I saw the play “Love, Loss, and What I Wore” on Sunday. It’s adapted from a beautiful little book written and illustrated by a woman named Ilene Beckerman, who tells the story of her life in the context of the clothes she or others wore at specific times. There’s a rotating cast of five members, all dressed in black, who play different characters. It was the first time I saw Carol Kane live, after admiring her on TV and in films from Taxi (where she played Simka to Andy Kaufman’s Latka) to Annie Hall (where she played Alison Portchnik, married to Alvie Singer– played by Woody Allen). She hasn’t aged a bit.
I loved the show. It was in the Westside Theater, a small, one-level theater on 43rd Street. A review in the New Yorker said, “Never has the love of beautiful clothes seemed less frivolous”– and they’re right! So many of the stories rang true. At one point, they were talking about black, and how people should stop saying that everything is “the new black.” One character said that once she bought something that wasn’t black– and she was so sorry. There was a fabulous monologue about how a purse can be the window to your soul, and another about a young woman who survived breast cancer (her hats helped). And do you think it’s true that when you start to wear Eileen Fisher, you might as well say you’ve given up? I want to get the script (by Nora and Delia Ephron) when it’s published– some of the monologues aren’t in the original book.
Last night, after work, I went to a discussion and book signing at the new Barnes and Noble, on 86th Street and Lexington Avenue. Carol Sklenica, who just wrote a terrific biography called Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life, talked about her book and about Carver’s life. I’ve always loved Raymond Carver’s short stories and poems but didn’t know much about his life before. He had a hard life– big struggle with alcoholism, which he finally overcame, and then died of lung cancer ten years later at age 50. The author talked about the impact that Gordon Lish, one of Carver’s editors, had on his short stories. If you look at the Library of America edition of Carver: Collected Stories, you can read different versions of the same story, with and without Lish’s edits. Look at “A Small Good Thing” (Carver’s version) compared to “The Bath” (with edits by Lish). Carver’s version is one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking stories I’ve ever read.
I got home and watched the first part of “This Emotional Life,” a three-part PBS documentary hosted by Daniel Gilbert, the Harvard Professor who wrote Stumbling on Happiness. The first part was about the role of relationships in making us happy. They described an experiment done by a psychologist named Harlow on the formation of attachment in young monkeys. Harlow took a baby monkey and put him in a cage with a choice of two “mothers” (monkey-life dolls). One of the mothers was made of wire (so not comforting) but was supplied with food; the other was made of cloth (so gave comfort) but gave no food. Faced with the choice, the baby monkey preferred the cloth mother, hands down. He kept throwing himself on the cloth mother, trying desperately to get some milk, even though none was forthcoming. The monkey would rather starve to death and get some comfort rather than be fed by a wire mom. I thought about that monkey all day.
Today was my first class of the new year. I decided to try Qi Gong, which is a combination of movement and meditation that’s supposed to reduce stress, increase energy, improve sleep, and create a sense of peace and harmony. I had never done it before. We were in a small, quiet room with soft music playing. There were four students (all women) and the teacher. We each had a chair, two blankets, and a yoga mat, which had been set up before we came in. The practice focused on the combination of breathing and movement. I don’t understand it all, but the teacher was kind, and I came out feeling refreshed. I’m going to try it again.
After the class, I went to a talk by the surgeon and writer Atul Gawande about his wondeful recent book called The Checklist Manifesto. The book describes a project he led for the World Health Organization (WHO) to make surgery safer around the world by designing a checklist to be used by teams performing surgery. They implemented the checklist at 8 hospitals around the world with approximately a one-third decrease in complications and an almost 50% decrease in operative deaths. He talked about how medicine is increasingly complex; although as doctors we like to believe we are infallible, there is the potential for error and simple steps like this checklist could keep us safer. I wanted to ask him how he balances his writing with his doctoring, but they ran out of time for questions at the end. He apparently was going from the talk at our hospital to Charlie Rose and then to give a talk at the 92nd Street Y.
I’m working tomorrow. I’ll write again on Thursday.