Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Phoebe Writes A Novel. 2. The Frog and the Bee Almost Come to Blows



The first week of spring passed uneventfully. Saturday morning dawned and Phoebe discovered that she had a lot on her mind. A few days before she had begun wondering why the eye should consider blue and yellow complementary colors, which had caused her to start reading Newton, of all people. She associated Newton with gravity and such-like things but she came learn that he was also 'the father of optics' and, like Phoebe, extremely interested in color wheels.

She also learned that Newton was an odd duck. This caused her mind to wander from optics to madness and, as a consequence, she had begun skimming Newton biographies. This landed her at Lieb and Hershman's Manic Depression and Creativity, one of whose subjects was Sir Isaac. What they had to say about Newton made her shake her head. They adduced his mania from behaviors that didn't sound so pathological, like running for Parliament and promoting the careers of young mathematicians (a behavior Lieb and Hershman called "the generosity of the manic"). How strange!

Something about all this didn't make sense to Phoebe and, feeling intensely restless, she took herself to her favorite cafe (which was also the only cafe she was allowed to frequent, as it was just down the block). She ordered her customary hot chocolate, her brain filled with odd and random thoughts--about Newton's fight with Leibnitz over the authorship of calculus, about whether flavored Fig Newtons were really Fig Newtons at all, and so on--and wandered out back to the patio where it was bright and quiet.

The patio was mostly empty and she could have sat entirely by herself, but, being a writer (among other things), she preferred to sit near people (or whomever) and eavesdrop. She chose to sit next to the frog and the bee, two muses of her acquaintance. Although they were being quite loud and quarrelsome at the moment, which put Phoebe off, their animation piqued her interest. She smiled as she sat down but they took no notice and continued their grumbling.

"Art for art's sake!" the frog was bellowing. "To quote Faulkner, a great poem is worth the lives of any number of little old ladies. And Picasso--didn't he claim that if he ran out of firewood for his kiln he would throw his wife and children in?"

"That's ridiculous!" screamed the bee. "Just what you'd expect from an alcoholic like Faulkner and an entertainer like Picasso! Art is for the sake of PEOPLE, not itself. For the sake of the art maker, his daughter, the eleven people who read his poem, maybe even the executor of his estate who comes upon it after he is dead. But it can't be for its own sake! It doesn't HAVE a sake, for Gosh sake!"

"You want art to have utility! It mustn't! It oughtn't! It shouldn't! Art exists! It just is! It mustn't serve any purpose!"

"You are one stupid academic frog who has lived too long in muddy water!" the bee buzzed, loud enough to scare a couple right off the terrace.

Phoebe couldn't help herself. "Excuse me," she said. "Would you call what you are having a 'philosophical discussion'? I've thought about studying philosophy in college and I'm curious if this is an example of what I might learn."

"I would call what we are doing 'fighting,'" the bee replied.

"I would call what we are doing 'educating a bee'," retorted the frog.

"I would call what we are doing 'listening to a stupid frog," shouted the bee.

"I would call what we are doing 'humoring an idiot bee'!" the frog shrieked.

Phoebe shrieked even louder. The muses turned in curious if not stunned silence in Phoebe's direction.

"Well," said Phoebe, gathering herself. "This strikes me as the biggest waste of time two muses could ever dream up. Is this an object lesson for me about how not to live? Did you know that I would be coming here for a Saturday hot chocolate and stage this conversation for my benefit?"

"Little girl, we have this fight every day of our lives! This is what we DO," exclaimed the frog.

"And I have made thirty-three more excellent points than this nitwit frog and am currently ahead 982 to 949. At least. When I reach a thousand--"

"That is entirely wrong!" cried the frog. "Absolutely incorrect! I am ahead 961 to 709!"

Phoebe shook her head. There had to be a way of talking about creating that wasn't as silly as this!

"I have another point!" cried the frog. "A wonderful point! An excellent point! The BEST point! If you look at art from a Taoist perspective--"

"Not the Taoist tactic! I won't PERMIT it! I will STING YOU first."

"Watch it, you insect!"

The frog puffed up to twice its size and the bee buzzed like a smoke detector. This was probably the way gods on Mt. Olympus squabbled, Phoebe guessed, finally frying each other with lightning bolts and drowning each other in tsunami tidal waves. How silly of muses and gods!

"I have a question," Phoebe shouted above the din. "Shouldn't you be helping an artist, not fighting?"

This question looked to thoroughly perplex the warring muses, who scrunched up their respective faces into serious frowns.

"What do you mean?" croaked the frog.

"What are you implying?" buzzed the bee.

"Well, take Shostakovich," Phoebe replied. "During World War Two he wrote several war symphonies. Each one has a remarkable story, remarkable in the way that Shostakovich butted heads with his putative patron Stalin, remarkable in the way that he gathered musicians in the middle of such unbelievable hardship so that his concerts could be performed, remarkable in the way that starving and homeless people came and filled concert halls to listen to his symphonies. Remarkable in the way that his music unified and helped so many Russians in the middle of a terrible war. It seems to me that that is what an artist is for and I just wonder why you aren't helping some artist somewhere who is trying to do some good work like that?"

There was a long silence.

"Ridiculous!" the frog finally exclaimed.

"Stupendously ignorant!" agreed the bee. "What an idiot!"

Phoebe sat stunned. She was sure that she had said something true and beautiful. Their reaction was incredible!

"But why not?" she cried, close to stamping her foot.

"You haven't asked the right question," said the frog. "Therefore it is pointless to try to answer."

"Plus," added the bee, "activism is such a tired idea! If you won't take the postmodern into account, there is just no hope for you!"

Phoebe turned back to her hot chocolate. "Well," she muttered, "who knew how disappointing muses could be." She buried herself in her drink and drained it down past the dregs. Finally there was nothing left to do but go.

"I am leaving," she said. "Good day to you!"

She turned away quickly. Therefore she didn't notice that the frog and the bee were stifling smiles. When she was out of earshot, the frog spoke first.

"Very effective! Good work, bee. We did her a real service this morning."

"Excellent work, frog. I liked the Taoist reference. Nice touch!"

"Tremendous point she made about Shostakovich. Lovely. I almost started crying."

"Very nice! May I treat you to another mocha latte grande?"

"By all means! That bickering was truly wearing."

As she walked home, Phoebe thought about self-reliance. She had the feeling that there was a Thoreau essay on the subject ... or was it Emerson? At any rate, the point was indisputable. If you were going to write great symphonies in the middle of a world war and stand up to Stalin and make people a little happier with your music and all of that, you couldn't wait for a frog or a bee to come inspire you. Certainly not THAT frog or THAT bee. Phoebe declared that when it came to creating, there was just no substitute for a person taking personal responsibility.

2 comments:

Janet said...

Eric,
I love the whimsical way this story spreads the message of how we get caught up internal mental battles not useful to actually creating. Thanks! Made me smile...off to Starbucks with or without muses!

Janet

km said...

Lovely post. I must try and use the "Not the Taoist tactic, I will sting you!" approach in my everyday conversations with friends and family :))

krishna

(Found your blog via cre8iveignition)