The Mysticism of Shakespeare

I’ve still been spending time with Lear this weekend. With Shakespeare’s language and the rich stories. And I am chastising myself for the arrogance in wondering… why is so much left unsaid?

An example: Edgar – as Poor Tom – meets Gloucester and hears his father say that if he could just touch Edgar’s face again it would be as though he had his sight again. So why doesn’t Edgar reveal himself?

The Tragedy of King Lear wasn’t written as a closet play, and I wonder then if the audience – groundlings or otherwise – were able to get under all the psychological machinations in Edgar’s head to make sense of this moment, in the moment, as the lines were spoken, passing quickly over the heads of the orange-sellers and the old women bitching about their sore feet? Did anyone care? Or am I just thicker than the average Elisabethan?

I’m not interested in the question of authorship that has been recently staged in a “court of law” in London. I think it’s funny that we should care so much. And that maybe it is more about a projection of our very real personal fears of insignificance, than an actual interest in whether a single person wrote the work.

There’s never been a serious question of the originality of the stories. Of any story, if you want to take it that far. And as for the language, I very much love the idea that it began with a sketch of a script that morphed naturally in the mouth of a performer, and then again in memory before it was recorded in text. Maybe adapting Shakespeare isn’t sacrilege at all, but the best way to keep communication between us and “them” alive.

But the question remains. Are we all just thicker now? How many of us get the “gist” of it and take the rest (literally) on faith and fake it.

Are we missing the zeitgeist of the age that filled in the bits that are mysterious to us? I took a workshop once with a now-famous and very Shakespeare-associated actress whom I adore. I asked her what a particular word meant. She said she didn’t know, but that the passage was about…

There’s the rub.

There went the timer.

The Hard Things

Last night I had an idea for a play. And I told myself it was fine – that I would remember in the morning. We all know how that goes. And now it is gone.

I’ve been listening to radio theater and it is interesting to notice the playwright’s creative daisy chain. I would like that now. A daisy chain.

Yesterday I caught myself eating dinner, listening to a podcast and surfing the net all at once. And I wonder why I am not able to focus after 9 am.

Late last night someone sent me a wonderful goat video. I wanted to read a poem about a goat, but the only one I could think of was “Song” by Brigit Pegeen Kelly, and I wasn’t in the mood for that.

I started thinking about the perennial conversation E. and I have about art. He doesn’t use the term with a capital A, ever. He sees art as a form of escapism, not as a portal to a shared experience about what it is to be human. He doesn’t want to spend his evenings looking at the hard things. He says he gets enough of hard things. And isn’t that true of all of us.

And I can respect that. Though I find it inexplicable why we would have such differing attitudes about beauty and awe. Such differing approaches to acknowledging what it is to be human.

But then, I have seen his whole body express awe while overlooking valleys from mountain tops. Maybe that is enough for him. Everything. You can die on the mountainside. At any point of the journey. He doesn’t put it into words, or squeeze it into symbols. He has this, and maybe it is enough?

I would talk to him about this. Ask him. But I don’t think he wants to think about it. It just is and doesn’t need to be teased apart and put together again. If I brought it up, I think he’d just suggest a hike.

I like watching goats. Their pronking moves me emotionally in ways that I can’t keep up with physically or even intellectually. I envy them their in-the-moment joy. At least that’s what it looks like. But I will admit that there is something about their eyes. The gut-hooked association to Christian symbolism that I carry with me from childhood. The dangerous wildness.

So for me, the pronking kids will always have the darkness of Kelly’s “Song”.

Because this all this is true. And I am still learning to hold the paradox lightly and enjoy the flow.

Teaming with Hate

That film clip sticks in my head. It’s from the 1970s – seems they did an awful lot of odd experiments on kids then – and it involved puppets. The kids would giggle and enjoy watching one of two puppets get their heads bashed over and over. They would have empathy for the other puppet. It depended on whether the puppets liked the same kind of food as the they did.

I think we get better at justifying this to ourselves, but I think the basic impulse doesn’t change over time. Disagreement over what is good and bad on any scale feels like an attack. Probably because it sometimes results in an attack.

