— From the Fool —

 When I was a little tiny fool, before I started to fool school, grownups would always ask, “What do you want to be?” I knew I was supposed to say, “A fool.” Then they’d smile and maybe give me a dime.

I didn’t know if that’s what I really wanted. It seemed like robbers and killers had more fun. My folks were always cursing about doctors and bankers and politicians, so I didn’t want to be that. Though I wondered if they made more money than a dime.

I liked to talk to myself in the mirror, because I would listen and wouldn’t correct my grammar. So one day I asked the little kid in the mirror. And I told him he might as well tell the truth because this time he wasn’t going to get a dime. I was saving up my dimes to buy a big dog.

He told me I already knew the answer. No words, he just said it with a wink. So from that time I knew in fact that it was true, that I’d grow up a fool, and that people would give me dimes.

Before I graduated I had to write a paper about how to be a fool. I wrote, “Some are born fools, some achieve foolery, some have it thrust upon them.” I thought it was pretty good, but the teacher said I copied it.

— From CB —

An odd dynamic happens with masks or puppets. Normally, an actor’s identity is with his own body: I am my instrument. One edge of the mind is attuned to the technical issues — the nuance of audience response, the challenge of the acoustics, the implications of a dropped line, finding your light — but your soul is centered in the character’s reality, your body.

Not so with puppets. With Edgar’s transformation from duke-apparent to Mad Tom, in our King Lear, it’s the puppet who’s shivering, ranting, raking his flesh, slapping at demons — not me, though emotionally I delve into his madness as deeply as if it were my own. My visual focus must be always on the puppet, the channel through which the character is seen. If he’s playing opposite another character, I need to defeat my instinct for looking at my puppet’s scenic partner but simply keep track through peripheral vision. Otherwise my own puppet will stare off into space or go dead while Conrad acts up a storm behind it. With practice, impulses flow directly into this foreign object, and the physical impulse translates — like a linguistic interpreter — into the language of the puppet. My puppet starts to draw unplanned impulses from me.

In Lear, there’s a new challenge — a new level of dissociation. As a human Lear, I’m often in dialogue with one or two puppets whose voices and actions I’m also supplying. Goneril is on my right hand, Regan on my left, myself as the old, embattled king between them. It’s a give-and-take focus familiar to ventriloquists, but with challenges beyond that. Most vents are in casual dialogue with their dummies, not threatening, pleading, or calling down vengeance upon them, no great shifts in emotional texture. And a dummy’s flapping mouth grabs focus, even if the vent’s lips move. Here, I must speak an impassioned line, shift focus instantly to an object that can only waggle head or hands, then again become fully embodied. Insane behavior indeed.

Which in fact is a disturbing analog to the state of Lear’s mind as the madness sets in and never quite lets go. His self-contradictions intensify as the story proceeds, and even at the end he vacillates between absolute certainty that Cordelia’s dead and little blurts of hope.

And it’s disturbing for another reason. I begin to think of the dissociations we live with, the contradictory beings within us, which normally don’t cause that much damage, except when they do. And the dissociations in our culture, the multiple personae within Uncle Sam that make the old guy rave now at his right hand, now at his left, trying in between to smile at the camera. Behind him the bombs are falling, but it makes for a lively show.

— From EF —

Last week I was in a tiny town on the peninsula of Quiberon, France. The wasp-waist of the peninsula is less than 200 feet wide there — barely room for a two-lane blacktop and a pair of sandy beaches. I’d come from a glorious weekend on Belle Isle, being reminded why the word for mother is only one letter more than the word for sea.

Sunday evening, back in Penthievre, I took myself to the sandy western shore that forms the back yard of my hostel, sat on a convenient log, and used the camera to capture an hour of sunset. My heart was full of the joy that quiet beauty brings. I didn’t know yet that Air France had canceled my flight home.

Monday morning I was waiting for the northbound bus that would take me to Carnac, where I walk among the stones every year. I feel in my bones that they map the ley-lines, and being there recharges some magic deep in my soul. I’d misread the bus schedule and found that I’d have an hour to wait. There are worse things than sitting on a bench in a one-block town, enjoying the gentle breeze and the sunshine, with no obligations.

I heard a nasty sound overhead and looked up to see a military jet screaming across the sky, headed east. For the next twenty minutes they kept coming, every 45 seconds. I couldn’t see markings, and I hadn’t been in touch with the news, but my gut instinct was that I was seeing my tax dollars at work.

I got to Carnac and walked for hours, grounding myself, but I felt as if my ears were still ringing from that morning’s screaming horde. When the time came, I got on the bus to Auray and the TGV to Rennes, and commenced the gnarly process of trying to get into the air myself.

The hostel concierge strongly urged me to abandon my room for the night and get to the airport as soon as possible, and I agreed. I was OK with the concept of sitting up all night if that’s what it took. At the Rennes train station, I discovered two things. There was no train to Paris until 6 a.m., and the station would close at midnight. I was about to become a street person in what didn’t feel like a safe area. There were three hotels close by, but I had limited money. I went to the concierge at the Ibis, a budget chain but still beyond my means, and asked for advice. (Actually, I shamelessly asked if I could sit in the lobby until 5 a.m. No.)

Then the concierge had a thought. If I walked about ten minutes up a back street, I would find the Sociotel — not quite a hostel, not quite a hotel, but low-priced. And yes, they’d had a cancellation and a room was €17. Private room, free wi-fi, and I was safe for the night. The Web confirmed that we were attacking Syria, and Air France was still incommunicado, but morning would come.

I rode the 6 a.m. TGV to the airport without anyone checking my ticket, which was actually for the afternoon. Air France dumped me on a Delta flight at 1 p.m. with a gross layover at JFK, but they got me home. And CB was waiting, with strawberries, chocolate, Jameson whiskey, and open arms.

Syria didn’t fare so well.


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© Bishop & Fuller 2014

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