Still alive but not kicking—feverish musings

18 Apr
flu day 4

I wear this fashionable mouth cover to protect my readers.

 

While we spent a fun weekend in Tahoe with friends eating, hiking, singing, dancing, and drinking, Dave came down with the flu. So it was no surprise that I came home late Sunday night behind in all aspects of my life—laundry was piled high, the cupboards were bare, and I couldn’t find my cell phone anywhere. But on Monday I did what I could to catch up while taking care of Dave. I managed to do a little bit of my job, pick up some groceries, conquer the laundry, and walk the dogs before I succumbed to sickness myself on Tuesday afternoon.

On Wednesday, day 2 of my flu symptoms, I ambled the few feet from my bed to my desk to attend to some brief but necessary correspondence and then crawled back to bed. So it’s a good thing I work at home!

After an hour nap, I tried to read the book assigned for my Native American Lit class, but I couldn’t tell if it was written in a really confusing way, or if my fever was obstructing my comprehension. (Okay, 99.8 degrees isn’t likely to fry my brain, but it seemed like a reasonable excuse.) So I allowed myself to sink to the lowest common denominator of mindless activity—watching TV.

Dr. No

Dr. No in his height-of-fashion radioactive gear

ursula

Ursula showing off her seashells

I had never seen Dr. No, the very first Bond film, and had I been well, I still never would have. But Ursula Andress’s seashells kept my mind off my achy self. Despite the promise of a Bond film festival on whatever channel I had wandered onto, I decided to take a more pro-active stance on my screen watching. I’d heard about Broadchurch, a BBC murder mystery series of critical acclaim available on Netflix streaming, so I dove in and watched five consecutive episodes.

Day 3: I’m starting to lose track of time. Because the Dayquil (despite its name) made me drowsy yesterday, I found that I fell asleep for short periods when I didn’t really want to. So today I countered that with coffee. My flu symptoms are mostly dealt with, but I still have the energy to stay upright in bed and write.

Then, because I was feeling a tad guilty that I was feeling better but not getting any work done, I again made the three-foot journey to my desk and read my work e-mail. I even opened up all the files that I needed to do the proofreading I was supposed to do. But then I realized I needed the hard copy to proof against, which was downstairs. While I was mustering up the strength to descend the stairway, I realized I had to visit the bathroom. That zapped my energy reserves, however, and I plopped back into bed, vowing to return to the proofreading job when I next found a burst of energy. Then I watched the remaining 3 episodes of season one of Broadchurch.chestburster

Day 4: It’s just a stupid flu, but I feel like an alien has taken over my body. I’ve now missed three classes, and tonight I’m not going to hear Willa Mamet at the Monkeyhouse. I have tickets for tomorrow night’s Antigonick at Shotgun. Please oh please, let me be better by then…On a positive note, my new iPhone arrived in the mail today!

Day 5: Dave got sick a few days earlier than I did, so he’s even more ready to get rid of this virus or flu or whatever it is. He took drastic action—he went to his doctor at Kaiser. He came home wearing a face mask and carrying a pharmacy bag with an inhaler, some cough medicine with codeine, an antibiotic, and something else that I can’t remember. The diagnosis? Bronchitis.

I do not feel well enough to go to Kaiser, but what if I have bronchitis too? I don’t think my doctor has many patients because when I went online to get an appointment, I had several options available, two of them for today.

I decided that the adage Dress for the job you want could be adapted to Dress for the health you deserve. So I removed the stinky pair of pajamas I’d been living in for almost three days and took a shower. Then I put on a dress and clean underwear. It worked! I felt 25% better, which was enough to drive to Kaiser. Dave handed me an extra face mask that he’d picked up on his visit. So the dress that declared health was somewhat undermined by the pink mask that screamed contagious.

Apparently Kaiser is now on a mission to prevent alcoholism because between the nurse and Dr. Chan, I was asked more questions about my drinking than about my breathing. It reminded me of our yearly check-ups with Kylie’s yos sampediatrician. Every year we were asked if we had a firearm in our home, and every year we said no. I wonder how many Berkeley families suddenly become gun-toting second-amendment advocates. “Yeah, I know I said for ten years that I’d never own a gun, but last week I just had a hankerin’ to go shooting!”

