Dogpatch. . .

—From EF—

The tax forms went to the post office yesterday and today I can breathe better. My life has not been beset by allergies, but they’re beginning to introduce themselves, most notably with a little tingle in the nose when I wake. I can deal with it. I revel in the shameless intoxicating seduction of all the flowering entities in Sebastopol. And when it comes time for jasmine, I remember Dogpatch.

7310 Bodega Avenue, our first home in Sebastopol, was a tiny cottage back from the street, behind the much statelier 7308, and hidden by a massive eight-foot hedge of jasmine. It was the only thing I’d been able to find that would rent month-to-month, but the fact that it was borderline shabby and the whole thing sat at a slant didn’t matter. We got used to hiking uphill to the bathroom and learned not to put vitamin pills on the kitchen table—they’d roll off. We nicknamed it Dogpatch, for reasons lost in the mist of time. After all, it’s about to be 25 years since we arrived there.

It was a shoebox heaven, just a block and a half from Main Street. The library was almost next door. There was a little theatre at Bodega and Main, with a great cafe next door. I could walk our bulk-mail flyers to the post office in ten minutes, and ten minutes in a different direction got me to the supermarket. But the blue-ribbon Best Thing was that it was in Sebastopol, and it was dressed in jasmine.

Luckily, we could park our massive Dodge van off-street, right by our rickety front steps, and more than once we used the van for a guest bedroom. In June of 1999 our full-time job of house-hunting began. It didn’t go well, but after four months of becoming more and more dejected, the heavens opened and revealed the perfect house. Negotiations were tricky and took more than a month, but we signed (and signed, and signed) in November, paid most of the money we had, and waited until February for the seller to find a place of her own and move out. Then, farewell, Dogpatch. You were a friendly little haven, and best of all, you had jasmine.

###

Villains. . .

—From CB—

How do you know a villain?

Really know him? That came up in a writers’ group I’m part of. A woman was blocked on rendering her villain believable. Most genre fiction requires a villain, of course, so it’s not a dumb question.

But villians have to use the can. They have to shave if they’re male, lest the beard interfere with their villainy. Maybe they take pills for hypertension. They have to earn a living, as nobody gets paid directly for being a villain. How do they fill their spare time?

Most important: How do they justify, to themselves, why they must do what makes us call them villains. Did their daddy beat them? It’s all they know how to do? They have this unstoppable urge? They’re part of Plan 9 from Outer Space? They get a monthly check from Marvel Comics? They’re doing lots of good?

I suggested the writer get a recording device and talk to herself in her villain’s voice. About all of these. Anyone can do this. You don’t have to be an actor: nobody will hear it except you.

But then I had a further thought. Why not do this with real people we call villains? Donald Trump, Marjorie Taylor Greene. your husband or wife? The purpose is not to win them votes, God forbid, but only to turn on your headlights so you can see the road and the onrushing truck.

I empathize with attempts at humor, e.g. dissing all Trump supporters as stupid or finding new ways to spell his name, but I’m tired of it. I read that Chaplin regretted making THE GREAT DICTATOR because he hadn’t fully grasped the scope of the threat. True comic genius is its own excuse—I just watched it again—but I see his point.

Yet sniggering at the Villain’s obvious flaws or his supporters’ intelligence is no strategy. It doesn’t address the fears of millions of voters. To my mind, it’s pointless “virtue signaling”: I’m superior to them. THE ART OF WAR repeatedly emphasizes the need for accurate intelligence: the enemy’s strength, location, intentions. That includes objectives and weaponry.

Personally, I feel that the strongest weapon of the current popular Villain is fear and his greatest strength is bravado: to say whatever he wants and do whatever he does—sincerity, it’s called, whatever its results. We desperately want someone who doesn’t compromise. All sides want a dictator, who does what needs to be done: to comfort us in this time of radical change. In a play devised by a friend, God is a bedeviled guy trying to answer a flood of desperate phone calls, confused by a switchboard monkey, feeling the need to do it all himself. There’s no Devil: it’s just a muddle. Not until he lets go of the reins of power is there a possibility of peace.

###

MEMOIR. . .

—From EF—

I’m late.

I’ve been dithering and finding myself stymied for five days about what I should have written and posted on last Sunday. My mind has been grey goop and nothing attractive has floundered to the surface. So in an attempt to do a full-court press against the goop, here’s what I’ve discovered.

I’ve been in complete stasis on writing the memoir for weeks now. I excused that for a while by reasoning that filing the obnoxious tax returns for our publishing partnership is always like trying to de-flea the whole house. And then there’s been the construction project of building an addition to our front entry, creating an attractive and useful little anteroom that prevents devious cats from getting out into the wide world. Now I’ve dealt with both and am still swimming in goop. The obvious conclusion is that I need a better idea of why I’m writing the damn memoir.

The first volume had a pretty clear trajectory: how to convince myself that I really exist and deserve to do that. (Early childhood provided a lot of negatives to that idea.) OK, Survival, a good theme. What’s next? I’ve spent lovely hours in the time just before dawn, when my body is still warm and cuddled in covers, letting the mind roam, and something has come to the surface.

My next 25 years were, I think, a process of creative nesting. Finding spaces in which to make work, creating a home where our kids could find themselves, and finding a head-space where any of this is worth it. I’ve realized that the big arc of this 25 years was the error of listening to the outside voices that urged us to settle down, grow, and let go of the big live-wires that had produced our best work. Get a building, get a board, promote a season, lock it all in. Settle down, grow up.

