— From the Fool —
When I went to school a whole lotta years ago, we had to write a poem. “Write about what you know,” said Mrs. Schumaris. I guess if you were a crook you could write about being a crook, or if you were a king or a dishwasher. But if you were busy doing it how could you write about it, unless you got fired, in which case you maybe didn’t do it so well?
I wrote how my grandma killed a chicken. She picked it up, grabbed its head, then whirled it around like throwing a lasso, and then with a jerk the chicken shot off without its head. Then it did the chicken dance and spouted blood all over. Then she made fried chicken, but my grandpa wouldn’t eat it. They never got along.
There were some good metaphors there, the teacher said, but blinking didn’t rhyme with chicken. Work and jerk were okay. But grandpa using bad grammar didn’t seem like much of a reason for his not eating the chicken. “Try to rewrite it,” she said, “because that’s the way writers do.”
It’s been now, what, thirty-five, forty years, and I still wake up trying to think what rhymes with chicken. I’ve got thicken, quicken, slicken, but nothing flows from there. I might ought to try free verse, or think what else I know to write about.
— From CB —
I hate making decisions. I see too many factors, and they all fight like cats. I might have been more comfortable in a job where I was just told what to do and I could bad-mouth the boss. Instead, I bad-mouth the boss, which is me. Well, not me, exactly. Elizabeth and I have been collaborators for 54 years. But that doesn’t lessen my obsessive sense of responsibility for the final result.
Staging a play doesn’t have quite the same consequence as bombing Iraq or fighting Ebola, but the little nodes of indecision are probably as numerous. In rehearsing LEAR, do you scream out “O Fool, I shall go mad!’ or do you look at him in stunned wonder and speak almost inaudibly? When you ask for a mirror to see if Cordelia breathes, does someone come up with a battlefield mirror, or do you imagine it in your hand, or does the thought buzz momentarily in your scattered mind and then vanish? Much of this you find by instinct, not through scholarship or rational mind.
This week, we re-recorded the text as an iPod aid to memorization, and we found that even with heavy editing, the play will run 90 minutes, quite possibly more. Do we plan for an intermission, and if so, where? I long for my producer to tell me the decision so I don’t wake up chewing it over, but I’m the damned producer.
On the “Yes, for chrissake give the audience a break!” side: (a) The physical demands of the performance are extreme, and we’ll need to catch our breath. (b) While people sit through 2-hour movies, most aren’t used to that in the theatre, and staring at two people in a tiny space is different than the visual panoply of the screen. (c) Bladders vary, and in house-concert settings there’s rarely a way to make a quick exit to the bathroom.
On the “No, be brave!” side: (a) It’s easier to do a marathon performance than to cool out for 10 minutes in the middle of it. (b) People do sit through 2-hour movies. (c) In house-concert settings, where would the mad king and acerbic fool go during intermission: would we sit frozen on stage for ten minutes, hide under the bed in the bedroom, or mix with the audience over wine and cheese? (d) If you wake from a nightmare, you resist getting back into it. (e) A break prolongs the overall time and truncates whatever discussion might happen afterward.
I could go on, but I’ve made the point. It’s complicated by our intention to play both in theatres and in living rooms, by having no outside tech crew or house staff, and by sheer ignorance of what our audience response will be. That’s one reason for preview showings in March, as we intend. Still, changing course at that point requires different sound and light cues, prop placement, rhythms — more a surgical operation than a chiropractic adjustment.
So I leave on Saturday (writing this the previous Thursday) for two weeks of writing and Spanish intensive and solitary contemplation in Mexico. Perhaps the answer will come to me as I swat a mosquito among the Mayan ruins at Uxmal.
Here we are again, CB and me, together yet separate. He is tucked into the first of his two weeks in Merida, Mexico — the glorious Yucatan. My travel fling already happened in September, my annual trek in Europe.
Tonight, I am multi-tasking. I’m editing a big bunch of voice-over work we recorded for a video special on gardens, one for each month of the year. I’m back in audio-editor mode, after a long absence, listening for both the intense presence and the abstract music of our voices. I’m startled and delighted at how good it feels to do this again. It’s a bumpy entrance, because after a lay-off, I always feel, “How the hell does this work?” And then it starts to flow.
And during the enforced pauses while an edited segment is processing, I revert to the Facebook dance. I try to be sparing with the cute-animal videos, but as I was waiting for the audio Mac to convert “October”, an Australian YouTube got me (baby critters, of course).
What’s so compelling about these little guys? I think it has to do with their complete and entire focus on their present moment. And that gives me an insight into what’s special about the times when CB and I are not together.
Our symbiosis and collaborative mind-reading are so pervasive that they form the normal foreground of consciousness for me. When my Other isn’t here, I’m suddenly face to face with my own reality, and I see things differently
Right now, CB is in Mexico, coping with the shift in language and the need to get on the right bus. I’m here editing, hearing our voices interweave like music. I’m alone but not alone. Friday night, I foolishly drank a lot of coffee while waiting for him to get on the San Francisco bus, and then lay awake until 5 am — alone but not alone.
My challenge now is to double down on this, to make my next two weeks as strange and wonderful as if I were in Pontassieve or Quiberon. All hail the traveler, and the keeper.
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© Bishop & Fuller 2014