Office Hour at Berkeley Rep (Review)
Mar 7th, 2018 by Dr Karma

Last Saturday, I saw Office Hour at Berkeley Rep (it runs through 3/25).

Office Hour is about a writing teacher who tries to reach a student so disturbed that other teachers are afraid he’ll shoot up the school.

Guns and gunshots are involved.

I was with Melissa, another writing teacher, and Marcus, a teacher at a middle school, where three students have been expelled in the last two weeks for threatening to kill their teachers and peers.

In other words, it’s timely.

The script is by Julia Cho (I’d seen another play, Aubergine, by her before). Lisa Peterson directs.

It was thought provoking, provoking-provoking (a woman seated behind us gasped loudly several times), and very well done overall.

There were a few things that bugged me, though–that have been bugging me since I left the theatre.

One is that one of the teachers complains about intellectual freedom. In the play, intellectual freedom is presented as something that restricts the teachers from telling a disturbed student that he can’t write about violent rape and murder in a way that is triggering the other students.

Teachers can tell students what they’re allowed to write about for an assignment. Intellectual freedom protects teachers–we can bring in the works we want, make the assignments we want for a class, even if some of the students don’t like them.

In other words, teachers don’t complain about intellectual freedom.

The second issue we had was with a particular moment. A teacher is afraid of a student–concerned that he may be a shooter. He goes to leave her office. She yells at him that he has to stay.

Um, what?

I can’t imagine anyone yelling at a student to stay in an office hour. Much less one you’re afraid of. When you’re alone.

There’s also a new character added in the last few minutes–confusingly & distractedly.

Finally, the two main characters of Cho’s script are Asian-American. At one point, another character says one character should be able to “reach” the other because they share that race. The audience cringed. But later, it seemed to be true. So what was the message?

Berkeley Rep is a great theatre–I have season tickets.

I do recommend this play. I’m still thinking about it, after all.


The Continuing Adventure’s of Karma’s Dating: Entry 76
Nov 26th, 2017 by Dr Karma

I know that I’ve complained a lot about all of the guys out there who have wanted to change me, from the strangers on the internet who want me to be the kind of person who will give them a chance, even though they’re smokers or dumb or married or dumb married smokers, to the men who have supposedly loved me but wanted me to change into someone who wants more children or who believes in female submissiveness or into a very unhappy submissive woman with lots of kids.

My boyfriend does hope that I’ll get more comfortable with the “m” word one day, but on the whole, he accepts me for who I am.

I should therefore feel a lot more guilty about not accepting some of his particular shortcomings.

But I do want to change him.

He’s a brilliant, talented, sexy, successful man, but he had never seen Outlander. He’d never watched Sherlock or Doctor Who. He’d never even heard of One Mississippi or Maria Bamford or Stranger Things.

At the risk of being a cliche, I am now a woman on a mission to change a man, to improve him for the better, for both our sakes.


An Octoroon at CapStage
Sep 12th, 2017 by Dr Karma

An Octoroon won an Obie for Best New Play a couple of years back. It’s now playing in Sacramento, at CapStage.

I love this play and this production.

The Octoroon was an 1859 play/melodrama by Dion Boucicault–it was extremely popular, and was used in the North to further the abolitionist cause. Using the image of the octoroon was common–those who were 1/8ths black could usually pass. Thus, the audience would see a white person being treated like a black one, which hopefully lead them to question such treatment all together. Female educated octoroons were especially sympathetic–and bound for tragedy–no white man was supposed to love them (and laws in some places forbade it), and audiences believed that an almost white woman shouldn’t be with a fully black man.

It’s an old story, one that we don’t tell that much anymore.

That’s not at all to say this new version is dated–it’s completely relevant and terrifyingly familiar.

An Octoroon is a postmodern revision by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins–it’s clever and funny and satiric and heartbreaking. The melodrama–and the octoroon–are still there, but Jacobs-Jenkins gives a voice to the other slaves in peril, asks us to ask why we’re laughing, and thrusts us into contemplative, uncomfortable silence.