My lungs did not alarm him, and my fever is minor at this point, so Dr. Chan sent me home with a fist bump (less likely to spread germs) and without any prescriptions at all. Dave will share his inhaler and cough medicine with me, and I really don’t want any antibiotics if I don’t need them. I should find out what the fourth thing was though—maybe it’s fun…

Night 5: Because we’re season subscribers, I was able to swap out our theater tickets for another night. So that’s good news. But I was bummed to find out that The Wire isn’t available on Netflix streaming. On the bright side, Dave is feeling well enough to walk to Five Star Video for some dvds and pick up dinner from the Thai place next door. So we’re set for tonight.

weightsDay 6: The worst part of waking up this morning was realizing that I had only been dreaming that I was feeling much better and was heading to the gym. Only in your dreams, Tanya. And how pathetic is it when your fantasies include exercise?

We watched the rest of season two of Borgen, a well-done Danish TV drama program about Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg—Denmark’s answer to The West Wing. With that kind of concentrated exposure to Danish, I should be able to pick up the language easily if my flu lasts long enough for me to see season three. I can already swear in Danish: Lort! Lort! Lort!

One of the weird aspects of being housebound right now is that we’re getting the house painted (on the outside), which means that all week, painters have been using power sprays to blast off dirt and scrapers to remove loose paint chips before taping plastic to cover all the windows. Even with the blinds drawn, it has been somewhat unsettling to hear people just on the other side of the windows at all times of day, knowing that I can’t leave. And of course now that they’re actually painting, we’re hermetically sealed in. Yesterday was quite hot, and we couldn’t open any windows. So I wore a camisole and a pair of p.j. shorts, turned the fan on full-blast, and placed ice packs strategically on my body. Dave seemed hot too, but he didn’t seem as bothered by it.

I think I’ve figured it out—the flu somehow triggered menopause and in addition to my flu symptoms, I’m experiencing hot flashes. Or maybe it’s just good timing.squeaky toy

Right now I’m lying in bed listening to quiet music and trying not to cough as Dave lies asleep next to me. Anna Nalick is singing “Breathe—just breathe.” So I do. But every exhale sounds like I just stepped on one of the dog’s squeaky toys.

 

Fostering rescue dogs is a win/win

2 Apr
fitz & toy

Chappie snuggles with Mr. Pumpkin.

I used to think I was just a big-dog kind of person—Labradors, golden retrievers, German shepherds, Rottweilers, huskies, hound dogs, or any mutt over 60 pounds caught my eye. But we have been fostering rescue dogs for two different organizations, Hopalong and Paw Fund, and so far we’ve had only small dogs. And I have to admit—they’re cute!Chappie was so affectionate and jumped up and hung out with me on the daybed where I have set up my “home office” (as opposed to my work office at my real desk eight feet away). He liked to chew things, but other than one misplaced ball-point pen, which thankfully did not leak, he concentrated on the toys that came with him from Hopalong. We had Chappie for a week before he found a forever home, and I have to admit, it was somewhat difficult to leave him at the adoption event, knowing it was likely that he’d be adopted. (He was really too cute not to be.) But it was great being able to give him a loving temporary home until the right one presented itself.

Our second charge came with the name Coleman, but that didn’t work for us, and he didn’t know that name anyway, so we renamed him Fitz. Fitz is a 5-month old tiny puppy. He likes to carry his toys around with him, and even though some are bigger than his head, he still manages to jump up on the bed with one in his mouth. He likes to climb onto the back of the couch and look down on Rufus, our red coon hound who spends most of his time there.

A Dog's Life 2

Rufus relaxes after a hard day of eating and napping.

 

Cartwheel yawning

Cartwheel

Rufus wasn’t exactly thrilled to become a big brother to these pups, but he didn’t seem too annoyed. As long as they don’t touch his food, he’ll look the other way.

Our cat Cartwheel has been quite tolerant—he’s the perfect cat to be around dogs because he’s so chill, and we suspect that he thinks he’s part canine. He did look a bit put out when Fitz first arrived after Chappie had been gone for four days. He probably thought he’d already done his good deed by leaving Chappie alone, and here we were bringing home another.

