Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Coal or Train?


It's Christmas Day. Will Warren and I get coal or an electric train today?

I've been awake, of course, since four am. Right now, it is 7:30 and I am waiting for my laundry to get done so that I can walk the seawall to pass the morning in ecstasy. Today has broken in stunning fashion. The sun will shine and there is a sweet, sweet smell in the air. The prospect of walking without burning and sweating has me all atingle. The walk guarantees me some glory today if we get coal.

Warren is coming today at 2:30 - 3:00. Will we know by then? I know we will know today. If we get the train, I have champagne in the fridge.

The only thing I have ever won is a belt. On the other hand, I built a successful theatre and made a startling success of a public art gallery with absolutely no training—now that is lucky. And when I tried writing a book and then a play, both did far better than I ever expected. That too is lucky, if you believe in luck. But I don't. I believe in work, and I love work—especially writing—and I worked hard and continue to work hard on the screenplay so that's why I have champagne in the fridge.

Oh, and what kind of champagne? I am so glad you asked. 

It's Gaston Chiquet and this is the coolest thing…. My friend Paula ran a commercial wine club. It was her job to constantly source new wines and they had to be good for the store's customers or heads would roll. So it was Paula who found Gaston Chiquet (CG). It is a boutique vineyard. 


GC grows the same grapes in the same region where other Champagne grapes are grown in France, but this vineyard bottles and markets their champagne themselves so from them you get the same high-wuality champagne, but without the inflated prices of the big brands with their global marketing budgets. Plus, when Paula buys them for me, I get her staff discount so I get remarkably delicious wine at ridiculous prices! I got 20 bottles.

The next post will tell you coal or train.

Monday, September 29, 2014

"P" is for Praxis; "P" is for Petrified


Here is what I thought would happen: I would hear from Praxis today that we had one a place. I would phone Warren and we would have a fabulous afternoon working knowing the results.

What actually happened at noon was, I could not stand the tension so I wrote to Praxis asking when and how we would be informed and here is what George wrote: "Winners of the competition will be informed tomorrow (Tuesday, Sept. 30) via the Praxis newsletter. Good luck."

Sunday, September 28, 2014

"We'll See"

Dreaming
I remember being a youngster and having a very wiggly tooth. It could dramatically rock back and forth but it was still firmly embedded. What I remember is looking into the mirror and pondering whether or not to grasp it and firmly pull it out. I knew that with one good firm tug, it could come out but I was always too chicken to do it. And that’s how I feel about quitting teaching at Emily Carr University (ECU).

I am very proud to be an instructor at a fine art university. And I think I will miss the pride more than the students once I leave—I will certainly not miss the marking. Perhaps that is why so many people don’t like to retire, it's the pride they’re losing not the activity. Time is easily filled but not the soul, so I suspect the key to successful retirement is to find new sources of pride. (Which is harder without children and/or grandchildren.)

How convenient, therefore, that quitting teaching precedes by just four days, word of whether or not Uncle Gus’ Monkey wins a development deal at SFU/Praxis. That will give me pride and keep me busy to December if we “win.” Winning will take me to Whistler for a five-day workshop with a director and cast. Then comes Christmas, a workshop on Trudeau, Felons and Me, then its rehearsals and then a two-week run.

Then it will be summer again.

I started this post with a memory.

Another memory I have—a horrid one—is being diagnosed with HIV. People think you have a single acceptance moment when you get dreadful news like that, but you don’t. It’s a slow process of waking up each morning for weeks and starting each day with a grim moment of remembering and re-acceptance.

I am having that kind of experience with dysphonia.

I wake up at 4:00 am and I read in bed until 5:00, but I don’t speak until someone phones or I go out and speak to a clerk in a store. Sometimes that is not until the afternoon. And because sleep is an escape and I can talk normally in my dreams, my first spoken phrase or sentence each day has forced re-acceptance of the dysphonia just like the HIV.

But I with the dysphonia, I have been only accepting it each day for just that day. I have been accepting it for one day at a time. But this past Friday, I woke up and “decided” that if not permanent, my speech impediment is going to be around for a while. With that acceptance has come less sadness with each day’s first utterance.

I think of myself as being in phase two of this issue. Phase one was decades of episodic impairment, no understanding of the cause and various amateur treatments. Phase two will last for the next three months: pills to inhibit my neuromuscular response to reflux, changes in diet and two kinds of speech therapy. Then as my father used to say about everything I ever wanted when I was a kid: “We’ll see.”

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Hugely Rewarding Night

My show is in the "last but not least" position.
It plays June 4 - 14. 
What a night. I went to see a fabulous new play by first-time playwright, Susinn McFarlen. It is called Since You Left Us, and it is moving and funny. Wonderful acting, a great set and good direction; a thoroughly wonderful night. Colleen Wheeler Erla Faye Forsythe, Jillian Fargey and Mike Wasko delivered  outstanding work.

