31 March, 2020

Things seen on my solo-walk today: a List

- a can of root beer, completely flattened

- not one single open shop or restaurant or store

- a flattened, abandoned N95 face mask

- a singular latex glove

- the east river, almost utterly still, like glass

- a brand new park at 34th Ave and the East River that I’ve never laid eyes on before, despite living in Astoria for almost a decade.

- crushed magnolia leaves, just fallen

- what appeared to be the entire contents of a Queens apartment, left out at the curb, in neat piles, as if they were furniture corpses evidenced of a previous life being laid out in greatest, Viking-funeral-like, respect

- an accidental arrangement of garbage so lovely I walked around it so as not to disturb it

- a couple doing laundry at the laundromat in makeshift hazmat suits

- a man walking his beagle in a scuba mask, terror in his eyes

- a little bit of sunshine, which went a long, long way

30 March, 2020

'Together and by Ourselves' By Alex Dimitrov

I opened the window so I could hear people.

Last night we were together and by ourselves.
You. You look and look at Diver
for Crane by  Johns and want to say something.
In the water you are a child without eyes.
Yesterday there was nothing on the beach
and no one knows where it came from.
There’s a small animal lodged somewhere inside us.
There are minutes of peace.
Just the feel.   Just this once. Where does the past,
where should the period go?
What is under the earth followed them home.
The branch broke. It broke by itself. It did break, James.
We were there and on silent. We were delete, shift, command.
Slow — in black — on an orange street sign.
Missing everywhere and unwritten — suddenly — all at once.
Him. He misses a person and he is still living.
I haven’t missed you for long and you are so gone.
Then he stepped away from the poem midsentence    . . .
we must have been lonely people to say those things then.
But there are rooms for us now and sculptures to look at.
In the perfect field someone has left everything
including themselves. You. You should stay here.
It’s a brutal and beautiful autumn.
With his hands in the sand, on the earth, under time
he touched something else.
People are mostly what they can’t keep and keeps them.
And inside the circular cage of the Ferris wheel you saw the world.
In the steam, on the mirror: you wrote so so so    . . .
so if   you’re looking for answers you’re looking
at every water tower around here.
Why does the sea hold what it loves most below?
Fear. Hopeless money. All the news and the non-news.
How could anyone anywhere know us? What did we make?
And the leather of   your chair   . . .    it has me marked
so good luck forgetting. The world was a home.
It was cruel. It was true. It was not realistic.
Make sure you date and sign here then save all the soft things.
Because everyone wants to know when it was,
how it happened — say something about it.
How the night hail made imprints all over.
Our things. Our charming and singular things.
- Source: Poetry (December 2013)

Art by Catherine Lepange from Thin Slices of Anxiety: Observations and Advice to Ease a Worried Mind

29 March, 2020

Things STILL Sacred: A List

“Meanwhile, in this blink of existence bookended by nothingness, we busy ourselves with survival and with searching for beauty, for truth, for assurance between the bookends. The feeling of that search is what we call meaning; the people who light our torches to help us see better, who transmit our discoveries from one consciousness to another, are what we call artists. Artists are also the ones who help reconcile us to the fragility that comes with our creaturely nature and strews our search with so much suffering. Suffering — biological and psychological, in private and en masse — has always accompanied our species, as it has every species. But we alone have coped by transmuting our suffering into beauty, by making symphonies and paintings and poems out of our fragility — beauty that does not justify the suffering, but does make it more bearable, does help the sufferers next to us and after us, in space and in time, suffer less, in ways the originating consciousness can never quantify in the receiving, never estimate their reach across the sweep of centuries and sufferings.” — Maria Popova (of “Brain Pickings”)

The laughter of a friend
The feeling of connection, however remotely
The world turning on its axis
Home-cooked meals
The wisdom of animals
Morning coffee
Watching the sunrise
Long walks at a distance
Belly laughing
Having a shower or bath
Ice cold water
Completing a puzzle
Playing games

Your favorite movie
The choosing of joy
The sound of birds
The miracle of dawn
The endurance of the human spirit


26 March, 2020

Creative Exercises for the Quarantined Brain — Part 1

When we were young, creative play came easily.
A cardboard box became a three-bedroom house, a hospital or a spaceship as you battled the local neighbors in the yard. Children are used to looking at objects for what they can be, instead of what they ARE, at face value.

