Eureka Day is brilliant!

Lisa Anne Porter, Elizabeth Carter, Rolf Saxon, Teddy Spencer, Charisse Loriaux (photo David Allen)

Jonathan Spector has penned a gem, and we here in the Bay Area are lucky to see its world debut. The first commissioned piece from Aurora’s new Originate+Generate program, this one knocks it out of the park. Josh Costello directs a talented cast who portray the board members at a progressive private elementary school in the Berkeley hills. Having been a teacher at a private progressive school myself, I was curious to see a play about one.

The congenial but not particularly decisive head of school (played delightfully by Rolf Saxon) doesn’t lead so much as facilitate discussion among parents in an attempt to rule by consensus. He reads Rumi at the beginning of every meeting and avoids conflict at all cost. The parents include Eli, the stay-at-home dad (a perfect performance by Teddy Spencer) who hysterically strikes yoga poses throughout the first meeting; Meiko, the hot young single mom on the prowl who presumably shops at Whole Foods and farmers markets (Charisse  Loriaux); the uber-lefty Suzanne (Lisa Anne Porter), who makes cashew lasagna and speaks gently but is quick to remind the other board members that at Eureka Day, gender-neutral pronouns are used for everyone as a matter of course; and new Eureka parent, Carina (played by the versatile Elizabeth Carter), who is certainly the sanest of the bunch.

The good-natured skewering of the stereotypical Berkeleyite as ultra-politically correct was right on target and provided for much of the laughter in the play. And the scene in which a virtual parent meeting is happening on Facebook (pictured above) was one of the most hysterical I’ve had the pleasure to watch.

However, Eureka Day is not just a comic romp. The conflict that divides the school community is the vaccination debate, and some of the characters at first seem to represent simply their point of view. But Eureka Day is neither a propaganda vehicle nor a single-issue play, and the characters reveal more depth in the second act, which takes a serious turn.

At its heart, Spector’s play echoes the deep divide in our country, with red states feeding off Fox “news” and blue states angry at all those people who voted in the Cheetoh-in-Chief. Most would agree that we in Berkeley live in a bubble of like-minded liberals, so our brand of political arguments are less likely to span the full red-to-blue spectrum that exist elsewhere in the country. But the question of vaccination is one that strikes closer to home, since there are liberals on both sides of the issue here in the Bay Area (though I would argue it’s more of an issue in Marin, but I’m sure that’s because I live in Berkeley and don’t want to think that my neighbors could be anti-vaxxers).

Of course anyone who delves into the comments section of Berkeleyside knows that we in Berkeley are no strangers to vitriol, and the Facebook live-streaming session in the play illustrates how easily members of a community can turn on each other.

Given our current polarization as a country, it’s sort of refreshing to watch people argue about something other than politics. But the main reason to buy tickets for Eureka Day is to treat yourself to a stellar performance of a terrific world debut. If you haven’t seen it, there’s still a week left in its run, so get your tickets now!

 

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Acceptance doesn’t mean giving up

Since last November, most people I know have felt like they’re stuck in some sort of alternate universe. I definitely went through the first two stages of Dr. Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief (denial and anger) last fall. I’m not sure what bargaining (stage three) would look like in this scenario–maybe trying to bargain with yourself? if I write 30 post cards and call my congresspeople twice a week, then at least I can say I’m paying attention, right? But not long after the high of the Women’s March in January wore off, I was stuck at stage four–depression.

I tried to go backward in the natural progression and try out anger again for a while, but that didn’t get me past my grief. I tried keeping an activism log, but my failure to maintain it after a few months put me right back into despondence.

Then I read something my husband shared on Facebook, “How to Stay Sane If Trump Is Driving You Insane–Advice from a Therapist.” And it made sense to me. Stage five–acceptance–doesn’t have to mean accepting the present administration as the new norm or becoming complacent. It’s more complicated than that. Acceptance in this case means being able to accept that, despite our horrifying circumstances, this is indeed what we’re working with now, and we must continue. Wallowing in depression is a win for the other side.

But the key, according to behavioral therapist Robin Chancer, is not to fall into false optimism:

There are times when optimism is not appropriate or possible, and this is one of those times. Our President is delusional, lying, or ignorant; disastrous climate change and war with North Korea loom; marginalized people in our society are suffering. Faced with these calamities, catastrophic thinking is a rational response.

