—From the Fool—
So last week Luann said she’d marry me if I made some money and got ambition, or the other way around. I said all I ever wanted was to be the best Fool I could possibly be, but she said, “Well, why not just as well be the best rich guy you could possibly be,” and I didn’t have an answer for that.
So I asked my friend Benny for advice. He had a lot of different jobs cause he got fired a lot and also got divorced, so he knows how that goes too. At first he thought I was asking him about getting divorced, but I said no, I had to get married first. So we got that worked out.
“Be a writer,” he said. “I saw one on TV. They make millions, and all you gotta do is sit there and write down stuff you think about.” That sounded pretty good, but I wondered, if that was so great, why Benny didn’t do it. “Timing,” he said. Turned out that the way it works, you become a famous writer and then you get a drinking problem, whereas he was drunk to start with.
But I thought it was worth a try, so I wrote a story and brought it to Benny to see what he thought. The way it started out was It was a dark and scary night…“
“Hold it right there,” he said. “You gotta say dark and stormy, not dark and scary. You gotta make’em feel it’s scary, not just tell’em it’s scary. If there’s a storm, then it’s scary.”
This was harder than I thought. So I asked him the important thing, which was, “So when do they pay you?”
“Okay, first you gotta write a hundred thousand words, and be sure there’s some sex in there, and then get somebody to read it, and then if they print it and somebody buys the book, then maybe you make some money.” But he didn’t think anybody’d pay me for my story, which said I went to bed and dreamed about ducks, which I thought was weird. I don’t have a writer’s calling, I guess.
Next week I’ll ask my friend Charlene.
Conrad and I are working on the latest redraft of a novel called Galahad’s Fool, and with this book objectivity is a continual challenge. The central character is a creator/performer, white ponytail, living in Sebastopol (we raid our own life-closets with great regularity.) He’s working on a new production.
It’s the first anniversary of the loss of his life-partner and co-creator, and going solo isn’t easy. Lainie isn’t there to keep him on track or to call him on bullshit, and he’s got a problem with Galahad, his hero. He doesn’t like him, but he can’t just tell him to get lost. Lainie would kick his butt and tell him to get to work, get over himself, and not give up.
Believe me, it’s pretty weird to write in partnership when your story spins a future without your partner, but it’s a damn good story and it wants to be written.
It’s real. One of us will go before the other. And now we have a magnificent guide. We have a friend (I’m using the present tense intentionally) who saw our puppet Macbeth in New York in 1979, on the first trip she and her partner took to the US.
Right away that summer we visited them and were stunned with the amazing work they had created year after year. Then he died, and she fought like a tigress to hold on to their space and keep the work going. And a man who had seen and long loved her and her work declared himself, and for twenty-five years they kept the flame lit, followed the path.
At my visit in 2014, she had already faced the cancer assault, was fit and energetic, and it looked like the surgery and chemo had worked. Then, a year ago, the doctors said it was back, and she went out on the tide of New Year’s Day.
The two of them had been in rehearsal for a new piece when the pain came out of nowhere and she had her surgery. But as soon as it was possible, they finished the staging and visuals, and there would have been a premiere.
There still will be. It was designed as a solo piece, and he has taken it up. It is a testament to their art and their love that it will have a life, and an audience. May we do likewise, when the time comes.
I’ve written before about the obsessiveness of making stories, telling stories, exploring the junkheaps in the attic. Right now we’re drafting query letters to agents for our fifth novel while in the last stages of a total rewrite of our second. We’re trying to get some people to buy our first. We’re starting to make the first notes on our sixth and starting a new short story and talking about writing a solo show for Elizabeth. And we’re in the 34th month of publishing this weekly blog. That seems to qualify as obsession.
Writing is a labyrinth, and in every labyrinth there’s a minotaur, some presence that tells you Do Not Pass Go. For me—I’ve written this before as well—it’s the terror of libraries. Of course I love them, I’ve spent endless hours in them from the time I knew there were books besides those on my Grandma’s single shelf — Readers Digest Condensed Books, Bible, a McGuffy’s Reader, and a geography textbook from the 1890s. Dr. Doolittle was my entry to the quality literature of the world.
And when I walk into the door of a library or a bookstore, my muscles clench and I feel my heart sink. The wealth overwhelms me. No one could ever read all the books published this year, let alone the last three millennia. My incapacity to encompass that human experience, to find my way into its heart, to find the one book that’s vital for me to read this moment—it’s the faceless, implacable sea.
Then the second wave. Why should I waste my efforts trying to dribble into it? Are there not enough plays, stories, novels, and memoirs in the world? If I never wrote another word, would a palace somewhere in Iowa crumble to rubble? Have I something to say that isn’t being said over and over and over, that will move mountains, that will rise above mumbling into song? Whatever I write, whatever gets into print at the whim of Thunderbum Press, won’t save me. I’m still gonna fuckin’ die.
But I go every morning after gym, after eating my muffin and coffee, sit in the public library, and write for two hours. Then later too, between other stuff, and sit with my partner to hash it over and over. And a number of hours a week sending queries to agents and publishers, tossing popcorn to the behemoth to see if it pecks a kernel. I, along with thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of others, try to tell the story that will fill the heart.
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© Bishop & Fuller 2016