Stay connected. Stay six feet apart. Stay at home. But stay connected.
I don’t think we have ever before, within my 80 years of memory, needed the solace of touch more. I get up earlier, Conrad somewhat after, but for years and years the first thing that happens when we greet the morning together is a long full-frontal embrace, the kind that makes your knees wobble. It’s not just a good way to start the day, it’s essential soul-food.
So yes, the two of us can still embrace each other in our shelter. I rejoice in that more keenly every day. We talk on the phone as often as we can with our son Eli and with our daughter Johanna. And when will the day come when we can safely hug them again? Our children? The gorgeous people who long ago drank my milk?
In our long years when we toured Dessie all over this country as our part of combatting child abuse, we spoke to each audience after the harrowing performance to suggest what might happen in their community to keep young parents from falling into Dessie’s abyss. One part of this was knowing what all children need, including the hidden wounded children inside the abusive parents. One documented form of abuse is termed “failure to thrive.” Children deprived of loving touch do not thrive.
Can touch happen without physical contact? Conrad and I have explored this over the years. For more than forty years we have celebrated the full moon and the dark moon with our own personal ritual, without fail, whether together or apart. If I am in France and he is in Sebastopol, we agree on a mutual time and do our best to achieve touch. You’d be surprised.
As I write, we are losing beloveds, as we all do over and over. I lost my mother before I even knew who she was, but I wear the beautiful silver ring she wore, and when I touch it, I touch her. I loved two powerful actresses who both set sail from our shores in recent times, but I can still embrace each of them.
There’s a gospel song whose refrain is “This may be the last time, it may be the last time, I don’t know.” Last time to sing together, to love each other, to see each other . . . none of us knows. In the last years, every time I visit the stones in Carnac I sing this to myself as I walk. What comforts me is that ever since I bonded with that place, it has been so clear in my heart’s memory that I can close my eyes and be there, really be there. I can walk the half-hour’s path from the village to the hostel, seeing every foot of the path, smelling the pines, hearing the ocean.
Trees talk to each other with their roots and help each other when needed. (Really. Look it up.) Mycelium are the Earth’s internet. I think I tuned into that at Carnac, and the Earth is letting me dial up. The moon let Conrad and me use her high-speed channels. Check out our primal roots and see what they can do for you.
—From the Damned Fool—
As part of its economic stimulus package in addressing COVID-19, the Administration is reported to be including an additional trillion dollars to arm the U.S. population.
It would underwrite the mandatory purchase of a handgun, rifle, or semi-automatic weapon for each American over the age of six. It would accompany an executive order defining all use of such federally-subsidized weapons as “self-defense.”
The spokesman, who declined to be named, explained that the plan would protect otherwise vulnerable Americans from contamination by anyone coming within six feet of the shooter, including family members. It would prop up a vital industry, saving millions of jobs, “perhaps billions,” he said, as well as reducing unemployment statistics. It would cull the population of potentially infectious individuals and reduce the strain on Medicare, Social Security, and the overall health care system.
In response to gun control advocates, he claimed that guidelines would be very strict and that anyone involved in a fatal shooting would have to fill out a form.
The spokesman denied rumors that the program targeted direct population reduction, especially in large-city Democratic strongholds. “Culling would be strictly nonpartisan,” he assured, “though no question it would have positive side effects for the environment.”
Might this not spur an increase in accidental deaths? “No death is accidental. It’s a consequence of predictable circumstances. We put our trust in the good will of the American people. No one wants to kill without purpose.”
In reply to the question of whether this might survive a court challenge, he expressed confidence. “We feel we’ve got the courts pretty well in hand.”
Addressing where the additional trillion would come from, a concern raised in regard to social programs, he replied, “The more debt we pile up, the greater the restraint on future Administrations in proposing vast wasteful spending programs.We are the party of restraint.”
[For more laughter from the belly of the beast, check out REALISTS, our novel of dystopian optimism, at https://damnedfool.com/books/realists/.]
Is laughter is the only sane response? I’m seeing heartfelt pleas for sanity in the face of the virus from officials who know, and from people in Europe who know, and from patients in US hospitals who know. And then I see the stuff spewing out of Fox and on Facebook and wonder, are we all in the same universe? And I see that effective distancing is six feet minimum and then see the photos from O’Hare and Dallas airports with hundreds of unhappy souls jammed up shoulder to shoulder for six, eight, ten hours because of Administrative actions, having come from European locations well-supplied with the virus, and I think how many hot spots are going to start all over the country as a result. It’s as if our nation is made up of a number of bumper cars with no ability to communicate.
REALISTS. I’m sorry, but we wrote this sucker in 2001, and it’s actually funny, though terrifying. We inagined that there was an election, not many people voted, and an incompetent fascist was elected, then re-elected. Bud Pert, his name was, and his slogan was “Get Real.” Later it was “Give it to ’em. Hard.” The party was called the Realists, and that was the name of our novel. The Realists, in league with Big Pharma, declared dreaming illegal and mandated universal dosing with dream-suppressants (except for the elites), administered through the public water supply. Pee tests were required regularly. Of course people went nuts. Reality fragmented into sub-units and nobody could communicate with somebody who wasn’t part of their own sub-unit. Does this sound familiar?
A group of unrelated folks, designated as terrorists by the feds, are lured into a high-rise office by the promise of tax rebates. As they attempt to flee in an elevator, the encircling CIA and FBI shoot, severing the elevator cable, and everybody’s gonna die. Except for this: the predictions of a military physicist are right, that if you confine dream-deprived people into a tight space and subject them to stress, the fabric of reality splits. The group doesn’t hit bottom, they ricochet onto a westbound tour bus called the Blue Terrapin (inspired by the actual Green Tortoise). From that point they’re on their own, and it’s up to them to evade the black helicopters.