As adults, as we experience more criticism and feedback, are told to be “realistic” and “practical,” in or ambitions, imaginations and scope of the wider world, and as a result, the Adult Self becomes less open to playful and creative thinking. Think about those first moments transitioning from childhood to adulthood— the dawn of middle school where children and young adults start to mature and become “aware” of their selfhood in internal and external ways, becoming suddenly self-conscious and judgmental. The truth is, this is the moment we as humans get embarrassed more easily— about everything! Not simply at our ideas. And, in turn, we lose our creative freedom.

All animals play as a form of practicing for life’s necessities. Lions “play” with one another at hunting, to be in shape for when the kill is truly on. So too must we! This shaming of Play is not only a detriment to the very “productivity” our society holds so dearly, but we do extraordinary damage to our psyches, with invisible, but very real scars.

So whether you’re feeling distracted, out of ideas, or are coming up against a creative wall, here are some creativity exercises to help get the juices flowing.

1. Be “Notice-y”
My father had a really sweet phrase he used with me when I was little. He called me “NOTICE-Y.” I guess he observed that I had a gift for visual foraging—spotting, getting curious about, and ultimately utilizing things I’d “notice” that most others overlooked. “That was very notice-y!” He’d say, and I’ve never forgotten it.

I’m pretty sure I got the quality from him. I remember a particular charming story about my Dad in the “notice-y”department one incredibly ordinary summer day when we were sitting on the bench outside our front porch peeling and eating oranges. My Dad was such an Innocent (in the archetypal way)—he reminded me of Feste from Twlefth Night: a wise child’s spirit in the body of an adult man. He looked down at the orange he had just peeled, observed the perfectly even slices and laughed with glee. “Look Al,” he exclaimed, “pre-sliced food! Isn’t the world amazing?” He was in earnest.

Having an active rather than idle curiosity about the world around you reveals bigger ideas. So be “notice-y!” Take note, be eye-sy, ears-y and nosey.

Project: Spot and collect the faces, animals, letterforms, and numbers that are accidentally created by wear, repair, time, decay, spillage, breakage, update, replacement, light, shadow, rain, or snow. Some of these things only reveal themselves when you look at them sideways, upside down, or in reverse.

Use a journal, a camera, a voice recorder— anything you have to do to get it all down.

2. Magic Circles

This is undoubtedly one of my absolute favorite exercises for quickly shaking up the settlements at the bottom of our personal creative “tanks.” A quick exercise that anyone can do with just a writing implement and paper.


Take a look at the worksheet below and either print it off or replicate the blank circles by hand on your paper.

Next, set a timer for three minutes and get sketching! Your goal is to utilize as many of the circles (with somewhat recognizable objects) as you can during that time— don’t feel obligated to stay WITHIN the circle, you can think outside the circle, and view the circle as a portal to infinite possibility. And above all: turn off the inner censor! Don’t allow your inner critic to evaluate the drawings, but make as many as you can. No artistic ability required.

It may sound simple, but you’ll find after you get through the obvious basketballs and peace signs of the world, your brain will be forced to start thinking differently and with greater creative complexity to fill in the rest of the circles. (This could also be done in a group, it’s exciting to get inspired by how others approach this exercise).

No matter what, the circles exercise is sure to leave your brain feeling a little looser at the end—and ready to tackle the next challenge before you.

3. Detective Work. (From The Artist’s Way)

Many blocked people are actually very powerful and creative personalities who have been made to feel guilty about their own strengths and gifts. Without being acknowledged, they are often used as batteries by their families and friends, who feel free to both use their creative energies and disparage them
When these blocked artists strive to break free of their dysfunctional systems, they are often urged to be sensible when such advice is not appropriate for them. Made to feel guilty for their talents they often hide their own light under a bushel for fear of hurting others. Instead, they hurt themselves.
A little sleuth work is in order to restore the person we have abandoned—ourselves. When you complete the following phrases, you may feel strong emotion as you retrieve memories and misplaced fragments of yourself. Allow yourself to free-associate for a sentence or so with each phrase.
” — Julia Cameron, from The Artist's Way

List the following prompts on paper or in your journal.

