— From CB —

I’m in San Francisco, walking from my hostel at Post & Taylor down to a bookstore on 24th & Harrison, long walk, hot day, heavy shoulder bag. I’m thinking about the novel that’s starting its second draft.

Since my late 20’s, the heart of my life has been in writing and staging plays. It’s made us a living — we work in collaboration — and logged respectable credits, though we’re still an under-the-radar team. But in the past three years, the focus has shifted to prose fiction. Three completed novels, sixteen short stories, and now a weekly blog. We’re still doing theatre — touring one show, rehearsing another — but now we’re raking huge piles of words into meaningful clumps of prose.

It’s a severe discipline. The two art forms are somewhat similar in terms of dialogue, scenic structure, and the building blocks of character. But descriptive passages and inner monolog are profuse in fiction, scant in drama. One form concentrates action; the other, relatively speaking, sprawls. The mind works differently. It’s like getting accustomed, in Spanish, to stick the object pronoun in front of the verb, or, in German, to hold the whole sentence in your head till you can get to the end where the participle tells you what the hell’s going on.

Every week, an average of three rejection slips. To date, one short story published on-line and one haiku. If they do start getting published, they’ll only add a few dribbles to the millions of stories spilling out every year to the rising seas. What’s the point of it all?

Yes, I want the work to be masterful. I want it to have a readership, to be absorbed. I didn’t engender children solely for the spasm of engenderment. I wanted to see them grow, to find love, to have life and purpose. The same with my fictions. I know they may be stillborn, or born without legs, and yet I persist. Why?

Maybe I’m just addicted to typing or can’t think of anything better to do. But I’m thinking about this walk down to 24th & Harrison. I walk past hundreds of doors. Behind each one, dozens of lives. Anywhere along the three-mile trek, I might stop, buzz, wait till the squawker squawks, and then ask: Tell me your life and your secrets. Take off all your clothes. Come close to me. They wouldn’t, I know. They might call the cops.

But I press that buzzer each time a story begins. My characters may speak freely or sit there like fireplugs, but at least they don’t call the cops. I absorb them and discover them in me. They allow it.

I might have done better as a documentarian, but I’m too shy. And I can’t stick to straight reality on the rocks. My story pilots me through whitewater, traps me in eddies, spits me in sewers or sails me out to sea. I hunker down for the voyage.

 — From the Fool —

This professor asked for my credentials. What qualifies you to be a Fool? he said. I thought I could just be one if I was dumb enough. But I guess to write for the World Wide Web you’ve gotta be Ivy League.

But it’s my family tradition. Going back to 800 B.C., when my ancestor Sammy was Court Fool to the renowned King Lear. Renowned for being a nut case.

The story got all mixed up when Shakespeare wrote the play. He wasn’t one to let facts get the upper hand. He got it right that Sammy loved the old fart and always had a snappy come-back. But Lear only paid by the joke, not by the hour — less than minimum wage. I bet professors don’t ask kings for their credentials. They just write down the dates of the beheadings.

Then Shakespeare wrote Sammy out of the show. People thought he was dead. But in fact at the end he crawled out of the heap of dead meat, hitched a ride on an oxcart, stowed away on a herring boat, and got a gig writing the Norse Eddas, which were a big hit series. Lotsa heads whacked off: Sammy got paid by the head. Then at age 65 — no spring chicken — he got married and sired fourteen kids with a woman older than him. I guess he had a lot saved up.

But family tradition doesn’t mean much now. All the times I’ve seen that show, the Fool never gets a laugh. To me, deep profound Fools are a pain in the ass. There’s entirely too many.

In the Shakespeare show, the hero Edgar kills two guys and makes his blind dad think he fell off a cliff and then when he tells who he really is, the old guy has a stroke. At the end, he tells us life is fucked up. Which the Fool was saying to start with.

So I don’t know how to qualify being a Fool. Maybe I’ll ask this professor his credentials for not being one.

