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December 22, 2006

Other People’s Kids

A few times a month, as part of the program to forge me into a white-hot molten coruscation of proto-physicianship, I spend time in the pediatric clinic, and there I am confronted with other people’s kids.

Effective communication with patients (whether or not they can actually talk) requires a certain amount of empathy, and I normally have very little difficulty pumping up an adequate reservoir of fellow-feeling for the ill. On the one hand, I underwent extensive training in the liberal arts at Luther College, the main object of which was to see Everything from all points of view and to generally walk a mile in another person’s shoes whenever possible. With practiced ease I can leap into a patient’s shoes/cast/prosthetic limb, stump around a bit, and come away with a healthy dose of compassion for their plight. On the other hand, I have some experience as an actor, and, whenever it is necessary to do so, can put on my ‘Empathetic Face’:

[Note: Due to time constraints, no actual picture of the Empathetic Face was taken.]

Note the tilt of the eyebrows to convey respect for the patient’s pain, the forward incline to the head to indicate attentive listening, and the mouth slightly open- ready at an instant to supply an encouraging and affirming remark. This face is ready to act empathetic.

I’m being too flippant, here. I really do feel for the patients I see. One of the misperceptions about acting is that it is an exercise in falsehood. In reality, for even mediocre actors (whether or not they realize it) doing is being- when I ‘act’ angry, loving, or sympathetic, I actually am being and feeling those things. The only difference between acting and ‘real’ experience is context and duration; the feeling of anger, love, or sympathy ends when the scene or patient encounter is over.

But I’ve been having trouble feeling empathy toward other people’s kids. This hasn’t always been the case; I used to be just as good with kids as I am with adults. The difference is Adelaide. Since Adelaide’s arrival, children and especially infants in the patient setting repel me. It’s not that they’re sick (though that certainly doesn’t make them more charming). Looking at them, my first reaction is not one of fellow-feeling, and I can put on my empathic face but no wave of commonality follows it. What I feel instead is a dis-identification: “This is not my kid.” Followed by confusion: “Where is my kid?” And concluded with agitation: “I should go be with my kid right now!”


This only happens in the clinic or hospital setting because, of course, when I’m not there, I’m with Adelaide. With her in my company I can look at another person’s kid and think, “This is not my kid,” and then simply look at Adelaide and think, “Ahhh,” with deep satisfaction. This satisfaction is so palpable that I actually enjoy being with other people’s kids, as long as Adelaide is there, too. No doubt I’d have no trouble in the pediatric clinic if I could just examine patients while Adelaide crawls around on the exam room floor.

Disturbingly, I am reminded by what I’ve read about the behavior of male lions. When a new male takes over a pride, he’ll kill cubs that aren’t his own. There’s an obvious evolutionary underpinning to this: killing other cubs maximizes the success of the male lion’s own progeny (and causes the female lions to become reproductively available, but that doesn’t really fit with my metaphor). Let me rush to assure everyone (and myself): I don’t feel any aggression toward other people’s kids, just such a strong preference for my own child that it amounts to an aversion toward all others.

Aimee’s attitude since she started work at the clinic also reminds me of a lion’s, only in this case a lioness. She feels more compassion for children because they remind her of Adelaide, and she certainly feels empathy for the parents of sick kids- just like lionesses raise their cubs in community, even to the point of coordinating their reproductive cycles to share the burden of nurturing.

So, men are from Mars, women from Venus, and I’m as sociopathic as a lion.

December 18, 2006

Munch, munch, munch

Adelaide is nine months old today! Unfortunately, I do not have a current photograph to show you because our clever, charming nine month-old ate our USB cord thereby rendering our camera-to-computer connection out-of-service for the moment.

Suffice to say, Adelaide is enjoying all that her age brings. She is crawling quickly from place-to-place, deftly using her thumb and index finger to pluck the tiniest bits of fluff and stuff from between the piles of carpeting, eating a variety of solid foods (including chicken, Cheerios, green beans, and Iams Adult Cat Food), and each day delivers a host of giggles, babbles, and baby-style arguments critiquing our novice parenting style.

Sometimes we just stop and wonder about her age; nine months have so swiftly passed. Nine months ago she was tiny, dark-haired, tired, and suspicious of us. And nine months before that ... Well, she was just a little cluster of brand-new cells, poised and ready to make a petite person. Amazing.

December 12, 2006

All's Well That Ends

Attack of the Seth-Clown!

We survived the weekend.

The show was a grand success, so pronounced by all who saw it and all who performed in it. We managed to overcome flubbed lines, misplaced props, giant wedding gowns, and missed entrances to share our sparky, plucky version of Much Ado with our audiences. Despite what any ticket-holder may tell you, the most fun might have been found backstage, somewhere between Opening Night and our Sunday Matinee, where the magic of theatre always truly happens for those who share in the joys and labor of creating a colorful, fleeting world.

