What can I say? The shingles is continuing to drive me bonkers. The systemic illness is more or less over and I no longer feel sick per se, but the rash area is alternating between numb and red hot poker and the hypersensitive skin over my whole torso gets irritated with every move, especially when clothes ride over it. I’ve thought about asking if I can go to work in the nude to avoid this problem but I don’t quite think either UAB or the VA is ready for that. I went out of the house this am without taking my meds so I didn’t even have some Tylenol on board so this afternoon was a bit of a chore. Now that I’ve gotten back home, loaded up on Tylenol, Celebrex and gabapentin, I’m in a bit better mood.
I will be leaving for Europe on Thursday. Please send good vibes that I won’t spend a transatlantic flight wishing to rip my skin off the entire way. Once I get there, I figure I’ll be able to keep myself relatively distracted and that should help some with the pain. I’ll take my meds with me as well. Two more work days to go and I have to make sure that I have everything squared away for an absence of three weeks. The travelogue will start up on either Thursday or Friday. It will be thirty five years, almost to the day since I last flew into Amsterdam so that should give me some thought tangents for some good stories. I have the travel diary I kept on that trip (in longhand – there was no internet yet). I should break it out and read it and see what was going through 22 year old Andy’s head.
I’ll be taking my Choir Boy script with me so I can pound lines. I’m supposed to be off book for the first rehearsal on July 28th. I usually play bit character parts without a whole lot of lines. I’ll have to up my game for this one. I was able to memorize Scrooge in A Christmas Carol a couple years ago so I should be able to do this as well. I’ve gotten some good news on some other projects for next season but things cannot yet be discussed publicly. Y’all will know in good time.
A combination of pain making me feel rotten and pain meds making me feel sleepy has put me way behind on writing. I have a couple of movies that require MNM columns and I am half way through a new chunk of book that I have to finish. I’ll get to it when I get to it. In the meantime, I lie around rewatching Game of Thrones from the beginning. (I’m just finishing season 6). When that show was good, it was like nothing else. I doubt we’ll see it’s like again although Hollywood will try. There’s a Tolkien series and a Wheel of Time series in the works. Rosamund Pike has just been cast as Moiraine in the WoT. She’s the right type, but way too tall. Moiraine is supposed to be physically tiny which is what makes her power all the more remarkable as she reveals it to our heroes as they escape the Two Rivers. (Nerd moment there…)
Gilbert and Sullivan aficionado for decades (due to the heavy
influences of my mother who grew up in a very British household), but this was
the first time I’d ever had a chance to perform one. They knew how to have fun
with a men’s chorus. We didn’t have a lot of trained dancers on the stage (they
don’t tend to come out for operetta), so we went for more of a Keystone Kops
effect of bumbling, good natured, but not terribly precise sailors and that,
combined with the general silliness and more preposterous aspects of the plot
led to a good time being had by all on stage and in the audience. I hope it was
enough of a success that the company does some more G and S in the future. I
adore the score to the Mikado but do realize that it needs to be rethought some
in this day and age so as not to come across as semi-racist with its Oriental
tropes. The English National Opera got it right thirty years ago when they set
the whole thing in a Brighton seaside hotel as a Marx Brothers movie
jettisoning all the Japanese trappings. The satire and humor are all about
Victorian England anyway and has essentially nothing to do with Imperial Japan.
I have a DVD of that production somewhere. I should get it out and watch it.
In some ways, the production was a bit of a full circle. The
very first adult theater production (not that kind of adult theater, get your
mind out of the gutter…) I was taken to as a child at age 5 was the D’Oyly
Carte company’s tour of the original production of HMS Pinafore. I remember it
vividly and its probably at least part of the reason I became enchanted with
theater. I still have the program for whatever reason, likely my packrat
tendencies, so I broke it out for the cast and staff to look at. The mid 60s
advertisements were hysterical.
Birmingham Music Club needs to be commended for keeping the
operetta tradition alive locally with their annual production. This is my third
with them, the other two being The Desert Song and Die Fledermaus. The
principals are cast with real singers who can do the material justice and they
spring for a full pit orchestra rather than a couple of synthesizers and it’s
so much more fun to sing with that kind of accompaniment. We’re also not miked.
