For those who never had the chance to hear Bucky in person (see previous post about the new play opening in Boston), I'm posting an excerpt from a novel I wrote where Bucky is a key character, thanks to meeting him and attending a number of his lectures when I was young. What follows is "faction," i.e., I have notes from these talks that I used for this fictional account.
The scene: A meadow in Groton, Massachusetts, where Bucky is keynoting a conference, " Earth: Home Sweet Dome," in 1975, and where his long-dead, great-aunt Margaret Fuller appears to Mariana (the narrator, who organized the conference with her husband, Tonin), imploring the young woman to respond to her entreaties. From The Persuasion:
Tonin swivelled on his left heel, right shoulder toward the crowd, and extended both arms. Bucky shifted his weight from one foot to the other, rather like a penguin, toward Tonin until he took his head in his hands, pulled him down parallel with his own square face, and kissed him on the lips. Then Bucky bent over Andy, kissed him on the head, hooked the baby’s little hand over his index finger, and joggled it up and down. Tonin hugged Bucky and walked backward to the chair on the left, baby tears on his lashes.
Bucky revolved toward the crowd, lifted his chin, bobbed his head quickly a few times, faced his palms toward the field, folded them in prayer position, closed his eyes, and began a peroration that continued uninterrupted until midnight.
A thousand young people who thought they knew a lot but, in truth, had only learned a fraction of what they would one day know, sat silent, as “the grandfather of the future” spoke.
I’ve kept the text from those days with Bucky, transcribed from the video recording, within reach for all these years and have read it many times.
“I want to thank Tonin and Mariana and their beautiful little children for my carrying on with you, doing what I am doing on this particular occasion.
“I am almost 80, within a few weeks of 80 now, and I am operating completely extemporaneously. I do not have any notes. Various schools around the country have asked me to exhaust my thinking, and so I have made up my mind to try again with my spontaneous thinking where I would not repeat myself, except to bring back in a strand of thought that you have to be conscious of tying in.
“I've had Xeroxed for all of you a piece that I have written and rewritten several hundred times now. I’m still working on the last clean up. It's called ‘What I'm Trying to Do’ and it's about 5,000 words now. It gets into what I see as the most pertinent things we can do.
“These are critical times. All humanity is going through what I feel to be a great test. I asked myself, ‘If success or failure of this planet and of human beings depended on how I am and what I do...How would I be? What would I do?’ This is the most highly concentrated kind of a statement I could make. It is the very heart essence of all the things I am saying to you.
“Now I'm going to review two or three ways in which I discipline myself, to get myself thinking in a little more adequate manner concerning what we know of our Universe and what may be going on in a larger way, to try to get things in a little better proportion.”
He spoke without opening his eyes as if he were reading a script chiselled inside his lids. His chin pointed up, his hands waving, he um-ed, and nodded.
“As for instance, I would like to have a picture of The Milky Way Galaxy (may I have that picture, please?), and here we are looking at an array of stars and you can see The Milky Way running through.”
A spiral of diamonds splayed on velvet, the screen against the dome against the sky, an open-air planetarium under the stars.
“You are looking at about 18,000 stars, approximately one six-millionths of all the stars in our Milky Way galaxy that we now know of. We have been able to get our great telescopes trained on other galaxies and so forth, and we now have taken photographs and are aware of a billion such galaxies of a hundred billion stars each.
“Next picture, please. To get a little idea, our own earth is 8,000 miles in diameter, and the diameter of the sun is just a hundred times that, and so our little earth looks very tiny against that enormous big ball.
“But our star sun is a small star. Most of you are familiar with Orion's Belt, where one of the two bright stars is reddish in color, and this is Betelgeuse, and Betelgeuse's diameter is greater than the diameter of the orbit of the earth around the Sun.” He tapped Betelgeuse with a long wooden pointer.
“So that's a good sized star and so we are a little planet, of a rather inferior star, which is one of a hundred billion stars in our galaxy, and we know there are billions of galaxies, so we get an idea of our little planet, and you and I are utterly invisible.”
I clutched Zivvy even more tightly; I couldn’t look at Tonin. The void, the infinite, so huge, so much bigger than breakfast and bulletins and the other paraphernalia of life, overpowering, I was swirling in the unknowns, when, in all the strangeness, I heard someone speaking to me.
