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Campfires

From the perspective of the campfire the dark is only dark. From the hidden-ness of the dark however, everything in the world is seen and sensed. The camper is blinded by the light, the wolf not.
We tell stories here in our blindness and, perhaps, we come to put more faith in them than we do the world of shadows, the real world just beyond the light of the fire
We step toward the campfire and the world becomes small, enlarged only in the telling of it, ourselves becoming the world in this weaving. As we step back into the shadows, the campfire becomes another place among infinite places.
It’s a dangerous seduction this fire, offering us illumination, heat, comfort, security, isolation, illusion, and distraction in the all consuming fire, its smoke clouding the air, its smell crowding out other smells, the signs of life, smell of wolf, bear, beaver, the perfume of sumac, pine, peat
And yet in these fantasies the world is recreated. We are little gods by virtue of the fire, tempted to believe, as we are, that our small worlds are all that is most real, larger than life.

I’m back after a short hiatus in the wilds of Minnesota (a writers retreat called Norm’s Fish Camp up near the Boundary Waters. Still typing in the stuff from my notebook. But I’ll post a few new musings later today. See you all in a few days when the process begins.

I told my wife Ellen (Ellen McLaughlin – playwright and actress extraordinaire) that I had named my main character Caleb.  She thought she’d remembered something about that name.  She found the following:
Caleb’s name is spelled with the same consonants as כֶּלֶב kéleḇ meaning “dog”, prompting the common conclusion that the name Caleb means “dog”. InEblaite language, the name Galibu (Caleb) is found, meaning “dog-like” in the sense of fleet-footed (as the hound overtakes the deer, which is the model of fleetness in Semitic lore).

I take this as a sign I’m on the right path.

Just started writing Prosper’s speech to his shareholders (I love that term “shareholder”.  Would that more shareholders deserved such a lovely title, “sharing and holding things in common” presumably for the greater good).  We learn that his company Ariel is designed as a predator company on the vast herd of materialist concerns (banks, brokerages, insurance companies) that are currently and, it seems, in perpetuity, bankrupting us all (overgrazing, trampling the arable land).  Ariel is a kind of stealth financial instrument that can creep in through cracks and fissures to undo companies, diverting their assets (spirit them away) offshore to Prosper’s shareholders and staff (Ariel).   Ariel is also designed to turn on itself when it runs out of companies to absorb and dismantle (become an airy nothing).   Still working on the idea, but finding it fascinating to imagine.

Stay tuned.

Our curators/presenters showed up, warmed up their bodies gamely and talked with me.  I showed them a couple of the clowns I’d discovered Wed. afternoon.  Two are shown here, one with stones in his hands, another in a little paper dress.

Ned Rothenberg,  the great reed player and shakuhachi whiz showed up on Thurs. to play with me for the afternoon. Turns out that shakuhachi and accordion is a match made in musical heaven.  Who knew?  With Ned, I was able to elaborate musically on some of the territory I’d mapped out the day before.

I’ve finally begun to write in earnest.  I have a name for my main character:  Caleb Prosper.  It’s perhaps a bit too obvious an allusion to Shakespeare’s Tempest, but the name seems to be sticking anyway.   I also may have found a means of storytelling that seems suitable:   While the old Prosper is delivering a farewell speech to what appears to be a body of shareholders and employees (his company, no doubt)  we move into his head where a series of vignettes from his remarkable life are playing out.  The assemblage is picaresque:  He has been in love; he has been to war; he has sought wisdom;  he has built a business;  he has tried religion, science, the occult.  Changes of scene are rapid, always returning to the ongoing speech.  We learn the circumstances of his discovery by hunters, his assimilation, his education. Language, however, gradually disappears over the course of the piece.  His speech itself seems to disintegrate.  He will end, as he began his life, howling.  The actors around him start in the shadows (a pack of wolves, circling), their clothes are too large.  They look like children playing dress up, or like starving animals whose skin is loose on their bones.

DIALOGUE SAMPLE:

Darden: Where did they find him?

Mel:  They were trackin’ a pack.  Shot a loner, a bitch.  When they got to it, there he was, the wild boy, fingers stretched out, teeth bared.  He wouldn’t let ’em near her.  Bit the first hunter that managed to grab him.  Fought like hell all the way back to the trucks.  Had to hogtie him.  But by the time it took to drive back the fight was gone, just lay there staring at us, breathing hard.

Darden:  No clue who he belongs to?

Mel:  None.  Might as well of dropped from the sky.  What do we call him?

Darden:  Which one of you shot the bitch?

Mel:  Caleb.

Darden:  Call him Caleb then.