Set aside at least 20 minutes of quiet, uninterrupted time to answer, and listen to your inner voice as the answers emerge from your past.

Remember: growth is a turbulent movement: three steps forward, one step back. This exercise can bring up a lot of emotions to the surface of our consciousness, so remember to take time and space, and ultimately, to be very gentle with yourself.

- My favorite childhood toy was

- My favorite childhood game was

- The best movie I saw as a kid was

- I don’t do it much, but I enjoy

- If I weren’t too late I’d

- My favorite musical instrument is

- If I weren’t so stringy with my artist, I’d buy them…

- Taking time out for myself is

- I am afraid that if I start dreaming…

- I secretly enjoy…

- If I had the perfect childhood I’d have grown up to be

- If it didn’t sound so crazy, I’d write or make a…

- My parents think (or thought) artists are…

- What makes me feel weird about [artistic] recovery is…

- Learning to trust myself is probably…

- My most cheer-me-up music is…

- My favorite way to dress is…

25 March, 2020

Quarantine Books - Part 2

Ahhh books.

Part two of this “Quaran-reads” series delivers peace and tranquility for the now-omnipresent, quieter life.

The great German poet, novelist, painter, and Nobel laureate Hermann Hesse (July 2, 1877–August 9, 1962), made an exquisite case for breaking the trance of busyness with the sanctity of solitude when he wrote:

    “Solitude is the path over which destiny endeavors to lead man to himself. Solitude is the path that men most fear. A path fraught with terrors, where snakes and toads lie in wait… Without solitude there is no suffering, without solitude there is no heroism. But the solitude I have in mind is not the solitude of the blithe poets or of the theater, where the fountain bubbles so sweetly at the mouth of the hermit’s cave.” — Hermann Hesse

For this collection, I searched for tomes that offer solace in, and seek the beauty of, Solitude. Hope for the shut-in. Salve for the isolated.

The isolated that thinks it looks like this while it reads in quarantine:

© "Ophelia Exquisite," Pierre-Auguste Cot
But truly looks like this: 


But I digress.

Enjoy, and may we face the coming pandemic cradled by a more patient view of time and what it means to evolve.

[Repeated] PSA:

In all times, but particularly in these times of extraordinary economic struggle for all, I strongly advise you philanthropic and socially-minded readers to support your local communities by purchasing your books locally from local bookstores—many of whom are happy to or ship books to your door, or drop them off personally, at least six feet away from your face.

Buying at local stores keeps money in the local community, supports independent enterprises and also reduces your carbon footprint!

There are a number of sites that make it easier to find and support local independent bookstores in your area.

Chief among them:

IndieBound.org: Find bookstores and other independent retailers near you. (Says Indiebound: “Spend $100 at a local and $68 of that stays in your community. Spend the same $100 at a national chain, and your community only sees $43.”)

Other book resources:
WorldCat.org: Search for a book title at your local library!

(Right now, it is very helpful to make financial donations to local libraries for those who cannot afford to purchase new or used books, and I strongly encourage you to sign up for the library’s downloadable books programs to avoid unnecessary public outings.)

Bookshare provides accessible books and periodicals for readers with print disabilities. Everyone, of every ability, deserves the gift of reading!


See? Reading material AND a workout!
1. Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust

Wow, you guys. What an opportunity.

Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust is an epic internal journey back to the taste of madeleines, the smell of budding groves, and the company of long-gone lovers and friends. It requires a lot of time and quiet thinking space to appreciate it to its fullest, and que puis-je dire? No time like the present quarantine to make the perfect space for this beautiful classic.

So yesterday I sat down beneath my perfectly arched reading vintage lamp, Tatiana the cat curled and purring by my side, and plowed straight through Remembrance of Things Past. All 4000 pages. In one sitting. I am now unable to stand back up because my legs have atrophied.
Ah well. What a treat.
And speaking of a treat, does anyone know of a good place to have madeleines shipped directly to my door and delivered by a masked person wearing a beret?


