As the years pass, the bones show clearer, the faces more distinct. This year I look at my family and see a tribe of storytellers. All four of us. We have done so many things all at once that I hadn’t seen it that way until now.
Our daughter, who has lived in Tuscany since 1998, is a professional translator from Italian to English, having worked at everything from catalogues of bar equipment to the glossy booklets at huge art events like the Venice Biennale. Now her output includes poetry, novels and nonfiction, and this month is the official publication date of her first book for a major publisher: A Brief History of Pasta, by Luca Cesari. Her website, johannabishop.net, opens with an image of a woman wielding a heavy pole to get her barge across a river, and her words make it more specific: “You sit on the bank and you think. Then start rowing back and forth, back and forth for as long as it takes.” Her cargo, in one form or another, is all stories.
Our son has added another form of storytelling to his years of work as a graphic artist (errorbar.net) and is now part of the San Francisco Neo-Futurists ensemble. Each ensemble member does high-octane work as writer, performer, and director, creating a dizzying array of short performance pieces that are presented in such a way that no two evenings are alike. The program is a “menu” with thirty numbered titles, and the order in which they are performed is determined by the audience. When a sketch ends the entire audience yells a number and whatever is understood first becomes the next sketch—instantly. The work runs the gamut from personal monologue to chaotic caricature, and all of it is intensely present. Fireworks.
Conrad has interrupted the long string of novels with a burst of very short stories, an idiom called Flash Fiction, and now has two chapbooks of them in print. For all the years of our crazy life since leaving academia in 1971 we have created and performed short theatre sketches, first with Theatre X (Milwaukee) and then with The Independent Eye, so he knows in his bones how to get there, be there, and get out, but now it’s little black footprints on a white page. And the voice is uniquely his, not a collaboration. The novels (one is currently in first draft) are still teamwork, but I love this new bonfire with solo sparks. Flashes.
I am digging the garden of my middle years, 1974 to 1999, having put the first volume of my memoir into print a while ago. This also is solo work, with my mate as first responder. I am more than a little startled to think of myself as a writer. It snuck up on me, and it’s a jolt to realize that this blog has been in existence for eight years. The process of my collaborative creation on the plays and novels has been more akin to the oral tradition—verbal improvisation captured on tape. Now it’s my story, told by me to me.
Four tellers around the campfire. It’s a virtual fire, but a warm one.