One of the greatest things about small dogs is that they are so easy to pick up. There’s no need to coax and cajole them to go anywhere because if you want them on your lap or off the cat, you can just lift them up and carry them away!

Fitz hangin'

Fitz watches me exercise.

I could say we’re being altruistic by housing these pups, but they are giving back at least as much as we’re providing. They love us so unconditionally even though they don’t stay with us very long. Officially Fitz already has a permanent home, but his new companion will be out of the country for two weeks, so we get to have him for that time. I got to meet the woman who is adopting him, and she seems wonderful. I think it would be much harder to give him up if I didn’t know he’d be in a happy home. But apparently during his trial visit, he played with his new sibling dog quite well and got along with the whole family.

So I can’t say that I’m ever going to be one of those ladies who carries miniature dogs in their purses a la Legally Blonde, but I’m definitely warming up to these little critters. How could I not?

Go see Stupid Fucking Bird now!

20 Mar

SFB_Header_new11

SF Playhouse has been producing some of the most interesting, entertaining theater around. Continuing this trend, it offers Aaron Posner’s Stupid Fucking Bird, which is a postmodern take of Chekhov’s classic, The Seagull. I had the pleasure of seeing it in previews earlier this week. It opens tomorrow night.

charlie

Charles Shaw Robinson as Sorn

The seven-member cast is first-rate, featuring talented, versatile Bay Area actors, many of whom I’ve seen at Aurora or on the Ashby Stage. Charles Shaw Robinson is Sorn, the quiet doctor, an integral part of the family, who is virtually invisible to all the emotionally wrought characters who surround him.

Carrie Paff never disappoints, and this time she gets to play a narcissistic film actress who loves her grown son, Con, even if she has an odd way of showing it.

Stupid Bird Emma & Trig

El Beh as Mash

The peculiarly named Mash is played by El Beh, whom you may have seen in the Shotgun Players’ recent production of Our Town, where she portrayed Emily—quite a different role, to be sure.

Although the story elements are similar to Chekhov’s play, the format is distinctly fresh, with actors occasionally stepping out of character to address the audience, not in a Frank Underwood aside à la House of Cards, but in a full-fledged solicitation to participate. At one point Con faces the audience and appeals for ideas of how he can win his mother’s love. Later, Magill, the actor playing Con, refers to the likelihood that many of us stole a second look at his bio because his head shot shows him sans beard. (See below.)

But breaking down the fourth wall is not merely a gimmick—it helps to tell the story in a refreshing way. One could almost say it’s cheating on the playwright’s part because enabling the characters to speak directly to the audience allows them to cover back story in a way that couldn’t be done in a traditional play. But Posner does not rely on this method too heavily, and it’s interwoven artfully with dialogue and action.

And Posner stayed true to Chekhov’s principle that once a gun is introduced onstage, it must go off. But I don’t want to give away any crucial plot points…

Con on swing

Magill as Con

Adam-Magill

Magill’s head shot (Pretty different, huh?)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tea and Handler at Book Passage—Yay!

8 Mar

D. Handler & Michelle Tea @ BP

Although I was on deadline writing a play, I took time out to go to Book Passage in Corte Madera to see Daniel Handler and Michelle Tea, who were reading from their newest books. I briefly considered blowing it off, since I’d just seen Daniel Handler at City Arts & Lectures and I’d seen Michelle Tea at a recent conference, but I decided to make the trek across the Richmond-San Rafael bridge.

And I’m so glad I went.

Before the event started, I made a quick trip to the restroom in Book Passage’s other building and saw Daniel Handler; his wife, Lisa Brown; their 11-year-old son; Michelle Tea; her partner/spouse; and their baby. They were all hanging out together, perusing and buying books. It was such a sweet literary scene.

Because the two authors are friends, their conversation was lighthearted and cozy. And it was entertaining because they are both extremely fun and interesting people. And Daniel Handler can make me laugh even with stories I’ve heard before. (In addition to seeing him in conversation with Michael Chabon in S.F., I also tuned in to KQED’s interview with him a few days ago. So I expected to hear some of the same material.)