December 9, 2006

Butts in the seats

Note: Yesterday Aimee wrote a lovely entry about choosing to direct Much Ado, which I've bumped off the front page with a similar entry. If you're a once-every-few-days reader of our 'blog, be sure to check her entry out!

Tonight, the production of Much Ado About Nothing that we’ve been directing since July finally hits the stage. Neither Aimee nor I have ever undertaken a project of this scope, involvement, and commitment, and it is strange to think about it finally coming to an end. What will life be like after the (figurative) final curtain drops? What will our “normal” lives be like?

Well, first we have to actually get through the weekend. We had our final dress rehearsal last night for a small (and very sympathetic) preview audience. Many things went wrong- flubbed lines, missed scene changes, and, worst of all, an old and very valuable baritone horn that is onstage for about 30 seconds was dropped- perhaps enough to satisfy the old adage that a bad dress rehearsal predicts a good opening night.

Of course, lots of things went well, too. We got big laughs in places we didn’t expect, which is always delightful. And, perhaps the best thing about our show: we get from the beginning to the end of a Shakespearean play in two hours and ten minutes- satisfying another old theater adage: in comedy it is important to be funny, but it is almost as important to be fast.

So, Aimee and I are satisfied with the show. It could be better, but it’s not a total fiasco, either. But will anyone come? We’ve invested so much time and effort into this production, so much more than any simple acting gig we’ve ever had, but we’ve also invested a lot of money. Of course, it’s not our money; we’re produced by the Vermillion Community Theatre, but I still desperately want the show to break even.

And so I find myself, perhaps for the first time, really thinking about advertising.

To get “butts in the seats” our advertising campaign includes: 30 posters distributed around town, 28 “Much Ado” t-shirts worn by the cast and crew at school and work, two 4’x5’ wooden signs with incredibly sloppy hand painted slogans set up in the parking lots of our local grocery stores, one announcement on the South Dakota Public Broadcasting Arts Calendar, one small story in the local weekly paper, and word of mouth.

Which, if any, of these will be effective in getting people to see the show? Did we put the posters up in the right places? Those wooden signs are painted so badly, might they actually serve as a deterrent to our potential audience? What obvious advertising channel did we overlook?

My sense of perspective is all out of whack. People have come up to me during this last week and innocently asked, “So, what are you doing this weekend?” My reply is always a goggle of disbelief. How is it possible that anyone around here could not know about the play? I have to force myself to smile pleasantly and calmly reply, “Actually, that play Aimee and I are directing? That one I’ve been talking about all autumn? Well, it’s finally hitting the stage. Let me point out that poster that’s been hanging over there for the past few weeks. See? This weekend. Come check us out if you’ve got the time.”

And then I grit my grinning teeth and wait for them to explain to me about what a busy time of year this is, especially this weekend.

December 8, 2006

Much Ado

This weekend, on a small stage in our humble hamlet, a vision will be realized; a vision that – dream-like – was born six months ago, on another stage, when the world was entirely different.

During the dark winter of 1999, as I was chipping away at my undergraduate degree in the frigid chill of Minneapolis, I was warmed by the fire of friendship in an unassuming production of Much Ado About Nothing. I whet my Shakespearean skill with my performance of Conrade, a sometime chum of Don John, the play’s villain. I was two years into a stormy, broody relationship with Joel at the time, who had often taken every opportunity to boast about (and relive) the time he’d played Hamlet in high school, so I thought that auditioning and performing Shakespeare might provide me with some windows into the soul of my sweetheart and would give me an opportunity to be on stage. I got much more than I bargained for when I fell head-over-heals for the amusing wit and gripping story of Much Ado.

As a performer and theatre devotee, I keep a running catalogue of plays in my mind that I’d like to see performed, that I’d like to perform, and that I’d like to direct. Someday, I hope to see Joel and Adelaide perform King Lear and Cordelia. One day, I hope to play Lady Croom in a production of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, sing the role of Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, enact the role of Miss Hannigan in Annie, and try my hand at Chekov. And for years, directing a youth production of Much Ado About Nothing, set in a high school, was always percolating on the back burners of my brain.

So, without further ado, I am pleased and proud to present – after six months of rehearsing, planning, blocking, memorizing, and teaching – The Vermillion Community Theatre Understudies in William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

Come and see us if you’re in the region!

December 7, 2006

Thanksgiving: A Retrospective

It’s been a pretty busy time here in Toadsland since we returned from our Thanksgiving travels; busy with play rehearsals, employment, crawling, and learning issues ... But before I get to explaining all of that, here’s Thanksgiving 2006, for your pleasure.


Ah! Gathering for the annual family photo is always fun and often involves many digital cameras, a wooden ladder, and hats and scarves (though the temperature was a balmy 60 degrees).


Two heads ... One red, one wait-and-see.


When traveling Adelaide always enjoys bathtime in other people's sinks with other people's fun tubtime toys.


Adelaide and Grandpa Doug bond over a self-composed atonal piano piece, perhaps in the style of Béla Bartók ... Who knows?