— From EF —

We’re guests at a lovely house in Philadelphia, a place where we performed Gifts as a house concert last year, and now they’re giving us shelter and friendship on our two days off. Karen is a friend of Monarch butterflies, grows milkweed for them, and has an indoor guest room for them, too, a netting-covered big cube with a zip-down door. There are many chrysalises hanging from the ceiling or attached to milkweed stems. As they get close to their due date, the outer wall of the chrysalis thins, becomes semi-transparent, and you can actually see the familiar wing markings. One of them is about to deliver its butterfly, maybe today.

I went to sleep in a beautiful bed last night, woke up this morning, looked at myself in the mirror, and still recognized what I saw. I’m trying to imagine what it would be like to go to sleep as a caterpillar and wake to glory. Is there any dim memory of the past self? Does anybody sing Happy Birthday, now that the song is no longer limited by copyright? Might death be like that?

As Lear’s Fool, I am a cross between a Basset hound and a fireplug. I take a bow with my red nose and Three-Stooges bald wig, then zip backstage for thirty seconds. The nose and the wild gray hair come off, the hairpins come out, the washcloth wipes off the dewlaps, and Elizabeth comes right back with blonde hair flying. Not exactly a butterfly, but enough of a contrast to startle people, and I get a kick out of it.

I love imagining a butterfly with a big grin.

From the Fool —

Some people read this stuff. So that’s a big responsibility. When Sunday comes and I don’t have any big thoughts, I need to bang my head. I guess that’s what the President does, or he has people to do it if he wants to get some sleep. But then this Sunday I was too busy, and then Monday, and then Tuesday. Not that I don’t have big thoughts when I’m busy, but they get forgot. So you wind up with big thoughts all over the place but you can’t find any, like pencils or my grandma’s false teeth.

But I worry. What if there’s people out there that read this stuff, and most of the time they just giggle or nod or sniff — all the stuff people do when spritzed with wisdom. But what if I wrote just one big thought that somebody out there really needed because they were really sad or mad, and they were about to do something tragic like eat baking soda or jump in an empty swimming pool, but instead they read my big thought and didn’t do it? But if my big thought wasn’t there, they might do major tragedy, which is not a good way to start the week.

Of course I can’t tell if my stuff ever stopped major tragedies, but I know that lots of bad things I thought might happen, didn’t. Maybe if I came up with bigger thoughts, real brain-bulge stuff, it might solve the Middle East. As long as I wasn’t too busy and got it done on time.

— From CB —

The past few days I’ve been thinking about friendship. Not something that comes much into my mind. Lots of people, certainly, that we’d call friends, but I’m so intensely in a dyad and so focused in my work that I can hardly claim to be good at “nurturing” friendships. We’re sometimes invited to parties, where I sit in a corner and try to look interesting but rarely succeed, and where, if I do get into conversation, I start getting anxious that the other guy’s looking for an escape route.

And there’s a peculiar challenge in the fact that we come as a matched set. I can’t think of anyone who’d regard me as an individual friend. Elizabeth and I are very different people, but I’m usually thought of as the taller component of an individual known as a Conrad&Elizabeth. Or so it feels. To a degree, that’s due to the fact that I’m a dreadfully shy, guarded soul — except in my work.

Where I do feel intense moments of friendship are in the encounters within a tour like this. Whether it’s a friend of 48 years or one of scant acquaintance, if we sit down to a meal or a glass of wine I can feel a great surge of comradeship. Is that due to its being a brief encounter, that once we pull out of the driveway we may not see those people for a year or more? No way to know. For the moment, there’s serious wattage. Then we travel on.

My hunch is that, while I feel unique in my stunted capacity for what I’d regard as deeply-felt friendship, I’m not alone. As a kid, I remember listening to men in the barber shop kvetch about their wives — anxiously groping toward some bastard version of male bonding — and even then I felt that was such a dishonorable violation of intimacy, that there was something shamefully fake in it. Men might achieve that in the realm of danger, team sports, or collaborative work, but it didn’t come easily just waiting for a haircut.

I’m grateful beyond imagining for my mate and the many-stranded bond we share. Yet I can’t help feeling that, in my relating to others of the species, there’s some capacity lacking in me, a color I’ve never seen but know must exist if I could just afford a bigger box of Crayolas. Regan says of her father Lear, that “he hath ever but slenderly known himself,” and that certainly includes his ignorance of what’s lacking in himself as well as his ignorance of what’s there. Probably my work flows from what’s absent as well as what’s present, and the struggle to comprehend it.

When I was seven years old, my friend Kenny and I were inseparable. Then, the day before my mom and I moved to South Dakota, we had a fight, and that was the end of that.


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© Bishop & Fuller 2015


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