— From EF —

 The Merry Minuet

They’re rioting in Africa
They’re starving in Spain
There’s hurricanes in Florida and Texas needs rain

The whole world is festering with unhappy souls
The French hate the Germans
The Germans hate the Poles

Italians hate Yugoslavs
South Africans hate the Dutch
And I don’t like anybody very much

But we can be tranquil and thankful
And proud for man’s been endowed
With a mushroom shaped cloud

And we know for certain that
Some lovely day someone will set the spark off
And we will all be blown away

They’re rioting in Africa
There’s strife in Iran
What nature doesn’t do to us will be done by our fellow man

—Sheldon Harnick, 1958

The Kingston Trio recorded this ditty in a 1959 album, but I heard it the year before, while I was still pretending to be a pre-med student in Ann Arbor. The singer was Barbara Cook, and her crystalline soprano gave these sour, snarky lyrics a memorable lilt. I loved it, and it’s stayed in my memory all these years.

Do you suppose these lyrics are actually some kind of subversive software? The sound-track for the slide-show of history? Sheldon, what did you do?

— From the Fool —

My friend Jerry was the one who tried to get a bank loan to start a steel mill, thinking there was always going to be a need for steel, and even though, being a taxi driver, he didn’t know diddly about running an international conglomerate, he could hire guys who knew. He didn’t get the loan, but that didn’t discourage him.

His new thought is, start a newspaper. There’s all these newspapers going bust, he says, everyone’s on computers and smart-whatsits. But there’s always gonna be a need for newspapers, he says. People want to see their picture in the paper when they get married and when they die, even if they can’t see it then. They want to see the high school football game wrote up, as if anybody cared. And how else do you housebreak your dog?

I told him, well, you’re bucking a trend. That’s what Rockefeller did, he says, and Buffett and Bill Gates, and Carlos Slim, who’s the richest man in the world. What did he buck the trend of, I asked. He bucked the trend of not making money, said Jerry.

But no question, he has thought it out. His idea is, print old news. All the news is the same, it never changes. People shoot people, they get to be big stars, they beat their wives, they eat a piece of pie, there’s a new war on something or other. So you don’t need a bunch of reporters reporting the same old crap. Just hire a few college kids to type it up and change the names. If somebody glims the fact that it’s last month’s news, they won’t mind: they’ll think, hey, no problem, we lived through it. You might have to change the crossword puzzle: those people are fanatics.

I tell him, great idea, but don’t give up buying your lottery ticket. There’s always gonna be a need for the lottery.

— From CB —

I want to work as compulsively as I do, but without feeling compulsive about it. There are times I feel as if I’ve got a dozen kids, each one howling to be noticed. This past week, after maniacal focus on Lear, we revived Gifts for one performance, did a short-notice house concert reading of Co-Creation, and edited a new video trailer for Lear. We finished a final layout for self-publishing our novel Realists but are now going back through the manuscript to regularize our philosophy regarding commas. We’ve returned to work on the fourth draft of Hammers. We started a cleanup of the studio and the shop, which have become nearly impassable. I’ve begun queries to Philadelphia venues to fill out our fall tour. And I did some weeding and studied my Spanish and did my regular workouts at the gym. Suddenly, it’s our sabbath and I don’t feel I’ve done half enough.

It’s a neurosis I’m happy to have, not at all part of my natural temperament. My genes predispose me to be a lazy, narrow, selfish creature, and I’ve spent my life trying to prove the contrary, with some success in doing so. And still manage to give due homage to food, drink, sex, sleep, and the ocean. Indeed, there are times when I feel like a sea slug on crystal meth, but that’s only when the electrons are overflowing the in-box. Mostly, I’m happy with this current draft of myself, though I know the next reading will provoke a revision.

Still, the compulsive mind can get to be like the little kid in the science museum, running about pushing buttons to make stuff happen without ever stopping to see what the buttons do. Full engagement takes time, courage, patience, and, oh yes, engagement. I want deeper engagement. I want clarity. I want to feel here, not there.

So I’ve begun a practice of meditation. I don’t know exactly what I’m doing, having just read one rather syrupy book on it, but I have some vague clues. My challenge will be to avoid making it into one more project, or starting to multitask as I meditate. But the first minutes and the first days have given me a hand-hold, and I may be set to swing myself up out of the monkey mind onto the monkey bars.

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© Bishop & Fuller 2015

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