Anybody else having a hard time avoiding unravelling? At times in my life I have felt that I am an unruly collection of different people trying to pass as somebody with one face and one name. It was a healthy experience to use that to make a play, Dream House, bringing all those separate personae out onto the stage and eventually fuse them into one.
These days I feel more as if I am actually one person but the world around me has run whooping and hollering into a multiple-personality psychotic episode. On our weekly visit to the ocean (Arched Rock, on the Sonoma Coast), I remarked that Mama never wears the same dress twice. Last week was jade-green, today was pewter-gray, and the impressive swells kept peaked knife-edges until the moment they frothed into white. Not like the ones I’ve seen in the past with rounded tops, these were like bent metal. But it was all clearly the mighty Lady I know and love.
However, half a world away, Australia is on fire. Volcanoes are erupting in Indonesia and Hawaii. Jakarta is flooding. The permafrost is melting, while here in my back yard the garlic is thriving in spite of my being tardy with the weeding. We can satisfy our craving for greens with my garden’s collards and giant green mustard and chard. The rain has been benevolent, so far no rushing eroding streams, just a mighty purr from all the green things.
At our Sunday-morning coffee place, a lady made a friendly approach to beg a ride to the center of town, where we were going anyway. En route, we traded some snippets of selfhood on a more vulnerable level than common chit-chat, then went our separate ways. Looking at the web’s news, a large number of people are jockeying to do as much personal damage to each other as possible.
Women gather in huge demonstrations to promote what women do: nurture, comfort, nourish. It’s magnificent, but nothing has changed. Meanwhile, groups of people meet regularly to create hand-written postcards to strangers, urging them to vote. It’s possible that change can happen, one on one.
So now, this week, we begin the hard-core psychotic break of what happens in the Senate. It will be reported to us, and we will try to discern what’s truth and what’s spin and whether we can actually tell the difference. And Conrad and I will carry on with the 10th draft of the newest novel, and try to hone and refine its story to be what it really wants to be. May we all be able to make our stories be what they want to be.
Yesterday I was in San Francisco for a dental appointment. Early morning bus, then art museum, then our old standby Cafe Trieste for lunch, then bus to the dentist, then checked into the Adelaide Hostel for an overnight. Out to eat, then back to the hostel’s kitchen to write.
The hostel has an upstairs lounge, but I prefer the basement where the combination of a blaring TV, late-night drinkers, and conversations in French or Spanish create a loneliness that serves me well—my mind wanders, but not so much as in dead silence. I finished my overdue biweekly blog post, but abruptly I had the seeds of a new one.
An older guy, maybe mid-sixties, was watching a documentary on whales while chatting up a young woman from Boston. “I’m from Boston,” he said. They talked about Boston a while, and then it died. The TV turned into something louder than whales, and the guy continued watching—or at least pointing himself in that direction.
A youngish black man turned and asked him, “Are you watching that?” A reasonable query, one would think, simple to answer with yes or no. Instead, it sparked an explosion.
The older guy responded with fury, “What does it look like?”
“I just asked.”
“Can’t you see?” And suddenly all of Northern California was afire. Neither got up from his chair, but the rhythm of whap-whap-whap was growing lethal. I got up, walked over to them, said something like, “Hey, change the rhythm.”
I never do stuff like that. I claim a coward’s privilege. I never had a fistfight past fourth grade. The times I’ve tried to act as a peacemaker on the Web have never won me the Nobel. And I recall what happened to Mercutio when he tried to intervene in swordplay.
But in this case I persisted. “Let go of it, it’s no big thing,” I said to one and to the other as they continued shouting. And then the older guy stormed upstairs, either to lodge a complaint at the desk or to call down a drone strike on the kitchen. I went back to working on Chapter 26 and drinking my Jameson.
Later I lay in my cubicle of the 10-bed dorm reading. The youngish black man came in and I heard him speak to a friend about the dust-up. “Don’t know what his problem was. Think he just doesn’t like black guys.” And he may have been right. Surely he has more experience with that than I do.
But it struck me: How does he know? It could as well be that the older guy is feeling his age, that the girl is uninterested, that he’s got nothing to do in San Francisco at night except watch TV, that this young twerp is implying he’s not even conscious—
Not something I’d thought of until I reached that age when gray hair makes us invisible, useful for nothing except to blame for the state of the world. Experience has led me to a hypothetical perception, as the black man’s experience has led him to a different perception. Neither of us knows, though for both of us it likely adds evidence to our preconceptions. Even the other guy probably doesn’t know what moved him.
Lots of land mines out there. Walk with caution.
If my scratch notes are right, our brother cats were born Mar 10, 2017, part of a litter of five, their mom-cat’s first. (Her next litter was 10; fecund lady.) We picked them up on May 31, when they were almost 12 weeks old. Males, Shadow and Garfunkel, smoke-black tabbies, one long-haired, the other now a sleek fur fireplug.
I have always loved cats. Nothing against dogs, we had Ruffle for 14 years and I loved her dearly, but I am definitely a cat lady. When we got a couple of beautiful Siamese in 1968 it was heaven for a while—our first big house, even if it was in Columbia SC—but then it soon became obvious that Conrad had a severe cat allergy. The diagnosis took a while, so by the time we had to give our beloved cats away, it was two moms and nine kittens. That hurt.
