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From Bill – The Edge

September 20, 2016

As a theatre artist, I’ve got “issues” with other people. Or maybe it’s just “as a person”—who doesn’t? One of the reasons I went into the arts was because I couldn’t stand the world as it was, didn’t trust people or institutions. It was the 60’s, early 70’s—for those of you who were there, you remember: we were going to change the world, right? Love! Freedom! Peace! Justice! …and also, unfortunately, Drugs! and a lot of irresponsible and self-absorbed behavior.

On my little blue stage in the garage behind 908 E. 5th Street, I tried to work it all out. The basic problem for me was clear: I didn’t fit in. For the most part, I didn’t like what was going on all around me or what I was expected to do in order to get along. How could I take the truth of that, who I was and the way I saw the world, and still be “useful”? Build some kind of a life. I was escaping as well, of course, throwing myself into my work in a sort of addictive trance of creation in order to avoid “reality”. I’ve still a lot of issues dealing with people in large groups, traversing the edge between me and others, but I’ve learned a few things over the years—that working to cross that edge is crucial to growth and success; that creativity isn’t just for artists; that people are, for the most part, doing the best they can to get by—they’re scared too, they’re lonely too; that we’re all better off if we can push back those forces that make us want to shut down and hide, and instead make the effort to connect, work together. I think that’s something we all know, but it’s easier to know than to do.

Let me not just pontificate; I’ll tell you a story. When we moved to Little Pond in ’96, the arts retreat my wife, Bridget, and I founded now, 20 years ago, we went around to all the neighbors with flowers to say hello, sit down and talk. Tried to ease their fears about what craziness they might imagine we were up to. Our nearest neighbor up in the corner of the property, Mr. and Mrs. Brooks (we’ll say), were very nice. Over the years that followed, we didn’t have much reason to visit again.

A couple years back, I’d heard that Mr. Brooks had died, his wife moved to a retirement home, and their son, an “unstable Vietnam Vet” I was told, had taken over the property. Not long after, I got a phone call in the middle of the night from someone who didn’t identify himself– “Do you have a rifle?” he asked me in a muffled voice. And after I replied vaguely, he hung up. Later, there was an altercation with a guest, Susan, on our property as she ran the pathways of its perimeter; she’d gotten into a yelling match with the son. There was a volleyball game where the ball went across into the property and he yelled at them to get off his property.  There were stories, when having a campfire at the top of the hill, of a strange figure sneaking up on the group, hiding in the shadows. Music began to come from up in that corner of the Little Pond property, keeping our guests awake at night—strange garbled radio music, golden oldies.  Then heavy metal– so loud I had to close the windows in our bedroom, over a half mile away, so Bridget and I didn’t have to listen to it all night. “Reality” was getting harder to ignore.

I was afraid to do nothing–things might get worse, but it wasn’t right to let my neighbor offend me unanswered. Still, I knew the folks who used Little Pond made noise quite often.  Perhaps he was just saying, “If you make loud noise till 10 p.m. and be a bother, so can I!” I’d have a hard time arguing with that. Maybe, like a spoiled child, all he wanted was attention, and I don’t like giving a spoiled child attention; it only reinforces the bad behavior.  I didn’t want to call the police unless it was really necessary.

Finally, I felt overwhelmed–just a general feeling of incompetence at dealing with the problem. “Screw it!” I thought –and started heading up to the edge of the property, the house on the hill where he lives, determined to do “something”, but I didn’t know what.  Well, there’s a tent there, in the woods between his property and mine, and I’d heard he actually spends all his time in the tent.

Up the hill I walked. What was I going to do?  He might shoot me. I’d be on his property; it would be his right if he felt threatened.  I don’t want to make a mess of this. “Well, O.K. then, he’ll shoot me,” I thought, “but this has got to be done. I’m not calling the police.”

“Hello!” I called on arriving at the edge of the Little Pond property. I was barefoot, in jeans and a t-shirt. “Hello?” No answer. No answer from the tent in the woods. I gingerly picked my way across the wood and small trees that had been pushed up and stacked to make a clear, dividing edge between his property and ours. I wasn’t in my own territory anymore. Slowly I walked up to the house, thinking to myself how much I didn’t want to be there. Beat up, scrawny, stray cats peeped out from under bushes and around corners. I made it to the porch and knocked. Rang the doorbell. I think it actually worked. I heard his voice. He mumbled something loudly. I said, “O.K.!” just to let him know, at least, that I’d heard and then backed away from the door. If he had a gun I wanted to be able to run.  There seemed to be a garden, and everything was growing unhindered for the most part by the human hand. I heard him banging around in the garage. The garage door clanged as if it were going to open. I thought he was getting his gun; why else would he go in there?  And then I heard his voice around the side of the property. He wasn’t coming out the front door…

I peeked around the corner of the building, and there he was.  About my age, long hair, cigarette in one hand, limping–it was clear his leg was really messed up.

S:  Wha’da’ya want?
B:  Hi, I’m Bill George, I live just over the way…
S:  Wha’da’ya want?
B:  …and what’s your name?
S:  Maybe I don’t have one.
B:  O.K., well, I’m your neighbor and I just wanted to make sure everything was O.K. between us. Can we talk?
S:  (pause)  Ah… yeah… let me get a chair.

He pulls a plastic chair up and another one for me.  And slowly, we talk.

I’m not going to take you any further into this story but to say this. It turns out he did have a name… which I won’t share here to help preserve his privacy. And it turns out it’s us at Little Pond who scare him, when we come running by his property. He’s alone up there. And he’s jealous, he says, when lots of folks are having a good time… he wishes he had friends, could be with us. I learn his knee is swollen, constantly painful, but he won’t go to the hospital because he doesn’t trust them doctors—and who would take care of the cats?  He says he’s lonely.

So I ask him to come to dinner.  And he comes, and we talk some more about movies and the internet. And as he leaves he says: “No one ever invited me to nothing before. I had to come. Wouldn’t have been polite to say no. I’ll keep that music down. Thanks for askin’ me.” And I say: “No, thank you. I just don’t know why it took me so long to ask.”


little pond.jpg

It used to be I had issues about “other people”; I still do, but I’ve learned a few things along the way about that wall between me and others, the “edge”; we need help– all of us, not just we sensitive artsy types– to cross it, to get outside of ourselves, our fears, our projections. And when we do get across it, successfully, we grow; we become more; our lives take on greater meaning and beauty, and, dare I say it, our art does too. How could it not?

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