Columns > Published on August 29th, 2023

The Silly Gooses Theater Company

When I describe Farsickness to people, I start by saying that it’s "Demented Whimsy"—and I’d like to tell you how that artistic philosophy was born.

Back in 2020, the world got knocked sideways, and the impossible became the everyday. Because we were all forced inside, we evaluated our lives. Was I fulfilled? Did I have hope? Was I a good spouse, a good parent? And would I ever see that loved one who lives across the country again? We were cluttered with unanswerable questions and had to build new status quos on the quick.

My first instinct was to mourn what I’d lost and try to get it back, return to the life I’d had before. But as days stretched to weeks, to months, this wasn’t working. I was too worried about money, my health as a four-time stroke survivor, managing my bipolar, home school. Jesus, home school! All that made me resist Ava’s, my seven-year-old daughter’s, pleas to play. 

One day, Ava told me she wanted to put on a show with her friends and asked if I’d write the script. Given the context, the idea of scribbling fantastical children’s stories seemed unbearable. But if she bats those blue eyes at me, I have no idea how to say no—so the Silly Gooses Theater Company was born. 

My wife and I built a stage in the front yard. We didn’t expect anybody to show up except the parents of the other little girls—but then something amazing happened. Other neighbors began rolling in. Even the widow down the block, who had never been friendly and now she had to worry that the simple act of Small Talk might kill her, even she showed up with a plate of peanut butter cookies. 

At one show, which was about the girls traveling to the moon to sing for aliens—and was David Bowie driving the rocket? You bet your ass he was—as we watched them sing in their makeshift astronaut helmets, suddenly, we were all crying—not out of fear or self-pity or any kind of unfulfilled want—we were crying because our kids were on the moon with David Bowie—and these were tears of JOY.  

The pandemic opened us up to be moved, to marvel, precisely because our reality had just exploded.

Were we all fundamentally scared? Of course. But all of that got sideswiped by this simple act of witnessing the Silly Gooses go… 

I watched the kids make magic for the community, and right after the Bowie show, I ran into my office and wrote two words on the wall: Demented Whimsy. I had no idea what it meant—but I knew I wanted to write a story that did the same thing: uniting us, healing us, helping us re-imagine through the fantastical what might be possible. Our cynical world needs all the hopeful magic it can get right now. Farsickness is that story. 

And the fact that my kid, my Ava, is my co-conspirator here. Her illustrations really bring the Demented Whimsy to life. 

And we hope, more than anything, that you enjoy our Silly Gooses art.


FARSICKNESS
Chapter #1

There is a new voice in my head who won’t stop screaming. 

I say “new” because we all hear a voice. It’s called thinking. But this new one is a bully, greedy with how he blocks the normal transmissions in my brain. I’m losing it all, my memories, my past—and without knowing what I’ve done in my life, there’s no way to know who I am.

I only know the voice: fernweh.

I only know what he wants me to do: He orders me to go home.

To Scotland. To a castle.

The catch is I’ve never been there. 

Not to Scotland. Not a castle. 

So how can you have a home in a place you’ve never been? I’ll ask, once I arrive at my new home, which is really my old one, according to these screaming sermons that only I can hear. 

I can’t defy the voice, even though I don’t know if he’s a gift, a sickness, a drug. A neurodivergence, a god. If I try to ignore fernweh, the noise cranks to obscene decibels that buckle me to the floor. 

It gets mad and electric in my mind. 

It sounds like women in the throes of natural childbirth, speaking in tongues, casting spells.

So in the name of avoiding that sonic torture, I listen to the voice, follow his commands. He tells me to forget my job, forget my life. 

Forget family and friends. I can’t even grieve these people because I don’t know who they are. 

I forget paying bills. Forget every possession I own in wherever I live. 

There is, more than likely, a car registered in my name.

I must, more than likely, have favorite things. Maybe a ballad that makes me cry every time I hear it. What’s my favorite Halloween candy? I probably had a job before I quit showing up, but all that’s vaulted away, and I’m left only with my orders, my mission. 

Fernweh tells me to buy a one-way ticket from Seattle to Glasgow. As I’m shuffling through the TSA line at the airport, I try to memorize the address listed on my passport—the only relic I have of my old life—but, for some reason, I can’t commit it to memory, the information immediately melting, sliding off my brain like butter from corn on the cob.

When it’s my turn, the TSA lady asks me, “What’s taking you to Scotland?”

“I’m going home.”