Are you kidding?
Well I was.
Could ANYONE read Remembrance of Things Past straight through in one day’s worth of reading? I mean. I dunno. These are strange times. Yesterday I alphabetized my hard-copy sheet music and cleaned all the sink crud with a toothbrush. It could happen.
Stranger things have. Maybe. Peut-être. Des choses étranges se sont produites

But for the average Joe, I wager not even a straight month of devoted reading could allow one the (truly, no snark here) exquisite pleasure of reading the seven (oui, seven) volumes that comprise Remembrance of Things Past. (The entire collection is also known as In Search of Lost Time, in certain English translations — and what a pointed translation of the title for our Quarantined times).

But don’t let the heft of Proust’s work deter you from starting the foray into his world of lost time regained through vividly-portrayed memories. Swann’s Way and Time Regained in particular, the first and last volumes, are truly beautiful and can (and should!) be read over long stretches, leaving plenty of time for deeper reflection.

Perhaps we all have a bit of Proust within us, and that is why his writing resonates, whether you read just a bit or the whole crêpe.

I also highly recommended the audiobook version of the complete works of Remembrance of Things Past, the 2012 vision read by Neville James is currently available through Audible here. As an audiobook consumer and narrator myself I find Neville James’ performance to hit the just-right balance of caring-for-the-listener’s experience, whilst also giving them the space required to HAVE their own experience. It’s a delicate balance with fiction, and God bless audiobooks in this, and in all, times.

Marcel Proust is the ultimate in life’s recorders: proving to be everything from humorous to seemingly smart, profound and alacritous in his portrayal of a life recorded, observed, and recovered.

All of that is true: no fooling.

2. How to Do Nothing (Resisting the Attention Economy) by Jenny Odell

A message to me from my iPhone:

    “Dear Al, your screen was up 57348573094293847098% this week”

Well no shit, Siri. Thanks a lot. And by the way: people wearing jeans? What are you trying to prove?

Look, what can you do? Self-limiting one’s time in the “Other World” of The Cloud was tough literally designed for our addiction long before COVID. It feels like we have only two choices: to succumb to the lure of our devices for hours a day, every single day, or we can delete all apps, throw our phone into the sea and move to a commune.

Not so, says Artist and writer Jenny Odell. She proposes a third option: to “participate, but not as asked.”

Her book How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy is adapted from a talk she gave in 2017 at the Minneapolis art and technology conference Eyeo. It’s not exactly a guide to doing nothing; more like a suggestion that you could refuse, you can empower yourself to change the level and quality and quantity of your engagement and to more consciously structure participating in the things that splinter your attention.

A nice little post-script from John Francisconi:

    “Before COVID-19, the title of Jenny Odell’s wise primer for disengaging from our devices was a little funny. Now it seems crucially instructive. Thankfully, the book’s also, sneakily, an eagle-eyed look at how its readers can make a big difference in their communities.”

3. The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

Speaking of Quiet, I’ll go directly to the source. When Kahlil Gibran’s titular-prophet is asked to address the matter of talking, he responds:

“There are those among you who seek the talkative through fear of being alone.
The silence of aloneness reveals to their eyes their naked selves and they would escape.
And there are those who talk, and without knowledge or forethought reveal a truth which they themselves do not understand.
And there are those who have the truth within them,
    but they tell it not in words.
In the bosom of such as these, the spirit dwells in rhythmic silence.”

The Prophet is a collection of poetic essays that are philosophical, spiritual, and, above all, inspirational. Undoubtedly Kahlil Gibran’s masterpiece, The Prophet, published in 1923 is one of the most beloved classics of our time.

26 prose poetry fables written in English by the Lebanese-American artist, philosopher, and writer Kahlil Gibran. (Its popularity peaked in the 1930s and again in the 1960s when it became the bible of the non-judgmental, religiously neutral but spiritually full, counter-culture.)

This slight (but pregnant) volume introduces us to the prophet, Almustafa, who has lived in the foreign city of Orphalese for twelve years and is about to board a ship that shall carry him home. He is stopped by a group of people, with whom he discusses such topics as giving, eating and drinking, work, joy and sorrow, housing, clothes,  laws, freedom, reason and passion, pain, talking, time, prayer, pleasure, and death. Each essay reveals deep insights into the impulses of the human heart and mind. Gibran’s musings are divided into twenty-eight chapters covering, among other things, marriage:
    "Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup."

