This is our daughter’s birthday, so it’s already got me at an emotional pitch.
We spent a lot of the weekend seeing and celebrating and reacting to a fellow artist’s newest work—Si Kahn’s Home, at Sebastopol’s Main Stage West. It’s a blend of his family’s stories from three generations and Si’s songs from a span of many years, bumping gently and lovingly off each other in a fulsome production. And there were a couple of morning-after round-tables with folks from all over the Bay Area, invited and assembled by master web-weaver Philip Arnoult, giving honest and heartfelt feedback to Si. We need more of this.
I was already cranked up by the birthday and the intimacy of the theatrical sharing, and then I brought something up on the computer that I wanted Conrad to see—the Patti Smith rendition of “Hard Rain” at the Nobel ceremony. There isn’t a theatre artist alive who doesn’t know the gut-punch soul-draining experience of going dry on a line, a lyric, and Patti hit it twice.
There’s a lot of writing about stage fright, which seems to be a trivialization of Patti’s experience, but not really. The analysis that makes the most sense to me is that if you allow a crack to develop between what you’re doing now, at the present moment, and either the past or the future, you’re fucked. You have to regroup, put yourself right smack in the middle of what you’re feeling, and go on from there. Be one with your gut gripes, your sweaty hands, your racing heart.
I’ve done it, and it’s terrifying, but it works. Patti did it, and finished a performance that wrung tears and united the audience. Bless her.
Here’s the key. These lyrics are terrifyingly accurate for 2016/17, we’re staring straight into the headlights. We’ve all got to get a grip, acknowledge the terrors we feel, and go straight on ahead—finding the local movements that we can join, recalibrating what we think is possible for us to do, and leaning into the harness of the forward movement. There have been many instances of history when this kind of hijacking has happened, but this is where we are now. There may not be another chance.
Some folks start writing a blog, I suppose, as a forum to say what they want to say. Others, to draw people to their website to sell them something. Still others, as an excuse to feel guilty and dysfunctional for not having posted for six weeks.
For myself, it wasn’t a matter of having something to say that was burning to sprint forth. I rarely know what I’m going to write until the first words come. Then those words invite their friends, and with luck it becomes a party. Sometimes I have to run out for more beer, but basically the party throws itself.
If I were making fame or money here, the tonnage of anxiety might weigh on me. But while I do feel an obligation not to waste my readers’ time, there’s a kind of joy in the frivolity of throw-away words. The stake I have in every line of dialogue I’ve written over the past 40+ years, or the paragraphs of our current fiction-writing, well, that persnickety focus isn’t there in these strewn words. The words are just here and gone. How like life.
The challenge for me is that I’ve never before written in my own voice. Or irregularly: at times in personal letters, in on-line debates, even a few grant applications when I could refrain from slicing the baloney too thick. But I’ve always felt that my expertise was in channeling my characters’ voices, exploring their nooks & crannies, not my own. Certainly the plays, on a deep level, reflected my own feelings and experiences, but always through a mask.
And so this weekly obligation to trim my own fingernails and contemplate the clippings offers me a portal. I’m very far from standing here stark naked, but at least I’ve shuffled out of my parka.
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© Bishop & Fuller 2016