The current production (running through October 1st), directed by Judith Moreland, is powerful and has a strong cast (I couldn’t take my eyes off of Alexandra Barthel when she was on stage). The intimacy of this theatre space adds a great deal to the meta aspects of the play. When the actors turn to us, we are only a few feet away. There’s no where to hide–they can see us when we laugh, when we grimace, when we give them their well-deserved applause.

Harry Potter Studios
Jul 15th, 2017 by Dr Karma

I’m sorry in advance for how awesome this is.

You see, most people can’t say that they’ve been able to take a group of university students to the Harry Potter Studio Tour as just another day on the job.

When you get there, you see this: 

And then you wander around and see so much more!

The Way to the Common Room!

Dumbledore’s staircase!

sleeping headmasters!

The Potions’ Room!

John Cleese’s head!

Size Technology!

An elusive Dante smile!









Cardiff 2017
Jul 4th, 2017 by Dr Karma

On the way to London from Swansea, I stopped in Cardiff for a day.

It was hot–too hot–and bright, but I still headed to the Cardiff Castle, where I learned about its history, including the fact that it was only in the Victorian era that Cardiff discovered the castle was built on a much older site–a Roman legion fort. They cleared away centuries of dirt to uncover the old walls, demarcated by the red line in the brick.

Richard III, for Vanessa

The library at Cardiff Castle












Monkeys are a popular decoration in castles.

For a little longer, Cardiff is also home to the Doctor Who Experience, which I’d visited in London years ago with Courtney. The guide told me the experience was significantly different here. It wasn’t, but I still took some pictures.

Monkey went with me.

Cardiff is also the home to the Torchwood Institute. And Ianto’s Shrine.

Storytelling for Health 2017
Jul 2nd, 2017 by Dr Karma

What is the relationship between art and health?

Who owns a story?

How do we best craft a story to be heard?

Can any story be true?

Last month, I ventured to Swansea, Wales to attend the Storytelling for Health conference, which featured academic panels and performances. I found myself drawn to the latter, having found myself already at quite a few academic health science & art/humanities conferences lately.

A woman with Parkinson’s interweaved her story with the legend of an old king.

A cast of four brought us the heartbreaking tale of a woman who lost six pregnancies.

A woman whose mother nursed her through a stroke talked about language and where it went when her mother was afflicted by stroke as well.

A storyteller gave us three narratives about cancer.

A multimedia performance: All About My Tits.

The keynote performance was by The Devil’s Violin–an amazing storyteller, Daniel Morden, with a violinist and cellist. The work, Stolen, was fable, fairy tale, and allegory, one created when Morden was undergoing cancer treatment. It was, quite simply, one of the best things I’ve ever seen.

I was apprehensive the next morning, when Morden was in the audience for my performance, Chronic Pain: A Comedy. I was the first performance of the morning, and I’m very glad that they moved me to before the cancer trilogy. Even though the room was small, I asked for a mic to better signal the comic nature of what I was doing–trying to make people laugh with me at my pain.

And it went well. They gasped when they were supposed to, laughed when they were supposed to. But I really knew it had gone over well when the staff at the theatre came up to me afterwards to talk about it. Mostly, people had questions. Why do Republicans in the US fight for something that will mean some people won’t have access to care? Why would anyone support a system in which someone could pay over a thousand dollars for an ER visit, even with insurance? Why would anyone support a system that can bankrupt someone who gets sick or disabled or gets into an accident? Had I really ripped my urethra? (The longer version–a first draft in Davis–can be seen here.)

This was one of the best conferences I’ve ever been to–and not only because it allowed me to discuss issues in a non-academic format, but because it encouraged real conversation and provoked real questions. The woman who talked about her breasts showed them to us at the very end of the performance, but then discovered in the Q&A that we hadn’t reacted to them in the way she assumed. She thought we would compare them to the young breasts we’d seen earlier and find hers wanting. We thought they were beautiful.

