May 7, 2022

I had a reading/signing of The Accidental Plague Diaries this afternoon to benefit Opera Birmingham. We sold a few books, we had a good time drinking wine on the back patio of the opera office and I read a few things from Volume 2 for the first time. I think it went well but I can never tell. I’m the last person to ask about any performance I give whether it’s in character or as myself. Actually, they’re all in character. I’m developing a persona for my readings somewhat removed from my inner self so that I can read aloud about painful things from my life and past and it’s almost as if they’re about some other person about whom I can have objectivity. I suppose it’s similar to what I do at work when I slip on my doctor role with my stethoscope. Being someone else allows me to get into sensitive subjects with patients and families with empathy and compassion and without getting hurt too badly in the process. Sometimes I worry that it means there’s no real core – other times I think my real self feels too deeply and has to protect itself and this is the way I can do it.

Several people have suggested that I should adapt these writings into a one character play/monologue. Maybe after I retire. I don’t think I’ll have the energy until then, not to mention learning a ninety minute piece word for word. and replicating the performance from night to night. I’d have to find the right director/collaborator. One thing I know about me on stage is that I am not capable of directing myself. Choices that feel right to me internally as an actor often are completely wrong when seen from the point of view of the audience and someone else has to help me recognize and adjust. I also make it a rule to never direct a piece I have written. There’s strength in having another take your words, filter them through a different lens of experience, and find in them things you had never considered.

We passed the magic million mark of dead Americans from the pandemic this week. The dead would make up the 11th most populous city in the country – between Austin and San Jose by current counts. It’s three of every thousand people who were alive on New Years Day 2020 who are no longer with us. And that’s just the dead. There are no accurate counts on the number of new widows and widowers, the number of children who lost a custodial parent, the number of parents who had to bury a child, the number of people who survived their infection but whose health and function are so impaired that they will not lead the lives they had created and planned on moving forwards. I don’t think we have any real idea what sort of hole has been created in society over the last few years.

Local numbers remain blessedly low. They continue to go up in the Northeast, the Pacific Northwest, Chicagoland, and the Twin Cities area. These are all in the northern latitudes of the country. Is there something climatological at work? Something different in behavior based on climate? Air flow in indoor spaces seems to be key in helping prevent infections (and if we had a functional congress, we might start looking at tax breaks to get public buildings to retrofit their climate systems with higher flows and better filtration but I doubt that’s going to happen any time soon). Perhaps the warmer temperatures we’ve had down south these last few weeks which has had us all running our air conditioning is saving us.

I’ve started rehearsals on a new show, third man from the left in Birmingham Music Club’s production of The Merry Widow. I actually somewhat enjoy performing in operetta. The music’s fun to sing and the book scenes are so stilted and creaky that they’re almost endearing. It performs the first weekend in June. In the meantime, the Alabama Symphony Orchestra is doing Beethoven’s ninth in two weeks so I’ll be up in the choral balcony shrieking out the Ode to Joy. Why did Beethoven have such a fondness for high Fs in the bass part? Fortunately, they’re usually doubled with the tenors so I can just flip into falsetto or mouth those particular measures. I’ve gone back into voice lessons and my teacher thinks that the high F and G are there and will eventually settle in. I have to keep reminding him that I am a sixty year old bass baritone.

It’s mother’s day weekend. Many of you may remember that my mother died just before the pandemic. We have some suspicion that she may have been one of the first Covid victims as she was in senior group living in Seattle, where the virus was first circulating undetected, and had had a respiratory infection the previous week. Maybe, maybe not. My mother, a product of San Francisco society of the 40s and 50s, had a certain refined European elegance about her in how she carried herself and how she dealt with the world. She was always poised, well coiffed, well spoken, but could destroy with a couple of very polite but very well chosen words if you crossed her. She was of the generation that did not go downtown as a young woman without her gloves and her hat, but at the same time was perfectly comfortable in a small boat, or getting grimy over a campfire. She and my father lived in suburban Connecticut in the early 60s, in a society straight out of Mad Men, and she hated the pretension and couldn’t wait to get back to the west coast and her adoptive home of Seattle. She ran every community organization that came her way with a quick competence, she remained liberal in her politics, veering farther left as she grew older, was an avid traveler, a voracious reader, and wrote very well. And she always put her children and their education first, believing firmly that education was what made for success.

I will not be going out to brunch after church tomorrow. There’s no need. I’ll come home after service and make myself a mimosa (she loved a good drink) and toast her before I toddle off to the Petrovenian embassy ball. I think she’d approve.

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