— From CB —

Note from a fellow artist: “Cheers on all your work. Personally, I’m struggling with how to keep motivated in a world I feel less and less connected to.”

He didn’t ask for an answer, but the inplicit question compels response — cross-pollinating with words of another friend who’s in hospice care, dying, whose path at this stage has been to find . . . peace? wholeness? . . . and who asked, almost playfully, “Do you take joy in being unsettled?”

And these come at a time when I’m plunged daily into Shakespeare’s world where the blinded Gloucester cries out, “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods: they kill us for their sport.” One day life opens its arms in full fruition; the next, it scratches its ass and belches in your face.

We know that our work over the years has had an impact on individual souls. Has it changed the headlines that scar the face of our nation? Has it lessened to any degree the mad epidemics rampant in our world? Has it made us famous? No, no, and decidedly no.

Unsettled? Yes, I suspect I’ll cultivate discontent obsessively until the great fog presses down upon me. Every other week, I look out at the ocean and feel, for a moment, unburthen’d, as Lear would express it. And then back home, and I still want to marshal my hundred knights, and damn the torpedoes.

Motivated? What comes to mind, to start with, are only flip replies: Can’t think of anything better to do. Or, my mate helps me maintain our mutual delusion. Or, I’m just a dramatic character whose motivation I haven’t figured out.

But that phrase a world I feel less and less connected to — that’s familiar. I can’t say I’ve ever felt connected to any world beyond my most immediate family. I’ve been dropped here by accident as an alien knowing only one word: explore. I don’t know why I’m supposed to do that or who’s going to listen to my reports from the field. But it’s in those fragmentary messages, I think, that we find our fellow aliens, charged with the same imperative. Those are our lifelong friends, the world we do feel connected to.

About 700 people on the face of the planet have seen our current show Gifts. We’ll be lucky if that many see Lear. Our current novel Hammers may get published, may even get some readers, but our other three haven’t. We still do all the promotional stuff, still plan strategies, but the only payoff that’s certain are the tiny discoveries that emerge every day from this scantily-equipped safari into the human heart.

Yet another friend, now in his 90s, once spoke of the futility of progressive politics. You have to act as if it’s possible, he said, as if your acts could make the vital difference, as if your fervent beliefs are not fantasy. And at the same time, always, you know that it’s probably all for naught. If you don’t accept, at the deepest level, the likelihood of defeat — hopelessly holding to hope — you can’t sustain. Not sure that’s the only way, but I grok it.

It may be simply the chance of finding those rare things on the beach, that perfect iridescent shell — though it’s not chance, it takes practiced eyes. Yesterday, working solo on the horrible scene of Gloucester’s blinding, I found one of those: the startling outburst of courage in a cowardly man. As he’s grilled by Cornwall and Regan, his voice is more and more querulous, whining, retreating, until the moment he knows he’s cornered and makes a stand against them. At that point he can barely keep from beshitting himself, and it’s with a quavering, breaking squeak of a voice that he declares fierce defiance. I heard that come into my voice and wept, and then carried on. Not sure how to make that moment work with hand puppets, but it’s the discovery itself — not reaping the applause or cashing it in at the bank or being pronounced a genius — that spurs the motivation. At least till the gauge starts registering Empty and you look for the next fill-up.

That said, I think I’ll spend the afternoon at the ocean.

— From the Fool —

There’s a lady down from where I live who says that all the bad news is the TV making it up. It’s real stuff, but works backwards. What she says: they have writers that make up the stories, and then there’s a crew that goes out and makes it happen. Little stuff, like guys shooting kids, is no big deal, but wars and epidemics and volcanoes take lots of planning, not to mention investors. Sometimes they have to get the government involved, which isn’t that hard but still a pain in the ass. And the events don’t always follow the script, so the TV has to go back and rewrite the news to fit.

I asked her, well, isn’t that awfully cynical? But she said no. She said at least you know there’s some logic there. It’s not just senseless horrors. There’s brains at work behind it. And look on the bright side, she said. They might take polls and find that people really want to watch happy stuff, and then they’ll send out whole armies of doctors and nurses and plumbers and clowns to make the world happy. All depends on the ratings.

I can’t decide whether or not I hope she’s right.

— From EF—

Butterflies. How wonderful to see so many of them, both in Italy and now here in Brittany. When we moved to California in 1999, they were there in dancing clouds. Now, I feel a twinge when I say to Conrad, “Oh, look, there’s a butterfly!” A butterfly. One.

I love to see them. I have no desire to catch one, much less fasten one to a board with a pin through its belly. This time, my European pilgrimage has felt delightfully like a butterfly dance, light and joyous and colorful.

Complete with pin.

I boarded the train from Milan to Zurich with my tidy set of packs, my little bitty soft-sided suitcase that can slide under the seat, the ham-shaped healthy-back bag that carries the essentials for overnight, and the small traveler’s purse that has so many zippered compartments that I need a rolodex to find where I put stuff. Inside the purse I stow the soft leather zippered pouch that contains my bills, coins, and plastic cards. I had bought a book in the Milan station, and after I settled in my train seat I put the receipt in its place and zipped the little treasure-pouch in its place, pleased that I had kept such a good routine going. Everything in its place, everything safe.

Later I took the little Ziploc bag with my leftover Swiss francs from last year, put them in the pouch, put the Euros in the Ziploc, and closed it all up. I sat with my bag on my lap, folded hands nestling it, all the way to Zurich. So you can imagine the jolt of unzipping inner pockets to get tram money for the arrival in Zurich, and finding an empty pocket.

There are other pockets, lots of them. Maybe I chose the wrong one. No. Before I got off the train, I’d searched everything twice, felt the back seam of the train seat, turned upside down and searched the floor. Gone.

Skewered by the pin of guilt. What did I do wrong? And ironically, the pin was sharpened by my inability to find fault. Other times, I could identify the dumb-ass mistake and learn from it, but not this time. I was well and truly pinned.

After the welcoming hugs in Zurich, I asked Erica if she would take my purse and backpack and empty it all on the kitchen table, every sub-packet and zipper bag. I didn’t trust myself to do it without overlooking something. She didn’t hesitate, just went calmly through the process;

Then I emailed CB and asked him to cancel the MasterCard, the ATM, and the AmEx. The return email said, OK, all done, and the rest of the message was calm love and reassurance. Erica loaned me euros for the rest of the journey — I was stripped flat — and urged me to take it and not feel guilty.

So the journey would be intact, all my beloveds had wrapped me in loving reassurance — and I was still pinned through the belly and wriggling, feet flailing and unable to find solid ground.

It took me all that night to get that sucker out, but I finally did. I am amazed and shaken to realize, once again, how well a child can be taught to carry a sharpened pin and know how to turn it inward. I bless those who patiently show a better way.


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© Bishop & Fuller 2014


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