On my rocker, baby in my arms, Bucky on the stage, a familiar voice, saying, “Mariana, Mariana.” The voice was speaking to me—but where was she? I lowered the volume of Zivvy squishing at my breast, the birds chirping and chacking, my breathing in and breathing out. At the edge of sound, I could isolate first one syllable, and then another, and by stepping from each to the next, I echo-located her.
On the stage.
Hands on his shoulders.
As if she were presenting her young son to the universe.
Her eyes lasered on mine.
Margaret Fuller behind Bucky Fuller.
”We've taken pictures of our planet coming in from the Moon,” Bucky traveled on, “when you can see through the cloud cover to the blue of the water and the brown of the land. But you can't make out any human being; you can't make out a mountain let alone a human being…”
A human being, she mouthed to me with the look that implies you’re supposed to do something about what the other person just said.
“So, we are absolutely invisible on a negligible, little tiny planet of a rather negligible star which is one of a hundred billion of a known billion galaxies, so multiply the billion times one hundred billion and you get a little idea.”
A little idea? She drew her eyebrows toward each other in a question. A little idea? This was not a little idea at all but perhaps the biggest idea I’d ever heard except for the one at fourteen: “Your mother is dead.”
I closed my eyes. Mind on fast-fast backward, careening from memory to memory. The earliest wonder—looking up to a dinosaur as tall as our building and as long as our block at the Museum of Natural History. Next Mommy, lying beside me on her bed, a cigarette in her right hand, her left arm scooped under me, her explaining what a root word was, using “suffrage” as the example. And then the walls of water pouring back into the Jordan behind Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments, pouring out onto Court Street in Brooklyn outside the movie theatre for surely that was underwater too.
Everything that had ever startled me, every new thing that had gone beyond waking up and making the bed and tucking pajamas under a pillow and stepping from one known to another, ALL that was, everything, including the very moment I was in at that very juncture of time, all shrank to a speck. If it was all so tiny, what, or better, where was I?
I bit the inside of my cheek, swallowed, licked across the fuzz on Zivvy’s head, tried to come back to terra familiar. Tonin in a stare, boring into me like the Milky Way itself, asking if something was wrong. I shook no but I wasn’t sure why I’d done that because sure I was not. I sucked in a lot of air and looked back to Bucky. I hoped she might be gone.
“So even though we are a very tiny speck, there are things that happen, things that come from outside, and things that came from inside. I thought about this and then I came to see that you can objectively handle things that come from outside. I began to find these things sorting themselves out more and more and more into categories. There are all those things that go on that you are too familiar with to notice any more. You are so used to that tree being there” (he pointed to the elm next to the barn) “that you don't realize that its roots are getting big, and suddenly your barn’s foundation comes up because the root has broken it.
“In other words, there are things that are overlooked, that are going on that could be anticipated. The more we think about things we can anticipate, the more we can work on our own behalf. This is not trespassing on nature. The test is always how to invest more of your life in your own preferred way.”
I could see Tonin mouthing the word “Heliotrope” to his investors, his predictability slightly diverting the boulders of unknowing.
“What I'm going to try to do is give you an environmental control, a valve for what’s coming from outside into your life that allows you to regulate it. It will help you make sure the magnitudes and frequencies of outside things coincide with your human metabolic processes. I’ve developed an environmental sieve that lets through what I want when I want it. So different sieves for different occasions. You always have ways of intercepting those outside things in a profitable, favorable manner, shunting them into their right positions so that their energies can be used wherever most appropriate.”
Margaret brought two fingers to her lips, dropped her chin, and looked off to the Pepperell road, as if she could see something coming from outside that needed to be diverted.
“I saw my first automobile when I was seven years old.”
I never saw an automobile. My dream was to take the trans-Atlantic railroad to Europe for $25.
“I was the fifth generation in my family to go to Harvard.”
True, although I was not in that line. Women were not allowed to go to Harvard so my father educated me as if I were a boy and, when I was ready, I offered my own version of Harvard. People paid half a year’s tuition to be part of my Conversations.
“In those days, everything was terribly local. Two people in the town of Milton, Massachusetts, just down the road from here where I was born, had been to Europe and they had to give a lecture every year."
