Saturday, February 28, 2009

Removing the Cyst

I don't think I've told you the story of my "sebaceous cyst" that wasn't.

It begins around 1993, after a miniature show. I was alone in a parking garage loading up our car to return home. As I put stuff in the backseat, I leaned up too quickly and hit my left temple against the door frame. After the initial hit and reaction to how much it hurt, I promptly forgot about it. I was busy, we were taking company home with us, and I didn't give it another thought.

The next morning I noticed a bump on my right temple. It kind of hurt, but I didn't remember where it had come from. At school, I dropped in on the nurse and told her it seemed a little larger than it had been and more solid and asked her what she thought it might be.

"Sounds like a sebaceous cyst," she said. "You might want to check with your doctor about it."

So I made an appointment and got in the next day to see him. He agreed with the nurse's diagnosis and told me I should come back in a week and he would drain it. Then he told me to put warm compresses on it every day--as warm as I could stand.

Well, the week went by and the cyst seemed very pronounced and hard, so I conscientiously applied the heat to it. After a week I returned to the doctor's. He said we could do the removal in the office with just a little local anathestic since it was simple procedure--not even an operation. I lay down on my side, he gave me the shot and he cut open the cyst.

I didn't like his sudden intake of air nor his "uh-oh." [Long pause.]

"Did you hit your head recently?" he asked.

"I think I did," remembering the incident in the parking garage.

"I thought so," he said. "This is a blood clot... not a cyst."

He quickly began removing whatever he had to remove and then sewed me back up.

When I told the nurse the story the next day, she blanched. "Heat is the worse thing you could do for a blood clot," she cautioned. "It could cause the blood clot to travel to the heart."

I determined right then that my guardian angel had worked dilligently during the week.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Today's Assignment

In Mary Shelley’s book, Frankenstein’s monster reads Plutarch’s Lives, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther. These books give shape and context to the world that this child-like being is trying to understand.

Using works available now, what three works would you use to help the creature have a more successful view of the present world? [You may not use Shelley’s Frankenstein.] Give the titles and then explain in detail what the works would teach one.

Monday, February 23, 2009

What Do Women Want?

In the Wife of Bath's Tale, from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, a knight who has committed rape is given a quest to save his life. He must find the answer to "What do women really want?" He spends a year and a day trying to find out. Eventually an old crone who forces him to marry her (but is actually a beautiful fairy in disguise) tells him that he can have her as an ugly old woman but faithful or beautiful and unfaithful. When he refuses to chose, but allows her to chose, he gets both, learning that what women really want is to make decisions of their own.

I thought of that story Sunday as I sat amid a huge audience of women in their 20s attending He's Just Not That Into You. The film pretends to teach women what men really are saying when they such things as "I'll call you." But what the film actually does is perpetuate those very stereotypes that women have come to accept:

  • The not-so hot guys are the ones you should rely on.
  • The really cute guys--who are married or in a committed relationship--are often liars and cheats. The blonde hunk, played by Bradley Cooper with a winning smile and persona, cheats on his wife, confesses to her his infidelity and then continues that infidelity while saying he wants to work it out with his wife. AND he lies about not having quit smoking, a sin the film--and wife--sees as equal to the infidelity. At the end, though, he gets his comeupance by being alone, just like the girl he cheated with and his ex-wife. [The film undercuts this high moral viewpoint toward telling the truth by having a multi-married woman say how much better she is than any of her three husbands--she was never caught.]
  • Cooper's best friend, Ben Afflick, is in a seven year committed relationship with Jennifer Aniston but refuses to marry her. He's sensitive, caring, does the dishes, but just doesn't want to do the vows. After she finally realizes that a committed relationship is better than no relationship, he gives her ring and gets on his knees to beg her to marry him. A collective sigh went up from all the romantic souls in the audience. After all, just as Sex in the City showed, what women really want is to have a man sweep them off their feet and marry them.
No where in the film is there any woman who can stand on her own without a partner. It is only as part of a couple that women are supposed to find fulfillment. Only the girl who cheated with the husband and the wronged ex-wife are alone at the end--and being alone appears a curse, not a blessing.