She holds up my American passport. “Uh, where’s home, sir?”

“I don’t know exactly. A castle.”

“You don’t know where you live?”

“Not yet,” I say. 

I don’t like the way she’s looking at me, but the security line is too long for her to give me any additional thought. I understand her position. I know what this sounds like—but I also know it’s real.  

And then on the plane, the voice tells me to look out the window, now, right now, you must do it right now. So I gaze straight into the sky. There is a man out there, holding onto the plane. He has fluorescent orange eyes. 

I point to him: “Who’s that?” I say out loud to the voice in my head.

I’m in the middle seat, and the woman by the window—who hasn’t noticed the man—she says to me, “Who’s who?”

 “Him,” I say, “out the window.”

“Oh no, I’m not gonna look,” she says. “I’ve seen this movie, and if I look, I die.”

I get another few seconds seeing his fluorescent orange eyes, and then he lets go of the plane, falls away.

The woman by the window hits the call button. I explain to the flight attendant that I was only joking about a man out there, a bad attempt at small talk, but the woman by the window moves to another row anyway.

We arrive in Scotland, do the herd mush from the plane through customs. 

“Welcome home,” I say to myself, and for whatever reason, I can’t stop laughing while I wait for my bag to retch up in baggage claim. 

“Be cool, be incognito,” the voice says. “Don’t get locked up in the looney bin.”

I pull it together, say out loud to the voice in my head, “Now that I’m almost there, will you finally answer my question? Are you fernweh?”

“Ding ding ding!” says the voice. “We have a winner. Call me Fern.”

“Was that you out the airplane window?”

“Airplane? No, I travel exclusively by zeppelin.”

“Never mind,” I say. 

I get my luggage, though I can’t remember what I packed. I rent the car, feed the address into nav. It’s almost seven in the morning when we set off. Our journey will take four hours and eight minutes. I spend that time in a Red Bull trance with beef jerky breath. Two roadies. Tall boys. I’m the kind of tired that when an animal darts in front of the car, I can’t tell if it’s real or not, so I hit the brakes to be safe.

The sky is overdose-gray, pallid and poisoned. 

Four hours and eight minutes later, it’s noon and I bump down a dirt one-lane road. Dense trees line it, hang over it. A kind of living tree tunnel taking me home. The dirt road opens onto a green valley. 

The sky is no longer diseased, no longer raw-prawn-gray. 

On this side of the tunnel, the sky is pure blue. Sun shining. 

The valley is one solid color of green. A perfect unity from grass to moss to fern to tree. 

There is a big clearing up ahead.

The navigation says that we’ve arrived at our destination.

Fern says in my head, “We’ve arrived at our destination.”

I thump into the big clearing, look across the whole valley. And while it is beautiful, there is one small thing: There’s no castle.

There is only the color green, only nature, with one exception: a double-wide trailer in the center of the valley. It is old, sun-bleached. I can barely make out the faded, red letters running across it, but it says Dalloway Castle.

Dalloway. 

That’s my last name.

I have a first one, too.

Hal.

These two names are the only things I remember about me. 

Is this what it feels like to be a baby, a brain completely clean of greasy facts? 

I pull up in front of the trailer, hop out of the rental. There are no cars parked around it. The lights are off. The shades are drawn. Looks like a gigantic coffin.

Fern must be reading my mind now, because he says, “Why are you being Negative Nancy all of a sudden?”

And I hate to admit that he’s right. I’m disappointed. I’d been picturing a real castle, some palatial estate. “I’m trying not to be,” I say to Fern. “It’s just…you see…I thought… it was gonna be a real castle.” 

“How do you know it’s not a real castle if you don’t go inside?”

“Intuition,” I say, “but mostly because it’s a double-wide trailer.”

“And I said,” says Fern, “how do you know it’s not a real castle if you don’t go inside?”

​Farsickness is out September 1 from House of Vlad Press

Get Farsickness from Bookshop or Amazon 

About the author

Joshua is the author of five novels, including Damascus, which The New York Times called “Beat-poet cool.” He’s also written Some Things that Meant the World to Me, one of O Magazine’s 10 Terrific reads of 2009, and All This Life, winner of the Northern California Book Award. Termite Parade was an editor’s choice on the New York Times Best Seller List. His memoir, Model Citizen was an Amazon Editors’ Pick. In his Hollywood life, he’s sold projects to AMC, ITV, and Amblin Entertainment.

 

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