side
‘Cause I’m listening to the weaver, singing in my head
And I don’t want no rebuttal, ‘cause I know I’m a shuttle,
And I’m carrying a sacred thread.
I was never in the debate club. My after-school time was involved in play rehearsal, or if there was no rehearsal, just hanging around Miss Young’s room and talking about drama with other misfits. But I had a couple of friends in debate, one a button-down type named John, the other a future Iowa congressman Dennis, a pleasant dummy.
But I think I would have been a stand-out. I had a commanding voice, an analytic mind, and an egotism second to none. Plus, an intense desire to please: I might have had a stellar future in politics.
“Resolved, that we should recognize Red China” was the question of the year, as I recall, and the world was looking to Iowa teens for an answer. Not to mention the billion souls in Red China, eager for our acknowledgement.
My friends were required to develop cases both pro and con, since in the tournaments they were assigned their unshakeable beliefs just prior to the clash. A flip of the coin determined the fate of billions. And so they were playing a character throughout the debate, projecting a firm conviction in their righteousness. Not unlike we drama nuts, though they didn’t have to do it in greasepaint.
Good training for lawyers, obviously, as our legal system operates on the medieval principle of armed combat to determine the truth. God picks the winner, and the jury concurs. (Not that I can propose something better.)
From early on, I felt queasy about this practice. Was debate a search for truth or a sport? Did the fate of Red China depend on the smoothness of delivery and wielding a mace spiked with authoritative quotes? On the other hand, where else did anyone have an impetus to research both sides of an issue? Or to cast the mind into the mind of the other? The debate experience at least implied that a case could be made on the other side.
What seems to be lacking in our experience, whether in high school or in the so-called Real World (which seems more fictional day by day) is the concept of collaboration in search for the truth. Woe betide any elected public prosecutor who doesn’t use any semi-legal tactic to secure max convictions. Woe betide the defense attorney who doesn’t use every stratagem to defend his client. Who’s paid to find the truth? Yet at worst this may result only in a few unjust executions, not mass starvation or world war or the death of the planet. When we extend the game into the realm of politics, there are more chips on the table.
Is it impossible to envision a politics—perhaps starting in a high school club—that’s based on collaboration? On the same search for truth that impels my dentist to seek out each hidden cavity while lecturing me on my deficient dental hygiene?
Granted, if we can’t agree that we want to keep all our teeth or at least have something to chew with—perhaps have our slaves predigest our food—we’re not likely to come to agreement. But I’m not convinced that anyone is born with the innate desire to gun down folks in a shopping mall or to grind down all opposition by any trick in the book. What are the possibilities of games that combine respect for the individual and non-competitive collaboration toward a common goal? Even at the microcosmic level, are there juicier things in marriage than winning the fight?
Must all our debates require a winner?
A weekly view of the world we
wake into every morning.
Books and Media by
Bishop & Fuller
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