—From the Fool—
Way long ago I was little. I was about three when it hit me: there were an awful lot of people.
It started out easier when there was just Mommy and Daddy, and then even simpler when Daddy split. But then suddenly Gramma and Grampa. Then the babysitter, and another babysitter because the first one got drunk. I didn’t know how many babysitters there were in the world, but it seemed like a lot.
Then Uncle Frank got a TV and we went over to see it, and suddenly millions of people, but little tiny ones. Then into school with all the kids on the playground and I was only one. I learned to count to a hundred, but I was scared to go any farther.
But when I learned to read I discovered obituaries in the paper. That made me feel better for a while. Some of these people were dying, so there’d be more room for me. But people were getting born, and that never made the news. The corporate media don’t want us to know.
The biggest problems now are all the wars and finding a parking place. I don’t know how to solve that, because once we’re born we don’t want to go away. So the big worry now is jobs. Too many people and not enough stuff to do, or not enough that makes money, even if we all eat burgers. I guess that’s why they invented war. It’s a job-creator.
But I guess if the world gets too crowded, you need to run it like a business. You fire the ones you don’t need, and they just disappear.
I always have loved the late afternoon light, the gentle wash of gold that kisses the Sonoma hills (or wherever I happen to be). A few years ago, I noticed that as the year progresses into fall, here at home the light often gets meaner — harsh, flat, unkind. I have wondered if our ozone layer is getting old and tired. But I still love sensing the changing of the light.
In a week, we’ll know for the first time what the light is like in Iceland. As we fly to visit Johanna in Italy (and Theo in Amsterdam, and Peter in Zurich), we get to stop an extra week coming and going in Iceland because we’re flying Icelandair. They offer this at no increase in airfare, although we know that those two weeks of simple living are going to be damned expensive. Hey, what’s money for?
So we’ve rented a camper van for the first week and intend to mosey around the entire ring road before flying out. It isn’t high summer, but still the days and evenings will have light we’ve never seen before.
The first time I spent time in the Netherlands, I understood Vermeer. Yes, the light is different, and he nailed it. Our human eyes don’t remotely match the acuity of trilobites, incredibly ancient little hard-shelled sea critters who could see stars humans can’t even see, although one wonders why something that lived in the mud needed that. I say, why the hell not? Light is a marvel, and however you perceive it, it’s still a marvel.
We have a dear friend who is a myofascial therapist, incredibly skilled at getting muscular knots and constrictions to agree to let go. But Ed’s ability to photograph the light of Iceland is stunning beyond comprehension. For years now he has returned like a salmon swimming upstream, returning again and again to the land that has captured his soul. In turn, he captures its light and brings it home to share.
How’s this for coincidence? When we land in Iceland, Ed and Raina will arrive at exactly the same time. We have a breakfast date, and can share the same dawn.
Arts critics have multiple functions. They’re consumer guides: is this show worth your time and money? They’re promo sources, producers of quotable blurbs. They may try to be aesthetic theorists if the editor gives them more than six column inches. They’re entertainers, charged with producing words that are fun to read. They’re absolutely essential to the artist as career-makers, utterly useless as contributors to making the art, except as they produce audiences for it, if they do. I excoriate them and am eternally grateful for their existence.
Some brilliant and caring people choose to do this. I myself spent thirteen years moonlighting as a National Endowment for the Arts site reporter, visiting theatres nationwide, seeing shows, writing short reports that went to the panel making decisions on grants. It was soul-wrenching at times, but it had a single, clear function—to convey to a panel of professionals what the experience would have been had they been there.
There’s another kind of response that’s all too rare. On Friday I spent an hour at the coffee shop with a friend whose play I’d just seen. A lot of problems with it, I felt, yet great potential. I’d asked him if he’d like some detailed feedback, he said yes, so we met for coffee.
I preface such conversations with the statement that I never offer response to something unless I feel a strong potential in it; that I can only respond as if it were my own piece, with the eyes of a mad dentist searching for every cavity; that I take no responsibility for whether I’m right or wrong, that it’s entirely up to the artist whether or not something strikes a chord.
It was a lovely hour spent. I hope it proves to be useful to him. For me, it was a rare chance to have a freely-given gift accepted—whether it becomes a centerpiece of his table or gets shuffled off to Goodwill. It’s a gifting that should happen more in theatre.
It happens a bit within writers’ circles. In theatre, there’s a huge time pressure toward opening night, and a mindset—unless there are weeks of “previews” or follow-up productions—that shrinks the collective brain down to cast and crew. When a show has opened and it’s the end of creative work, there’s great awkwardness in response unless it’s a masterpiece.
If we could learn how to ask, and how to give…
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Bishop & Fuller 2016