—From the Fool—
My cousin Ernie is watching all the debates for President. He’s an Independent, he says, doesn’t like the whole party thing, although this time he says he’s leaning Republican. “They’ve got more candidates,” he says, “so you got more choices there.”
He watches the debates with the sound turned off. He believes that if you start thinking about what they say, you miss a lot. The question is, do they look Presidential? I asked him what does that look like? “You know it when you see it,” he says.
Sanders he likes when he smiles but mostly he looks like the old fart algebra teacher who flunked him, so he’s out. Clinton’s starting to get a double chin, which looks fine on a blimp like Christie but not on her, and Christie looks like the fat girl in third grade who used to pinch first-graders and steal their lunch. Cruz looks like he just sucked a lemon but tries to be happy about it. Carson looks stoned or else he’s in hemorrhoidal distress. Fiorina looks too much like the dog he always forgot to feed. Rubio looks like a high school yearbook photo, and Bush reminds Ernie of Sunday School. Kasich he doesn’t remember.
So right now he’s leaning toward Trump. “Good thing about him, he looks really mad, loony even. So if we’ve got a fucking psychopath with his finger on the button, nobody’s gonna cross us. We’ll be number one.
But I asked him, “Aren’t you gonna actually listen to what they say?”
“They’ll say anything,” he says. Ernie bought his last used car because he liked the salesman’s necktie.
How can an experience be both laden with crippling anxiety and profoundly heart-opening? That’s what just happened to me with Rumi’s Caravan Saturday evening. Now, I am getting back to mobility without pain, but the previous night and the first part of the morning were really rocky. I have become convinced that my internal equilibrium has a great deal to do with the joint pain of my lower back and hips, and this was a billboard illustration of that.
Conrad and I were invited to be part of this festive annual event, wherein a goodly audience assembles to hear poetry offered from memory by a troupe of folks from the poetry and oral tradition community. Skilled improvisational musicians provide background color, and there is a feast laid on between the afternoon and evening performances. It’s usually sold out.
Each participant is asked to bring about eight minutes of text, and I am blown away by the number of people who actually have fifty or more poems in their mental rolodex, available at any moment. Conrad and are stuffed like sausages with Lear lines, so we just selected and crammed no more than the eight minutes (four poems). Others respond by bringing forth from their vast repertoire what seems best suggested by someone else’s offering, and it proceeds much like what happens at Quaker meeting. It’s a poetic conversation and is not mapped out in advance.
I am well aware that something only recently committed to memory has to go through the baptism of altered space before it’s really socked in there. The words are perfectly available to the normal sedate mind, but when a performer is “on,” the mind jumps all its electrons up to a higher shell, and all bets are off. We had no actual rehearsals. Reciting with full passion at full voice to your lover in your living room doesn’t count.
But I had a further challenge. One of my poems, Fran Carbonaro’s “Black Mother,” went deep into my bones and core and actually more or less scared the shit out of me in a wonderful way. We have lost four close friends within recent months, and death is more personal than it used to be. This stunning poem is a gentle and loving invitation to enter the current of that journey, to embrace not-knowing. And I learned shortly before we started that the poet was in the audience.
Looking back on it now, I did well. Better than well. But it was like walking a high-wire in a high wind, with high stakes riding on the outcome. Afterward, I actually met Fran, and she was pleased to hear this piece given voice in public. I spent a restless night in a bed of pain, rocked by the sweetest energy I’ve felt in a while, and with the dawn came the easing. It was all worth the price.
Middle of the night, I woke up. That’s frequent, and usually I go back to sleep quickly unless the mind grabs onto something, or something grabs onto the mind. Last night, something did. And then, once I thought I’d disposed of that distraction, I kept thinking about the strange workings of the brain: why did that emerge?
Among our dozens of plays, there are a few that remain unproduced. One such was a very surreal apocalyptic farce/tragedy we wrote about 10 years ago, Last Days of the Lost & Found. I liked it a lot, but I was always queasy about the second half, which got into long confessional speeches revealing family secrets— Ack! If there’s anything in present-day theatre I truly can’t stand, other than The Sound of Music, it’s plays revealing family secrets. But somehow I imagined that if we found a theatre to produce it, that opportunity would be a powerful inducement to a re-write. Never happened.
So: this past two weeks I’ve been on a tear to file all the emails in our To File bin. We keep up with some, but too often we just chuck’em there if we have to think twice about where they go. Having gotten up to 2,000+, despite many halfway attempts, I’m now down to fewer than 100 and have an effective rhythm going. Yesterday, I filed one about ten years old from a theatre that said Last Days had been a finalist in their selections, close but no cigar. Filing that email was the first time I’d thought about that play in at least five years. It went rapidly into the WW/Play Csp. box, no further thought.
Until about 3 a.m., when I woke up knowing exactly what should happen with Act Two—a little gimmick brings it into a much more contemporary focus. Right now, being so heavily immersed in writing prose fiction and so divorced from the theatre world (except for our strange little touring pieces), the last thing I want to do is to revisit Last Days, though if I lose more sleep over it I may have to.
The point being, though, that the workings of the brain can be most startling. It seems sometimes to have its own agenda, kind of a prototype of the self-driving car. Perhaps that accounts for the concept of the Muse, artistic inspiration flying down or squirting out from nowhere. When it happens to me, usually right at the point of waking up (a stage image, a story twist, a phrase) it feels like my smart brother letting me copy his homework—I’m grateful, but it makes me feel dumber. Then I remember I don’t have a smart brother. I don’t even have a brother.
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© Bishop & Fuller 2016
To EF–I feel yr pain. My own–lumbar and hip–became unbearable recently, meaning I’d get moments where I’d freeze up so intensely I’d have to drop to my knees and do a cat-cow yoga exercise (slo-mo) just to pull it out enough so I could take another step. Yesterday I got an appointment with a spine doc, who called it a pinched nerve and set up an appt. for an MRI to find the exact spot where it is. Then the plan is to address that, probably with some sort of steroid shot into that location, hopefully without surgery. Meanwhile, I’m in legal narco catatonia a good part of the day, pain free, thought free, emotionally numb. Not recommended for humans, particularly in the arts.
To CB–Isn’t the unconscious mind a remarkable instrument? Give it a problem, go to sleep, and wake up with the answer–no charge. I aced my way through college that way–cram all night, go to sleep if only for an hour or two, go take the exam, get my A for short-term memory retention,, and forget it all by the next week.