    ''Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.''

    ''Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror. But you are eternity and you are the mirror.''

Gibran sketched 'the Prophet' after a dream
Gibran was a painter as well as a writer by training and was schooled in the symbolist tradition in Paris in 1908. He painted more than 700 pictures, watercolors, and drawings (but because most of his paintings were shipped back to Lebanon after his death, they have been overlooked in the West.) Some editions of The Prophet have twelve full-page drawings by Gibran himself.

What I personally think sets it apart (especially in delicate, universally adverse planetary moments such as these) is that The Prophet lacks all and/or any kind of dogma. It is accessible, not-at-all moralistic, open-hearted, utterly available wisdom to any seeker wherever they may find themselves on the Theistic spectrum. Not a Biblical person and want a Psalms-like companion for troubled times? The Prophet is the perfect companion.

24 March, 2020

Things Now Sacred: A List

It is our biological destiny to exist — and then not. Each of us eventually returns their stardust to the universe, to be constellated into some other ephemeral emissary of spacetime. Eventually, our entire species will go the way of the dinosaurs and the dodo and the Romantics; eventually, our home star will live out its final moments in a wild spin before collapsing into a white dwarf, taking with it everything we have ever known — Beethoven’s Ode to Joy and the guillotine and the perfect Fibonacci sequence of the pine cone.” — Maria Popova

  • The gratification of a firm handshake
  • Holding hands
  • Warm embraces
  • Parties
  • The theatre
  • Concerts
  • Sitting beside a stranger
  • The drudgery of everyday life
  • Lipstick
  • Full shelves at the store
  • The bustle of the streets
  • The farmer’s market
  • A wide-awake and roaring world
  • Thursday morning
  • Bustling streets
  •  A stranger’s smile and full face
  • Sharing food at a restaurant
  • Sidewalk cafes
  • Life itself. 
    a quiet quarantine walk in Astoria...

22 March, 2020

Quarantine Books - Part 1

Ahhh books.

Well well well, dear readers. Looks like we’ve got a fair bit of time on our [perfectly washed] hands.

I keep picturing myself as this beautiful Pre-Raphelite reader, basking in the just-warm-enough rays of the Italian afternoon. I thumb through hand-printed pages of poetry, lazily eat a grape or two. I retire to a supper of hand-made gnocchi and make love with someone named Francesco beneath a fig tree:
©Saint Barbara, Maria Spartali Stillman  
But the truth is?
It's Day 5 on Quarantine and I look like Gollum.
And you know what? SO DO YOU:
Mmmm toilet paper my preciousssss...

We'll get through this.
Just please: remember to shower.


As I put together this special “Corona Virus Quarantine Series” of book lists, I faced one enormous question:

     What exactly makes a “good” coronavirus quarantine read?

Do we lean into the terror and devour all knowledge of it?
Do we escape?
Do we utilize the time to learn new things?
Do we remind ourselves of what matters the most?

…Or do we need a comprehensive sampling of all of the above, to suit and meet and match our inevitable moment-by-moment changing needs in this most uncertain of times?

The short answer: yes.

So each book list post shall focus on a Quaran-theme (if you will), and today we begin with [THUNDERCLAP!] ...*THE END OF THE WORLD.*

I know I know. It’s been a heckuva news cycle.
Death and destruction. Pandemic. Catastrophe.
How did this happen? How will we endure?

I’m not one to ignore the profundity (and believe me, I am and shall not, particularly in future posts) but sometimes we just need to do a deep dive into the hyper-obsessive, we need to pour gasoline onto the flames of our anxieties, we need to arm ourselves with WAY too much information. And something about this over-indulgence feels good—like binge drinking at a high school reunion until you blackout, good. Ya know— not entirely good. But heck: it’s a start.