Ego Alert: At the concession, as DR and I were getting our drinks, the bar tender told us about the upcoming season and did a wonderful and touching ad about my play. Then, in the speech before the show wherein the speaker tells us to turn off our phones, he said we had a special guest—me—and he advertised my upcoming show!

A fabulous show, a spectacular cast and being made to feel, personally, so welcome in a theatre. That is as good as life gets.

Thursday Tidbits


  • The photo above is my friend Davina's mother, Stella, and her grandson, Steve.
  • I am rocking my diet. I weighed myself this morning: 78.4 kilograms. Two weeks ago I weighed 81.2 K. Pretty good eh?!
  • There are 460,000 people in BC with speech/voice/language problems and there is one clinic. I am confident that speech therapy I am in for will improve my voice, but I think it may be an issue for the rest of my life—and that is okay.
  • I have proposed to friends that we take an Alaska Cruise together next summer for a novel lark.
  • Tonight I go to see the always incredible Jillian Fargey in a play, Since You Left Us,  at Presentation House.

What if We "Win?"


Warren and I want a future for our screenplay. If Praxis rejects us, we have plan B, Plan C and Plan D ready. Last night, I imagined winning a place in Praxis’ film development program. Winning means I go to a five-day workshop with a director and actors (without Warren, sadly).

I made myself cry this morning answering these questions: “What kind of feeling or tone do you want your film to have? What film can you reference that has given you that feeling?”

My answer was: “I want audiences to feel as I felt at the end of Little Miss Sunshine.” In it you have a collection of oddballs you’d sensibly move mountains to avoid: Amongst them, a junkie grandfather, a hopelessly deluded and immature husband, a mute Goth son, and most hilarious of all, a post-breakdown expert on little but Proust. Yet after two hours with these train wrecks, I wanted more. So revisiting that film makes me feel as good as a visit to one of my closest friends who lives far away.

A writer did that. A writer created a flawed family that horrified on first impression and then stole your heart and soul. That writer and the film’s director helped us love people beyond their flaws and what better, more generous and loving purpose is there?

Little Miss Sunshine, to me, is about loving outsiders. It’s about finding beauty in the flawed and it’s a message I love.  At least I am consistent. When I discovered The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, by Oliver Sacks, I read every single book he wrote because like Michael Arndt (writer) and Jonathon Dayton and Valerie Faris (directors) of Little Miss Sunshine, he sees the person within, not their exterior—in his case, often incredibly diseased exteriors. He is a hero; they these generous and accepting people are heroes to me.

So, I want audiences to like everyone in my film, regardless of their flaws. I want to tell my story with understanding/affection.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Thursday: Rosh Hashanah

video

Life is returning to normal. Warren came and we started work on Draft Two of our screenplay. It is wonderful fulfilling work and I am thrilled with the improvements we are making—all of them from Warren. I balk and some and we negotiate some, but every place he wants a change, we change.

Although a brilliant partner, Warren has been a frustrating partner. He has been poor about communicating and I have sometimes felt disrespected, so today I explained that and his response was perfect and clearly sincere. It was so good to clear the air and continue to grow the relationship of which I am so proud.

In a week we hear if we get the workshop from SFU/Praxis/Whistler Film Festival. We hope to finish their draft quickly so that regardless of the outcomes of that competition, we have a script we feel we can send to Out TV and a friend in L.A. for a read down there. I am loving the journey.

Warren is Jewish and today is Rosh Hashanah, so I sent him a link to the video above.
____________________________________________________________________
Voice Update: I've been humming but no diet changes yet. It is too soon. I am still absorbing. But one pill down; 89 to go. First speech therapy session October 16th. Already I sense noticeable improvement.

Am I Dying?

What the f-ck is going on?

The other day, I dug into the Sept. 15th New Yorker. First of all, I never read the listings or the fiction. CAll me stupid, but that's me, and I am far, far more than satisfied with the rest—especially the cartoons like the one in this issue like "the underbelly of Vegas fountains" or "I'll agree to a pre-nup if you'll agree to a non-compete clause." Brilliant, no?!

"Comment" usually bores me because it is about American politics, but this whole issue bored me. What the f-ck is going on? The shorts bore me, the Bill Cosby and Al Pachino articles were way too much information about two people I wanted no information about, "Shouts & Murmurs" bored me as it often does (but when it doesn't, it kills) and even the medicine article bored me and usually I find the New Yorker medical articles beyond fascinating.

The article about the unionization of fast food workers was interesting but even it couldn't hold me through to the end. My voice issue and pending doctor appointment may have been working against my ability to concentrate. The article  on Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno and pop culture bored me and who cares about TV shows even when Emily Nussbaum is writing? The film reviews were of films that repel me and even the Cartoon Caption Contest was lacklustre.

