Novel Excerpts

FIRE DRAGON STREET THEATER: Book 1, Chapter 15, Finding a Way with Words, journal entries

             Journal Entry. January 13, l965: Many artists, like Louis and myself, have banged the door shut on our private lives. Forget quiet studios! No being rich and famous by the time I’m thirty. My dreams have to be sent back to the welding shop, reworked with blowtorch and hammer into raised fists.

              Journal Entry. January 21, l965: Last night I dreamt about a time watch that was going to explode, maybe because I’m conscious how every second that passes means another life is lost in Vietnam. I hope Louis and I don’t explode with the demands we make on ourselves. 

            Journal Entry. January 28, 1965: My sculptures (poor, haunting things) are taking a back seat to this hideous war. But, Louis is writing anti-war poems that devastate me. Why has this war disturbed so many young people to the point we’re ready to put ourselves at risk to stop it? I think we feel it’s America’s last chance to show real humanity. I still don’t understand how Kennedy and Khrushchev could have played out near nuclear holocaust like it was a chess game to win over our annihilated bodies. It is pretty clear that our government’s involvement in Vietnam is badly disguised racism.

            Journal Entry. February 9, l965: We heard the terrible news about Malcolm X. Shot down by his enemies. Could they really have been some of his former Muslim ‘brothers,’ who became patsies for the CIA? Who knows? A group of us were at the Cedar Tavern, talking about our next issue of PAN, when some guy came in with the news. I can’t believe this has happened just when millions of people are rallying to the team of Malcolm and King. It’s a false hope, crippling to depend on one strong leader. What is this charisma obsession! The so-called charismatic leader is here today, gone tomorrow. He (hardly ever a she!) mobilizes people to act, then a counter-event like this assassination happens and everyone’s left floundering like children without a parent. It’s not smart to have just one leader. I really want to be my own leader.

            Journal Entry. February 20, 1965: The Black Panthers say there are two different tracks in America. For whites, it’s propel up, for blacks, propel down. Roy says Malcolm’s death will hit inner city ghettos like a bomb. How can those large estates (I’m talking about ones larger than my parents’) owned by Dow and DuPont executives, even with their expensive burglar alarm systems and thick walls, precious art and elaborate furniture be immune to Malcolm’s murder? They aren’t immune to hurricanes or radiation fall-out.

 I think of my parents on the outskirts of Chicago. They work so hard to keep the shrubs pruned and the crab grass contained. I feel sadness for them that doesn’t go away.

             Journal Entry. March 3, l965: I read today how the Tonkin Bay Incident last August, I think it was on August 4th — I better get my facts straight now — fired up SDS, the white student left, to attack America’s imperialist policies. I hope that translates into more than “radicals throw stones at McNamara.” In the spring, SDS will mobilize a huge March in Washington, protesting the escalating war in Vietnam and the continued racism here.

            Journal Entry. March 23, l965: Louis doesn’t like me to say this but, all the tedious work we put in the journal PAN seems like an avoidance, a holding back. Even though we’ve gotten great response from our first two issues, we’re all agitated. We’re sitting on our asses, reading through manuscripts that have crusty food on them, by depressed people like us in their thirties. I hear more and more talk by us of wanting to do something more active, more confrontational. But what? It makes me feel really tired when I think about what we’re not doing. 

            Journal Entry. April 7, l965: Louis says we should go out on street corners and talk about the war. We’ve started to go to Angry Arts Against the War meetings. Artists of all media are desperate to use their skills politically to stop the bloodshed. It’s so great that Al and Marin go too. I don’t feel so alone now that our friend Al and my old friend Marin have hooked up. They both have dark secrets that probably they can only share with each other. And meeting Jenny and Hans there last week! I love that Hans is Danish and young. He’s quirky and fiery in a different way from Klaus and Heinrich. I think he needs comrades to keep him from going off the deep end. Jenny showers him with kisses; they’re so cute together. But street corners and talking about the war? How can someone like myself, practically autistic, get up in front of people and talk about military zones and strategic warfare? Just the vocabulary makes me sick. I can’t even have decent conversations with my parents about the topic without screaming at them for reading Time magazine.   My mother locks herself in her bedroom; my father goes silent and turns on the baseball game. When I visit them, the house turns into a mental hospital. Maybe I shouldn’t visit them until I learn some diplomacy. You need diplomacy to talk in public for sure, unless you want broken bones from sticks and stones. 