So: if you want to read more about pandemics and the end of the world? Here you go. A few of these are classics in the literature of pestilence and pandemic (there is such a sub-genre! Now is the time to carpe that di[sease]em!), and a few are recent offerings that brilliantly tap into current global situations. (And look: I couldn’t cover everything. For instance, one of the earliest descriptions of a plague comes from History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides. where a plague devastates Athens in the 5th century BCE.)

The books I’ve selected use the mode of storytelling to think about the human condition in times of illness, (and of course, about the human condition in general). Illness in the following works often also represents any kind of extremity that truly forces humanity to consider the fundamental conditions of society. As a person with a chronic illness (I have an auto-immune disease that makes me immune-compromised and thus extremely vulnerable during times of global pandemic), I have long appreciated the concept that just as rest (Sabbath) is so much more than the absence of toil, so too is True Health so much more than the absence of disease.

In all times, but particularly in these times of extraordinary economic struggle for all, I strongly advise you philanthropic and socially-minded readers to support your local communities by purchasing your books locally from local bookstores—many of whom are happy to or ship books to your door, or drop them off personally, at least six feet away from your face.

Buying at local stores keeps money in the local community, supports independent enterprises and also reduces your carbon footprint!

There are a number of sites that make it easier to find and support local independent bookstores in your area.

Chief among them:

IndieBound.org: Find bookstores and other independent retailers near you. (Says Indiebound: “Spend $100 at a local and $68 of that stays in your community. Spend the same $100 at a national chain, and your community only sees $43.”)

Other book resources:
WorldCat.org: Search for a book title at your local library!

(Right now, it is very helpful to make financial donations to local libraries for those who cannot afford to purchase new or used books, and I strongly encourage you to sign up for the library’s downloadable books programs to avoid unnecessary public outings.)

Bookshare provides accessible books and periodicals for readers with print disabilities. Everyone, of every ability, deserves the gift of reading!


1. Station Eleven, by Emily St John Mandel
    As the New York Times Book Review put it,
    “Station Eleven offers comfort and hope to those who believe, or want to believe, that doomsday can be survived, that in spite of everything people will remain good at heart, and when they start building a new world they will want what was best about the old.”
Once you’ve read Station Eleven, you won’t be able to stop thinking about it. Especially now.

The gritty and glorious 2014 novel jumps back and forth between the first days of a global pandemic that ends all of civilization and the painstaking aftermath. Small faction-groups of survivors attempt to rebuild any kind of life in the post-apocalyptic world. One band of characters forms a ramshackle Shakespeare troupe that travels the backwaters of Canada, performing the classic plays in exchange for basic necessities.

The real drama of the novel doesn’t come from where you’d expect. Not from violence, or fight-to-the-death battles for survival, but from the protagonists’ individual, private and absolutely ceaseless reckoning with just how much they have lost.

What happens after a pandemic decimates the population and reshapes civilization as we know it?
    “Survival is insufficient,” they keep muttering to one another, even as that very survival is far from certain.

It all feels terrifyingly… present. Relevant. Conceivable.

2. “The Killing Game” by Eugene Ionesco
from the 2005 production at RCS

A town, somewhere, is hit by a mysterious plague. It is contagious, utterly deadly, and final. In 22 scenes, we see unrelated citizens of this anonymous town react to the plague in a variety of ways (and genres) from the dramatic, comedic, to the utterly absurd.

Born in Romania in 1909 and raised in France, throughout his life, Ionesco saw the people of his Europe arbitrarily slaughtered in two world-wars, abandoning their ancient religions in droves, and living under the constant threat of nuclear annihilation. They were the victims of the most absurd disease of all: their own society.

Written in Paris in and around 1968, the entire world at large was in a constant state of turmoil and revolt. To this maelstrom of clashing mobs of humanity, Ionesco offered a ridiculous reply.

This play is about death: how each of us will face it for ourselves.
Do we gracefully surrender to the inevitable end,
     or do we fight until our bodies collapse beneath us?
Who will bury us?
Who will inherit?
Who will weep for us?
Who won’t?

It is also about loss: how we face the death of our friends, our family, our lovers; parents losing children, husbands losing wives; losing control of our daily life, our food, our water; losing the sense of our responsibilities and our place in the universe.

Finally, it is about society: does it really have the power to save us from the scourge, or is it in itself the secret cause of our disease?