Well, yes, this is ridiculous, but then look at your daily news feed. Our hapless passengers succeed in creating community, banding together for survival, and discover that magic is possible. Can you imagine the terrified group stranded on a Badlands mesa called Stronghold, about to be blown away by massed military aircraft, and suddenly herds of ghost buffalo appear and wipe the airborne goons out?
If you don’t have enough suitable entertainment for your self-quarantine days, Realists is available for $2.99 on Smashwords or through our DamnedFool website for a hard copy, and no mattter how cracked it sounds, it’s funny. I may even start reading it again myself.
Whenever I start writing my blog, the week it’s my turn, it starts out political. I justify this by considering it my hobby to save the world. But it tends to focus on the absurdities perpetrated in the name of stuff I believe in, given that the Bible tells us to pluck the fat slug out of your own eye before you claim 20/20 vision, or something like that.
But this tends to have all the practical effect of telling your kid, “Don’t put beans in your nose!” It falls on dead ears or stuffed noses.
Yet by Sunday I stop fulminating over the national pig manure. I flounder for some other subject worth the time it takes to write and to read. Which leads inevitably to the question, “So why write this?” Which leads on to “Why write?”
That’s one of those riddles like that posed to Oedipus by the Sphinx. His cleverness got him the kingship, a city’s plague, an Oedipus complex, and blindness. Unwise to be too clever when the Sphinx poses a gotcha.
But you can’t ignore the question. The usual answer re. any and all motives is, “To make money.” But while it’s made us a living from our dramatic writing, the novels make nickels for catfood and the blog not a cent. So there must be some other excuse. Other possibilities:
To save humanity. That takes many forms. Political impact? Hardly. Humanizing folks? Well, some may dig it, some may feel that my humor is a meat-ax. Those who prefer a whodunit or a screamer or a hot-panter or star wars have other options. We’ve had some plaudits but no hard evidence of spiritual uplift on a continental scale. At heart I guess I’m a satirist. Like a good dentist, I go at every cavity with vehement intent. But however much dentists fill a real need, they don’t feed the starving masses. Nor do words.
To gain immortality. A quick trip to the local library cures you of that. Thousnds of books on the shelves, hundreds in the 50-cent bin, millions being chugged out every year. We manage modest sales, a few dozen giveaways, and fifty-odd copies of each book in storage, awaiting our kids to puzzle out, at our demise, “What do we do with these?”
To escape Council Bluffs. In my adolescence I’d go to the library, read Saturday Review or The New Yorker, scan the shelves for anything that sounded Russian or weird, and fantasize that literature might be the bus ticket out of my two-bit Iowa town. I imagined critics in ravenous search for genius, elegant parties with deep conversations and free food, anything to lift me out of my little coop in the working-class end of Council Bluffs. I did get East and then farther East, and I found a profession—theatre—that took me beyond the cornfields, and sometimes even offered free food. But I’ve never quite—in my own head—escaped my Midwestern adolescence, and I fear I’ll never hop a psychological copter outta there.
To self-actualize. Maybe so. I don’t much admire my Essential Self, so it’s not what I want to empower. But it is self-exploration of another self whom I desire to grow into being. I guess I only write about stuff that’s part of my soul, for better or worse, and I’d like it to be for the better. It’s starting to be, and before I croak I hope it will.
And yet, all that said—
For whatever reason, I want to speak truth, and I want that truth-grapple to enter the collective human soul. I want to express the sweet beauty and hope in that climb up the beanstalk. I want to cry or exult or bitch or cavort with my characters—every one of whom are as precious to me as brother or sister. I don’t want to live in the fantasy worlds I project, yet I feel an inexplicable need to walk through them and smell the geraniums. My grandma had geraniums, and they’ve always been kind of a floral joke to me, but for her, I believe, they were her one spot of beauty. We must honor those spots of beauty.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire is one of the most perfect love stories I have ever seen on film. It’s a vessel of desire on a slow-moving stream that becomes ever-wider, ever more powerful, and when the story ends, as it must, the water does not stop.
So much comes from seeing and being seen, from listening and being heard, and from taking the time to let that happen. The pace of our lives today isn’t well suited to this, but it can happen. Choosing to sit in silent presence with someone is truly possible, but intention is required. Also, it makes a difference where you are. And who you are.
The filmmaker, Céline Sciamma, assembled a cast of women, only women, except for the boatsmen at the beginning and a messenger at the end, and the breathtaking rocky seacoast is one I have known intimately for more than twenty years—Quiberon, in Brittany. Every time I go there, it makes me listen to my core and enter slow time. She chose wisely.
I have written music for the theatre in much the same way as is done for film, and I am skilled at making it do its work without calling attention to itself. But here, in this film, the sound score is nothing more than the natural sounds—until halfway through, when something startling erupts from a circle of village women around a bonfire. And then again, at the end, when a full-bore orchestral performance of Vivaldi lifts both central chracters out of the performance they are hearing into the stream of their loves’ memory.
For me, the love story between women was a choice like every other in this film: empowering. Because the relationships are one step outside most of my own experience, but both perfectly natural and inevitable, I paid attention in a more immediate way. When we staged The Tempest with life-sized puppets, audiences invariably began their comments with “Oh . . . that kiss!” It was the first love-commitment between Ferdinand and Miranda, slow and delicate, followed by the well-known startle of “what have I done” that made a sweet comic zing—but it was between inanimate objects. Inanimate, made more than animate. And the fact that the audience knew it was puppets made their response magnitudes more personal.
Because the whole film is so perfectly integrated and allows the time for real seeing and real hearing to happen, the impact is large and luminous. I believe in love, in its sweetness and in its grief, and seeing this was a gift of confirmation.