December 31, 2019

Midnight, not a sound from the pavement… except for the random fireworks going off hither and yon and the distant sounds of idiots discharging their guns into the air. Apparently the basic laws of physics like what goes up must come down never occurs to them and the Birmingham PD spends most of New Years night trying to keep people from injuring themselves with stray bullets.

I did go to a New Years Eve party at Sara James and Mike Cunliffe‘s house. Lots of theater friends and family whom I am always happy to see and catch up with. I could not stay much past midnight though as deep rooted anxieties were welling up and I knew I was not going to be good company a lot longer. When I have such feelings these days, time to go home and write and try to figure them out.

This year is not just the turn of a year, but the turn of the decade (alright purists, I know that the decade doesn’t officially start for another year but we all have to start putting two new digits in the year tomorrow rather than one so I’m going to let it slide). Therefore, lots of conversations about where we were ten years ago, twenty years ago… I could go up to fifty years ago quite easily but as most of the guests were millennials, that would mean about as much to them as tales of the Depression did to me as a young person. That of course got me thinking about all the radical changes in my life over the last few decades and then focusing in on New Years Eves past, bringing up some highly unpleasant memories which are the likely cause of tonight’s interior sturm und drang.

Holidays 2009 – I don’t know where we were or what we were doing but wine seems to have been involved

New Years ten years ago – 2009 – this one was most notable for my having broken my foot a few days before mopping the floors at the old house getting things ready for Tommy and my annual Sunday after Christmas holiday extravaganza. Despite a broken metatarsal, the party went off without a hitch but by the end of the evening, I was barely moving due to the increasing pain in my foot. I went to the orthopedics department the next day where X-rays confirmed the fracture and I was immediately put in a short leg cast as they didn’t trust me with just a boot with my crazy schedule. Tommy and I stayed home for New Year’s Eve, me with a cocktail of hydrocodone and single malt scotch and a clunky cast to get used to. We went to bed early. 2009 was a bit of a nadir for the two of us. Tommy was at this point in his third year at Montevallo. He had to take a semester off due to his back problems culminating in surgery. We were missing his income, the crash of the economy had left our finances in some disarray and we were paying for the major remodel of two years before. We knew the next decade had to get better, and, until the last couple of years, it did.

Thanks Sara James for sending me this link. It captures that night

New Years twenty years ago – 1999 – these were the memories that came welling up tonight, a number of which I had suppressed for some time. I remembered them intellectually, but not emotionally. At this point, Steve and I had been in Birmingham for just over a year. We had discovered how ill he was about two months prior. When his respiratory disease became apparent around Halloween of 1999, he went into denial. He refused medical care or to see a doctor and just wanted to be left alone to die. I could never fight him on such things and did what I could to make sure he was comfortable at home, assuming he would eventually change his mind. We got through Christmas. He was weak, but his usual self. New Years Eve, we set out in the morning for breakfast at the Original Pancake House in Five Points South. I parked the car, we got out, and proceeded to walk the block. Half way across the crosswalk in front of the restaurant, he stopped, turned to me, and said ‘I can’t do this anymore. Take me to the Emergency Room’. We turned around, I did, and he was admitted to UAB hospital for the first time of many of his final illness. Oxygen and some judicious morphine made his breathing easier and we got him up to a hospital room.

I think everyone of my generation, starting in the late 70s or early 80s, wondered about where they would be or what they would do at the turn of the millennium, the night that 1999 gave way to 2000. I know I had fantasies of some fabulous evening at the Rainbow Room or a fancy beach resort. The reality was holding my partner in a strange hospital room, knowing I was going to lose him, and having no idea what the road ahead was going to look like. That feeling of anxiety, fear, and bleakness was percolating to the surface again this evening and I can still feel it whirling around inside.

The doctors were able to stabilize Steve and he did amazingly well for about a year. Well enough that we could travel some, that he could work prodigiously at his art, do his volunteer work, and be genuinely happy for the first time in his adult life. The last six months were more difficult but even then, he had more good days than bad ones. I learned to channel my fears and anxieties into being a better caregiver, personally and professionally – it was that experience that completely changed me as a physician and allowed me to develop the persona that has made me so well known in my field. The side effect of all that was a deep feeling of exhaustion, and of frustration – which eventually gave birth to the wacky world of Mrs. Norman Maine.