They do cheat a little with some ambient stage mics, but we really do have to
The experience would have been better had I not developed a backache rather suddenly the day after first tech. I put it down to bouncing around on stage in shoes I don’t usually wear but it continued to nag me. Hot showers, ice packs, anti inflammatories, anti spasmodics. Nothing much was helping. I was laying down on the floor of the green room during off times trying to stretch it out but even that wasn’t much use. It just made other things hurt. I was also feeling slightly under the weather, but I figured that was just tech week with late hours and catch as catch can meals. On opening night, I did the show and changed out of costume. My skin was fine. A few hours later, I was home, getting ready for bed, took my shirt off and there it was. A huge band of vesicular rash around my right side. Shingles. Well, at least I now knew what I was dealing with. (That second year medical student piece of me was gearing up to have to go in and get a CT scan to discover my renal cell carcinoma). Off to the pharmacy the next morning for valacyclovir and prednisone. There are some advantages to having an MD. You can skip the step where you have to go sit in the urgent care for hours. I’m on day two of the rash. It’s blistering up and the area aches a bit, but I was still able to do the remaining Pinafore performances and my church obligations this weekend. (I thought about posting a picture of my lovely rash, but then decided that might be TMI…)
It’s also Pride weekend locally. I wasn’t really able to participate
this year due to Pinafore performances and the shingles and need for some pain
meds really precluded any late-night revelry. Like a lot of gay men of my
generation, I have a bit of a love/hate relation with pride and pride parades.
I went to my first one in Seattle in the mid80s before I was out, scared to
death that someone I knew might see me. I knew I was gay, but that fact just
didn’t fit into the vision I had for my life and future at the time, so I
remained firmly in the closet for a few more years than I should have. I
remember watching the parade and being titillated but a bit disappointed. Where
were the people like me? I was tall, skinny, not especially attractive and the
young men were all these gorgeous little twinky boys in speedos. The older men
seemed to be leather queens or drag queens, or some other stereotype and I
didn’t see myself fitting into any of those groups. Because I wasn’t out, I had
gay acquaintances, but not a lot of gay friends to talk to. Then there was a
float with health care workers on it. It was the height of the HIV epidemic.
They looked like me (I was in medical school at the time). It was going to be
A few years later, after I got together with Steve and
officially came out to the world, the two of us would go to pride wherever we
happened to be. We went to San Francisco Pride (a bit overwhelming but I got a
great T-shirt that I still wear every pride season), Los Angeles Pride, San
Diego Pride, New York Pride, Seattle Pride and, of course, Sacramento Pride at
various times over the years. I have my anodized aluminum pride rings, all
sorts of rainbow paraphernalia, short shorts, and various other tchotchkes so
I’m more than ready when it rolls around every year. Tommy wasn’t big on pride
celebrations. He was a strict assimilationist and hated the fact that all the
press would go to the drag queens and topless lesbians and not to mass groups
of gay accountants or bankers. We’d argue every year about whether to go or not
and I would make my points about the need for the community to hang together
and to just be visible and he would make his points about the straight world
seizing on the more outré elements. Then we’d go to dinner and sometimes he
would win, and we’d go home and sometimes I would win, and we’d go people watch.
Last year’s pride happened shortly after his death and I found
it suddenly very important that I go and be seen. My life parallels the gay
rights movement in this country. I was much too young for Stonewall and the
early days but Steve, at fourteen years older than I was a member of that
generation and I got a good feel for it from him and his surviving friends. The
HIV epidemic coincided with my medical training and I saw more young men of my
generation die than I want to remember. I came out just as people were starting
to be open in medicine in fields outside of HIV care. To my knowledge, I was
one of the first UAB clinical faculty recruits who was out at the time of hire.
(They weren’t exactly sure what to do when I arrived with a husband rather than
a wife). My time at UAB has been a transition from being denied access to any
benefits to ease my position when Steve was sick and dying to now working in a
division where six of the faculty are openly LGBTQ+. If the shingles, the grey
hair and the white beard didn’t already prove it, my need to tell my story and
be there for the younger generations to have an easier time and not fight the
same battles confirms my status as an eldergay. We’re starting to pull together
a community group locally dedicated to issues of aging in the LGBTQ+ community
and I’m doing a meeting/Q and A with them this next week.
