Not All Who Wonder Are Lost

A one-act play

ACT 1

(Older woman enters from the right, sits in a chair facing the audience and loudly exhales)

Ever have one of those days when you can’t decide whether it’s better being Girl Friday or Boy George?

(pause)

Or maybe Girl George or Boy Friday?

(laughs)

Most of what I am about to tell you is true, some are tales. You decide. I spent my salad days in Chiggers, Idaho. Living life hollowed out, locked and loaded is not for me.  We all deserve better than being prisoners of war in our own skin. You can be different there, but it has to be the right kind of diversity, like muteness or perpetual genuflection.

In Chiggers, we have the devout, the future burn-in-Hell hoi polloi whose mortal sin is not ranting every blasted second about Jesus and the Aryan Brotherhood. For the longest time, I truly thought the latter was a gay group,  sporting all the leather, the tight jeans and such.  I remember chatting with one not-so-bright new recruit, convincing him that he could only eat the beef of alabaster cows, that all other bovines were of mixed race and therefore forbidden. He looked at me kind of funny but then mournfully asked about the origin of chocolate milk.

Oh, I must confess that, yes, I was once a Calvinist back in my famous potato state days. Those rants about total depravity and limited atonement were attractive for a while in a punkish sort of way. But Calvinists run a very tough sect. Anyone who would complain that Jesus was a showoff, well…

Then I had a Catholic phase but it was too much of the saints and the aints for me. Plus, the fixation on metaphoric cannibalism gave an eating disorder.

Nevertheless, I got out alive and headed to New York City to soak up the cultural life. Manhattan was the land of museums, libraries and educational opportunities which I desperately needed.  It was time to learn and smooth my rough edges.

Initially, I had to do a bit of everything in order to get by in Manhattan. Now please tell me why there is a laudatory response when a guy says that–

(imitating a deep voice)

“Oh, he’s industrious and hardworking”–but conventional wisdom translates such a phrase about women into she’s Jezebel-ing spread-eagled in Times Square.

Anyhow, early on I wrote a novel titled “The Brotherhood of the Traveling Boxers.” when I pitched it to various publishers, there was perpetual confusion about whether I was referring to the underwear of gay men, pugilism unity, or a pack of peripatetic dogs. I later found out someone lifted my concept and got rich after making a few changes. When I gently inquired about the possibility of royalties coming in my direction, well, so much for talk about the divinity of sisterhood, Ya-Ya or no Ya-Ya.

Soon the musical lure of Greenwich Village was calling my name. I met Dylan, Baez, Dave Van Ronk, you name it. One time, Bobby dialed me up and said he had writer’s block and couldn’t shake it. I told him to move

(laughs again)

No, I sang him a verse from a song I was writing then

(pretends she is playing a guitar and sings extremely nasally):

“My ass is on fire and I’m peeing blood
my doctor is babbling like Elmer Fudd
so forgive me Father if I have sinned
noshing at the breast of Heather Prynn…”

Bobby stopped calling after that.

And yes, I did marry once. It was to a man named Dooley Noted. What attracted me was dear Dooley possessing the ambiance of a Puritan circumcisioner and that’s a rare trait in the Big Apple. We soon had triplets: Hickory, Dickory and Dock. Yes, we shortchanged out middle son from the get-go. Dooley had quite the thing for Mother Goose. Back then, reading him nursery rhymes was the literary equivalent of Viagra, Cialis, Thor’s Hammer, you name it. But at age 45, Dooley ran smack dab into a mid-life crisis and came to an unfortunate end after a long fall off a wall.

You know the adage that with age comes but I don’t think that’s necessarily always accurate. Some people seem born thick and refuse to shave it down. Others are crushed early and never able to heal their wounds. Here’s a little something I worked up decading the typical life span:

“At 20, you have a certain je ne sais quoi, a spark. Life is a series of imaginary vivid starbursts about masterpiece achievements to come. The possibilities are endless and each is phenomenal. You dive in headfirst to a mix tape of “Climb Every Mountain” and “The Impossible Dream” and attempt to better the world.

Come the 30s, it’s life on hold if you have a kid or kids. Or if you, ahem, married one.

As for the 40s, settling settles in. Too often what once was so important recedes to a distant, intermittent crackerjack.

In your 50s, it’s “what the hell happened?”

The 60s, oh the 60s. It’s a prelude to the battle for satisfactional supremacy between bowel movements and naps. Mortality begins taking repeated punches at you and, unfortunately, some connect.

Yes, life begins so promising amidst striking colors–bold magentas, marigold yellows, entrancing blues, even in Chiggers. As time passes, our elasticity declines, and pits and cracks appear. We begin to perceptively fade, with grays enveloping us and our original bulb of brilliance dimming. Desperate to break the aging encryption, we fruitlessly thrash about, trying this and that remedy. Last comes the panorama of complete white until the light goes out and what is individually us becomes extinct.

Fred Rogers co-wrote that last part with me.

And afterwards, so many seem to want to be boxed up and deposited underground. Not me. We live in a box, drive one, and work in one–that’s enough hemming in. My late friend Dottie was ambivalent but eventually chose a casket although first she donated her brain to science. Dottie always had a knack for thinking…outside the box.