Those past griefs are still there. They still feel fresh in some ways which is why I did not feel like I could stay out terribly late this evening. When I am emotional, I am like a wounded cat and I seek out a rock under which to hide and lick my wounds until they either heal or fester. It’s all still feeling strange inside my head, but at least I’ve identified what it is and why which is the first step to channeling it into more constructive arenas. I expect troubled dreams tonigh, but soon it will be morning and tomorrow, as Katie Scarlett once said, is another day.

December 25, 2019

The Alabama Theater – Downtown Birmigham

And so another Christmas draws to a close. Sometimes I think the Medieval period had it right with the twelve days of Christmas. A good two week holiday in the depths of winter full of fun, feasting, lights, and the promise of new hope and new year through the eternal story of childbirth could do all of us good, but modern post-industrial society won’t stand for such lack of productivity so we have to get it all over at once and then pretend that the other eleven days of Christmas are just verses in a song featuring a rather disturbing amount of avian life.

How was my Christmas? Fairly low key. I never did drag out any decorations. Maybe next year… I did do a few holiday related things. I went to Birmingham Festival Theater to see my friend Michael Wilson as Crumpet the Elf in David Sedaris’ The Santaland Diaries. I made an appearance at Judy Jones‘ justifiably famous Solstice Party, now in its sixty something year and one of the highlights of Bohemian Birmingham’s social calendar. The actors, the musicians, the artists, the activists, the aging hippies: All there in abundance. Judy keeps threatening that every year will be the last year but it’s such a fixture that it’s a party that’s likely to outlive us all in some form or fashion.

Christmas Eve, our church, like many others, has a family oriented candlelight carol service. As I sing in the choir, I turn up for that as long as I am in town. James Sullivan would be extremely upset with me if I played hooky from that one. Tommy and I used to sing for that, then race out the door quickly in order to get back home and put the finishing touches on dinner for his family. This year, not having that obligation, I could linger a bit afterwards. The church I grew up in, University Congregational in Seattle, had a very similar service late afternoon on Christmas eve. My favorite part of these services has always been the lighting of the candles as the congregation sings Silent Night. Starting with one little flame, the faces are slowly illuminated as more and more candles are lit and each individual point of light joins the general glow and warmth. It’s one of those symbolic moments that makes you understand the immense need we all have for hope and community and warmth and light. Fortunately, there’s never been a repeat of the service from the early 70s when my little brother, age four or five, got his candle too close to the elaborate hair do of the woman sitting in the pew in front of him. There was a rapid conflagration as her Aqua Net burned off. My diminutive Scottish grandmother, sitting next to him, had the presence of mind to beat the flames out and the woman was unhurt, although her hair do was a little the worse for wear. The following year, children under 10 were not allowed open flames…

After church, it was off to a late supper at Ellise Pruitt Mayor‘s house. Ellise is my theatrical partner in crime and probably more responsible than anyone else for getting me up on stage again after all those fallow years. We’ve been friends for pushing 20 years now, get each other whole heartedly and have seen each other through all sorts of traumas. All three of her children returned to the roost for the holiday and it was nice to catch up with them all as adults and meet their spouses whom I had, of course, heard of but not actually seen before. Dinner was raclette cheese melted and eaten with bread and salami. I can see raclette being a possible addition to holiday traditions in the future.

Star Wars… nothing but Star Wars…

Christmas morning, I slept in and did very little for several hours. I don’t get a lot of those mornings so I took advantage of sloth with a side of gluttony and indulged. Then, off to keep the one Christmas tradition started thirty years ago with Steve and continued with Tommy – a matinee of whatever the big film of the season is. This year, of course, it was the concluding film in the Star Wars saga. Star Wars, as I wrote earlier this week, has been part of my life since my teens and it’s nice to have seen the whole cycle through and this film is full of nods to the original movie as a number of things come full circle. I have made it to one other holiday film, the new movie adaptation of Cats. It’s nowhere near as bad as some reviewers would have you believe. It’s just really, really weird. MNM will weigh in on both films as soon as I can get myself writing. Probably Thursday evening or Friday sometime.

