July 4, 2020

High above the Rhine at the Neiderwald – Rudisheim and Bingen – one year ago

I dream a lot. Generally, they’re gone within an hour or so of getting up and getting on with the day unless I take a moment to jot them down. I’ve dream journaled off and on over the years, mainly off but I’m wondered if I should take it up again to try and make sense of all the insanity in the world today. If dreams are the ways our subconscious processes information, maybe it’s time to pay a bit more attention to them. I have a dream journal on my nightstand that Tommy gave me years ago. He inscribed it ‘Andy – For your dreams… Good or bad always remember you are in my heart. Take solace there! -Tommy’. Little things like that from the past are what allow me to keep going on the days when it all seems to be too much.

The dreams this last week have all been about travel. They’ve been somewhat variations on the actors nightmare or typical school dreams. One was about my trying to pack for an important trip and not being able to find the things I need which led to my being late to the airport, missing the flight etc. etc. One was about being in a foreign country where I did not speak the language and being lost in a crumbling palace of some sort. Then came the realization that I owned it and would never be able to afford the repairs. A third involved being trapped on a train with a lot of unpleasant people – sort of a Murder on the Orient Express without the murder.

I’m assuming I’m having travel dreams because I’m moving on. The immediate stresses of the move are over, I’m settling in and now I have to figure out who the new me is going forward. The new me was going to be defined by my two great interests outside of my professional career – music/theater and travel. Neither one of those things are currently possible and so there’s a huge void that has yet to be filled and I don’t know yet how to make those adjustments. I have projects to work on and the job gives me direction and purpose and uses up an enormous amount of energy given all the strains on health care that must be absorbed. I know it will all work itself out eventually and that patience and delayed gratification are called for (again). Still, I think I’m allowed to think back to last Fourth of July when I was floating down the Rhine and wondering when that such experiences will be possible again.

Social distancing – only for the little people

The local virus numbers are increasing as they are all across the South East. Alabama is adding a thousand new cases a day which is high for our state but only a tenth of what’s happening in Florida and Texas. I put that down to our lack of large cities. Birmingham is our largest but it’s quite small compared to the megalopolises of Atlanta or Houston or Jacksonville and, with smaller and less dense populations, we can keep numbers down, at least within our communities which will take things seriously. Alabama is not immune to the anti-mask idiocy that’s sweeping the land. It appears to be limited to communities of privilege who feel that they should be allowed to live their lives on their terms and that society is to cater to them rather than they are to cater to society. Communities of color and social outsider status who understand the importance of taking care of each other are much more likely to think of others as well as themselves. Americans seem to have forgotten that the unit of survival in human social evolution isn’t the individual or the family, it’s the tribe. We have effectively split ourselves into two tribes, eyeing each other with mutual suspicion and an unwillingness to reach out to help and that is leading to our country falling far behind the rest of the world when confronting a global threat. Those on the other side of the divide may get their dream of a wall, but it’s going to be built by the rest of the world to keep us in unless we start figuring out how to pull together, rather than apart.

Phillipa Soo in Hamilton

Like most of the rest of the theater world, I subscribed to Disney+ in order to watch the filmed version of the original production of Hamilton which is streaming for a brief time. I was fortunate enough to see the original production on Broadway (but with a different cast) a couple years ago (and those who want my reactions to that can scroll back to the fall of 2018 on the blog). Generally I don’t care for filmed versions of stage works as film and stage are such different mediums and what works for one is dull in the other. This version, as filmed by original director Thomas Kail, does as good a job as can be done to capture the energy, talent and sheer genius of the work. The addition of judicious close ups, heightening of the theatrical lighting, and the clarity of the sound allowing every word to be heard make this one a winner. Hamilton became a phenomenon in 2015-16, the end of the Obama era and now, only about five years later, watching it makes it so clear how much our civic life has changed over a very short time. I also picked up much more clearly on a couple of themes. First, while the show is called Hamilton and Alexander is the central character, the narrator, and our way into the show and our perspective comes entirely through Aaron Burr, the ultimate outsider among our critical founding fathers and the one whom we don’t remember on the coinage or the postage stamps. Second, the ultimate theme of the show, which became crystal clear in the filming, and in Phillipa Soo’s performance as Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, is that the most important thing in history is who gets to tell the story and control the narrative. For centuries, we have been taught a specific American narrative of progress and superiority and Hamilton gently reminds us that this isn’t necessarily the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

That has been my great revelation of the last few years. Telling the story is perhaps our most important function as humans. As I’ve realized this, it’s permeated all the various areas of my life. I succeed as a physician when I allow patients and families to tell their story. If I am patient and listen, there’s usually a nugget of information in their that will allow me to crack the case and figure out how I can actually help. I started writing these posts a few years ago when I came to the realization that I had a lot of stories to tell and, without Tommy, really no one to tell them to and I figured it was time to send them out into the world to see if they could touch anyone else. Its evolution into a plague diary was completely accidental and simply my attempt to trying to make sense of a crazy time in modern world history. Storytelling is, of course, essential to the whole nature of theater. I find I can do things in character that I could/would never do in my own persona.

Where do I go from here? No one knows the answer to that question. We think we do. We make our plans and then life interferes and off we go on a tangent. I’m sure something will make sense eventually and I’ll start down that road and then, as in the words of Robert Frost, way leads on to way and that has made all the difference. In the meantime, I’ll soldier on in the trenches of health care, keep up some writing, try to stay connected to the other parts of my life as best as I can, and the story goes on.

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