When Morden did a Q&A toward the end of the conference, he talked about how hard it was to talk about himself. Indeed, he was “just” the narrator of Stolen, not a “character,” and one wouldn’t know the real-life issue that inspired it. He said he couldn’t work well in first person.

I wonder why I can, why I write creative nonfiction instead of fiction.

It can’t just be because I’m American. 🙂

Swansea was also beautiful, from its castle to its waterfront.

I’m very much hoping to return next year.









Review of CapStage’s Stupid F###king Bird
May 29th, 2017 by Dr Karma

CapStage is the home of intimate ground-breaking theatre. They make incredible use of their small space, creating immerse worlds that spill out into the audience.

Stupid Fucking Bird, by Aaron Posner, is playing there until June 4th.

Go see it.

I first encountered Posner’s work when I saw the recording of the Folger Theatre’s Macbeth–Posner directed it, together with Teller (of Penn and Teller). Together, they brought real magic to the stage–the witches disappear, daggers float, blood covers white hands.

Thus, I was excited to see Posner’s adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull. One doesn’t need to know anything about Chekhov or The Seagull to enjoy this play, but you get the old nerd thrill of recognition at some moments if you do.

The play is brilliant, and it’s beautifully directed by Michael Stevenson, who expertly guides his cast in handling a tricky piece of metatheatre, complete with direct addresses and interactions with the audience. Don’t worry–it’s not uncomfortable–you won’t be asked to come on stage or to talk if you don’t want to, but avoid drinking too much on their lovely patio before the show–you don’t want to be the unlucky person who naps–you’re likely to get called out & you’re missing a great show!

This work is about what all of Chekhov’s works are about–relationships (why doesn’t this person love me? what if I’m a disappointment to myself, my lovers, my parents, my children? is it better to be content or to search for happiness? do I get to choose?), but it also asks what theatre’s relationship to these questions are (will audiences watch something new? can theatre truly provoke us to change?).

I fucking love this play.


The Handmaid’s Tale: Now on Hulu!
Apr 26th, 2017 by Dr Karma

For much of my youth, I was put off by dystopic visions. I’m not sure if this was because I was so frightened of what my own future could become, if I was horrified by the dark glimpses into human nature that dystopias provide or because I’d been frightened by a childhood viewing of an HBO special on Nostradamus, featuring explorations of a coming apocalypse that were rather hysterical (in both senses of the word). I eschewed all of the texts that would later captivate me (like Bladerunner) and settled on comforting visions of the future (like the socialist near paradise that was Star Trek). Then, in high school, there was The Handmaid’s Tale. One relative, who had not read the book, but who had heard some rumors about it, tried to deny me access, even though it was required reading. Luckily, I prevailed. It entranced me, both with its ideas and its language—which could be poetic and tragic and comic all at the same time. When Aunt Lydia tells the girls that they are rare and valued, like pearls, our narrator contemplates the metaphor: “I think about pearls. Pearls are congealed oyster spit” (145)—it was exactly the type of close reading that I was prone to do.

Perhaps the text drew me in because I identified with it. Atwood wrote parts of the novel in Alabama, very near where I was growing up (in “Florbama”—the part of Florida directly underneath Alabama). Her world seemed very real to me—I was deep in the Bible belt; our world history teacher was forbidden to acknowledge that there was any history before the ancient Egyptians, as that fact offended parents who believed the Earth was only 6000 years old; abstinence only education was standard; an abortion provider, David Gunn, was murdered in my town right around the time we encountered the handmaid’s repressive society.

I was electrified. Not all students responded the same way, of course. I remember one girl complaining that she didn’t like the book because it was disturbing. And I remember the teacher’s response: “Good. It’s supposed to disturb you.”