I ended things up with Christmas dinner with Angela Forbus Pruitt and her sister and her partner. Intimate gathering with good food, good wine, good conversation and a feeling that its nice to have friends of several decades duration. Even though I still feel very out of place in Birmingham from time to time, I only have to have something like that to give me a slap up the side of the head and remind me of how enmeshed I am in the fabric of community of this little corner of the world. If you’d told me that I’d be living in Birmingham, Alabama and rather enjoying it as recently as 22 years ago, I would have laughed in your face and asked you what pharmaceuticals you had been ingesting. Funny how life turns out sometimes.

One last Christmas thing to do, the phone call to Seattle where the clan is assembled at Christmas dinner for good wishes to all and, in that spirit, God bless us, everyone.

December 23, 2019

Tommy and his pageant kids – 2017

I’ve been in a very funky mood all day and we all know what that means. Time to write and process and try to figure out what all is going through my head. The most obvious piece of the puzzle is the fast approaching joyous season. Tommy and I developed over the years a sequence of events that informed the period between Thanksgiving and New Years and which turned December into a bit of a marathon. For the rest of my life Christmas is always going to be caught up with my memories of Tommy as we survived wigging Red Mountain’s Holiday Spectacular, producing the Unitarian Church’s Holiday Pageant, singing the Messiah with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, decorating the house with five or six Christmas trees, preparing sit down Christmas Eve dinner for Tommy’s family which grew over the years from eight to fifteen, getting together with friends, and preparing food for 200 for our annual open house. We were usually worn out by New Years.

Last year, I just couldn’t be around any of it and fled half the world away to Thailand for two weeks. Christmas Eve was spent at a beach party at a resort in Krabi where the Thai staff were somewhat unclear on the concept. My favorite moment was when the lounge singer broke into the medley of Santa Baby and Hello, Dolly! I had never considered putting those two particular pieces of music together, especially on a tropical beach with a singer in a red sequin vest and a Santa hat that had definitely seen better days. Christmas Day, I rode an elephant through the jungle.

This year, I am home. I’m doing my usual good egg thing and covering various service needs at work so those with kids and local family don’t have to worry about too much the next few days. I’ve done that a lot over the years. I will never have children of my own so little things to help those who do as I need a next generation as much as anyone else. I thought briefly about resurrecting the holiday open house tradition in some new way but the thought of all that work on my own made me feel exhausted so I put that idea quickly to bed. I’m thinking I probably won’t do that party again as long as I’m in this house. Once I downsize, it may come back in some new form in whatever my next domicile happens to be. I haven’t lived in a space that was mine and put together strictly for my needs and taste for decades. I’m not even sure what that would look like these days. Regency/first empire tends to be my go to for interior design but I doubt I can afford it – at least with original pieces. I absorbed the life lesson of don’t buy fakes, buy what you can afford but real, from my mother at an early age.

I haven’t decorated or put up a tree either. I went down in the basement, looked at all the boxes of Christmas decorations and just felt too tired to haul it all up the stairs only to haul it all back down again in a few weeks. No one’s coming by to see any of it and trees and such are things you do with and for other people. I’m thinking of rehoming some of my theme trees. If anyone is dying to take possession of Marilyn Monroe or Scarlett O’Hara, let me know. I’ve been toying with starting from scratch and doing a new tree that’s all fish, animals, and birds. Maybe next year…

Last night, I got together with Tommy’s family for their family Christmas celebration. Other than one nephew in law down with a virus, the rest of the clan was there and doing well. Nice dinner followed by presents. I have five great nieces and nephews on that side ranging from toddler to twelve and I’ve decided to be the guncle that makes sure they’re exposed to the children’s classics so each of them got an age appropriate decent edition of a book that has stood the test of time. It also allowed me to support the new independent bookstore that opened in the neighborhood this month. The adults all got tickets to Cabaret so they can have a family outing in February. i should have my part down by the second week of the run…

With marvelous 12 year old Gracie Marble in Belltower Players Dear Brutus – December 2019

Theater is keeping me focused and disciplined at the moment. Dear Brutus came off rather a couple of weeks ago. I managed to get through all four performances without completely going up on my lines. A few little bobbles here and there but nothing noticeable. There was the one scary moment opening night when an entrance was missed and I found myself stranded on stage with the twelve year old playing my daughter. Fortunately, Gracie is no ordinary twelve year old and began an in character improv on our scene which most of the audience did not recognize as unscripted and my Spolin improv training allowed me to match her. That girl is going to be something one of these days. The last twelve year old with that level of talent I was on stage with was Jordan Fisher and he’s about to take over the title role of Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway.