What else? I was going to keep things low key over the next
couple of weeks before I leave for Europe (seventeen days but who’s counting?)
but the calendar seems to be filling up anyway. Opera Birmingham annual meeting
on Monday where I officially join the board. Meeting over the future of
CenterStage productions (the theater company that I have been placeholding for
a decade waiting for someone with more time and energy than I to take it on).
Discussions on a Politically Incorrect Cabaret activity (we have a couple of
ideas that could be put together relatively quickly with minimal rehearsal). I
also have to finish the book chapter I’m half way through, start the next one,
and write a couple of MNM columns. And of course, there’s the usual work
schedule plus being quasi doped up on meds while the shingles run their course.
is no rest for the wicked. #illsleepwhenimdead
It’s been kind of a weird long weekend. I’ve been a bit of a funky mood through the whole thing and I’ve been missing Tommy a lot more than usual. I’m not exactly sure why that is so I’m going to write for a while and maybe that will start to clarify things and order my brain. Y’all will have to bear with me while I do this but, if you’re a long term reader of these posts, you know how it goes. Fingers fly across the keyboard, a stream of consciousness emerges and by the time I’m done, I feel better, have usually started to uncover what the issues are and you are all bored silly and have stopped reading and scrolled on to the latest cat memes.
The major theme of this past week has been one of endings. I’ve been participating in a small group meeting at church that has been going through a book of readings and exercises around various existential topics that come up far too often in life. Our last meeting was last night. (We finished the book). I’ve enjoyed it but feel like I need to take a step back from church in general as I find myself there about three times a week for something and I think it’s good for the institution if different people step up at different times. I’m also ending my term on the board of directors – which I think has been successful as we have figured out how to balance the budget and keep ourselves out of debt while still paying for the two dead air conditioning units, the broken elevator, and a new full time director of religious education. Our church choir season is also ending for the summer this next weekend. We do a big choir service showing off our greatest hits and then lay off until August sometime.
Along with church endings is the ending of Game of Thrones, the only television show I’ve been devoted to in real time in decades. I had read the books years ago, long before the TV show was announced, and when HBO picked up the series, I made it a point to catch it. They did the story justice with a magnificent cast and an opulent physical production that captured Westeros in all of its beauty and its horror. I know a lot of people were unhappy with the turns of the show in the final season but I’ve gone back to do a rewatch from the beginning (and have gotten up through the end of season 4) and all of the character reversals are absolutely set up by things in earlier seasons that I had forgotten about or misremembered. When something is as long and complex as Game of Thrones is, you tend to remember things from before the way you want to rather than the way they were. I have my beefs with the rapidity of developments in the last season and with there not being enough quiet on the road character development moments, but the arcs make perfect sense if you go back and look at it all from the beginning. I’m going to miss having new episodes to look forward to. Now if George RR Martin will just finish the dang book series. I’m reading Fire and Blood, his history of the Targaryen dynasty at the moment. Not terribly literary but very entertaining.
There’s no particular endings at work. We’re losing a couple of colleagues I’ve worked with for years to other opportunities and life patterns but that’s the way academia always is. In the 21 years I’ve been here at UAB, I have morphed from new kid at the table, to wise old keeper of institutional memory. There’s no one in the clinical arm of geriatrics that predates me anymore. I hate to think what it’ll be like if I work for another ten years. There are a few pieces of my job that I would like to end, but that’s not up to me and depends entirely on where the salary dollars flow.
The other thing that’s currently going on is rehearsal for HMS Pinafore. It will end shortly with performances starting in ten days and closing after three glorious runs on the stage of the Sirote theater at the Alys Stephens Center. Now, we’re definitely in the get the show up on its feet stage. We had a three hour choreography rehearsal tonight which my knees are not forgiving me for. It wouldn’t have been so bad but we’re rehearsing at Samford University and they were closed for the long weekend so there was no A/C in the building for the last three days and it was well into the 80s in there tonight. None of us were moving too quickly by the end of it. We have another week of rehearsal before tech so it should start coming together without too much ado. I’ve worked with a lot of the people in the cast in other projects so it’s old home week in some ways.
I did get one piece of great theatrical news this last week. I was cast in the one white role in the African American play Choir Boy (the original NYC production is up for several Tonys this next week). It’s a new company, Birmingham Black Repertory Theater, with an African American cast and production staff and I am really looking forward to working with everyone and learning from them. It’s been a few years since I’ve had a dramatic part. The last one was Ebenezer Scrooge.