Those are the first three paragraphs of my introductory essay to Atwood’s Apocalypses.

I’m crazy excited about Hulu’s premiere today. It’s taking all my willpower to do work this morning instead of watching. Fingers crossed that this is better than the much maligned film (with a screenplay by Nobel Prize winner Harold Pinter)!

A review of the start will be coming soon.

In the meantime, are you excited about Atwood? Consider liking The Margaret Atwood Society on Facebook or following us on Twitter (@atwoodsociety)–we post lots of Atwood news there–for free!

Full membership is only $15.

What “Alike” Gets Wrong About Education
Apr 4th, 2017 by Dr Karma

When we learned multiplication, one of my classmates discovered he could multiply the top by the bottom OR the bottom by the top and get the same answer.

The teacher made him do his worksheet over.

I watched–and learned–do it her way, or do extra work.

These are the moments that people probably think of when they watch the new Pixar film, Alike. The link I followed made this clear, arguing that the film was touching a cord as it skewers school for making us lose our creativity.

But that’s not what I thought about when I watched this film.

I thought about how I had teachers who fought to teach us science and history in a place (the south) where parents tried to get them fired for doing so.

I thought about my theory of knowledge class–where the very nature of truth and knowledge came under fire–where we were encouraged to debate and to test.

I thought about the encouragement I got from an orchestra teacher when he heard me trying to figure out Flight of the Bumblebee without any sheet music.

I thought about the teacher who circled my cover sheet statement that said 600 words. We had written short stories–the minimum was supposed to be 1000 words. My teacher crossed out her circle after reading the story and wrote “A+ — you couldn’t have added one more word without ruining it!”

I thought about the writing teacher in middle school whose comments were always longer than my papers.

I thought about the teacher who paid out of her own pocket for us all to have our own frog to dissect. Something was coming out of my frog’s abdomen already. I asked what it was and she said, “you’re the best one to figure that out.” (The frog had apparently died of an awful hernia, I discovered.)

I thought about my teachers telling me to learn the rules–before I could break them “prudently.”

I thought about the teachers who forgave me for my chronic lateness–they knew my mom wouldn’t get up to take me to school on time.

I thought about the teachers who listened to me and supported me and encouraged me and basically stood in for the support I didn’t always get at home.

I thought about the teachers who had to deal with us–heartbroken, always–and give advice without reminding us that young love is inherently stupid and dramatic.

I thought about the one teacher who knew I was pregnant the same day I knew (because I told her)–and how she made sure I was always “busy” when it was time to move a piano and who complimented me on the “creative costuming” that let my issue stay hidden until the beginning of the third trimester.

I thought about so many of my university teachers–who managed to open my mind even though I thought I knew how the world worked already.

I thought about the teachers who encouraged me to think.

I thought about the teachers who encouraged me to read.

I thought about the teachers who encouraged me to write.

I thought about the teachers who encouraged me to act.

I thought about the teachers who encouraged me to sing.

Can education, when done poorly, kill your creativity? Yeah.

But I became a teacher because my teachers opened my world. My teachers gave me a future. My teachers saved me.

Everyone who moves on in education can think of a few bad teachers. And a few amazing ones. And that has made all the difference.

And now I’ve become a teacher–because I want not just education that inspires, but a job that inspires me as well.

PS–why isn’t the current critique of this film about the awful work world too?

PPS–even though I think this kid’s artistic side should be nurtured, he does need to learn to write. (Says the writing teacher.)

PPPS–Yes, I’m also the viewer who thinks the English teacher in The Blind Side is not the bad guy!




Sherlock and Spock: Cold Men, Warm Hearts?
Jan 18th, 2017 by Dr Karma

The Spock of my childhood embraced his human side in small ways over the course of many years. Some episodes would end with Dr. McCoy commenting on how Spock’s green blood might have a little red in it, only for Spock to raise an eyebrow, unconvinced–and insulted.