(laughs)

While I’m not Hindu, when I’ve bought the ranch I’m going out with a funeral pyre in Central Park, a Burning Woman Festival of sorts. I can already see the local Fox News headline back in Idaho: “Former Chiggers Heathen Burned at the Stake.”

(laughs)

Now my paramount resentment is others thinking they must be gentle in my presence because I have some decades on me. We should honor facial lines, bless the gray and celebrate the sag. I’m not fragile. I’ve survived so many knockdowns with the scars to prove it, and learned from them. I made an effort to educate myself with classes and lectures at the 92nd Street Y, the New School, and the New York Public Library. and I’m going to keep doing so until they have to prop me up.

I’ll leave you with my long-time mantra: a taut stomach is fine but a taught mind in better.

Settling into Wendell Berry’s “Enriching the Earth” Bliss

I grew up on a family farm so many years ago
putting seeds into soil, the planting cycle ruled our life
harvest time the payoff but only if God graced our crop
but I ran away at my first chance, taking me a city wife

We were kids, unprepared to be bigger than our age
it failed ’cause I didn’t care which way the wind blew
then Uncle Sam asked me “wanna be in my family?”
not knowing much of nothing, I upped to start anew

I called my Daddy, telling him I was now a GI Joe
he was surprised I had chosen such a row to hoe
one of taking orders and being at others’ command
but with clarity of kill or be, it’s just you and your foe

So I settled in for 20, a long and stagnant run
a time of chasin’ women, tryin’ somehow to connect
always knowing I was bound to beat myself
living out the ancient lifelong birth defect

Now I’m out and as purposeless as my younger days
more pillar to post rambling, just like I was before
but I’m wiser of late on the basis of some written words
a book loaned, a poem read, a striking at my core

So I’m heading back home to work on the family farm
Dad needs some help, what with his older, slower ways
the tiller and the tractor faintly pulling at my memory
furrows in the fields and now spread all across his face

What I’ve come to see is a connection blessed be
the farmer and land being bonded in seasonal symmetry
connected to one another in a way I couldn’t see before
it’s a thread of timeless truth woven out of viability

Mother Nature, some call her a most fickle mistress
but so much less than any bastard land dominionist
I’ll hook my wagon to her and be grateful for the ride
aware of what my head and heart so heedlessly missed

Alleluia

Three women of wisdom departed from Gal-veston
bearing insight, learning scars plus a large dose of mirth
Their destination?
So would it be north of the Ganges?
Or south of the Pecos?
Well, they never were much into following, directions or otherwise
For anyplace was now truly their place
Or soon would be
Paris, Texas truly being Paris, France in the heart

These daughters of the American Revelation had quieted their internal fires
no more emulation of The Furies
Not that they would ever go gently into that good night.
Their newly adopted modus operandi:
polish their rough edges of survival,
continue seeking truths despite its varieties and beckoning detours
answer the conundrum why karma is always a bitch and never a bastard.

After enlightening the Four Horseman into turning the other cheek
by choosing to instead rep Win-Win, Peace, Cornucopia and Everlasting Life
the trio entered the modest state of Whimsy, population: depends on the day and time
A few denizens milled about.
One, a forlorn carpenter crossed the road in front of them
distributing cards reading “I build bridges, not fences.”
A slovenly lawyer turned and addressing no one in particular asked:
“where might I find the court of public opinion?”
In the corner cafe, the literati argued fervently over the divinity of the Brothers Grimm versus the Sisters Bronte,
This certainly was not Kansas.

One street over, the wise trio noticed a burned out hulk bobbing out in the water
Ambling past free range fruit pickers, a gnarled man shuffled towards them
He said, “I am Noah and some say I failed miserably
I faithfully acquired two of each but with ‘don’t ask, don’t tell, how was I to know?
Nowadays, I meander about awaiting further instruction, grabbing thunder in order to quiet the constellations.”

But a little past due, scarred voices rang into the heads of the threesome
these cries and whispers unrecorded in history books,
vocal eruptions of scorching terror and fear,
plaintive outbursts from humanity’s collective unconscious,
these were debts of horror neither dollars nor words could repay or repair
burdens borne by the innocent.

Soon, over the ridge crept a wagon train sporting a skeleton crew
From it came an overpowering vibration of cosmic energy
A townsperson pointed and quietly mouthed Truth or Consequences”
But what did that mean?
It actually was more a statement:
Those exhibiting predatory predilection
secular or otherwise
would be rendered into a void
a suspension into everpresent miasma
before eventually returning as those they harm
unless and until getting right with the purpose of life.

Facing the wagons, the women spoke in harmony:
“There is no glory in bombs bursting in air or any rockets’ red glare.
For this we know, the very hard way.
We have heard you are of true emancipation.
and not another corrosive ball and chain that poisons the magic”

There was no audible response.
The crocuses continued their dawn-to-dusk interpretive ballet
Caterpillars sang and butterflies barked
The wise trio continued: “What guides us?
Enlightenment as a springboard towards grace”

All remained silent
Then a puff of white smoke emerged from the lead wagon
The women said “yes, we were once but now are not who you seek”
That they weren’t.
Because, nevertheless, they had persisted.