Cabaret rehearsals started this week. Only three so far for me but I can already tell this is going to be a good one. First read through was already so far above where projects usually are at this point that I think audiences will be blown away by the time it’s unveiled in late January. It’s going to be emotionally challenging to play Schultz this time through. Last time, I was a widower but in a successful second marriage. This time a widower alone and very definitely processing everything that means. Also, last time I did the role, it was a very different political moment and the parallels between all of our lives and Weimar Germany weren’t quite so pronounced. It’s been twenty months since Tommy died. Twenty months after Steve died, Tommy and I had met, and moved from casual to serious dating. I have a hard time believing that because I know I’m not at all ready for anything serious this time around. I think the difference is that Steve had such a long illness that I did much of the psychological grief work in advance and was in a very different place at the time of his death than I am after Tommy’s. Or I was just younger and more resilient.

I haven’t quite decided if my busy theater schedule this season is a boon or a problem. It’s keeping me from other projects that I should be attending to (like cleaning out this house in preparation for downsizing) but I also think the structure and having to be around other people who are relying on me to show up and give of my skills and energy is what I really need at the moment. If I had more spare time,I’d probably spend far too much of it holed up brooding. I know myself far too well. My bookings end in June and I have no intention of doing anything this summer or early fall so that I can plan a big 2020 trip and get some other life things done.

Going to spend my slow holiday period catching up on some film and writing some MNM columns. I took myself to see Cats this evening. It’s not as bad as the reviews would suggest. It strikes me that there’s an unofficial contest to see who could write the cattiest review of the film. It’s just… weird. It’s weird enough that I can see it becoming a cult classic eventually. Maybe something like Rocky Horror but with the audience throwing catnip and rubber cockroaches at each other. MNM will weigh in shortly. I’ll try to get to the new Star Wars either tomorrow or Christmas Day before I run into any spoilers. The first one came out shortly after my fifteenth birthday so it’s been around my whole adult life. Back in the far off days of 1977, there weren’t multiplexes and Star Wars opened at the UA Cinema in downtown Seattle. The family was looking for a movie that weekend, saw a newspaper ad and we loaded up in the 1972 Ford Van we had and headed downtown. It was the second day of the run and hadn’t yet become a phenomenon. The line was around the block and the 7 pm was sold out but we scored tickets to the 9:30 and waited – me, my parents, and my 9 year old sister and 8 year old brother. In we went, the John Williams fanfare started together with the title crawl and the opening shots of the huge star destroyer. Movie magic. At the end, the whole audience cheered and we knew we had seen something special and we had gotten to see it before it became Star Wars. When I go see this one with the music and title crawl, I expect at least part of me will feel fifteen again. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing as it’s a somewhat difficult age to be but it’s that time when the adult world is finally revealing itself and life is full of infinite possibility. And I could use a little new hope in life these days.

Midnight, not a sound from the pavement… well, not exactly, an occasional car is racing up and down Clairmont Avenue. As long as they don’t miss the curve and plow into the light pole at the end of the block again. That’s happened three times in the four years I’ve lived here. Time to wrap this up. Per usual, I feel a bit better for having vomited this all up. Glad some of you have continued reading.

December 8, 2019

UC Davis Medical Center

I’ve been in a ruminative mood with lots of strange dreams this week which means its time for another one of my long stream of consciousness posts which you can either read with bated breath or scroll on past looking for the next cat meme or political post guaranteed to raise your blood pressure. I think I know where some of it’s coming from; I’m not sure about other contributors.

This past week started slow as I recovered from my major GI bug that I managed to pick up in Seattle over Thanksgiving weekend. It knocked me over for a couple of days but I was up and moving again pretty much by Monday night, as long as I chose my foods carefully and kept myself hydrated. I called in sick on Monday, something I very rarely do but with my 100 and some sick days in the bank, I figured I could use one and I would have been a complete basket case if I had tried to do a double clinic day on my first day out of bed. I think disturbed electrolytes started me off on a week of rather odd dreams, most of which I barely remember, but seem to be drawing on my distant past as Steve has been somewhat prominent in them. He hasn’t been showing up in my dreams much for some years. Not sure if he’s got a message for me and couldn’t get hold of someone in their bathroom (I told that story another time) or if I’m just having to process something about our relationship and his death. That’s been the one thing about the last year or so that I hadn’t really expected. When Tommy died, I knew I would have a lot to work through (having been through it before with Steve) but what has ended up happening is I never really finished processing Steve’s death. Just sublimated it when Tommy and I got together and now I find that I’m having to work on both losses simultaneously. At least I’m not the wife of Bath… yet…