And eventually we hit the wall, twice, and left Lancaster for Philly and left Philly for California. I’ve been rendered soggy by seeing how this process has hit dead ends. What I’ve missed is how ecstatic the high points were along the way. That’s what’s worth writing about. I’m about to rev up again.     

###

Lost. . .

—From CB—

Tuesday I got very lost. I was coming back from a hostel near Pt. Reyes, an odd little town on the coast, and had a map TO but not a map FROM.

To give this some context: To stay sane, Elizabeth and I, some years ago, adopted the practice of once-a-month each going somewhere alone—a healthy antidote to being in each other’s shirtsleeves 24/7. Sometimes it’s to the city, sometimes to campgrounds, but since Covid a lot of the hostels have closed or upgraded to elite status. Not our cuppa tea.

But this one was open, mostly deserted but pleasant. I hadn’t realized, in driving there, that I wasn’t depending on the map so much as the roadsigns. I checked in, did some writing, ate a stodgy carry-out la sagna, and crashed. No snorers: I was utterly alone.

Next morning was just the drive home. That’s when I found I was lost. The first turn was obvious, and thereafter it was the fabled dog’s breakfast. Not that I’d ever chronicled what the dog ate for breakfast, the years that we had a dog, but it surely was nothing like what transpired or the dog wouldn’t have lasted that long.

Somewhere I took a wrong turn. Or I didn’t take it. But when I pulled into Stinson Beach, I realized I was whambang utterly lost. I found a guy to ask, “How do I get to the 101?” He was happy to give me the wrong directions. Somewhere I pulled in to a fire station. “How do I get to the 101.” Their directions were exquisite. I stayed lost.

How can you get firmer directions than at a fire station? They have to find fires. Quickly. You just trust that if you ever catch fire, they can find you.

For a while I drove along what clearly was the ocean, but this coast was full of peninsulas, so I might be going to where I had to come back from. And very slowly, given the curves. I regretted never learning to use the GPS on my phone and thus being unable to bitch about the lack of cellphone service. I started to have odd vibes of empathy with the Donner Party.

I turned around, traversed a long span of coastline, eventually saw a sign for Marin City, which I recalled as being somewhere on the 101. I headed there, asked directions again, this time the mother of a two-year-old, whom I thought must be knowledgeable. I followed her directions, got lost, then saw a sign for the 101. About 90 minutes later, I rolled into our driveway.

There was surely a lesson in this, and you’re never too old to learn a useful lesson that allows you to get a little older. Possibilities: (1) Look both ways at your map before you start your journey. (2) Abduct whomever you ask for directions. (3) Just die and save lots of time.

Or better, get directions for the way back. It can be done electronically, every turn described. There is hope for sinners; even more for the pure of heart.      

###

West. . .

From EF—

I’ve had “Thunder Road” and “Fast Car” playing in rotation in my ears. They’ve set me to thinking about our own “Outta Here” times. Both of the biggies were heading west for California, in 1963 and again in 1999.

We latched onto each other in 1960, did the legal marriage thing in 1961, and took off for Stanford in 1963. The two school years of 61/62 and 62/63 were a parade of deadlines, demands, and the endless papers required for CB’s B.S. and M.A. I was working front desk in a dentist’s office and managing our household on a very thin dime. In those years CB produced Brecht’s “Baal,” an edgy disturbing piece that we co-translated, and then “Prometheus Bound,” for which I wrote my first-ever musical score. (In the years to come, there were more than fifty more.)

We were so young. When we married, I was 21 and Conrad, being 19, needed parental permission. We were living in a dismal basement apartment, often seeing each other for only a few fast hugs each day. The bands of constraint were crushing—managing to live on little money, hitting the deadlines for CB’s degrees, and finding what would come next. When Stanford accepted him for a Ph.D. and offered generous financial support, lightning had struck. We knew, at last, what would come next.

The Midwest was all we’d known. California was another world. But it would be thousands of miles away from my mother, and it would be a fresh start. We researched the movers, signed on the dotted line, packed the cartons and climbed into the VW bug, headed west. It was a revolutionary act. I was leaving behind a painful trail of deceit, having presented myself as an education student with a baroque skein of lies, and starting fresh. Whatever we did now, we were doing it together, from a clean slate.

There’s something about driving west. It takes a long time, and takes you through the flat corn-lands where you can hear the wind sing, and across the surreal white sands of Utah, and up and around the merciless mountain roads that killed so many. And then, there you are. You’re at the peak, night has just fallen, and before you is a bowlful of glowing jewels—the lights of the Bay cities. That’s where you’re going.

We did that, and built from there. We made 36 years of theatre as a producing/writing/performing duo, arriving in the 90’s in Philly with two earlier theatre renovations under our belt, and settling into a vivid urban theatre scene. When it became clear that we couldn’t sustain the new expected theatre season of four new shows a year, having cut our teeth on keeping new work in a long-term touring repertory, we had to face a hard choice. We would have to break and run again, leaving behind all our hard-won grant support and our comfortable life. We loved Philly, and it wasn’t an easy decision, but it was brutally clear. If we were ever going to go back to California, it had to be now.

When we moved from Lancaster into our Philly space, we spent our first night in the middle of an immense empty room, 32 x 120, on a sleeping bag with a single candle for light. We made magic in that space for seven years, and once we’d packed for our move west, our last night was just the same: on our sleeping bag in a huge space, with one sweet candle.

So what’s the road ahead now? This time, it won’t be geography. It will be a challenge to see Thunder Road, to get into the fast car toward what age brings. OK. Bring it on.

###

 

  

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

Books and Media by
Bishop & Fuller

 

Tapdancer
A Novel

A Visit to Life:
micro-fictions

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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