A roller-coaster weekend, heading to and from a puppet slam in Arcata. Our Sebastopol home didn’t seem to be under active threat on Friday, so we entrusted our cat-care essentials to our neighbor (thanks, Lisa!) and headed north at noon. We hadn’t been anywhere further than the neighborhood grocery since we galloped back home last Monday from SF. I’d checked every report I could find and Hwy 101 seemed to be open for the whole 5-hour drive, which proved to be true. Sebastopol’s air and skies had been clearing up all week, so what we were about to experience was a grim contrast.
Every minute of the seven miles east to the Santa Rosa interchange was greyer, more acrid, scarier, and then we turned north through the first areas that had been reduced to rubble. We’d only seen it on the news. The next hours were surreal, alternating between the familiar golden hills and ashy grit, clear air and thick smoke. Halfway up Mendocino County the terrain returned to the familiar, and then Humboldt County was fresh and green.
Our puppet slam was its usual rowdy loose-limbed self, with a very attuned and vocally responsive audience. We’d trekked up the 101, beloved friends had come down from Portland, and the usual suspects from the area of Blue Lake/Eureka/Arcata were there. We’ve written about tribe here before. This was it. The performance was wonderful.
The action in the lobby afterward was the peak experience, after the audience had gone home. Hugging, drinking, scarfing Tim’s birthday cake (provided by Mary, the only birthday cake available in Arcata, hence pink, gluten-free, and vegan.) We caroused way late and enjoyed every minute.
The next day, Sunday, we drove back into more of a hell than we’d left. The pall of smoke was so dense you could see it swirling, and we were grateful that our car’s AC has an emergency filtration system for this kind of thing. It was hard to hang onto the last night’s high, given the smack in the face of how far we are from being out of the fist of the fire. But we have to hang on to that. It’s needed. It’s the essential thing.
We’ll double down and work hard on Survival (our new solo show), getting it ready for Ft. Bragg in early November—clowning is good medicine. We’ll find the best way for us to pitch in to our local community’s relief efforts. And we’ll hang on to the memory of a bunch of crazy artists once again assembling from all over, bringing their creative chaos to an audience in Arcata, rocking out together, and making the rafters ring with laughter.
People can be beautiful people. People can also be assholes. Sometimes both. In creating a character, whether as writer or actor, I don’t look for the character’s unity: I look for his multiplicity. As a line goes in the novel we’re currently working on: you can be a slam-dunk CEO by day, a loving father at dinner, and a serial rapist by night, while seeing yourself as a pretty decent guy: I’m nice two-thirds of the time.
Spending your whole life creating characters, you take a frequent look at yourself. My mother always told me I was the sweetest thing on the face of the planet, and I’m glad she said so. But same time, I’ve guided myself by the principle, Fake it till you make it.
Since early childhood, I’ve seen myself—in the razor-sharp distorting mirror we all carry inside us—as solipsistic, lazy, selfish, waffling, incompetent, uncentered. Did I mention self-pity? That’s me: a Victor Hugo doomed to live out his life as an exterminator in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
I wouldn’t want my friends to think so, and I don’t want to believe it myself. But it’s that old scar between the toes that you got somewhere in your childhood, and it’ll never quite fade away.
I work to contradict that image. I try to make up for the times I’ve left scum in the saucepan. And I’m basically bright enough to know that my self-accusations are grossly unfair, though the spores are certainly there. In fact I’m neurotic but highly functional, and I try to be a nice guy more than two-thirds of the time.
A core of that struggle: responsibility. When I met my (deserted) dad at the age of twenty-nine, I understood this as inherited DNA. For him, responsibility was anathema: the birth of a baby, me, triggered the marriage’s dissolution. For myself, responsibility is a near-pathology. Whenever I’ve conceived a project, the next step is to find a way to trap myself into doing it: inspire someone else with the vision (Elizabeth is very convenient to the purpose), talk it up, apply for a grant—anything that will lock me into carrying it through. I have to feel that the ocean tide is bearing me onto the rocks. It’s like outsourcing my will to a team of lawyers who’ll enforce it.
How do you feel? What do you want? Who are you? I wouldn’t mind answering these if I could, but will those questions be on the final exam? The only meaningful question to me, from myself to myself, is What do you do?