Two things happened early this week that have probably added into all this. The first was an email from a national search firm. I get these all of the time, usually inviting me to apply for fabulous and lucrative positions in geriatrics in Kalamazoo, Michigan or Allentown, Pennsylvania. I’m sure they’re both nice places but not the sort of place I’d pull up stakes for and move without an orthopedist’s salary attached. This one asked me to consider applying to be the Chief of the brand new geriatrics program at UC Davis. (I was the acting chief of the old geriatrics program at UC Davis in 1998 when the university deliberately blew it up sending my and Steve’s lives into chaos for some time. The fallout from that was what brought us to Alabama and insured that I got to take care of a dying partner thousands of miles away from my friends and family). I wrote them back a very terse note basically stating that I found it somewhat ironic that I would even be asked about that position and not just no thanks, but NO THANKS. I pity whomever does take that job. The community organizations in senior care have long institutional memories and none of the Sacramento Valley ones are likely to be overly friendly to UC Davis’s new venture given their track record.

The second was a quick visit from Katherine Gundling, my best friend from my Sacramento days (who was also ultimately treated badly treated by UC Davis and fled to UC San Francisco where she had a distinguished career in Allergy and Immunology). We hadn’t seen each other for years and she and her husband were in Asheville for the long weekend so made arrangements to swing through town so we could cash up. Katherine was intimately connected to me and Steve as a couple for years, but never knew Tommy terribly well and it was nice to talk over old times and past lives for an afternoon. She had helped me scatter Steve’s ashes in the desert outside of San Diego all those years ago, but she had never heard the sequel story of what had happened with the bit I kept back to take to Kentucky so I had to regale her with that one (also written up earlier in this space). Talking over all of that, I’m not sure that I’m not on some level still grieving my west coast life that was so thoroughly destroyed by forces beyond my control. Steve is the most obvious manifestation of that, but hardly the only one. If all that had not happened, where would I be? Still in Sacramento? Assuming Steve would have still died at the same time, who might I have found there? I would never have met Tommy who profoundly changed me for the better so might I have ended up in a far worse place that I am?

That theme of ‘might have been’ is prominent in Dear Brutus, the play that I am in that performs this next week (Eastlake Methodist Church – Oporto-Madrid and 2nd Avenue South – Thurs – Sat at 7:30 and Sun at 2:30). My character, Will Dearth, a failed artist and alcoholic, gets a second chance as a single father through Puck’s midsummer night’s magic,,, or does he. The part has been a challenge. Barrie writes in a heightened flowery Edwardian tone which bears little relationship to normal American speech patterns and trying to get the lines right has been a small nightmare. I generally play supporting parts in musicals that have two dozen lines and a verse of a song so having to get all this down has taken about all of my mental faculties. I suppose it’s good mental exercise at my age although I doubt it’s going to protect me in the end from the genetic dementia that runs in my family. My nieces had better be prepared for dear old dotty Uncle Andrew at some point. The show is coming together relatively well and is an opportunity to see a charming play from another world and time (having been written just before Edwardian society exploded into the jazz age).

I’m trying to decide what to do about the holidays this year. No running away. I will be here but I haven’t yet found the energy or heart to get down in the basement and go through the Christmas stuff for decorating. We did the house up every year because of our famous Christmas open house which went on from 2003-2017. Usually about this time, we’d be making lists, fighting over the decorations, trying to produce the church holiday pageant out of the dining room, relearning Messiah parts, and starting to lay in party groceries. I can’t do any of that with just me. You have to have someone constantly pushing you to be best to be able to have all that going on. I’ve toyed with somehow bringing back the Sunday after Christmas open house in some way but I can’t do the food like he did and the thought of the house prep just makes me feel tired. I’m thinking I might keep two traditions… one from me and Steve which was a movie on Christmas afternoon… and one from me and Tommy which was dinner at Hooters on Christmas night (it’s one of the few places that’s open). I’ll probably get around to putting up one tree eventually (after the show closes) but I’m not going to do much more than that. I’m wondering if I should give my famous theme trees like Marilyn Monroe away as part of my downsizing.

