— From EF —

Rhyme, rhythm, ritual.

Much on my mind at present. I was visited by Ogden Nash as I shook the recalcitrant mustard container and remembered “Shake and shake the catsup bottle, none’ll come and then a lott’ll.” (Actually, that one was Richard Armour, not Ogden Nash.)

But I thought about the jolt of pleasure you get when you sense that a rhyme is coming. Listen to the audience when Amanda Palmer blasts one off to the Daily Mail (the word “ripple” leads the entire audience to expect the end-rhyme “nipple,” and they love it):

What is that? It’s the collective realization that everybody knows what’s coming, and then it does. Les McCann plays the first six bass notes of “Compared to What” and the crowd goes nuts, because they know exactly what they’re going to get.

We went out to Portuguese Beach, as we do every other weekend, with the same picnic basket as always — sushi, ahi, and a thermos of hot sake. Ritual, and very satisfying. On Tuesday I’ll get on a plane to Amsterdam to see an old friend, then journey on to spend time with our Tuscan daughter. From there I go to our theatre friends in Zurich, and fetch up with my favorite stones in Carnac. I’ve been treading the same path for many years. Ritual, and necessary.


On a personal level, ritual is created by actions repeated over a long span of time.   On a cultural level, repetition in groups acts as an amplifier. It can be ecstatic, or it can be horrific. A Grateful Dead concert, or a public stoning. Either way, there’s a huge propulsive energy.

Modern experience is so chaotic and fragmented that three sets of twelve reps at the gym is soothing, even if it hurts. And if three seconds of Les McCann can give you the certainty of three more minutes of celebration, so much the better. We could all use little rituals that make us look forward to what comes next.

— From CB —

Lear and the sisters. Goneril and Regan are commonly played as Cordelia would see them: icy, cruel, corrupt bitches. In one staging, Goneril sips a cocktail as she kneecaps her father. For me, this renders the play into a melodramatic fable, with Lear an innocent who happens to make one stupid mistake.

There’s more to it than that. All three daughters are the daughters of Lear, heirs to his willful stubbornness, the primacy of rank and power (more later about Cordelia’s role in this). To my mind, Lear’s absurd love quiz is nothing new to them: it reflects the core of their upbringing. Love is a commodity, with entitlement according to rank. Father demands love and parcels it out in proportion to their obedience. The older sisters are well aware that Cordelia is the favorite and are dumbstruck and frightened when he turns against her. I see them — though the text doesn’t indicate this — as half-sisters to Cordelia, born of an earlier wife and probably much older. He fully intends to give her the largest portion of the kingdom — it’s prearranged as her dowry.

Goneril is the elder and receives the most brutal treatment. There’s no reason to doubt her complaints against the behavior of Lear and his roistering knights: he’s on spring break in Ft. Lauderdale. When she crosses him, he calls down the fury of the gods on her in brutal, disgusting language: “Dry up in her the organs of increase…” The most convincing Goneril I’ve seen, during this curse, broke down in sobs, and her subsequent cruelty was all the more understandable. I see her as childless and approaching menopause; the old man knows precisely what will cut her most deeply.

Regan is younger, colder. She’s seen the abuse accorded Goneril and has learned to adopt protective coloration. Even as she’s destroying her father, she’s never impolite. And she’s careful to suit her mood and instincts exactly to her choleric husband Cornwall. Lear makes excessive use of endearments addressing her in the early stages — “dearest Regan,” “beloved Regan,” “thy tender-hearted nature” — as if seeking some reassurance of love under the veneer of courtesy.

The sisters form a team against Cordelia, yet that inbred competition for love flips directly into murderous jealousy between them. Edmund need not be especially sexy or the sisters exceptionally lascivious: he sets them into lethal conflict simply because he’s on a trajectory of power, the true heir to their dad. Again, Goneril is the more tortured, the more desperate, and finally the more murderous, cursed as she is with being tied to a kind, judicious man rather than to the volcanic father she’s grown up with or the sputtering fuse her sister has married.

Distortions of love in the gravitational field of power.

— From the Fool —

I was talking to this lady, Rosie, skinny woman with a long nose, not what you’d think of if you think “Rosie.” She was a little bit crazy when I talked to her, having got an earworm.

Earworm is some phrase or tune or jingle you can’t get out of your mind. It goes over and over like a faucet drip in the night. It’s like the brain getting hiccups.

I won’t say what Rosie’s was, lest I send out the infection to the four walls of the world, and get blamed for the country being crazier than it already is.

Rosie had tried pretty much everything. She tried yelling Shut up! to herself. She soaked her head in the bathtub. She held her breath until she had to breathe.

She played a Top-40 station turned up to blast-off. She tuned into a gospel station where a preacher said how the story of Jonah and the Whale meant don’t worry about global warming. She surfed the Web for hot weight-loss deals.

She drank half a bottle of cheap bourbon very fast and stubbed her toe on the kitchen table, but that just made it louder. It occurred to her then, she said, that she regretted not having finished college. There might have been a course how to do it.

I said, well maybe it’s telling you something. There’s a message in it. I didn’t state that as a fact, I just mentioned the possibility. She said that was horseshit, which was true.

Finally, I guess she banged her head so hard on the arm of the armchair, which was thankfully padded, that she broke the arm. That got her worried about how much it’d cost, and that squashed the earworm.

It gave me the idea that the next terrorist threat won’t come from bombs. They’ll just make up really cute jingles.


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© Bishop & Fuller 2014





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