What do women really want? It appears Hollywood thinks it is to let men make their decisions and determine the roles to play in their lives.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


I watched a most delightful film tonight with Clive Owen and Helen Mirren. Greenfingers (2001) is about a group of prisoners who are put on a gardening detail and how the experience changes them. The plot is "inspired by real events." Although it follows rather predictable lines, getting there is worth the trip. Owen has a way of drawing you in, Mirren is her usual cheeky self and David Blake Kelly plays a wry old serial killer with an enormous heart. The whole thing proved an enjoyable evening. I highly recommend it.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Learning from the Sunday New York Times

Part of my Sunday routine is getting up early enough to go to Starbucks and sit and read through the Sunday New York Times. On a good day, I feel I learn a lot. Today was no exception.

Among the things I learned were as follows:
  • Front page: "Unemplyment surges around the world, threatening stability"
  • There's a fascinating photo of a nattily dressed young handsome businessman beside his great car with a sign reading, "$100 WILL BUY THIS CAR / MUST HAVE CASH/ LOST ALL ON THE STOCK MARKET." The picture could taken easily today.
  • An article on Yves St. Laurent shows his book library shelves. What a great idea for a series of pictures... the libraries of friends and what they tell us about them.
  • A disturbing article by John Markoff discusses the need for a new internet since the security of the one we use has been irreparably compromised. Gangs across the world can now commandeer over 12 million computers and make them into a supercomputer called botnet.
  • Virginia Heffernan asks what makes a good Facebook update. Ultimately her answer is that questions make the most provocative updates and get the most response.
  • The book review praises Samantha Harvey's The Wilderness about a man dealing with Alzheimer's from inside his mind.
Check out the Times.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Staging a Peter Max Midsummer Night's Dream

I am currently directing a production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I’ve directed two other productions of it during my directing career, but all productions take on lives of their own.

My approach for this production is to set the play in a mythical America 1967, complete with 60s music, a couple of dances, Peter Max images, and 60s icons.

The fairies will be hippies living in the wood in a hippy van, which will be a set piece onstage. Regarding the fairies, I decided for the first time (for me) to use real wings. Oberon is a biker patterned after Marlon Brando in The Wild Ones. Theseus, Duke of Athens, is patterned on Richard Nixon, and his Amazon queen, Hippolyta, becomes Angela Davis. The mechanicals are modern workers. Bottom’s Pyramus and Flute’s Thisbe will be patterned on Sonny and Cher’s, “I Got You, Babe.” I'm currently shopping for a Prince Valiant wig for Pyramus.

Each time I’ve done the production, I have had the quandary of finding an appropriate ass’s head for Bottom that both looks good and is affordable. I spent lots of time online and finally narrowed the search down to the following two wonderful choices. Both were ordered online and arrived within a week.

The first mask is from Custom Heraldic Designs, a site specializing in numerous Medieval costumes and masks. This leather mask is expertly crafted, light weight, and is easy to wear. It is based on a Medieval manuscript illustration of mummers. It is the cheaper of the two.

The second mask, from Maskarade [630 St. Ann Street, New Orleans, LA 70116], is a beautifully crafted, much more substantial hard mask by Diane Trapp, with paper mache padded face and synthetic-fur donkey whiskers and a great tuft of black hair. This is mask we’ll probably use.

Our show will be presented during the last two weeks of March.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Post Technology

My British Lit students are currently creating blogs in a unit based on the works of Samuel Pepys. But in the last week, for two days, the internet and wireless connections at school have been down or intermittent at best. During one class I had computers in my room, but they functioned only as paper weights since no one could get online.

Today my colleagues spent our common planning period frantically trying to check mail, print up class materials (our printer is through the same wireless system as our computers), and look up things online. We all stared at the little icon indicating the computer was trying to connect, waiting for “Wireless Network Connection is now connected.” And it never came.