Tomorrow is Monday again which means double clinic day which means I should be nice and exhausted by the time I get to tech rehearsal. Better have two cups of coffee in the morning.

If you’re still reading this, you’re a masochist.

November 30, 2019

Dateline: Birmingham, Alabama –

And just like that, home again, home again jiggety-jig. Sorry there has been no update the last few days but I did take Thanksgiving day off (but did post some pictures of the gathering of the clan – 15 this year. If we can ever get my cousin Jack and his family back from the East Coast some year, then we’ll likely be over 20.) The meal was terrific, the company was better, and this circle of eccentric individuals whom I have been part of for nearly six decades, heads into another holiday season. I won’t be back for Christmas. I have to figure out what my alone patterns are going to be. I allowed myself to simply absent myself from the holidays last year some 9,000 miles away but this year I have to start thinking about which of the Duxbury-Spivey or Duxbury-Thompson traditions I keep and which ones I let drift down memory lane. I don’t have an answer to that yet. I expect one will come.

I did head out for some Black Friday shopping the next morning and did all my shopping for the family followed up with wrapping and assembling my modest attempts at one of Tommy’s famous Christmas baskets. Both Tommy and Steve had that gay man visual gene that allowed them to take some wrapping paper, ribbon, tape, a pair of scissors, and some random household odds and ends and return an hour later with something that looked like a parade float. I, alas, cannot muster up that level of talent. The visual art gene, prevalent in my family, seems to have skipped me. Both of my nieces have it and have been creating a number of interesting pieces with collage and decoupage. Maybe they’ll give me one someday. Not being around my family much these days and everyone pretty much having everything they need, this years theme was books. (They’re easy to wrap). Next years theme is likely to be books as well and the year following that…

Spent some more time with my brother and his family with leftovers and Scrabble where my sister in law, Sally Bergesen was elated in her victory over me. I’m pretty good but even I can’t overcome the deficit of ‘Juke’ on a triple word score. As I drove back to my dad’s place, I all of a sudden began to feel unwell and, after an uncomfortable night, it was confirmed this morning that I have indeed picked up a nasty gastroenteritis (I’m guessing Norwalk or Rotavirus). I’ll spare you the clinical details. Let us just say that flying across country today was not an especially pleasant experience.

I don’t get sick very often so, when I do, it’s usually a doozy. I’m keeping my dehydrated self home tomorrow and then will take stock but I won’t be in the least surprised if I’m needing to take Monday off as well. We shall see.

The next two weeks, besides being devoted to Physician heal thyself, are about Barrie’s Dear Brutus. I’ll report in on that in a week or so. The lines are finally starting to stick, even the dreaded Act II.

November 28, 2019

Greenlake trail

Dateline: Seattle, Washington –

I didn’t write anything last night as I just wasn’t in the mood so I figure I better write something today to keep all of my readers (the numbers of whom are close to double digits) coming back for more. For those of you who are newer to my life and my ‘long posts’, I began these by accident during Tommy‘s sudden illness and even more sudden death a year and a half ago and they’ve become a way for me to process that, the unresolved stuff over the death of Steve, my first husband back in 2001, and I keep hearing from friends that my musings have been helpful as they deal with issues in their own lives as much of what I write about is the human condition. I have collected all of these pieces up in blog format at http://lifetheuniverseandeverything.blog for those who wish to delve into the backstory or who wish to see where life’s wanderings have taken me as I put myself back together.

Yesterday, I borrowed my young cousin Jake, who is a sophomore in high school and a budding musical theater kid in order to run lines for Dear Brutus. The first and third acts are pretty solid and the second act is getting there, but with a few odd patchy holes. By the time it opens in two weeks, I should be able to declaim it without looking like the proverbial deer in the headlights. Jake just finished up playing Rapunzel’s Prince in Into the Woods at his high school, a show of which I am very fond, and the first show that I actually saw on Broadway back in 1987. Bob Kummer was living there at the time, got the tickets and we went together. It was about two weeks into the run so it was the original cast at their peak. It’s also the only Sondheim show I’ve ever performed in – having played the narrator back in 2008. I have dreams of someday doing Fredrik in A Little Night Music or the Judge in Sweeney Todd. I’m smart enough to know that I will never be able to sing Sweeney himself.

