We have finished what is hopefully the final draft of our most recent novel. It belched out of the printer and is now sitting in a big pile waiting for each of us to read the damn thing and proclaim it finished. It has been a very long slog (started as a play in 2006), spending substantial time with a difficult story. We will celebrate with a slam-dunk feast and then some sort of exorcism. I mean, if you base something on God telling a dad to murder his beloved son, and Dad says “No problem, God,” it doesn’t matter if you update it to the present and relocate it to Chico, California—it’s still disturbing stuff. Our contemporary deity is a manipulative sociopath, and it’s unnerving to find that now his clone wants to be President and a whole lot of people think it’s a dandy idea.
So now we have the first chapter of the first draft of the next book, and I really like it. Its tone is affectionate and funny, a lot like the writing in our memoir. The central characters are loosely based on elements of ourselves, and the form is a “seven ages” structure from childhood to end of life. The catch is that in each of the seven stages, major circumstances are different for this pair, with no explanation offered for being a film director at one time and a shoe salesman at another. The working title is Search for the Lost City, and at each stage they catch a glimpse of it before it eludes them again.
Writing the memoir was a real adventure, doing our best to capture the long strange trip our lives have been. Now we get to meddle with fantasy, imagining the paths never taken and changing the rules of the game with every stage. I think I’m gonna like this.
—From the Fool—
I think I won’t see any more news. Or maybe pick up newspapers that are a couple of weeks old so I can see what we lived through and survived. The problem is this guy that nobody can take their eyes off. It’s that Mark Twain story where they put on a show called “The Royal Nonesuch” and it turns out it’s a naked guy all painted up and he hops around the stage and that’s it. There, he gets run out of town, but here there’s headlines every day, how naked he is and what color paint and if he waggles it.
I remembered the time Mrs. Lawson took us to the zoo. We all held hands going across the streets and I held hands with Lizzie Skloot, who made funny faces at me because I think she liked me. And we saw the lions and tigers and then we went into the monkey house and came to the baboons. The baboons were like monkeys except they all had big bald bulging red asses. It was impressive. You knew that the zoo was educational and you were supposed to look at the whole baboon, but the class stood in awe before this wonder. Mrs. Lawson said, “Come on, class, we’ve got lots of animals to see,” and we shuffled on, trying not to look back. I think we wondered how they got that way and if it’d happen to us. Lizzie Skloot never spoke to me after that.
I guess it’s one way to get a headline.
Weeding the lawn gives me some understanding of genocide. Granted, when you go to the trouble of killing humans, there’s a lot involved. There are motives of fear, hatred, aversion to otherness, desire of material gain, divine command, revenge for wrongs a thousand years back, a chance for gainful employment—the list goes on. Whereas simply pulling weeds from the moss, the asters, or the creeping jenny is simply…well, weeding.
And yet I think there’s an unacknowledged connection: an aesthetic of purification. I don’t hate the weed. I stand to gain nothing financially from its eradication. I seek no vengeance for ancient trauma committed by a stinkweed upon my people. I just want things cleaner. I want it the way I want it. That scraggly thing doesn’t belong, and I’ve found I feel a lot better when it’s gone. No matter that every living sprout is a miracle in the universe: there’s lots of room in the universe—for it to be a miracle—that isn’t my front yard.
There may be a Divine Presence about us that does in fact pass judgment, a Nuremburg to which we’ll be summoned for pulling up the foxtail. But until that day of judgment, I know I’ll continue my little afternoon half-hour of ethnic cleansing. And yet, as I yank out the creepers and crawlers, I wonder how often those who command the troops are simply impelled by a similar urge to make things clear.
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© Bishop & Fuller 2016