Is it the magazine, or is it me?

The Day After

Am I six years old, or sixty-six? I am feeling a little child-like in my response to yesterday's diagnosis. First of all, I realize now that I was hoping for a pill or a botox shot that would end everything. I got the idea of these solutions from reading the voice clinic website.

I took a type-written sheet of history with me to the clinic yesterday. It practically began with the statement: "I don't have GERD (gastro-esphogeal reflux disease)." After looking in my nose and down my throat and prodding of my neck muscles, Dr. Morrison showed me a video. It is called: "But doctor, I don't have acid reflux." So now I know a lot of people with acid reflux have no symptoms.

I have to stop talking about and blogging about my voice now and get on with things. Warren comes this afternoon to start Draft Two of Uncle Gus's Monkey and in less than a week we will hear if it has been accepted at Praxis.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Diagnosis and Treatment

Well, here's what I have learned today:
  • My vocal folds and throat are healthy!
  • The muscles around my larynx are stretched so tight I cannot speak. The causes are all contained in the acronym "ALERT": A=Anatomy; L=Lifestyle; E=Emotions; R=Reflux and T= Technique. Dr. Morrison thinks my issues are L., E., T. and R.
  • L = cutting back on carbonated drinks and avoiding fat, spices, garlic and onions. Oh, and oxygen (kidding).
  • E =  I am seeing a speech therapist who specializes in emotional issues involved with dysphonia (speech problems). She's a shrink.
  • R = medications that are NASTY. Dr. Morrison wants me to take it for three months.
  • T = I start speech therapy at VGH's Voice Clinic on October 1st with a second (different) speech therapist
  • Hmmmm: I am to hum before speaking. 
  • Squish: If I push my thumb into my throat on the right side, my voice is MUCH clearer than if I do not do it.

D Day

It’s Christmas morning! Well it feels like it to me. I have been up since 3:30 anticipating my appointment with the voice doctor. When I was a child, I would get up this early to see what presents were under the tree. I feel like someone awaiting the rapture.
God bless this blog. Right now it is so practical for me, dear friends who read this. I can tell you things I cannot say out loud. I love that both near and distant friends can know what is going on with me without me having to speak.
Last night, of course, I had a dream. I was in a bar (me, who doesn’t drink), and I was picking up a woman. Yes, a woman. Even though I am a gay man, I have more sex dreams about women than men—go figure!

So I say to this woman, “Shall we go somewhere?” She says: “Are you kidding?” She is horrified at the idea so I guess she knows I am gay, but she says: “I know all about you. You were an orphan and then you were adopted. And then your adopted mother went crazy and you adopted father abandoned you. We’ve all heard the story, and thank God, because we all know you trust no one.”

You trust no one. I’d like to think the profundity of the statement woke me, but it was my neighbour’s girlfriend screaming her sexual ecstasy for the whole neighbourhood to hear. Wide awake at 3:30, I pondered the truth of what that woman in the bar said and I think she is both right and wrong.

I, in fact, trust people completely. I am an optimist and I can assume the best in people who do not raise red flags by the things they say or do. But when it comes to “love” (the most ambiguous and heavily connoted word in the world), she, I think, is right.
I love showing close friends who are forced to hear my dreadful voice that I can sing. It is so weird that someone who can speak so incredibly badly can sing, as a stutterer can do. Talk about a great premise for a musical… a guy who cannot talk and can only sing.

I normally never remember my dreams. Since I could barely sleep last night, I remember that one vividly. But I had another that I can barely remember. In it, the doctor tells me I will never speak again unless I stop speaking altogether for six months. All I can remember of the dream is feeling I must give Leon, my beloved cat, away for those six months. What torture that would be.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Pacific Voice Clinic, Here I Come!

What do people who are going to be executed feel the night before they are killed? What do heralded nominees feel the night before the Academy Awards?

I the night before the positive results of my HIV test, I felt no different than usual. I went through my shock the day I heard from my then partner that he was HIV positive. My confirming diagnosis did not affect me, but it sure affected my doctor.

Perhaps the biggest 'night before" I have ever experienced was the night before my first play opened. I was the producer and commissioner. It was my idea and I spent almost $70 grand on it.

Well tonight, I am in quite a state as I await my first visit to the Pacific Voice Clinic. I will be seeing the director, Dr. Morrison. Woo fucking hoo!
Provides highly specialized assessment, diagnosis and treatment for problems of the voice and larynx (voice box). Clinic staff include speech-language pathologists; medical specialists with advanced training in problems of the "Ears, Nose and Throat," psychiatrists, neurologists; and voice-teacher specialists. If a medical or surgical treatment is required, the appropriate prescriptions, referrals or surgical steps will be offered. Directed by Dr. Murray Morrison, laryngologist. Houses the Provincial Voice Care Resource Program.