The allegory of a town seized by plague, and ultimately destroyed despite the best efforts of the council and the populace has clear connections to the world we know. One need only consider the unavoidable headlines that assault our senses daily.

Reflecting on our own predicament, the absurd behavior of Ionesco’s fictional townspeople becomes hauntingly recognizable.

I did this play at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in 2005, directed by the late-great Adrienne Howells. it was my final performance as a student, perhaps my favorite student project, and needless to say, right now? I cannot stop thinking about it.

3.  The Plague, by Albert Camus.

We may all be feeling a need for some existentialism in our lives, so on to Camus.

Albert Camus’s The Plague probably remains the most famous (infamous?) novel on the topic of epidemic disease and is considered an existentialist classic (despite Camus' objection to the label)

The Plague (French: La Peste) is a novel by French-Algerian philosopher and author Albert Camus, published in 1947, that tells the story of a plague sweeping the French Algerian city of Oran. It asks several questions relating to the nature of destiny and the human condition. The characters in the book, ranging from doctors to vacationers to fugitives, all help to show the effects the plague has on a populace.

The novel is believed to be based on the cholera epidemic that killed a large percentage of Oran's population in 1849 following French colonization and is concerned primarily with the litany of details related to how quarantines are (and are not) enforced, and the role of both government and individuals joining together to (however haphazardly) control the epidemic.

The narrative voice directly points at the human reaction towards the "absurd,” and The Plague famously represents how the world deals with the general philosophical notion of the Absurd, a theory that Camus himself helped (particularly in this offering), to define for the world at large.

4. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Lorca

Come on: CHOLERA is right there in the title. But you know what? So is love you guys! Love wrought by sightly reprehensible, deliciously complicated characters driven by their obsessions with their own passions, feelings, and needs, fueled by the heat of the South American suns. I'm in.

Ask someone for literature about pandemics, and Love in the Time of Cholera is one of the first books that pops to mind. But yes, si, of course, and in fact, this book is about far more than just a rampant cholera epidemic. It’s about love, relationships, destructive passion and the catastrophic actions those emotions inspire, all that span decades.

The term cholera as it is used in Spanish (the book’s original language of course), is cólera, and can also denote passion or human rage and ire in its feminine form. (The English adjective choleric has the same meaning and comes from this source).

Considering this meaning, the title is a pun: cholera as the epidemic disease, yes, but also cholera as passion, which raises the central question of the book: is love helped or hindered by extreme passion? And, above all is love… the actual disease?

Lastly, and perhaps most crucially:


5. Severance, by Ling Ma

I’m pretty sure everyone is currently suggesting this contemporary classic that came out in 2018, and today, has emerged to be a kind of “told you so” time machine think-piece in scathing, glittering, novel form.

In Severance, the world is hit by a pandemic that ends civilization called “the Shen fever,” believed to have originated in Shenzen, China, the center of electronics manufacturing, and then spread through tiny fungal spores across the globe.

Our narrator is millennial Candace Chen, who works in publishing in New York City, overseeing (creepily, discordantly) the Bibles division. Candace is smart, witty, caustic, and before the end-of-the-world, hesitant and unassertive. But somehow, Candace becomes one of the last remaining humans in all of Manhattan, and we see our reticent, millennial narrator become our unflinching heroine before our very eyes as she flees into the now-wilds of America in a New York City yellow cab.

As Alison Willmore, a film critic at Vulture, wrote:
    “We should all be reading Ling Ma’s Severance… because its heroine’s survival seems to depend on her resistance to nostalgia.”

Severance is a haunting rage-letter about the toxic intersection of global capitalism and immigration in contemporary super-cities. A must-read for always, a should-read for dooms-today.

20 March, 2020

Domestic Happenings: Rock, Paper, Scissors, ...SHOE?

Rock, Paper, Scissors, “SHOE?” Life in COVID19-Quarantine includes games, life-long linguistic ERRORS, and a competitive Capricorn energy gone wildly, nay, freakishly, awry.

 [NOTE: JUST JOKES! Alec is not really *this* sore of a winner...]

Stay at home you guys! You are saving lives!

19 March, 2020

"From the ashes we rise..."

