As a writer, I’m a rewriter. Nothing is ever finished. After six rewrites, our current novel is still subject to chiropractic adjustments whenever I reread a chapter. At some point, I manage to yell, “Enough!” and that’s the end of the process, but that yell tends to be a reluctant mumble. Some authors, certainly, are much more extreme in their profusion of rewrites, and I’m probably getting more and more merciless with my verbiage as time goes on.
Writing plays, especially for one’s own performance, predisposes you to this tendency. You have not only the feedback of your own sense of craft but the visceral critics: your own tongue, ear, and body. Whatever the style, your actor’s instinct tells you instantly when changes need to be made. If that fails you, your audience will let you know. Multiply that all by two—myself and my mate-collaborator—or by every member of the cast, and you find yourself making changes even after dozens or hundreds of performances.
Still, there are limits. At some point, the curtain has to go up on the play or the printing press grind out the book. And other obsessions fight for a place in the line. At some point, enough is enough.
All of which leads me to think: in real life it’s hard to do rewrites. The choice that shouldn’t have been made, the words that weren’t really necessary or the unspoken words that were, the little murders or suicides, the great self-deceptions—so much could be deleted or inserted, if only, if only. What could be done in fiction by a few keystrokes requires, in real life, the divorce court, the rehab clinic, the cross-country migration, the cold-turkey cramps, and on, and on.
In fact a friend is writing a novel on the premise of revising one’s life with the ease of fiction. Right now he appears to be in the midst of rewrites.
Today, the first of six solo days while CB is off in Santa Barbara at a writers’ workshop, and I did my best to give myself a good send-off. CB’s send-off was at 7 AM with a cooler full of food for the week, magically finished before midnight, and then I flopped back into bed to recover missed sleep.
It hasn’t been an easy day, the pain quotient having been high, but I’ve kept going. My pleasure-bait has been reaming out what we call the utility closet, that space under the stairs to the upstairs bedroom.
Long ago, maybe 1977, we were staying in a host’s house while we did a run of our play Dessie at a site in Lancaster, PA. Not long after, we moved from the Chicago area to Lancaster, and this visit contributed to our sense of the rightness of that move. I really admired the Lancaster family’s way of ordering their lives, but what really blew me away was their own “utility closet.”
Shelving and bins and boxes made every household helper easy to find: tools, extension cords, plumbing repair supplies, electrical arcana, all so visible and accessible. I thought, I want that. My own mini Home Depot.
Easier said than done, given my pack-rat nature. In past years, that hasn’t really been a drawback, because I’ve had the strangest bunch of crap always available to invent whatever insane demand our productions have made. The wildest demonstration of this was our production of Action News in Lancaster, which involved creating a teletype feed that could hurl yards of printer paper out into the audience, powered by an old sewing machine motor and pedal. It went on from there.
Once upon a time, our Sebastopol utility closet was something you could walk into, with shelves and boxes along one wall and the back, with the vacuum and mini-vac parked along the other wall. Nowadays I’ve been lucky to be able to find footing to get to the light bulbs in the back.
I dragged it all out, making piles and archipelagoes in the hall and dining room, until I could actually see the floor and sweep it. Then came the memories of how all this crap accumulated, and the questions that arose. Why did I keep the old steam iron that failed, or the dead modem, or the failed food processor? What are these half-used packets of garden seeds from three years ago? Do we really need six power strips?
Now I can see the floor, and the emergency candles and the boxes of paraffin and wicks for refilling the used candles are all together, and I have thrown out the many vacuum cleaner bags that aren’t the right ones. This is a start.
And tomorrow morning I trek off to the DMV to get my “crip clip” that allows me to park in disability spaces. Believe me, I will use it. This is my new directive: make it all closer.
—From the Fool—
It’s harder to be funny now.
Once, you could tell jokes or make smart comebacks. Or you could have a team where one guy was the straight man and the other guy was the idiot, and you laughed at the idiot, but then the idiot turned out to be smarter than the straight man, and you laughed at that. Or there was just the pie in the face.
But now you can’t tell if the idiot is just pretending to be dumb or is he really an idiot, or should you laugh at him or vote him for President.. I remember the Three Stooges, and some people thought they were funny and some people didn’t, and they pounded each other in the head or poked their noses, but they didn’t shoot each other. Now I guess people laugh if you don’t shoot each other. Because that’s a big surprise. It’s unexpected.
I think I’m pretty funny, but other people don’t think so. I thought maybe I could do a bit where I fire myself. I could look in a mirror and yell, “Youre fired!” I don’t know. Would people get it?
Comedy is when you survive. So if I do that and then I’m still standing there, maybe that’s all we need. You’d have to laugh.
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© Bishop & Fuller 2016