After that, I met my old friend Lauren Marshall for lunch and a walk around Greenlake together with Orsino, her dog. Now that Lauren’s children are older, she’s getting back into her theater life as a writer and hopes to return to directing soon. We’ve been friends for nearly forty years, have collaborated on all sorts of thing and we always critique each others theatrical writing to keep each other honest. I hadn’t walked around Greenlake for a while. It’s a small glacial lake in the middle of the northern part of the city with a park and paved walking trail of roughly three miles all the way around. It’s a nice walk and, while making the circuit, I was reminded of other times – as a child with my parents with stale bread to feed the ducks and the geese – as a tween doing walkathons to raise money for the 7th and 8th grade band trips to the band festival in Abbotsford, BC. (That usually involved five times around and sore legs after). In med school with friends deep in conversation about those things 20 somethings are wrestling with – relationships, politics, career trajectories.

Later in the day, after another visit to mom, who was much more awake and alert and interactive (her favored activity being grabbing hands and pulling towards her and then pushing away), I went over to my sister’s to chat while she made pies for Thanksgiving dinner. My niece Isabel and my cousin Jenny also turned up so we had a family gabfest over tea for a few hours.

Thanksgiving 2019

Today is Thanksgiving. What am I thankful for? A friend made a comment a couple of days ago that he wished he had had my upbringing. I never thought a lot about my childhood/adolescent experiences as being anything out of the normal, but in hindsight, they were anything but. My mother, was the daughter of a British colonial emigre surgeon and a lowland Scot pediatrician. They came to the US to escape the indolent colonial lifestyle of the 30s, settling in San Francisco where my grandfather’s erudition, charm, and innate ability for self invention took him to the upper reaches of University of California leadership. My mother, being the quietly rebellious sort, turned her back on San Francisco society and the patrician future her father had planned for her and married my father, the son of a small town dentist who had also turned his back on his family and upbringing to make something of himself, becoming the first person in the US to earn a bachelor’s degree in Oceanography.

When I came along, my parents were in New Haven where my father had a position at Yale so I was basically born into Mad Men. The Drapers could easily have been the down the street neighbors. My mother, in particular, hated that society and its mores with her west coast upbringing and, by the time I was two, we had resettled in Seattle which was the area my father had come from. My father became faculty in Oceanography at the University of Washington. My mother took time off until her children were all in school and then went back to teaching various sciences at Seattle Central Community College.

Their low budget academic salaries combined with their love for sciences and the outdoors led to a childhood of hiking, camping, nature walks, and informal education in the natural world, both terrestrial and marine. The family car had a large box of reference books in the back and we would look up the plants, the rocks, the fungi, the birds, and the animals we came into contact with. I suppose this is where I get my sense of systems and interconnectedness that’s always been part of my life which explains why I like working in teams, whether medical or theatrical.

My parents were well aware of the value of both education and of understanding that different people live differently and there are no rights or wrongs in some choices. I was in public school through 8th grade, including being bussed to a majority African American school for 6th. For high school, my parents evaluated each of us for our strengths and needs and all three of us went to different private high schools which were the right fit for each of us. Mine was The Lakeside School, more or less a transplant East Coast prep school, complete with brick, white paint, cupolas and maple trees, where I was pushed. I didn’t figure out how good my high school education was until I got myself into Stanford (not my parents choice, but mine) and realized that as a freshman there, I was using the same texts I had used as a freshman in high school.

So there you have it; some European upper class sophistication, some small town values, some reverence for the natural world, some close knit and supportive nuclear family, some world class educational opportunities. How did I get to be so lucky? And that’s what I’m thankful for today.

November 27, 2019

The dining room at Aljoya looking toward’s my father’s usual breakfast table

Dateline: Seattle, Washington

It’s been a rather uneventful day. Life in an upscale senior living community has its own rhythms that revolve around mealtimes more than anything else. My father is one of the few that shows routinely for breakfast and, as breakfasts are hearty, there is no need for lunch, especially with the time change as my biological clock is treating it more as a ten o’clock brunch than an eight o’clock early morning meal.