Mel:  I don’t know.  Seems like…well, you know…cold.  I mean the bitch was, you know, his mother like.

Darden:  Saved his life killin’ that bitch.  He never would have made it out there.  Couldn’t have torn any flesh with those little teeth o’ his.  If the bitch was his mother then she was regurgitating food for him.  Once she’d a been gone that’d be it fer him.  Who cut his hair?

Mel:  Dick did.

Darden:  Tell Dick if he had a mind to be a hairdresser to give up that dream.

Mel:   What do we do with him?

Darden:  He goes to the state.  See if they can teach him to speak, see if there’s more’n a wild dog in that boy.  Be a miracle if he learns more’n a couple o’ dozen words.

Mel:  He ain’t biting no more, at least.

Darden:  He’s still a wolf – once it knows it’s beat it submits to the pecking order of the new pack.

Mel:  So I’m the alpha-wolf then?

Darden:  Don’t flatter yerself Mel.  You’re higher’n he is right now, but the kid has somethin’ in those eyes you ain’t never gonna have.  If he learns how to speak, he’ll learn how to think.  And if this wild boy learns how to think, he’s gonna be king of somethin’.  You can feel it.  You can see it in his eyes.

Scene shifts

Sister Iglesias:  Caleb?  Caleb?  Cal!

Cal:  Yes maam?

Sister Igl: Are you paying attention?

Cal:   Yes maam.

Sister I:  You were staring out the window.  How can you have been paying attention?

Cal:  The answer is “no”.

Sister I: What?

Cal:  To your question?  The question you asked while I was staring out the window?  You want me to say “The Red Sea” but that’s not really true.  The Red Sea is unimportant as a miracle.  That would cheat it of its real meaning.  That would make it just a crass demonstration of power.  Miracles are useless to us.  It’s a metaphor or it’s of no importance at all.

Sister I:  God’s miracles are useless?  Is that what I heard you say?

Cal:  Yes.  You see the “parting of the Red Sea”  is a metaphor of rebirth.  That’s its material importance.  The twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve families descend into the womb and are reborn as a unified people.  It’s the birth of the Jewish nation.  It’s a metaphor.

Sister I:  That’ll be enough of that blasphemous nonsense, young man.  March yourself off to Father Michaels right now.  He’ll know how to deal with you, I can tell you.

Scene change

Assistant:  Mr. Prosper?  Sir?

Prosper:  Yes?

Asst:  It’s time sir.

Prosper:  Oh.  Yes.

Asst:  I have a copy of your speech typed up, if you’d like to take a look at it before you start.

Prosper:  I don’t need it, thanks.

(applause is heard as Prosper steps up to the makeshift podium)

Prosper:  I’d like to welcome all of you.  Thank you for this warm reception.  It thrills me to see all of you, shareholders and employees alike, gathered in my honor.

Scene change

Miranda:   Cal?

Cal:   Yes Andie

Miranda:  Are you surprised?

Cal:  What are you doing here?

Miranda:  I decided to come up for the weekend. (seeing his reticence) Oh God, you didn’t want me to come.

Cal:  It’s not that.

Mir:  You’re impossible.  I thought you’d be pleased.

Cal:  I am.  It’s just that I have plans.  I’m…I can’t say.

Mir:  Is it someone else?

Cal:  No. No, it’s not like that

Mir:  What’s going on?

Cal:  I can’t tell you.  Let’s just say I’m going hunting.

Change of scene

Prosper:  When we began, forty years ago, we were insane (audience laughter), a small group of Ivy League upstarts with intense desire and a marvelous lack of common sense (audience laughter).  Now we’re older and much worse (audience laughter)

END OF SAMPLE

You see how it might go.    It could all change tomorrow, but I like the tempo of this storytelling.  Gives us room to expand and contract.  The dialogues at the outset are not challenging in and of themselves, but the arrangement and varying momentum alerts us to the unusual nature of this theater.  As the piece becomes more demonstrative (wilder) the audience should be accustomed to this mercurial and episodic form, and, one hopes, open to other forms of meaning beside the literal.  By the time the language disappears, one hopes, they will be ready to accept the poetry of image, music, and movement without explanation.

Still rummaging here, but, perhaps, rummaging in the right corner of the attic.

July work

I’ve been in the studio now for three days.  I’ve been working on what I call “clown research” – finding characters that might lead me into interesting territory: inquiries, possible futures, etc.

I’ve also had a crisis typical of this moment in my creative process.  Yesterday I threw everything out. Today it all came back in.

I’ve been thinking about Butoh lately, like Sankai Juku, and Saburo Teshigawara.

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