    On March 13, 2020, during this very painful, confusing, and uncertain era of our human existence, Rebecca Taichman's original production of Paula Vogel's ''Indecent'' played its first of only two previews at the Menier Chocolate Factory in Southeast London.   

    For those of you who may not know, the Menier Chocolate Factory has become a beacon of theatre around the English-speaking world, championing new works, while producing and very often transferring their production to the West End, Broadway and beyond.

    Previews came after a period of extensive, detailed, emotional, and spiritually grueling work on the part of our extraordinary company and creative team (particular shout out to the associates who taught us everything, Ashely Monroe and Sara Gibbons). It also came 30 minutes after the news of the monthlong closing of the Broadway theater community.   

    Within moments, so many of my New York colleagues were out of a job. For quite a while. In London, we knew it was only a matter of hours before the lockdown came for us too. That night my heart surged with ache for our ravaged community that's very existence relies upon its live-ness.  


One of the great joys of Taichman's production is the half-hour pre-show where the entire company sits in stillness and watches the audience enter the space. 

We watched and bore witness, with tears in our eyes that we could not wipe, as the audience of 175 people slowly filled the seats in an act of wartime solidarity and need.   

The people with us on those two nights fought to be there, wore masks, sprayed down their seats.    

They needed it.   



The healing power of theatrical communion that, from the very beginning of its Greek origins was designed for shared catharsis, rivaled only perhaps by formal spirituality found in churches.   
For many, the theater is that very place of worship.  

It certainly was those two precious nights.   

And just like the players in the attic of ''Indecent'', with no clear idea what tomorrow may bring, we all decided to do a little play. For the "few souls" who braved coming. And it was glorious. 


At the end of ''Indecent'', there is a scene where two lovers, Rifkele (Molly Osborne) and Manke (me) dance passionately in the rain. It is a scene taken from Sholem Ash's ''God of Vengeance'', the play on which ''Indecent'' is inspired. 

As the sensation of the freeing-cold rain washed over us, I felt a rush of gratitude and joy. We were surrounded by waves of love, support and joy from our friends and colleagues. Moments this sacred are rare in the theater, and it was my honor to serve.  

On a personal level, only 11 weeks ago I had an adult Bat Mitzvah, and emerged in the ritual mikveh. This "rain water" felt as spiritual, as holy, and as cleansing. I felt certain I was the most fortunate woman on earth to tell this story — particular beside the dream that is Molly Osborne.  

Molly and I wept. We honored all of our actor predecessors (many of whom are good friends), and above all, the real-life people we represent that can no longer speak for themselves.  

The Rain Scene: Before...and After


    An hour or so after the preview performance came down, a longtime student, protege and now friend of mine, Allison, wrote to me and asked how it had gone. Allison Beauregard is a beautiful young artist: powerful, deep, intelligent, fiercely brave and, incidentally, a Queer woman. Indecent means everything to her, and I was stepping into what is a dream role and experience, and sharing the experience with her has been profound for both of us.

With her permission, I share our exchange:

    What was it LIKE?
Alexandra:When you are a very young person
Who dreams of what being in the theatre could possibly feel like
And you dream and hope?
……..It felt like that.

36 hours later? She sent this:

Allison: I’m SO sorry to see your show’s postponement notice, Al.

Alexandra: For a moment — I got it. I had it.


    I have always felt as though our theatrical creations do, truly, live. Somewhere. We take a knife to the folds of the Universe and discover that Ophelia lives in this fold, Nora in another. Willy Loman, Iago, Mrs. Lovett, Electra, Julie Jordan, Anna, and the King? They take off from their creators, and go forth, belonging ever-more to the Universe at large.

     And by that logic, so too do Rifkele and Manke. Somewhere in some universe, they are always dancing together, falling in love, in the rain. Forever. 


I know so many of us are terrified.

But what I learned from sharing our story that first preview? The theatre and the human spirit are both inextricably linked and inextinguishable— and, to quote Paula Vogel from her very own Indecent:

    “The play belongs to the people who labor in it, and the people who set aside time to be there in person.”

Please dear theatre-makers and lovers—take heart.
From the ashes, we WILL, all, rise.


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