Michelle Tea @BPEach of them read the part of their book that involved shoplifting, since they discovered that was a common thread. Handler read from We Are Pirates, his book for adults, and Tea read her memoir, How to Grow Up.

My favorite story was about Handler as a student at Lowell High in S.F. All students were required to take an aptitude test that asked what they wanted to be. Handler convinced a majority of his classmates to check the “other” box and write in “pirate.” It could have been simply a rather harmless prank, but apparently Lowell was being used to represent a huge number of teens across the nation. Imagine the bewilderment of test scorers who discover that a significant portion of our youth were hoping to become pirates. The principal yelled at him, and everyone had to take the test again.

During the Q&A, an audience member asked both Tea and Handler when they knew the wanted to be a writer. Tea knew from age five. Although writing was the first occupation he remembered aspiring to, Handler’s parents told him that when he was very young, he had a different dream: he wanted to be an old man who lived on a hill and dispense advice to those who sought it.Daniel Handler signing @BP

Someone asked how Handler came up with the name Lemony Snicket, his nom de plume for his children’s books. At one point when he was doing some research and needed right-wing material, he called an appropriate source, who asked him for his name. He suddenly realized that he didn’t want his real name to be associated with the material being sent, so he blurted out the first name he thought of—Lemony Snicket. And he liked it so much that when he needed a pen name, he adopted it.

My question, being the copyeditor, was what were they like as authors when they were edited. Did they demand last say on comma placement, or did they tend to take a copyeditor’s changes without fuss? Tea answered first, saying that she was no grammar expert and was happy to have a copyeditor go over her writing. Handler said he can get as uppity about commas as anyone, but he realizes that without copyeditors, he might end up sending a book to press in which he accidentally has a character enter a room twice.

Good answers.

I had already bought We Are Pirates, but I found two Lemony Snicket books that I did not yet own, so I bought those, which Handler stamped on behalf of Lemony Snicket. I wish I’d brought the book I’d bought by Michelle Tea so she could sign it, but I told her that I already had it at home.

It was totally worth taking time out from writing my play. Besides, I came back and pretty much finished it two days early!

 

My phone is trying to tell me something

6 Mar

iPhone hot (in Spanish)

I’ve had some weird glitches with my iPhone, but overall, I like it. When I first got it, Siri called me by my brother’s name, which is just strange any way you look at it. And I’m still quite certain that she misunderstands on purpose just to annoy me.

But I’m impressed by the lengths it will go to in order to communicate, including switching  up the language when an emergency situation arises.

iPhone hot FrenchI made the mistake of leaving my iPhone on an outdoor table in the sun  a very warm day while chatting with friends. When I picked up my phone, it was not only displaying a dire warning in English, but on the slide button was this note in Spanish: “para emergência.” Then when I tried to get rid of the message, the message popped up again in French.

I have to assume it was going to keep trying different languages until either I put it away or it suffered from heat exhaustion. I wonder if it knows Italian…

A happy conundrum

5 Mar

tanya smilingtanya whistling 2

This happens to me a lot: I’m whistling some tune as I walk to the gym, and some person approaches me going the other direction. I smile and give the person eye contact as we pass. In order to smile, I have to stop whistling. Why is it that one can’t do both at the same time? I’d call that a design flaw…

TMI Storytelling was fun and funky

27 Feb

TMI storytellingHalfway through last night’s My Funky Valentine event at La Pena Cultural Center, emcee and host Gina Gold responded to someone’s gasp in the audience that, after all, the series is called TMI for a reason, implying that if honest storytelling isn’t your cup of tea, nobody’s blocking your exit.

Gold is an African American Jewish comedian currently on tour with three other Jewish comics in a show called You’re Funny But You Don’t Look Jewish, but takes time to host this monthly storytelling event, described on its website as “unvarnished and funny looks at incendiary topics.”

La Pena seems an unlikely venue in some ways for a storytelling event. The café was still serving food, and, in fact, some of the audience members were duly holding their order numbers so the servers could find them in the crowd. And because there were no tables there in order to make room for more seats, people were eating from plates in their laps and trying to find places to tuck away their dishes under chairs when they’d finished eating.