So that’s all the news that’s fit to print. So what’s the trigger? If I had to make a guess, it’s change, whether that be endings or beginnings. I know I’m in an evolutionary process, becoming a different person than I was when I was with Tommy and that requires a certain amount of letting go and faith that things will fall into place. Perhaps that’s why he’s been on my mind. I have to change and the space he occupied will over time be filled with new and different things and I’m feeling that shuffling of psychic energy on some primal level. I guess there’s times when it just happens, and other times when something gets stuck and you have to push yourself in uncomfortable ways, even when you’re not always conscious of what those might be.
Leaving for Europe one month from today. Let the countdown begin!
Actually, that’s not quite true as I am now back in Birmingham. If you’d asked me a month ago how I would be spending my 57th birthday, a quick trip to rural Eastern Kentucky and back would not have even cracked the top ten ideas. Probably not even the top one hundred, but there you have it. Sometimes life leads you on odd little adventures. And sometimes they take you up I-75.
This jaunt all came together over this last week. Ellise Mayor, one of my partners in theatrical crime over many years has long had an interest in theater for older adults and has been doing a number of projects in the greater Birmingham area with people in senior living facilities. She also ran The Seasoned Performers, the local senior theater troupe for a number of years. She had attended a training earlier this year in a program called Time Slips which went over the use of the arts with seniors in order to help stave off the apathy and boredom of aging that often leads to worsening cognitive problems. While there, she heard about another program Time Slips was involved with where they had resident artists going into rural nursing homes and helping the residents and staff together to create and mount a theatrical piece. One of these was to be performed this weekend at the Lee County Nursing Home in Beattyville, Kentucky. Schedules only lined up for the day so up I was at 5 am so we could drive to Kentucky in time for a 2 PM performance.
We were joined by Kimberly Kirklin, yet another old theatrical friend (all of us founding members of the Politically Incorrect Cabaret among other endeavors). Kimberley runs the Arts in Medicine program at UAB. The three of us loaded up Kim’s car and off we went through the rain and the fog in search of Lee County, Kentucky and inspiration for future projects involving aging, theater, and the possibilities of working with nursing facilities. Early Saturday morning is a quiet time on the roads so we zipped along through Alabama, Northern Georgia, Tennessee and into Kentucky. Then we had to leave the interstate and wind into the hills. I’ve spent plenty of time in the hill country over the years with all my work with the mine workers funds so I more or less knew what to expect.
After a couple of minor wrong turns, and a spate of surly gas station attendants and out of order rest rooms, we arrived at our destination with an hour to spare, joining up with Beattyville’s finest citizens to see ‘Wendy’s Neverland’, a free form piece adapted somewhat from Peter Pan. It was an interesting experience. Several dozen frail nursing home residents, working together with the staff and some imported theater artists (and some of the local high school theater kids). Had put together a fantasia on themes of aging and loss and hope and a reminder that even though they reside in a nursing home, the emphasis should be on that second word and that they are still interesting and vital human beings. There was a bluegrass band of lost boys, some clogging, a pirate ship made of appliance cartons on the back lawn, a wheelchair dance, and audio and visual remeniscences of an earlier time. The audience went from station to station within the nursing home with different scenes in each place. It wasn’t perfect but it was an incredible labor of love and had obviously impacted the residents and staff in positive ways as they all had labored together on their show. The three of us have some ideas for adapting some of their techniques locally as we continue to work to bring artistic expression to older people whom society conveniently forgets.
On the was back we stopped in Knoxville for dinner. (Three thumbs up for Taste of Thailand next to the Lowe’s in West Knoxville). Before getting back to Birmingham, 675 miles and 17 hours after we set out. It wasn’t a traditional birthday, but it was spent in good company and I feel that watching what these Kentucky elders had spent the last year creating was significant in some way that I am as yet unaware of. Sometimes I have moments where I know the pebble has hit the pond and that the ripples will continue to flow out for some time. This feels like one of those days.