I realized I’m feeling the same sense of loss that I felt the day that I lost my cellphone. I realize how necessary it has become in my life to feel connected to friends and the world.

A friend drove out to Colorado to ski. He took the trip alone and when he got to the house that he had borrowed, it had no phone, no television, no wi-fi. There were six houses nearby but no lights ever came on. He had to travel eight miles for Starbucks, a newspaper and wi-fi. He described how totally alone he felt and cut off from the world. As a result, he cut his trip short by a week.

So here we are in the Age of Technology with one of its obvious flaws. One must connect with the internet in order to use it—and suddenly without it, our “global sense” disappears and we become isolated humanity.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

What were you doing while the President spoke?

Have you seen the Gigapixel panorama shot by David Bergman?
To try it for yourself, go here.

Amazingly, with the correct viewer, you can zoom in to view a closeup of everyone in the shot.
So while we see the president speaking, we can zoom into the thousands of others. We can also see YoYo Ma taking a picture...
And the cameramen on the tower opposite the president... distant crowds listening intently... and the band sitting below the president [in detail almost clear enough to read the music].

To read about the technology required to create the shot, read here.

But the implications of the picture are very disquieting. Have we reached the technology that our spy cameras can actually pick out individuals? What might a conspiracy minded individual do surveying the crowd, looking for plots? How might we use it? How many thousands of historians will pour over this photograph making connections that we can't even imagine right now? Historians have tried to show that Booth was near Lincoln when he gave one of his inaugural addresses. What happens when we can clearly see everything from Arthea's hat to the people in standing on the buildings with weapons apparently in hand to the young woman in the white hat and black coat walking toward the stairs by section 12?

It's a whole novel waiting to be written, all documented by Mr. Bergman.

The thought sends chills of a future I'm just imaging up my back.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

25 Random Things About Me

Facebook has this exercise going where you write 25 things about yourself and then tag people who are to do the same. Since not everyone is on Facebook, I thought I would share mine.

