—   From the Fool —

They did a survey. It was on Facebook. What’s the best book? it said.

There was the Bible and Moby Dick and Shakespeare and The Da Vinci Code and the Book of Mormon. I might try to read those if I have to be in the hospital sometime, maybe.

But what I voted for was Everybody Poops.

It was for kids, I guess. Its educational message was that everybody poops. It started with dogs and cats, then worked its way up. I don’t remember if it got to elephants, which might make it too big a book, but finally it got to people. I guess the moral was, “It’s okay to poop,” in case anybody wondered.

Maybe we think we’re the only one, just like we’re the only one who won’t die.

Why write about that? Don’t we all know it? But lots of great books say stuff that everybody knows. The Bible says be nice to people, and we already know that. Moby Dick says whales are big. Shakespeare says all the world’s a stage, or maybe now TV. So Everybody Poops doesn’t mess around, it gets right to the point.

It’s required reading for Fools, like starting out math with two and two is four.

It would do us a lot of good if everybody read that book. Because people forget it. The President poops. The Supreme Court poops. All the candidates poop. All the movie stars poop. The basketball players and the cheerleaders poop. Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha all pooped, at least once a day. It gives you a perspective.

Big problem is people who forget that they do it. Unless in fact they really don’t. Maybe they invest it in stocks and bonds. The idea they have something in common with the rest of the human race, not to mention basset hounds, might be too much to take. It’s almost communistic.

But I still vote for Everybody Poops.

—   From CB —

Driving home last night from the East Bay, having seen a play, I was thinking about marriage and families. The play was a prizewinner, it was well produced, well acted, the audience loved it, and I found it utterly repugnant.

Marriage gets a bad rap. Generations of writers have sung its demerits. Once, novelists and playwrights moved their plots, like Dante climbing toward Paradise, to that pinnacle of union; now the pinnacle is divorce, suicide, or some inventively morbid conclusion. Of course, family dysfunction has had a prominent place in the theatre at least since Medea, but the current formula seems to be (a) bring your far-flung family together around some crisis; (b) generate confrontations based on old wounds that build into witty screaming fits spurring lots of laughs; (c) reveal some long-secret familial corruption; (d) hike somebody out the door, like Nora from her doll house, toward an unknown future; and (e) make a final-scene sympathy bid for a character we despise.

I’m sure I exaggerate. I’m not speaking as a well-rounded critic, just from the clogged veins of recent experience. And I’m thinking about these thing because in three weeks our son is getting married.

Having been wed 53 years, I’m pretty free from illusions about wedding bells (though they’re not always the gong that starts the prizefight). I’m aware of the times when we’ve just been damned lucky, where we’ve torn each other id-from-ego, where we’ve lived lies, where we’ve evolved. And I’ve seen the pressures of money, career, dislocation, disillusion, and deep wounds that have split others. Our culture no longer enforces or truly supports “permanence” in relationships, and so-called defense-of-marriage laws are like ending toxic pollution by singing “America the Beautiful.”

It may be that the best “defense of marriage” is the movement toward marriage equality. As countless young people shy from commitment, others are willing to go to the barricades to claim the right. Are they nuts? Haven’t they read the novels, seen the plays? Are they simply claiming the sacred right to contract the same disease?

What may be happening — but how would I know? — is a slow evolution of marriage away from the Victorian model that still beds with too many couples like a fancy-dressed corpse. But in fact marriage is much more than will fit on a Hallmark card.

For ourselves, well, the story is in our memoir. There’s a process of change and integrating change, sharp U-turns, riding the rapids, learning to speak truth or something remotely resembling it. There’s. . . No, I won’t get into writing a marriage manual. I’m just hoping that more people who’ve found their souls nourished by long commitment will speak out. It’s vital to hear voices that sound true.

My dim view of the play I saw was perhaps intensified by the audience response. Lots of laughs at those searing, razor-sharp lines and bulldog fangs, and in fact much of it rang true. And yet it felt as if we were taking great satisfaction in overhearing the neighbors’ fight. They have it worse than we do! Does the display — without clear cause, without exit — have any effect of truth in the onlookers’ lives? Are we Elizabethans at the bear-baiting match? Blood as feel-good amusement.

— From EF —

I have collaborated on countless theatre productions, but the only one I ever decided to direct solo was Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, with Theatre X in Milwaukee in January of 1972. Conrad played Clov. We were shortly to open our theatre building on Water Street, and our son Eli would be born that November. Busy year.

During my recurring spans of interior bleakness, I have had allies. In my awful floundering during the early Sixties, I had the extraordinary grace of having Conrad Bishop by my side and The Myth of Sisyphus in my brain-pan. Between them, I survived.

After we wrenched our roots out of academia and put all our bets on the nascent Theatre X, when the stakes got high and the days got scary, Samuel Beckett was there for me too. Endgame is the funniest depiction of despair I’ve ever known, where grey is redefined as “light black.” We’ve come around to that again, with our forthcoming King Lear.

The endgame. Any chess game will end with the demise of the king, no question, sooner or later, smarter or clumsier. Our own endgames have their distinct architecture. Dancing in the doorway, that’s how a friend described it. At the moment, two of our friends are in that doorway. Sooner or later, we ourselves will be there.

I sat with a beautiful lady in her hospital room as she told me about her most recent dream. Talking with her was like being at the ocean: coherent consciousness came in waves, always picking up exactly where it had left off. I asked her what she wanted to happen next, and the answer was immediate: “I want the pain to stop.” But she doesn’t want to leave her beloveds. The eternal dilemma.

The play I saw in Milwaukee, when I went to visit Flora, dealt with this in a very explicit manner. Do you want to be able to craft your own exit? And how does this unfold within your intimate relationships? If the pain were flat-out intolerable I wouldn’t know what to do.

But when your pain comes from the daily news more than from your nerve endings, what do you do? My dread that our whole species may be dancing in the doorway is painful to me, and I can’t take refuge in the “la-la-la, I can’t hear you” camp. The answer is obvious — celebrate the small (real) joys. Obvious, but very hard.

I’m trying to feed my hungry heart. The bees help, humming at my shoulders as I weed the base of the raspberries. The owl helps, flashing its great white wings as it explodes from its perch in our palm tree. The fox helps, as she comes to our cat-food bowl and finds the unexpected bonus of the egg yolks that don’t go into the muffin recipe. My lover helps, as he puts his hands on my heart. What’s needed is to listen.

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© Bishop & Fuller 2014

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