I read this in a doctor’s waiting room when I was all of 18 years old, in 1982. The year before I had seen Sizwe Bansi is dead in Ashland. Nothing on earth had moved me like that. The idea of a writer who could do such a thing – such bloody, piss covered, vibrant madness and craft — Athol Fugard, I thought, was my hero. Indeed, I doubted he walked, if asked then I am sure I would have insisted the man simply floated, perhaps propelling himself with soft jabs of a pen. So, sitting there…when I saw this in the New Yorker…an interview! – I had to read it. I am now 44; I think of it almost every day.
(from The New Yorker, Dec 20 1982, Profile by Mel Gussow)
Fugard has a ritualistic mental exercise of thinking of ten beautiful things. He explained, “When I reach the end of a day that has seemed pointless and stupid, I then work through it again, minute by minute, to find out whether even in peripheral vision I saw things that celebrated life.”
I said I couldn’t think of ten beautiful things about any single day, and he said, “You’re wrong. You haven’t tried. How many beautiful things have you seen while we’ve been talking?”
Thinking back through our meal, I mentioned the waiter from Cape Town who recognized him as an old friend.
“That’s one,” Fugard agreed. “I’ve got four.” Indicating a nearby table, he said, “Two people thought they were in disagreement about something. One had a fist and was doing this.” He made a fist and waved it in the air. “The other person put out an open hand and did that” – he opened his own fist – “and the fist relaxed. My third: A woman accidentally dropped a napkin on the floor and somebody at the next table picked it up, and it was soon obvious that she was nervous about encountering a stranger. All he did was hold up the napkin, look at her, and smile, and it was obviously a moment when she passed from suspicion to a point of trust. My fourth is the plant behind you.”
I whirled around, and asked, “Has it been growing since we’ve been sitting here?”
“It’s alive!” He said.
Today I thought of this when I was doing my customary browse of Counterpunch (there’s a great peice by Fidel Castro today! Check it out). Cockburn’s “Website of the Day” led simply to this video, which I enjoyed immensely. I have not seen Arlo onstage in many years. Twenty! But this brought a huge smile to my face, and perhaps it can go on your list of ten, for the day…