Sorry that there was no travelogue last night, but I really didn’t have much to say. I spent more time with my mother in the morning. (It was a sleepy day for her – much less interactive than usual). Then, took myself on a quick tour of some of my usual Seattle haunts to see what’s changing. Not a lot different over the last year other than the vast changes Amazon is bringing to the South end of Lake Union. Traffic is becoming an Atlanta sized nightmare. The geography of the city forbids much in the way or new or enlarged roads and the population has doubled over the last few decades. I know all the back ways having grown up there, but even so, it’s becoming more and more difficult to get from point A to B, especially if you need to cross the ship canal.
Last night after dinner, I did one of my talks for the residents of Aljoya, my father’s senior living facility. I’ve been doing them on most of my visits ever since he moved in there with my mother nearly a decade ago. Sometimes I do a specific topic, but usually (including last night), I just do Q and A with a lively group of octo and nonagenarians who keep me on my toes in terms of coming up with cogent answers quickly and figuring out how to phrase them in lay language without trying to talk down to a group of intelligent, if elder, adults. We touched on pain medications, end of life issues, life expectancy, dementia issues and a lot of other things over an hour and a half. As I get older, being on stage for what amounts to a 75 -90 minute monologue is becoming more taxing. I was a bit bushed at the end of it.
There were a couple of surprise visitors for it. My sister, Jeannie, turned up. She had never heard me do my professional shtick and she seemed rather impressed. She doesn’t impress easily so I felt quite complimented. She’s one of the few people in my life who isn’t afraid to take me down a peg or two if she thinks I need it. She and Tommy used to gang up on me relentlessly when we would visit up there. Also present were Bob and Molly Cleland, old friends of my parents who have known me since I was three years old. It was lovely to see them for the first time in several decades.
I took to public speaking quite well when I was first faced with it. I didn’t really do it until late in my residency. One of our requirements for graduation was that we present some sort of research paper at the end of our third year as we were getting ready to move on. I didn’t have any research I thought was worthy of sharing so I hatched a plan with Faith Fitzgerald, my residency program director and the first person in medicine who got me. I created a talk called ‘Shakespeare, Sheridan, Shaw, and Shafer: Four centuries of the physician on the British Stage’ using doctor characters from those playwrights works to show how public perceptions of medicine had evolved. It must have worked because even though I went overtime, nobody left the lecture hall. The next year, when I was a first year fellow in geriatrics, Faith came to me and asked me to put together fifteen minutes on elder nutrition to be an opener for a talk she was to give at the American College of Physicians annual meeting in Atlanta. I dutifully did, headed to Atlanta not knowing what to expect, and found myself on the podium in a convention hall the size of an airplane hangar full of 5,000 internists who had come to hear her and who had no interest in the thirty year old whippersnapper who was up first. I was very definitely thrown in the deep end. I remember nothing of the talk but something must have clicked as Faith asked me to be her opening act again the next year and for several more years following. In the meantime, I studied her techniques for holding an audience carefully, adopted a few of my own, and within a few years had a reputation as a great public speaker all over Northern California. It’s why I wasn’t afraid to try acting a few years later when life changes made me want to do something different.
Today was travel day. Spent most of it on airplanes or in airports. Nothing exciting happened, which on a travel day, is a very good thing. I got home to find the house standing, the cats well fed, and a large limb off the tree in front of the house in the parking strip. The tree is original to the neighborhood and reaching the end of the life cycle. Fortunately, I think it’s too far from the house to do any major damage if other parts come down. I figure it will need to be taken out and replaced eventually but I’m not going to worry about that tonight.
This is the end of this trip and travelogue. It looks like I’m making a quick trip to Kentucky this next weekend so I’ll check in around that. Otherwise, long posts will likely be intermittent the next few weeks. For those of you new to my ramblings who might like to catch up, all of the long posts are archived athttp://lifetheuniverseandeverything.blog – except for the last few days. I haven’t moved those over yet.
Just a quick entry tonight. Finishing up that three thousand words on the baby boom and aging earlier today (posted separately) took most of my writing energy. If I can write another dozen or so of those on various topics related to aging, I may have the makings of a book. Feel free to chime in if you have specific topics you would want me to get into. I think I’m going to tackle geropharmacy and the failures of Medicare next. They’re both topics I cover frequently in various lectures.