There are times when I fear that Bucky forgets the most common facts of my life. He knows I went to Europe fifty years before he was born, that my friends went back and forth regularly.
“The average postman in those days walked eleven hundred miles per year.”
Walking. Much as I have drawn sustenance from the benefits of walking, these men are preoccupied with it. Henry as an illustration could rarely speak without use of the word walking. There are more important things, Mariana. I hope he skips ahead.
"Evolution had us deliberately deployed. In 1900, it took six months for most remote people on the globe to reach one another. Now evolution is seeing that we are being integrated. Now, the fastest rocket can travel from the most remote place to the most remote place in half an hour; for a transport plane, it takes half a day," he said.
This is better, much better. I wish I were you, Mariana, alive now. You are so fortunate in the timing of your birth. Good choice. You have the benefit of great wisdom acquired by the species to this point, of which Bucky knows only a fraction, and you have your inquiring mind and your writing ability and your logic and Tonin’s money. You must put this to good use, do something no one else can, write this book with me, commit yourself to this endeavor, discern what it means to be a woman in the twenty-first century. And lest there be any confusion of what I mean by Woman: ‘By Woman, I mean both woman and man; these are the two halves of one thought.’ I use the term to include men, just as Man included women for so many centuries.
“I am a student of large trends. All wars up to World War I were agricultural. Then the use of metals changed the whole story. In 1917, more copper was mined than in the whole of previous human history, due to flotation and electrolytic production methods.”
Wait. She had said something else.
“In is individual. Out is directionless, non-specific.
“When I was a child, reality was what came through the senses—what you could see, touch, smell, and hear. Only the very young world is able to deal with invisible reality.” He walked over to where Tonin was sitting at the other end of the stage and kissed Andy on the top of his head again.
“Colonization was the exploitation of metals from agrarian cultures who had no sense of the worth or use of the metals, backed by enormous militarism.”
He’s on the right track again. This is another dimension to your work, understanding resources, where they come from, how they move about the planet.
It was obvious, sitting in my rocker that I knew absolutely nothing, didn’t even know whether what I was thinking made any sense. And she was pushing me to think even bigger. What right did I have to mother these children, to call myself a writer, to make any statement about anything, no less about Woman-Meaning-Men too? I should have gone to grad school. I should have become a veterinarian, a welder, a tree surgeon, anything.
“I am quite confident that, by the year 1985, we could see all of humanity enjoying very much more wealth, very much more freedom than it has ever even dreamed, and by that same year, we could be using maybe one quarter of the energy we do now. I think we are going to be very energy rich. We're going to get to the point where people will be thinking of very extravagant things to do with energy to improve humanity’s advantage, to increase our local searching in Universe and our participation in local Universe in very big ways.
“Love has faith. The truth, whatever it is, can’t be wrong. There are several hundred languages in New Guinea.”
Zivvy sucked harder and I could feel milk letting down, trickling through my left nipple, wetting my mother’s blouse, mind wandering—to stains to appliances to the electrical grid.
Mariana, I must insist on your undivided concentration.
She was yelling. She stepped away from Bucky and walked across the stage to face me.
My patience has been overstayed. I am worn thin extending an offer that most writers would go to war far. No, allow me to retract that. Writers at least those of great sensitivity do not go to war. No, writers, even those of sensitivity, do go to war. Disregard what I am saying lest we become more distracted than we are already. Please just turn your gaze on Bucky so we can progress.
“Water people have ancestral history of one hundred generations in their heads.
“We have a science that is not based on experimental evidence.
“Kissing is turning inside out.
“Somebody asked me this afternoon, just as I was coming up here, if I was going to talk about love. And I said, I'm bound to talk about love. I really feel this very, very deeply. I really do love humanity. It can be very obstreperous, or she can be very obstreperous, humans can be very misbehaved, but I really do tend to a very, very deep sense of affection.
“I get particularly in love with those who are participating in experiences such as we are going through together. I've got to tell you how much your beings mean to me as I sit here, and I am very deeply aware of your eyes. I can see them all night. And I'm so absolutely overwhelmed by the mystery of the experience that we all go through, of life itself. The more I think about it the more difficult it is to understand how such an extraordinary awareness can occur this side of life...”