When I’d learned that TMI would be at La Pena, I pictured it in the larger, separate space that is next to the eating area, but apparently they were screening an anti-Israel film there while we were listening to stories of love gone wrong. At one point, one of the other members of You’re Funny but You Don’t Look Jewish had us yell a cheerful Shalom, hoping the audience on the other side of the wall could hear us. (I hope they had a sense of humor.)

The evening’s stories were honest and raw and funny with occasional detours to more serious territory, but they all connected to love, dating, or sex.

Some presenters were more professional than others, but I got the feeling that it’s supposed to be a mix of veterans and up-and-comers who are still learning the ropes, which was okay with me. (Although someone should have clued in the young man who mumbles how to use the microphone. I don’t think I was the only one in the back who missed many of his quick one-liners.)

choco penis

How often do I get the chance to use the image of a chocolate penis?

Because the raffle prizes were donated by a sex gear shop, there was extended discussion on each of the items, which included candy nipples, lubricant, and a chocolate penis. (When we awaited the number to be called for the lube, the elderly man sitting next to me quietly offered to give me the lube if he won it, saying that he didn’t use it.) Gold learned that one of the lube’s ingredients was algae and wondered aloud how someone figured that out. Did someone insert algae directly into a vagina to see if it worked? She also wanted to know why the store called its items sex gear rather than sex toys, to which the owner answered that some of her inventory was more in the adaptive category to enable people of all sizes to have pleasure. Gold pressed further—what kind of adaptations was she talking about? Apparently ramps play a prominent role. Of course, references to algae and ramps continued throughout the rest of the show as a huge inside joke.

Gold is one of those naturally funny people who can make just about any situation humorous and it seems very extemporaneous. At one point, she walked onstage, looked down at her cleavage in a pleased and almost surprised way, and remarked that her breasts were looking quite ample in the dress she was wearing, to which we all applauded.

Next month TMI moves to a space with a full bar in Oakland at 3000 Broadway, and the theme is Sex in the City. There may be more opportunities to discuss algae and ramps…

 

Another Oscar Night come and gone

24 Feb

Gold Trophy

Well, I did not see as many Oscar-nominated movies as I’d hoped, but I did see 18 of the movies that were up for awards last night, including all of those that were up for best picture and any for acting.  I saw most of those up for writing awards but only one of the foreign films and one documentary. Luckily, I will still be able to see many of those on Netflix in the coming months.

My predictions weren’t too bad—I got 10 out of 24, but I missed a few of the big ones. I thought Boyhood deserved best picture, but I certainly think that Birdman was worthy.

I’m very happy that Julianne Moore and J.K. Simmons both won for their performances. And I’m glad that Birdman took home the award for best original screenplay and that The Imitation Game won best adapted screenplay. graham moore

The acceptance speech by its writer Graham Moore was the best of the evening. “Stay weird” will be the catch phrase we remember most from last night. We should all be thankful that his suicide attempt at age 16 was not successful.

The big surprise of the evening for me was how beautifully Lady Gaga can sing. She did Julie Andrews proud belting out a medley from The Sound of Music, though I wasn’t exactly clear why that was part of the night’s program.

Neil Patrick Harris wasn’t bad, but I would love to see Ellen DeGeneres back as host. He did throw a good zinger right at the beginning, referring to Hollywood’s “best and whitest,” a clear dig at the lack of diversity represented by the nominations.

Of course Birdman director Alejandro Iñárritu is Mexican, so not all the awards were handed out to white people. And he appealed to the U.S. to treat recent immigrants with dignity, considering we are a nation based on immigration.

And I congratulate John Legend and Common for their win in writing the best song, “Glory.” Despite the few nominations that seemed to value diversity, the crowd loved their moving performance of this song from the film Selma and gave them a well-deserved standing ovation.