Spent a leisurely morning this morning with my father in his apartment at Aljoya, the senior community in which he lives. It’s a very nice unit. It’s an end cap so it has windows on three sides, overlooks Thornton Creek and has easy access to pretty much anything he would want as he’s a block and a half from the Northgate Mall. At 86, he’s independent and still drives but knows that’s going to go away soon so he’s learned to Uber and has bought himself a little electric scooter that he can use for short neighborhood hops. His geriatrician son has cautioned him about falls. We went out to see my mother, who lives in a group home a few blocks away. Her Picks disease variant continues to worsen and she’s pretty much non-communicative. She was alert this morning, which isn’t always the case. We ate cookies and she pulled at my hands a lot. She remains quite strong and the staff need to trim her finger nails as she was able to scratch quite hard.
Took myself on my usual city tour in the afternoon. The downtown/Lake Union core continues -to be full of new construction and I can’t say that I like what it’s doing to the city. But I moved away thirty plus years ago so I don’t think I get a vote anymore. I also took a nice walk through the Arboretum which is my favorite place in town.
This evening was family gathering at my brother’s house for dinner and an early birthday cake for me. Everyone appears well, we all caught up on each others lives and then my brother, sister, niece and sister’s SO all gathered around to watch this week’s Game of Thrones. Laughing at the first half and sitting on the edge of our seats for the second half.
Tomorrow is my last full day in town. The only formal plan on the books is giving a talk to the Aljoya residents on aging issues (something I do pretty much every time I come up) so if you’re in the greater Seattle area and you have nothing better to do and want to see me do my professional schtick, come on by at seven tomorrow evening.
Today was the last day of the conference. I dutifully got up, had breakfast, checked out of the Porter Hotel of downtown Portland and headed back to the convention center for the last gasp. Meetings were over with by lunch and not overly memorable other than the literature review where the faculty had incorporated a sing-a-long by the audience. I suppose that’s one way to get people to remember your information. I haven’t tried that yet but I have some ideas for the next time I do Geropharmacy for a large group somewhere.
As I didn’t need to be back in Seattle until dinner time, I had a free hour or so so I drove east of Portland to the start of the Columbia River Gorge where I had not been for some years. I took a walk through the type of forests I grew up with, delighted that I could still recognize Devil’s Club, huckleberry bushes, camas lilies and other assorted Pacific Northwest flora. Not a lot of fauna around other than a very fat and sassy ground squirrel who came up and danced at my feet in the parking lot when he saw that I was eating a cookie. I also made the obligatory stop at Multnomah Falls for the view and a selfie. I can guarantee you’ve seen the Falls before. They appear in almost every movie ever filmed in the greater Portland area.
The drive back to Seattle was uneventful, other than a major traffic slow down between Olympia and Tacoma where they were repairing a bridge across the Nisqually River. It put me in mind of another day in May, nearly forty years ago. It was the Sunday after Mother’s Day and the week after my 18th birthday. We were due to go visit my grandmother (my father’s mother) who lived in a large senior community called Panorama City outside of Olympia. The family got up, packed ourselves into the 1972 Ford Van that was the family transport at the time, and headed south on I-5. The news started to come in over the radio. Mount Saint Helens had erupted (and we were heading directly toward it). More reports of ash clouds, sudden river flooding, flattened forests. What were we getting into? Fortunately, St. Helens was a good 75 miles south of our destination so we arrived for lunch with my grandmother without incident. We then all hurried home to watch the news. Phone calls to friends (from the land line at home – no mobiles yet) revealed that those on the water had heard the explosion that morning as the sound waves echoed off of those flat surfaces but those further inland were oblivious until the news started to pour in. We looked for visual signs on the horizon but there wasn’t much to see. A couple of steam and ash eruptions later that summer were very visible from the city and I remember watching them. For one of them, I was on a boat on Lake Washington and that one was truly spectacular. I had no call to go towards St. Helens that year, but the next year, on a trip up down I-5, I stopped somewhere and gathered up some ash from the side of the road into a jar which I still have somewhere. I’m not likely to be close to many other volcanic explosions in my life.
Dinner tonight with my father, and then to bed with some bad TV. I am working on a couple of writing pieces. A new MNM column for this next week and an essay on the Baby Boom and aging which I will post for comment and may become a chapter in the book I’m contemplating.
More tomorrow – as long as it doesn’t interfere with Game of Thrones…