But this therapist lays it all out clearly, so rather than reading my take on it, you should read her advice in her post on politicsmeanspolitics.com.

 

Strauss shares his tale of OCD, mushrooms, and cacti

Adam Strauss is a stand-up comic from New York. But right now at S.F. Marsh, you can see his one-man autobiographical show, The Mushroom Cure, which focuses on his personal struggle with OCD. Funny, vulnerable, and engaging, Strauss is willing to laugh at his own flaws, share painful moments, and offer up his darkest fears in what feels less like a monologue in front of an audience than it does an authentic self-portrait in progress. He reminded me of a younger, more intense Marc Maron with a bit of Paul Rudd thrown in. I was moved by his honesty and impressed with his stage presence. He’s a talented performer who doesn’t seem like he’s performing. Which is the best kind, right?

Don’t be fooled by the title–it’s not a tale of how to successfully treat a seriously disabling condition with psychedelic fungi, though that is a major plot point. It’s a man trying to find his way who allows us to watch part of that journey.

Definitely a thumbs up. I hope to see more of Adam Strauss in the future.

Shotgun Players’ Reading Series hits the spot

champagne reading seriesI love the Shotgun Players. For the last few years, I’ve been a happy subscriber to both the main season and the companion reading series that cleverly echoes themes from the fully staged shows. Now I have to choose more carefully which shows I can see and look for deals, whether it’s scanning Goldstar, going to previews, or taking advantage of the generosity of theater groups, such as the Shotgun Players, who allow theater-goers to donate what they can for certain performances.

I recently had the pleasure of seeing Clare Lizzimore’s Animal, which was the two-night-only staged reading that took advantage of the great set designed for The Village Bike. 

Shotgun’s website describes the Champagne Reading Series this way:

We give our actors just enough staging and tech to get started and then we let adrenaline do the rest!

They take just four days to read, block, rehearse, and add music and lighting. And they do an amazing job that’s incredibly polished and professional! Yes, they consult their scripts, which they carry with them; but except when staging requires that they do something else with their hands, their playbooks are hardly noticeable. Director Katja Rivera worked wonders in her limited time.

And the cast was impeccable, headed by the impressive Jessma Evans, who portrayed Rachel, a woman who suffers from situationally induced psychosis. (Her British accent was even spot on.)

The play was both dark and funny and explored severe mental illness in a very real way. Although I’ve never had a psychotic episode myself, this story struck me to my core.

It’s too bad that it played for only two nights. This is another one that I would highly recommend if you see that it’s playing somewhere in the future.

Still alive but not kicking—feverish musings

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.

 

Disappearing Acts

MagicianUsually one thinks of a disappearance as a sudden occurrence, but this actually happened so gradually that I didn’t notice until it was gone.

I speak of my youth, which has eked continuously over minutes, days, and years. I don’t mourn it, though. I am an extremely happy middle-aged person who takes advantage of Zumba Gold classes at the Albany Senior Center. (At $7, it’s a fitness bargain, and one need only be over forty.) I plan to use all available senior discounts when I become eligible, which is not quite yet.

So my chronological age doesn’t bother me.mirror

I know those who long for their youth because they attention in a way that it no longer does, and they miss their younger selves when they look in the mirror. But I’ve never been a beauty (except to my parents, my husband, and my daughter). At no time have I had to question whether someone’s interest in me was based solely on my looks because I can confidently say that my image could comfortably accompany the definition for “average.”

So for me, the passing of youth is not a bittersweet memory of turning heads in my twenties.

aches-pains-banner-425x170

Now I would be lying if I declared that I don’t mind the effects age has on my body. I rise every morning a bit creakier than I did the day before. I’ve come to accept that this chassis is no longer new and shiny; but despite its increasing mileage, it gets me to where I want to go. Sometimes I wonder: if I knew in my twenties what I know now, would I have appreciated how effortless it was simply to go from sitting on the floor to standing? Probably not. Youth aren’t supposed to notice such things—taking it all for granted is part of their job description.