Oscar contender: Foxcatcher

23 Feb

Gold TrophyYesterday was my last-ditch effort to see films before the Academy handed out their awards. I had tried to see foreign film contender  Timbuktu on Saturday, but it was sold out! Everyone had the same idea, I guess, because 6 of the movies showing at the Shattuck were sold out. And of course I waited in line for 15 minutes before I found out that it was sold out. Grrr.

So Sunday afternoon I went across town 15 minutes early to the only theater still showing Foxcatcher.  There were plenty of seats.

I was disappointed. The acting was good, but there were gaps in the story, and I felt it was poorly edited.

In addition, it was never clear to me why events happened as they did. Perhaps it’s because it was based on a true story, and the writers didn’t actually know all the facts and motives, since two of the main characters are no longer living. But wrestling scenes were longer than they needed to be, taking up valuable time that could have been spent on character development or plot. The film was a full two hours long, which was at least 20 minutes too long in my opinion.

steve carell

Note the prosthetic nose that transforms Carell into DuPont.

I have to give props to the makeup people, though. Steve Carell was almost unrecognizable as crazy chemical heir John DuPont. Close-up shots on his face never revealed any tell-tale seams, yet DuPont’s schnoz is nothing like the nose that belongs to actor Steve Carell.

It’s a sad story that did pique my curiosity, but I can’t recommend the movie. Maybe I should find the book it was based on…

Oscar countdown: Moore is amazing in Still Alice

21 Feb

Gold TrophyIt’s almost upon us—Oscar Night. So Dave and I went to see Still Alice, despite the fact that his mother’s name was Alice, who had Alzheimer’s disease. So we knew it was likely to be an emotional movie-going experience.

Well, that was an understatement. This film touched me deeply. On one hand, it reminded me of my sweet mother-in-law’s final years. And on the other hand, I have been feeling for the last few years that my memory capacity has shrunk considerably, so I related to the protagonist more than was comfortable.

The movie opens with Alice—a beautiful, accomplished, articulate linguistics professor—celebrating her 50th birthday with her family. Then Julianne Moore skillfully takes us on her character’s painful journey from healthy independent woman to someone who gets lost in her own house and can barely speak. Because Alice is intelligent and highly educated (proclaimed by her husband to be the smartest woman he ever met), the audience feels her loss even more dramatically. And of course the irony that a leading expert on linguistics has trouble remembering the correct word is not lost on her.

still alice

Alice receives heartbreaking news.

It starts realistically as she gives a lecture and hesitates while she tries in vain to conjure a particular word, which she later remembers (lexicon). Her loving—but not perfect—husband (played by Alec Baldwin) responds to her concern the way most people would—we all forget things now and then, particularly as we age. As it progresses, she fails to recognize her surroundings on Columbia campus, where she teaches.

So Alice secretly consults a neurologist. On her first visit, he gives her a simple test, which she almost aces. She successfully spells the word water backward and is able to tell him exactly where she is, but she forgets one of the three items she is told to remember. Her doctor orders an MRI.

I recognized that test because I recently took it when I consulted my doctor, concerned by my memory loss. And I almost aced it too. Like Alice, I quickly spelled a word backward and was able to say exactly where I was. And like Alice, when I was asked to repeat words a few minutes later, I got two out of three. My doctor didn’t see any reason to worry, but he ordered some blood tests to rule out a few possibilities.

Alice and I both received a clean bill of health on the follow-up diagnostic tests. At that point, my doctor said that my condition did not seem to warrant any further testing. Alice’s neurologist, however, ordered a PET scan, which confirmed his suspicion that she had early-onset Alzheimer’s.

This did not give me comfort.

Neither did my husband’s insistence that we all forget things. Did he not see the same movie I did? That’s exactly what Alec Baldwin said!

I provided examples that I found parallel to those in the film, such as the time I found my grocery list in the freezer. Dave did not agree that this was just like Alice discovering her lotion in the frig. He claims that a grocery list in the freezer makes perfect sense. (Perhaps I should be worried about him too…) I have also missed appointments and been unable to recall words, not every day, but it happens.

Watching a woman who realizes she’s slipping rapidly into dementia was frankly more terrifying for me than any horror film, especially when Julianne Moore gives such a stellar nuanced performance. Let’s hope the academy remembers her tomorrow night.

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