— From EF—

Like many adult citizens of the US, I have spent this last week in intimate contemplation of the IRS. This gives rise to a lot of retrospection, but very different from what gave rise to our memoir. In both, there’s lots of digging through artifacts of the past, but there’s a big difference. In getting a grip on our whole creative lives in all their multiple aspects, the memoir wove many strands together. In contrast, the IRS gives rise to pathological fragmentation.

Our finances range from Social Security to farm income from inherited land in Illinois, sales of our published work, and what falls into the Hat from our live performance. Social Security income has no offsetting expenses (except from their astonishing labyrinth of a “worktable”). The farm is unambiguous: I can claim expenses for fertilizer and seeds and such, but if I bought a copy of A Thousand Acres it wouldn’t be deductible. However, if I wrote a novel about farming, it would be a tax-related expense against royalties.

We pay a lot to have our books manufactured, but that’s only tax-deductible in dribbles as a per-unit cost, when and as the books actually sell, so that really ups the bookkeeping ante. When we actually had paid jobs, W2’s and all that, our touring costs were a valid expense, but now that we rely on the Hat, if I actually claimed those expenses, we’d show such a staggering loss that we’d be audited in a New York minute.

So here I am, cramming my credit-card statements, check registers, and petty cash receipts through the meat grinder of my accounting program — a simple, elegant critter dating back to the earliest Mac. (I absolutely refuse to modernize.) And now I gaze at the numerical description of my 73rd year.

Wow, look at all those bucks spent on wine and food. Move along, nothing to see there. And the life-sustaining annual trip to Europe to visit Johanna and Fra and Erica and Peter and Theo and my big old megalith at Carnac — nope, no deductions there. Shelter? Heat? Trips to the thrift store? Irrelevant.

When you live your life totally devoted to creating and experiencing, it’s disorienting to realize that a mammoth juggernaut couldn’t give less of a crap about that. But there it is, Form 1040 staring you in the face, and the only way out is to plunge into their insane labyrinth, and then go look at the ocean, eat sushi and drink warm sake.

###

 

 

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— From CB —

I’m in San Francisco, walking from my hostel at Post & Taylor down to a bookstore on 24th & Harrison, long walk, hot day, heavy shoulder bag. I’m thinking about the novel that’s starting its second draft.

Since my late 20’s, the heart of my life has been in writing and staging plays. It’s made us a living — we work in collaboration — and logged respectable credits, though we’re still an under-the-radar team. But in the past three years, the focus has shifted to prose fiction. Three completed novels, sixteen short stories, and now a weekly blog. We’re still doing theatre — touring one show, rehearsing another — but now we’re raking huge piles of words into meaningful clumps of prose.

It’s a severe discipline. The two art forms are somewhat similar in terms of dialogue, scenic structure, and the building blocks of character. But descriptive passages and inner monolog are profuse in fiction, scant in drama. One form concentrates action; the other, relatively speaking, sprawls. The mind works differently. It’s like getting accustomed, in Spanish, to stick the object pronoun in front of the verb, or, in German, to hold the whole sentence in your head till you can get to the end where the participle tells you what the hell’s going on.

Every week, an average of three rejection slips. To date, one short story published on-line and one haiku. If they do start getting published, they’ll only add a few dribbles to the millions of stories spilling out every year to the rising seas. What’s the point of it all?

Yes, I want the work to be masterful. I want it to have a readership, to be absorbed. I didn’t engender children solely for the spasm of engenderment. I wanted to see them grow, to find love, to have life and purpose. The same with my fictions. I know they may be stillborn, or born without legs, and yet I persist. Why?

Maybe I’m just addicted to typing or can’t think of anything better to do. But I’m thinking about this walk down to 24th & Harrison. I walk past hundreds of doors. Behind each one, dozens of lives. Anywhere along the three-mile trek, I might stop, buzz, wait till the squawker squawks, and then ask: Tell me your life and your secrets. Take off all your clothes. Come close to me. They wouldn’t, I know. They might call the cops.