As we spent our decades touring and staying in host houses, antihistamines were Conrad’s constant helpers when we were staying with cat-lovers. But by the time we got to 2016 or so, we realized that he hadn’t needed the antihistamines for a very long time. Eventually it dawned on us—we could have cats. And we got ’em.
Their first night with us was gnarly; soft bed or no, they were away from Mama for the first time, in an alien environment, and they were very vocally unhappy. I got up, put on my robe, came downstairs and sat by their bed in the corner of the kitchen cuddling them all night. I guess they imprinted, like ducks.
They are particularly attached to me, and this makes touring difficult. We have a beloved friend who stays with them when we’re gone, and as far as I know they love her and are comforted with her. But when Conrad came home a week before I did from last year’s fall trip to Europe (we often split our itineraries), he came in the door and was greeted with wild affection. The cats then went to the closed front door and sat there, waiting. When he told me that, my eyes got wet.
So yes, our furry companions need me, but it goes beyond that. I need them. If I lie down for an afternoon nap, it takes a max of ten seconds for the first cat to land on my belly, and the second is not far behind. I can’t begin to say what a comfort that is for me. That warm purring weight, the sense of trust, the connection—it helps me detach from the insane politics and the rat-scratch of accounting and bills and cash flow, and just sock into the sweet pleasure of the moment.
We and the cats survived the fire evacuation in fine fettle, thanks to theatre friends in Santa Rosa who lost electricity but didn’t have to evacuate. I’m trying to refine our refuge plans for the eventual earthquake. I appreciate the fact that if we and our cats remain in good health, I will still have my furry friends when I am 90.
But right now, I am in the dismal swamp of our current political flu, more virulent than ever, and I’m just trying to fight the depression that is always worse in winter. My furry companions, I realize, are an important asset, a reliable link to a state of warm meditation; thay take some of the razor edges off my awful inner engine. Hail, companion animals.
Having moved from maniacal lifelong focus in theatre—63 years that art form being the center of my life—to prose fiction, it takes multiple stimuli to get me back into the old familiar harness. But it’s happened.
At a local party, someone from an arts center asked us if we might do a show, something, next year. That put the bee in the bonnet, though the bee was a bit stupefied. And then last night we went to see Freddie’s show.
We’d first seen it 30-odd years ago, when he was touring it internationally. Subsequently, we saw it several more times. Now he decided to revive it. A challenge physically for someone 30-odd years older, and a different time, different tastes. Yet quite beautiful. Some things were exactly like old times, some things changed, and some ad libs about “Why the fuck am I doing this?” But overall, a gorgeous evening of performance. What I set out to do at age 15, though I didn’t know it yet: Living theatre.
Fred and I have never really talked much, except about the excellent soups he’s cooked. But he liked our shows, I’ve seen many of his, and when I was preparing King Lear I found myself using him as—not a role model, exactly, more a performance model, imagining how he’d perform it. Subsequently, he did perform Lear in Dallas—no idea whether it was anything like my imagination. Strange artistic interchange.
But Fred’s performance was the second stimulus that pushed us over the edge.
We’re planning the Bishop & Fuller Farewell Tour. I’m 78, Elizabeth will be 80 in February, and we’ve earned the right to sit on our asses in California till they wither away. But we want to take that risk—and remember how we started.
It’ll be RASH ACTS, an evening of short sketches, some with puppets, most with our meaty selves. Over the years, starting in 1969, we’ve written & performed over 250 “ten-minute plays,” besides our full-lengths, so we have a fair repertoire to draw upon. Honing down from 250 to 8 will be a task, though invigorating if we think of all that work we DON’T have to do.
It’ll be this summer or fall and will cover as much of the USA as we can: theatres, house concerts, whatever. Benign curses upon you, Fred! (Trust your friends to cause you trouble.)
On May 24, 2014, our son Eli and his lady Meg had a beautiful wedding for which they did their own planning: Quaker-style in the redwood circle at Stern Grove, and the attending throng were a testament to the many spheres in which their lives move. Radiant people, all of them, and all of them handsomely different. We felt blessed to welcome our new daughter.
Today, Dec. 22, 2019, the Circus Center did the second of their twin benefit performances for the Coalition on Homelessness, and Meg Bishop was not only in the cast of nine but did her doubles trapeze debut with Mel Chang. Meg is a seasoned performer, but usually in a distinct persona with both feet on the ground. Today she was herself, often upside down high on a rope and bar, responsible for the safety of her partner as well as herself. It was breathtaking.
Today’s company of nine have been rehearsing this for six months. Six months of doing full-time jobs and then doing demanding and dangerous work, putting their bodies on the line. Nobody was paying them big bucks to do this, they were all students at the Circus Center. They did it because they wanted to, and they could, and we in the audience felt their power. There are those who deride art as irrelevant, a frill, and I cry bull$%#t on that. This was an experience of seeing what risk and courage and skill can do, and how it can jolt our tired sad souls into remembering what is possible, how we can make something together that is far more than the sum of our individual selves. Thank you, Circus Center, and thank you, Meg.