So if it’s not a matter of numbers, beauty, or agility, then what is it that age has wreaked?

AmnesiaI mourn my loss of memory. I’ve spent over fifty years accruing what passes for wisdom only to watch it disappear, and the irony of that stings. I thought I still had time to utilize a rich vocabulary. Otherwise, what were all those word-of-the-day calendars for? Now I often struggle to find the right word. I also presumed that consuming hundreds of books and articles would provide fodder for intelligent conversation for years to come. But when I go to retrieve details, they’ve disappeared.

It pops up in ways that catch me off guard, like ordering movies from Netflix that I’ve already seen. At first I chalked it up to carelessness. Then I began double-booking events because I’d forgotten to put them on the calendar. Recently someone asked me for my street address, which has been the same for nine years, and I transposed the numbers.

It’s as if my brain has been requisitioned a stingy allotment of storage space, and that capacity is shrinking daily. If I could choose what gets retains and what gets jettisoned, that modicum of control would be of some comfort. But apparently the portion of my brain that gets to decide what stays and what goes has a wicked sense of humor. How else do I explain the fact that I remember my third grade music teacher, Mrs. Morris, clapping out meaningless chants to instill a sense of rhythm: ta ta tee-tee ta, tee-tee-tee-tee ta ta! (I still don’t understand what that was all about.) Yet I forget important information that I need regularly, such as the password to my PayPal account.

I suppose I thought I had longer before it began to slip away. After all, I have several friends in their seventies and eighties who are still sharp. What do they have that I don’t?

Well, I decided to ask some of them. I received these suggestions—do crossword  puzzles, exercise, and give myself extra time to retrieve information from the old mental files.

Crossword-Puzzle-862366But I did take up crossword puzzles a few years ago. I concluded that its only benefit was improving my ability to do crossword puzzles. As far as exercise goes, in addition to my Zumba class, I go to the gym four times a week and walk the dog on Sunday. And I’m perfectly willing to concede that accessing information may now take longer, but that doesn’t help me when I recite the wrong address.

GawandeOne friend suggested Atul Gawande’s new book, so I went online to look it up. Outside of those pertaining to surgery, the only title I could find was Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, which is not the memory-enhancing bag of tricks I was expecting. I can only assume that she thought my condition was much more dire than I thought.

117794-300x224-Memory_loss_from_stressAfter careful consideration, I realize the solution that should have been obvious from the start: write it down. After all, I’m a writer. If it’s important, I’ll make note of it, either on my laptop, my phone, or even that old standby—paper. I will list the books I read and the plays and films I see. I will record the news from my daughter. Writing will combat my memory loss and help me hold on to what’s important.

The rest I will allow to disappear with my youth.

 

Another day, another doctor…

doctor bodyI recently received a letter in the mail from my primary care physician at Kaiser:

I want to let you know that effective June 16 2014, I will no longer be able to serve as your primary care physician… I have greatly enjoyed caring for you and want to assure you that it is very important to me that you have the smoothest transition possible to your new doctor.

To make sure you are in high quality hands, I have arranged for ___to be your new doctor. He is an excellent physician whom I believe you will like very much.

It has been my privilege to be your physician.

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Except that I’ve never met this doctor.

doctorWhen I first enrolled at Kaiser six years ago, I had a doctor assigned to me, whom I may have visited twice in four years before she transferred to another medical center. Then I chose another physician from among the few who were still accepting new patients. I think I saw her twice in two years before she also transferred elsewhere. Then I was assigned another doctor about six months ago. Except for a routine mammogram and a visit to my nurse practitioner, I had no health issues, so I had no occasion to ever meet my last primary care physician.

But he apparently has very fond thoughts of me. And he’s chosen just the right doctor for me, and—knowing me so well—believes I will like him. I wonder how long this one will last. Maybe I should make an appointment right away so that at least I get to meet him before he has to send me a letter telling me how much he enjoyed caring for me.

I really should write him back and tell him how abandoned I feel, how I’ll miss his tender touch, his charming bedside manner, his hilarious jokes about staph infections. Maybe I should pretend that he diagnosed some condition of mine and that I’m eternally grateful for the personal care he showed me.

Or maybe I should just shut up and be grateful that I have health care.