I was – and am – sad that our national curriculum took out the phrase about tolerance for other people’s values and replaced it with the ability to see what we have in common.

Maybe the weirdest response when someone says they didn’t like something is, “Can you do better?” And among the erudite, defense of an opinion often involves pulling in the opinions of long-dead people to be on your side.

A random phrase in agreement will garner a slew of flattery.

There’s that.

In the best of settings, a kind of dolphin training. Ignore what’s undesired, reward what you want more of.

I just learned that “teaming” is a jargon verb now. I think it is hilarious since the word teaming still conjures a school of fish in my mind’s eye.

This is related to what I am working on, by the way. The timer hasn’t gone off yet, but I am ready to get back to the writing. That’s a good sign. And if you agree, I am going to take that at face value, not look for ironic insults, and offer you a cookie.

The kind I like.

Call and Response

I am reading a short story collection put out by the Bell Press. It is a collection of stories, and a companion response story. It is a familiar concept, but I guess I think of it in terms of a workshop exercise. That’s bizarre, considering my belief about what writing really is – communicating with the dead and the anticipated, as much as our peers. Readers, children, teachers. I figure it is all call and response – no matter how unconsciously we do it.

The Norwegian “taus kunnskap” doesn’t sound nearly as pretentious as “silent knowledge”. But there it is. The cultural history that you don’t know you know, that you carry with you as sure as the mitochondria in your cells. Like a fungus that began taking hold at your birth. We keep rediscovering our metaphors and our stories.

Nothing new here, really, though we crave it and celebrate the impostors. Maybe there is something here to think about: accepting the fact that we are nothing but sputtering mutations.

There are species that are linked physically to their progeny. An umbilical cord that remains through an overlapping of maturity. I guess we have culture for that. A weird evolutionary mechanism that lets us throw tantrums, leave the room, relish an illusion of independence.

So this little project now – a conscious response. An all-in, is-not-cheating or borrowing or posturing, participation in the bigger story.

Not Adding Fodder

I am still brainstorming a project that may or may not pan out. There’s a concern though regarding the commissioned work: that the adaptation will inadvertently put a group of people already too often villainised in a bad light. And last night before falling asleep, I was having a difficult time conceiving of a way to avoid it.

I do worry about these things. Not because I am worried about being politically correct, or “woke”, but because I care. There are some fears so close to my heart they can stop me in my tracks. The thing is to stop just for a moment, and then find a “good” way forward. Good by my own standards.

I finished the Bryson book last night. His friend got lost in the woods and they each spent a night alone. The next day they called quits for that particular stretch of wilderness. Calling it quits is always a possible valid choice, too.

It is odd to read this light book so long after it was written. The climate concerns of 1998 seem quaint. But don’t misunderstand me, maybe the fact that they seem quaint is a major contributing factor to the problems we have now taking it all in: the dead seriousness of it all.

And the complexity of it. I am subscribed to a podcast that focuses on positive news regarding climate change. The hosts talk about the ambivalence people have discussing the gains for fear of complacency or even denial. On the other hand, silence is lying by omission and might feed into a kind of collected learned helplessness. We hold our breath and wait for the worse because a drop in the bucket is a drop that doesn’t seem particularly useful.

Bryson talks about the damage acid rain had done to the woods in the 90s. But there have been significant decreases in acid rain since his book was published.

Doug Burns, a scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Troy, New York, who directs the National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program, says the rain falling in the Northeast today is about half as acidic as it was in the early 1980s. Consequently, surface waters have become less acidic and fragile ecosystems are beginning to recover.” Smithsonian Magazine.

I remember the thick smears of yellow guts over the windshield driving from L.A. to Vegas. We’d always stop in Barstow and someone would squeegee it off the glass. I can still hear the sharp, rising pitch. A prolonged squeak. I can still feel the faint disgust.

But last time I made that trip was different. Far less disgusting. A lot less life.

This little thing about the world has changed. People have called it an insect apocalypse. As though that their world is not our own.

Diversity is something we need. Honesty. Respect. And fearlessness. Life can be some ugly shit. And the climate intolerable.

There went the timer.