But I press that buzzer each time a story begins. My characters may speak freely or sit there like fireplugs, but at least they don’t call the cops. I absorb them and discover them in me. They allow it.

I might have done better as a documentarian, but I’m too shy. And I can’t stick to straight reality on the rocks. My story pilots me through whitewater, traps me in eddies, spits me in sewers or sails me out to sea. I hunker down for the voyage.

 

— From the Fool —

This professor asked for my credentials. What qualifies you to be a Fool? he said. I thought I could just be one if I was dumb enough. But I guess to write for the World Wide Web you’ve gotta be Ivy League.

But it’s my family tradition. Going back to 800 B.C., when my ancestor Sammy was Court Fool to the renowned King Lear. Renowned for being a nut case.

The story got all mixed up when Shakespeare wrote the play. He wasn’t one to let facts get the upper hand. He got it right that Sammy loved the old fart and always had a snappy come-back. But Lear only paid by the joke, not by the hour — less than minimum wage. I bet professors don’t ask kings for their credentials. They just write down the dates of the beheadings.

Then Shakespeare wrote Sammy out of the show. People thought he was dead. But in fact at the end he crawled out of the heap of dead meat, hitched a ride on an oxcart, stowed away on a herring boat, and got a gig writing the Norse Eddas, which were a big hit series. Lotsa heads whacked off: Sammy got paid by the head. Then at age 65 — no spring chicken — he got married and sired fourteen kids with a woman older than him. I guess he had a lot saved up.

But family tradition doesn’t mean much now. All the times I’ve seen that show, the Fool never gets a laugh. To me, deep profound Fools are a pain in the ass. There’s entirely too many.

In the Shakespeare show, the hero Edgar kills two guys and makes his blind dad think he fell off a cliff and then when he tells who he really is, the old guy has a stroke. At the end, he tells us life is fucked up. Which the Fool was saying to start with.

So I don’t know how to qualify being a Fool. Maybe I’ll ask this professor his credentials for not being one.

 

— From EF—

Like many adult citizens of the US, I have spent this last week in intimate contemplation of the IRS. This gives rise to a lot of retrospection, but very different from what gave rise to our memoir. In both, there’s lots of digging through artifacts of the past, but it’s not the same. In getting a grip on our whole creative lives in all their multiple aspects, the memoir wove many strands together. In contract, the IRS gives rise to pathological fragmentation.

Our finances range from Social Security to farm income from inherited land in Illinois, sales of our published work, and what falls into the Hat from our live performance. Social Security income has no offsetting expenses (except from their astonishing labyrinth of a “worktable”). The farm is unambiguous: I can claim expenses for fertilizer and seeds and such, but if I bought a copy of A Thousand Acres it wouldn’t be deductible. However, if I wrote a novel about farming, it would be a tax-related expense against royalties.

We pay a lot to have our books manufactured, but that’s only tax-deductible in dribbles as a per-unit cost, when and as the books actually sell, so that really ups the bookkeeping ante. When we actually had paid jobs, W2’s and all that, our touring costs were a valid expense, but now that we rely on the Hat, if I actually claimed those expenses, we’d show such a staggering loss that we’d be audited in a New York minute.

So here I am, cramming my credit-card statements, check registers, and petty cash receipts through the meat grinder of my accounting program — a simple, elegant critter dating back to the earliest Mac. (I absolutely refuse to modernize.) And now I gaze at the numerical description of my 73rd year.

Wow, look at all those bucks spent on wine and food. Move along, nothing to see there. And the life-sustaining annual trip to Europe to visit Johanna and Fra and Erica and Peter and Theo and my big old megalith at Carnac — nope, no deductions there. Shelter? Heat? Trips to the thrift store? Irrelevant.

When you live your life totally devoted to creating and experiencing, it’s disorienting to realize that a mammoth juggernaut couldn’t give less of a crap about that. But there is it, Form 1040 staring you in the face, and the only way out is to plunge into their insane labyrinth, and then go look at the ocean, eat sushi and drink warm sake.

###

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