  1. I believe that God intended each of us to be the person we are and it’s our job to figure out what that is. God didn’t create throw-away people. One of our difficulties in life is when we assume that the roles other people see for us are those that we see for ourselves. As Lewis Carroll says, “Be who you would seem to be.”
  2. I believe each day we should do something to make someone else smile. I didn’t do much politically to help win President Obama his position, but I did buy coffee for the first fifteen people who came into Starbucks that morning--and seeing their surprise and the smiles it brought was very rewarding.
  3. Each morning that I awaken and see one of my cats lying on a pillow looking out the window and another at the foot of the bed, I know the day is going to be okay.
  4. When I was in high school I read Ross Lockridge, Jr.’s Raintree County and I found myself swept into the 1840-1890 world of rural Indiana. It’s the only book that I don’t teach that I read three times.
  5. I’m sorry I can never read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time again. Such a power affirmation of the nobility of the human spirit.
  6. I still find myself very connected to my small town Illinois roots. In many ways I find a portion of my soul responds to the Lincoln period and the people who created McLean County. A couple of branches came to that land in the 1830s and I feel I know them quite well… often better than the people I know who live there now.
  7. My grandfather was a great storyteller. I loved all his family stories. As an adult I realize he was greatly influenced by some Twain’s writing, but I thought it all came from him. He’s one of the people I strive to be.
  8. I am a social being. There are some people who help make my day positive by just taking a few minutes to have contact.
  9. I can’t escape creativity. I have to draw and paint with Photoshop, just like I had to make miniatures or direct plays. The paper dolls that I now do are a way of connecting to the Creative Muse that lives within me. When she begins urging me to work or write, I give in because I fear someday she won’t return.
  10. I’m in awe of the Facebook interface that allows all these people I know to come in contact with each other.
  11. I used to tell my classes that I was a Romantic Existentialist. I guess I still I am. I believe that there are such things as good and justice, and I believe that our actions define who we are. If we want to be good people, we have to act like ones.
  12. The most painful period in my life was separating from my wife of 25 years. I lost all the “friends” that I had. One aunt wrote me, “I will always love you as my nephew, but I never want to see you again.” Another friend wrote, “I hope you die in the gay ghetto you moved to.” It took me several years to reconcile what I thought friends were with the people I knew.
  13. Whenever I’m a little down and not sure what direction my life should take, God sends me a former student to tell me what I have meant to his/her lives. One person described the seat they sat in and the color of the room, another discussed conversations we had years before in a museum. There aren’t many professions that one can say, “I made a difference today.” Teaching is one. If you have someone who made a difference, tell them. It might make their day—and get them to smile. [I had a friend who said, “It doesn’t jingle but it feels good.”]
  14. I’ve learned that we as much out of life as we put in. Several years ago I read a book called the Drowning Room by Michael Pye, which gets its title from the rooms on 17th century Dutch ships where convicted prisoners were confined. Water could be poured into the room and there was manual pump which the prisoner had to operate. As long as they pumped, they lived. The book’s take was that that’s what our lives are like. We pump for long as we can.
  15. When I was in my twenties I went to a fortune teller who told me I was a very old soul. And then she began naming my past lives—an ancient Egyptian, an ancient Greek, a native American warrior who died in battle, a minor Elizabethan playwright, an Italian Renaissance painter, a German banker at the turn of the century who had many children—all periods that I tend to do reading on. If part of the way we know our past souls is what we are drawn to, I’m sure I died in Pompeii and on the Titanic and rode the circuit with Lincoln.
  16. I make friends with women more easily than men. Right now, I have 5 women I have coffee with each morning and 3 whom I drink margaritas with every Wednesday. They are all fascinating and I look forward to our conversations.
  17. I love to sing. I sang in high school, but by college I thought my voice had deserted me, and so for the next 30 years I didn’t sing. My best friend had me join his choir and I discovered that my voice was still there. Now I cantor at church, sing with a church choir, sing in a local acapella group of 65. There is nothing I like more than to sing for others and watch them smile.
  18. All the people in my immediate family are dead. Sometimes it’s hard being an orphan—even in your sixties.
  19. I love the spontaneity of my freshmen. I have one class where one day I had closed the door to get class started and a student walked in as the bell rang. I looked at him and said, “Hey, kids, here’s ___!” The class immediately began loudly applauding and cheering, making the student feel special. We’ve picked that up so now it’s still a bright moment in their day.
  20. I wish I were as wise as my students tried to make me. The older I get the more I realize how little I know. I’ll always been a student who relishes information.
  21. When I was a kid, I lived two blocks away from a movie theater. Every week I went to a movie, and my mother always said that I never saw a movie I didn’t like. What she didn’t know was that I just didn’t want to tell others what I thought so they could make the experience less for me. Now I go to the movie as often as I can. I can usually tell during the credits whether I will love the movie or not. During the credits of “Milk,” I was in tears for the men who were being arrested in the gay bars. In “Whose Afraid of Virginia Woof,” hearing Elizabeth Taylor’s laugh for the first time hooked me in. “Diva” opens with a concert where the African American opera singer Wilhelmena Wiggins Fernamdez sings “La Wally” and from the moment she enters—all fluid elegance with a voice to match—I knew the film was going to be special.
  22. I’m fascinated by the 1940s and 1950s. I was too young to appreciate much that went on, but occasionally I can place myself back there. Bradbury in Dandelion Wine speaks of an old man who becomes the kids’ time machine. Maybe that’s me.
  23. I don’t like to eat things that have eyes that can look at me as I eat them. The only exception is lobster, which I adore. I have to do a disconnect when I eat them, however.
  24. The triple-bypass of a few years ago forced me to think about my mortality. I hope I have a greater appreciation of life because of it. Certainly I know as long as other people remember me I’ll have a little immortality.
  25. I love the worlds that I've gained from reading. One of the worst things I went through was for three years, as I struggled with depression, I couldn't read. Reading is indeed a gift.