Paula Poundstone at the PCA Conference
Apr 16th, 2018 by Dr Karma

I love Paula Poundstone.
I have always loved Paula Poundstone, and if I ever get the chance to win on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, her voice will greet you when I don’t pick up the phone.
And I’ll never pick up the phone, just so you can hear her voice.
You’re welcome.
I’ve seen her live several times, and I always include her work on my Stand-Up Class syllabus, because no one does better crowd improv work.
So I was thrilled when she was chosen as our headline speaker at this year’s PCA in Indy. The program said 6:30-8:30, so we gathered on time, only to wait until 7, when a PCA boss came up to introduce her.
The PCA lady told a story about how her husband loves Poundstone SO much and NPR SO much and how he listens to NPR in his car, in their driveway, since the PCA lady apparently won’t shut up.
She then read off a card about how amazing Poundstone was.
But then Poundstone took the stage–and roasted us.
We deserve it. We’re an official association for scholars of popular culture, after all. Our very existence is wonderful in its potential and probable uselessness.
I wish I had sat closer and that she had called on me to talk about what I had presented on–she definitely would have had something to say about “teaching students to tell real news from fake news.”
At 8:30, Poundstone was still going strong, but the PCA lady appeared, right behind Poundstone, scaring her badly.
PCA lady: We need you to stop. The caterers need to leave.
Poundstone: I asked you how long I had, and you said as long as I want.
PCA lady: Well, I didn’t know you would talk all night.
That’s right–the PCA lady, who admitted her husband hides from her because she won’t shut up, was shutting up Poundstone.
And she obviously didn’t know anything about Poundstone, her process, or the glorious way she will go on if you let her.

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.









You can now view Chronic Pain: A Comedy
Jun 8th, 2017 by Dr Karma

Hey, did you miss it?
You can see it here:

I also opened for my graduating seniors (who are amazing) the next night (no overlap in jokes):

Stand-Up Show Tonight!
Jun 2nd, 2017 by Dr Karma

Chronic Pain: A Comedy
Dec 19th, 2016 by Dr Karma

As some of you know, in the summer, I was in Spain at a narrative health conference. The talks are all addressed to professionals–doctors and teachers talking to doctors and teachers. I participated as a teacher, but listened as a chronic pain patient.

The conference was really interesting, but I kept finding myself frustrated. There were all of these techniques–aimed at letting the patient tell his/her story to the doctor. In other words, instead of just having a doctor actually listen (and take the time to, which is sometimes the hard part), there were “activities” to force it.

And then someone in the audience would ask how they could streamline the activity–you know, to save all that time of listening.

There was also a lot of emphasis on art therapy, which I am behind to an extent, but the idealism at the conference annoyed me sometimes.

One of the organizers asked, “wouldn’t it be great if your doctor put away his diagnostic tool and got out a guitar?”

I leaned over to Melissa and said, “I would punch my doctor if he did that.”

I believe in holistic care, and I mix Western and Eastern techniques in my fight to feel better.

But hey, there’s literally bile in my stomach. And my discs are “desiccated.” And so on. Laughing makes me feel better, but it won’t fix my stomach lining or discs.

That said, stories are immensely important.

After watching me give a couple of presentations in the last few years, a woman suggested I do one woman shows.

“Well, I sort of do–just in shorter form with stand-up comedy.”

(This woman also seemed relieved when she learned I’m originally from the South: “Oh, that makes sense. I was trying to figure you out. I’m normally suspicious of charismatic people, but you always seemed so nice. You’re just Southern.)

This woman is right. I am nice. I am charismatic. I should do a one woman show.

And so that was on my mind when I saw the call for The Storytelling in Health conference this summer in Wales.

I sent them an exploratory email: hey, I could do a regular panel on this, or I could come in as a chronic pain patient and give my narrative–in stand-up form.

And so that’s what we’re going to do.

I’ll have 45 minutes, including a Q&A.

Thrilled. Terrified.

Wondering if a bunch of medical professionals will know they’re supposed to say, “break a leg.”


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