We impulsively said “yes” to a performance that we’d have to pull out of a hat. It wouldn’t be the first time we let impulse land us in something that a cooler head wouldn’t have done, but there you go. We are friends with another performing couple whose medium is puppets. We use puppets too, but only when we need them, whereas they are totally artists in the puppetry field. They are red-hot organizers, and after a number of wildly successful “puppet cabarets” in Vallejo, the time rolled around for another one, and as usual, we said yes.
Here’s the problem. We’ve been in so many of these that we had to dig to find something new to do. OK, it was close to Valentine’s Day, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to do a love scene. A few years ago we mounted a luscious production of Shakespeare’s Tempest; five actors and many many puppets. The young lovers, Ferdinand and Miranda, have a wonderful scene in which they declare themselves to be man and wife, without asking permission from anybody. It’s enchanting, especially since it’s Miranda who comes right out and says “I am your wife, if you will marry me.”
The only problem was that neither Conrad nor myself had ever performed that scene. It was our production and he’d created the puppets, but he’d played Prospero, not Ferdinand, and I’d only written the score and wasn’t in the cast. So we had to start from ground zero, except that we had the help of a couple of gorgeous puppets, the memory of how sweet that love scene had been, and the essential backup of a DVD of the production.
What I hadn’t anticipated was the voltage that came from performing what was essentially our own experience from fifty-eight years ago, when we took one look at each other and were struck by lightning. Here was a scene where two young people meet as strangers and immediately realize that they should bond for life; it sounds improbable, but we’d been there, done that, and fifty-eight years later we still believe it.
So we used Will’s words and Conrad’s beautiful puppets to transport us back to that moment of our life commitment. I don’t know if the audience recognized how immediate and personal this was, but they liked it. So did we.
It’s certainly not my only news source, but I regularly tune into Google News to get a broad sense of what’s “trending” for my fellow Americans. At odd times, for no clear reason, I get the Google news feed focused on Nigeria or Peru instead, and it’s nice to know that (a) we in the U.S. aren’t the center of the universe and (b) that other countries can be as vile as us.
But my focus goes today not to the President’s nose hairs but to Entertainment. That’s the news section that ostensibly covers what I’ve devoted my life to. Of course there’s no “theatre” section, and while the NY Times still lumps it under “Arts and Culture,” Google (along with most newspapers) simply says “Entertainment,” meaning, I guess, any human activity that doesn’t involve mass murder, and some that do.
This past week, Entertainment has been comprised of—
ICE Arrests Rapper 21 Savage
Actor Jussie Smollett Calls Himself the “Gay Tupac”
Bow Wow Starts Talking Football
Cardi B and Husband Offset Together after Reconciliation
Kylie Jenner Responds after Teasing Baby #2 with Travis Scott
Bethenny Frankel Makes X-Rated Comment about Pete Davidson
Beatles’ PreBreakup Letters on Sale for $550,000
How to Stream the Puppy Bowl and Kitten Bowl
Here’s What You Can Expect in This Year’s Super Bowl Ads
Vote for Your Favorite Super Bowl Commercial
Meghan Markle Hires her own Birthing Partner
Tekashi 6ix9ine’s New Name on Twitter is “Snitch9ine”
Jerry Seinfeld Sued over Sale of $1.5 Million Porsche
Fiji Water Girl Is Suing Fiji Water
Gisele Bundchen Reveals Why She Broke Up with Leonardo DiCaprio
Lily Aldridge Gives Birth to Baby No. 2
Ariana Grande Is Totally Over Her Tattoo Debacle
Anna Kendrick Tweeted Thanks to Hospital Staff
Demi Lovato Quits Twitter after 21 Savage Backlash
I must remark that no mention was made of which adolescent movie topped the box office charts, and nothing on the Kardashians. They must be slipping. Perhaps they’re all writing poetry.
And I’m curious how you take a curtain call after your breakup, your lawsuit, your childbirth, your tweet, or your tattoo debacle. They never taught that in acting class.
I’ve been reading John McPhee’s In Suspect Terrain, originally published in 1983. His work has been published in The New Yorker since 1963, and I have long been a fan of his relentlessly inquisitive mind and his laser-sharp writing style. While he writes on a vast smorgasbord of topics, geology is an ever-recurring theme. Four of his books on the subject were published in one volume and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1999, so I’m far from being his only follower. I’d read portions of In Suspect Terrain as they were published in The New Yorker, but reading the whole book now, years later, has a new and deeper resonance.
Our culture is now obsessively attuned to the 24-hour news cycle with a 24-second attention span, and I’m not innocent of this myself. So there’s something magnificent about reading this: “Some geologists have attempted to isolate the time in all time that runs ten thousand years from the Cro-Magnon beside the melting ice to the maternity wards of the here and now by calling it the Holocene epoch, with the implication that this is our time and place, and the Pleistocene—the ‘Ice Age’—is all behind us. The Holocene appears to be nothing more than a relatively deglaciated interval. It will last until a glacier two miles thick plucks up Toronto and deposits it in Tennessee. If that seems unlikely, it is only because the most southerly reach of the Pleistocene ice fields to date stopped seventy-five miles shy of Tennessee.”
The movement of tectonic plates, the gigantic march of glaciers, the presence of oceans in Utah and rivers that run west, then east, then west again, all these are measured in geologic time. Historic time, what we reckon is important from our newly-arrived human perspective, is a tiny modern hiccup. You don’t get this by watching Fox News.
But we are the ones we have, and our tiny square in the quilt of time is all we’ve got, all we can grok. How to recalibrate? Conrad and I do what we can by visiting the ocean as often as possible. This Sunday we had our usual picnic at our usual place, and when the sushi had been eaten and the sake sipped, Conrad took stuff back to the car and offered me, as usual, the chance to linger.
Which I did. I sat like a contented joey in the pocket of the Mother, my own private space with all the amenities: warm sun, soft breeze, murmuring surf. In that half hour I let my boundaries dissolve and came as close as I ever get to the majestic slow pace of geologic time. Then I picked up my chair and came back to the rest of the day.
And I was blessed by the wonders of Facebook. Our daughter Johanna had linked to science writer Ed Yong in the Atlantic, an article about hagfish. In my imagination, it put our current political scene into the perspective of geologic time. Hagfish are an ancient marine animal, very odd, with no spine and no jaws but an incredibly efficient gut. Their claim to fame is their ability to excrete vast quantities of slime in an instant.
The Atlantic article is well worth reading in its entirety, as Yong is quite a writer. In the process of reading, I had an awful suspicion creep up on me. “Hagfish produce slime the way humans produce opinions—readily, swiftly, defensively, and prodigiously.” “Even a shark was forced to retreat, visibly gagging on the cloud of slime in its jaws.” We elected a hagfish.