We were told, of course, that Vulcans had deep emotions in their past and that contemporary Vulcans learned to keep the vestiges in check (except when time traveling and when in heat, of course).

Our modern Spock in the movie reboots can certainly raise an eyebrow. And we’re told his emotions are buried deeply, but what we see is a Spock barely able to control his emotions, getting in fistfights the second someone mentions his mom or is mean to his friend. In fact, this Spock’s brand of emotional control seems only to apply to difficulties in communicating with this girlfriend (women are from Earth, men are from Vulcan).

These recent years have also given us a new Sherlock, one that contemporary understandings of science might allow us to see as not only “a high functioning sociopath” but a high functioning person on the autism spectrum.

I’ll be intentionally vague to avoid spoilers, but the last episode seemed to indicate that this diagnosis might be wrong or incomplete–that PTSD from childhood might have made Sherlock what he is.

In any case, he shares with our new Spock barely hidden emotional currents, including a deep and abiding bromance, especially since he too has violent emotional outbursts.

Spock and Sherlock (Khan) fighting

Even though I find these men often behaving out of character (in my childhood definitions of them), what interests me more now is why so many women–myself included–are interested in them (and in men like them–like our Doctor Whos).

So many geeky girls have wet Wonder Woman panties for guys who are largely incapable of human emotion.

I think our secret fantasy is that these men can only be un(sher)locked by us–that their deep passions could only be spurred by us–the passions both intellectual and romantic–we would be their John/Kirk and Irene/Uhura combined. They would find us “fascinating” and throw their powerful punches when we’re in danger.

That’s not usually how it works.

Many years ago, I was in a relationship with someone I loved very much–it was our third time trying to make it work. My hopes were bolstered one evening–we went to see Star Trek–the reboot. When Spock’s father tells Spock that he married for love, I felt my partner shift in his seat. And I knew that he would finally tell me–after a decade and a half being mostly off and occasionally on–that he loved me.

Later that night he did.

Spock’s dad had given him permission.

Not surprisingly, it was empathy, that thing Spock and Sherlock lack, that finally drove us apart.

He said he had too much–that it upset him for me to be upset. Thus, I was not allowed to be upset–not even about losing my job in the 2009 recession. I suggested that perhaps he should control his being upset rather than telling me I wasn’t allowed to be–but that was dismissed as illogical.

(Other men I’ve been with think it’s hilarious that this man thought I was overly emotional, especially the few on the far other end of the emotional spectrum who’ve found me cold.)

The irony is that what I needed most was empathy–the trait he believed so strongly he had.

I needed him to understand that my life had been very different from his–that there’s a reason I’m a worrier, for example–it’s a logical consequence of growing up with alcoholics–children who feel unsafe often try to control things–to organize, to worry, to plan for the worst.

One of our very worst moments came when he (a fiscal conservative) told me he didn’t understand how I hadn’t caught up with him financially, especially since I worked so hard. (This was 2010–four years out from my degree.)

He grew up in a stable upper middle class home. His parents put him through college, and his dad paid off his student loans for his Masters in business. He had never been married, never had children, and worked in the private sector. He’s healthy.

I grew up very differently, was a single mother starting at 17, and put myself all the way through a PhD, taking out student loans along the way. My stupid body had its first back surgery when I was 25; out of pocket co-pays and therapies were a third of the 18,000 I made that year–and I’ve been working hard to get ahead ever since. I have a job that I love, but it’s in academia, and because of my job title, I can’t even get the raises I deserve. I am proud to have pulled myself up from where I started. I am proud that I can pay my bills, but I’ll never be in the financial place where he is.

But I work really hard.

I agree with him on that, but I needed him to be able to understand, both in terms of economic realities and in terms of empathy, why I hadn’t “caught up.”

I’m probably just too emotional, too human.

And that’s why we’ll always try and fail with those ever so attractive men.


»  Substance:WordPress   »  Style:Ahren Ahimsa