            Journal Entry. April 15, l965: We all agree. We have to use pressure techniques. Demonstrate, write to our congressmen, refuse to file income tax returns, become draft resisters, conscientious objectors, disrupt induction centers, etc., etc. I sometimes get scared for Louis and me. We do need to eat and have a roof over our heads. We’re going to end up living in filthy movement offices. Oh, god, how did this happen to me? Still, with the Vietnamese being massacred, our lives are up for question. Why them? Why not us? What can we do that makes sense to us? I’ve stopped sculpting completely and begun to make a large painting of Vietnamese women holding their napalmed children. What a horror. With each brush stroke, my nausea increases. How can I think any more about form and color in the context of such atrocities? I’ll be lucky if I finish two large paintings this year.

            Journal Entry. April 23, 1965: I’m pulled more and more toward collective work. It’s going to take a lot of us to do something. Millions. I did like working with other artists on my Sculpture-Theater Shows. I wonder, could we do some kind of theater? Make use of Louis’ poems? I’m good with images and making things, props, sets, and masks. Maybe it would be too much fun to do any good, and Louis is married to his journal, PAN.

I watched people become happy, like children, when they marched with my giant wooden figures in the Sculpture/Theater Shows. People get a thrill out of parades and drum beats. What if we made scenes where women, children, civilians, animals were massacred along with soldiers? The argument that America needs to save the Vietnamese from Communism would be exposed for all its hypocrisy. If life isn’t honored in Vietnam, how can it be honored here? People need images and drama to understand what is going on, as well as facts. 

            Journal Entry. May 4, l965: If I look at it this way: I’ve lost my studio “home,” and maybe, just maybe I can find another kind of home with Louis, I mean Louis-as-mobile-home, kind of thing. I’m feeling confused, like I’m trying to divide myself up in too many different ways. I know I’ve had the thought implanted in me since I’ve been aware of thinking. About the promise in marriage. That when you say, “I do,” presto you have the promise of a permanent home. I can’t believe Louis and I are really thinking like this. He says that when we’re in Monroe at the camp I’m going to teach art to kids for two weeks, that we should just go and do it. Go get married at the Justice of the Peace. He’s already investigating the whole procedure. Why now I ask him? “You been bugging me about getting my divorce papers filed. So, I did it–we’re free to do it. Some bureaucratic asshole can take charge of our lives.” I told Louis that didn’t sound like he really wanted to get married. Besides,  would being married change our relationship anyway, I asked him? I don’t think it would for him. Maybe for me, I might be less in awe of him. Of his power with words. Maybe I’d talk more, like my mother does. Or maybe I’d feel what women are supposed to feel. I’ve gotten my man and we’re hitched for life. My existence in the eyes of God is sanctified by marriage to the guy sleeping next to me every night. And maybe Louis would change toward me, too. Maybe he would never doubt that I could write an analysis of the war, now that I was his wife!

Louis still says he wants us to go to the Justice of the Peace this month and get married. I can’t believe it. Here I’m thinking about us doing anti-war theater together, wed his way with words to my way with images and scenes, and he’s saying, “let’s do it!” But he means, “Let’s get married.” Maybe getting married could be like our first play together. Isn’t all the dress up, the rituals, the pomp and circumstance exactly like an elaborate play, a drama really, where mothers cry, brides beam and grooms get drunk!

When I think of it like this, maybe I can do it. I have a good dress, and I can make my own veil, that would make it proper. And Louis will have to wear a white shirt and a tie. And maybe a suit coat. We’ll have to act out our parts with presence and authenticity. We’ll have to believe that we really are the bride and the groom!

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