They say that long-wed couples gradually come more and more to resemble one another. Maybe. I’m still five feet two, and I think anybody could tell which of us is which, but in one department we’ve become well-nigh indistinguishable. If one of us has read something that moves us and we want to read it aloud to the other, there is no way in hell the reader can get to the end without busting out in tears.
I know this happens to other people too. In our local oral tradition salon, if somebody starts with the words “I went out to the hazel wood” we know we’ll all be soggy by the time “the silver apples of the moon, the golden apples of the sun” comes round. Yeats can do that to you.
The best writers can deliver lightning-bolts of empathy, leaving the reader awash in an experience of oneness that can be disorienting. After living with messages that divide, enrage, and terrify, it can be scary and sometimes painful to get plugged back into the multiverse by surprise. I remember a time when my heart had given up on theatre, although the carcass was still on the job. Then I saw Complicite’s production of Mnemonic, and in the midst of my wild applause and tears I was amazed to feel pure rage. I’d had my non-belief shattered, and the heart had to get back to work again.
Once, back in our early days of touring, an audience member said, “Your work is so political.” “No it isn’t.” “Yes it is.” “Well, OK, you’ve outed us.” We’d been careful to avoid labels and catch-phrases, but it’s really the essence of political writing to put the absurdities of human behavior out there in a way that gets to “Oh God, that’s me.”
I fall into a funk from time to time, envying those who can run for office or lead movements. Theatre. Fiction. Art. In today’s crisis times, isn’t that playing in the sandbox? Just now I read an essay by Barbara Kingsolver, “Jabberwocky,” and she nailed this dilemma. The essay was too long to tattoo on my forehead or to read aloud to Conrad, so I just put a bookmark in the right place and handed it to him. Ten minutes later, he walked into the office in tears, and I knew she nailed it for him, too.
“. . . There are truths we all know, but can’t make ourselves feel: Slavery was horrible. Love thy neighbor as thyself, or we’ll all go to hell in a handbasket. These are things that cannot be said in words because they’re too familiar to move us, too big and bald and flat to penetrate our souls. The artist must craft missiles to deliver these truths so unerringly to the right place inside of us we are left panting, with no possibility of doubting they are true.”
This is a time of scraping in the dust, rearranging pebbles. Other times, I’m making great leaps, whether it’s writing a new piece or sorting out crap in the shop, but now it’s all slow, slow minutiae.
Our front yard is divided in two: one side a mad variety of clumps, the other a lush bed of moss. Both are beyond me. Right now the focus is on the moss, invaded both by baby tears—cute little buggers that they are—and a kind of scaly lichen. It’s easy to spend a half-hour on my knees picking out six square inches of invaders with the point of a paring knife, while the rest of the half-acre goes to hell.
Back to the keyboard, and I’m doing the same, right now with the 7th draft of a short story, 8,000 words, and what seemed just fine in the previous draft is now overgrown with little green spidery ovals and scaly lichen. I’ve been radically re-editing a bunch of stories, pausing in the final edit of the most recent novel and back to Chapter 3 of an earlier one. A positive feel in the sense that this all comes from great progress in learning the craft of prose fiction but lacks that adrenalin rush of inspiration that, however rare, feels so good when it comes.
Meantime, apples are falling from our apple tree, and I love apple sauce, so there’s the daily hour of peeling that seems to stretch into the future. Most of them are bruised, so each yields only a small bit of apple for lots and lots of chopping. I listen to music, to the news, to the dull grind of my brain, and I know I’ll love this stuff when I bake it in my muffins or mix it with yogurt and walnuts for lunch, but right now it’s a bloody bore.
Clearly, my complaints are ludicrous as one considers the great majority of humanity who, if they’re not starving in a ditch, are working 8-12 hours a day with exactly the same degree of boring repetition, as they try to avoid heat stroke or a blade that’ll lop off a hand or a stray cluster bomb or a simple lay-off. But I can’t entirely give up on my complaints: they’re like little brothers & sisters I need to baby-sit or a line of cute ducklings that follow me crossing the road. Frail things, but mine.
—From the Fool—
I didn’t sleep good last night. I keep remembering there’s an election coming, and when I think about that the nightmares start up without me being asleep.
Lots of my friends say they won’t vote for somebody that can win, cause then they’d be responsible for whatever awful stuff gets done—cause awful stuff always gets done—and they want to make sure they’re not to blame. That’s one way to think about it, I guess. Sic their nightmares on somebody else.
But so today I needed a nap. I thought, hey, no problem, just take a nap.
But before I did that, I had to feed my cat Gertie.
But before that, I had to put the squeaker back into her squeaky toy and change Gertie’s flea collar to a different part of the cat.
And before that, I figured I’d better wash yesterday’s dishes so I could get down the stack to those from the day before.
But before that, I remembered I’d forgot to pay the bills and they’d turn off the utilities and kick me out of the place and maybe put Gertie in foster care.
But before that, I had to check Facebook for death threats and check the mail to see if anybody swiped the mailbox.
And before that, I had to go down to the post office and buy some stamps, but then before that, I figured I’d better pick up a bunch of rotten plums that fell off the plum tree or else I’d track them into my car and then into the post office which is property of the Federal Government.
And before that, I realized I’d better do some actual work. But by then it was time for a beer, so I put it off till tomorrow. Maybe I’ll have a more restful nightmare tonight.
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