I’m close to the end of my current first draft of the memoir, which appears to have declared itself to be a three-part opus. Too many events have happened in eighty-one years to be crammed into one volume. This first section climaxes with the discovery that our dream of parenthood, after years of learning to accept that it would never happen, happened. Two years later came our painful recognition that the theatre company we’d left our planned academic career to embrace was not, could not be the core of the rest of our theatrical life. In the process of being rocked by that grief of separation, another baby began, born into the cold Chicago winter of our first year as a solo duo, and the rest of our life’s pattern was set.
In 1971 we’d learned that Conrad’s faculty position would not be renewed, and quickly decided not to look for another academic post. The theatre collective we’d helped bring into being showed promise of finding a life, and indeed Theatre X had a thirty-five year run. March 4, 1972 was the grand opening of the building that became our theatrical home, the very public declaration that this was our committed path. That same night, fertility blessed our choice.
What followed was a local season of new work and an ever-growing roster of touring performances. Our creative work was the company’s core, but in order to be able to put full-time work into that very demanding process, salaries were essential. Salaries meant money. Money meant touring. We worked on self-promotion, and some college-circuit showcases turbocharged our efforts. At the beginning of 1974, we cashed in with a ten-week tour of Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, and made a lot of money. But it was seven people and a toddler in a van for two and a half months. You can’t make new work under those conditions.
With one exception. In West Virginia, we made another baby.
So I’ve been thinking a lot about conception. What opens the gates? Our first time, it was in-your-face obvious. Our whole life together, up until then, had been single-mindedly focused on going as fast as possible toward the Ph.D. and the faculty jobs to follow. It was damned hard work but it was right—until it wasn’t. Being part of a collective that made significant new theatre cast a harsh light on the reality of academia: cranking out productions that lived for five nights and vanished, cranking out students with degrees and no work. We found ourselves willing to set sail into a life for which no Ph.D. prepared us, and once there was no going back, life said, “OK. You’re ready now.”
I was astonished. I’m still astonished. Remembering the doctor saying, “You’re probably about six weeks.” Remembering the quickening, bored silly on a ferryboat ride across Lake Michigan and suddenly feeling that tiny flutter. Remembering how it feels to have the milk come in.
And most of all, marveling at these two miracles, offering themselves just as we were caught in our lives’ most turbulent white water. Conceiving as we were reconceiving ourselves.