Dad and I went over to see mom for a while. She is in a new group home since the last time I was here. Issues with the old group home forced a move a few months ago. i shan’t go into the details here but the move was a good idea for all sorts of reasons. Mom was having a sleepy day. She didn’t really want to open her eyes or respond much but w a little music was helpful. She responded best to ‘Almost Like Being in Love’ from Brigadoon. (Loch Lomond is a usual song she reacts to and that made me think of the other.) When I am old and no longer in my right mind, someone remember to come and play Lerner and Loewe or Rodgers and Hart or Sondheim for me. I have a feeling they will remain long after most other things have faded away.

Did some tooling around town in the afternoon. It’s still Seattle. It’s not the Seattle I grew up in or of my young adulthood. Too many people. Too much traffic. Too many new and uninspired boxy buildings going up everywhere. There seems to be some sort of Seattle Bauhaus architectural school that’s taken hold in the last decade or so and the results, while likely functional, and possibly luxurious on the inside, are definitely unsightly to the passerby.

I gave eighty minutes or so of standup to the assembled residents of Aljoya Northgate this evening. I used to prepare lectures for them. In recent years, I ask them to collect up topics and questions related to aging and then I assemble them into a rough outline and just riff on them and get all tangential and take questions from the floor. The residents seem to appreciate it as they keep asking my father when I’m coming back and it gives me a chance to try out new material that I can incorporate into other lectures. All of my Spolin improv classes really help me think on my feet and I now feel really comfortable just going wtih the flow as we covered everyting from ADL function to immobility to thyroid disease, to fall risks to benign senesence changes of the brain to various geropharmacy questions in rapid succession. There may be a TED talk or something in all of that one of these days.

Afterwards, I went out for drinks with Steve Peha, a friend from childhood whom I had not actually seen face to face for more years than I care to count. We’re both Seattleites who have been displaced to the South (he’s in the research triangle of North Carolina these days) and have discovered an affinity for each other in the way we approach the world through various experiences. He is a writer and editor and is trying to figure out a way to turn some of my musings on aging and culture into the book I’ve been promising to write for years. It was nice to catch up.

REI as I like to remember it

I was up on Capitol Hill earlier today and went past the block that used to house REI (the coop to all true Seatllites) back when it was this funky place where you could get all your mountaineering and backpacking equipment. It was, in its day, this strange amalgamation of buildings that were semiattached to each other through an odd series of ramps and such. My father, being an outdoorsman, often took childhood me there when we went shopping for supplies for our many camping/backpacking vacations in childhood. My parents, being academics, didn’t have a lot of money so we didn’t take a lot of exotic trips. Instead, we took full advantage of the Pacific Northwest’s hiking tails, campgrounds, and wilderness. I didn’t really keep it up in adulthood, mainly due to moving away from the PNW, but my brother, who stayed, teaches a wilderness course wtih practicums at his school, University Prep so that the next generation, who generally don’t come from outdoorsy parents, will be able to hike safely and enjoy everything out there without accidentally killing themselves. (For my Lakeside readers, he’s become U Preps Bill Vanderbilt). The Coop is no longer in that location. It has a much snazzier new building elsewhere in town. I’ve been in the new one and, despite all the chrome and the gleam and the shine, there’s something missing that that old space was able to provide. Birmingham has just opened its first REI at the Summit shopping center in the old Toys R Us space. I need to go in and have them look me up on the computer and reactivate my old member number. (I think my dad’s number is five digits, he’s been around so long – the ultimate Seattle status symbol is a four digit REI member number).

Across the street from the old REI building was the home of Evergreen Theater Conservatory (long since defunct and only in that space 1985-86). It was the first Seattle theater I worked for after I came back from college and my year of purgatory at WSU in Pullman. The first show I did there as ASM/Propsmaster – Brigadoon, the source of ‘Almost Like Being in Love’, It was the first theater job I actually got paid for and was the show on which I met Jan Zabel who became my best friend during my medical school years. It was a five week run, relatively long for community/semi-pro and I had to spend most of the second act up in the office above the stage operating the fog machine. It would have been dull, but Stephen Locklear, the larger than life personality who ran the company, had a full run of After Dark magazine that someone had given him on shelves up there so I spent the hours between cues immersed in the history of Broadway of the 70s, which I had heard about but had been too young to actually experience. I had, of course, at that time at age 23 figured out I was gay but I wasn’t yet willing to come out or otherwise acknowledge it and those magazines with all of their coded gay subtext helped keep me feeling connected to the gay community that I wasn’t quite yet ready to seek out more overtly.

And now it’s late and time to head off to bed…