Saturday, January 25, 2014

My Surgery

Right now I am eating endless raisins.  I can't help it.  I've been craving raisins for 24 hours.
I've been recovering from a surgery on my eyes since Tuesday, so that may be why.  You see, ever since I was a wee child, I've had a condition known as "exotropia", which is where the eyes drift outwards.  It's never hurt, but it HAS weirded more than a few people, and it's led to a few embarrassing pictures taken by other people, unknowingly by me.  I had barely any control over, having a straight gaze only when concentrating very hard on talking to people.  It got harder when I needed to use peripheral vision, or when I was tired.
My family and i assumed that it wasn't anything serious, so I did Chinese eye exercises nearly every day, in the hopes that my eyes would stop being "derpy".
However, I was informed that it was more serious than anticipated, as it could become fixed over time.  And the only way to fix it was a surgery.  Surgery!  I had never had a surgery in my life, save that one time when I had a cut knee and needed stitches when I was a toddler.
I was more horrified by the idea of looking like this forever:
(I'm on the far left)

Or this!  

Or this!

Also, I would be unable to drive, because when my eyes went all crazy, I had double vision.  So the surgery was set for late January (after my birthday!)
My opthalmologist was THE kindest doctor I've ever met!  She was always thinking about "the big picture", and was always very warm and friendly to me.  She even came to a performance of Yeast Nation! 
Anyways, she was doing the vital parts of my surgery.  What was going to happen was that they were going to weaken the outside muscles and rearrange them.  She warned me that I was going to have "red hamburgery eyes" for a week or so after the surgery.
In the days and weeks leading up to the day, my friends and family have been so extremely, almost overwhelmingly kind.  My friend Dan downloaded quite a few Lemony Snicket and Neil Gaiman audiobooks onto my laptop, and Ayun, Milo, and his sister India sent a bunch of links to some very enjoyable podcasts.  Valentina slept over last night, keeping me company and uplifting my spirits.  Other friends called me, welcomingly breaking the monotony of my sightless days.  My more distat relatives prayed for me, and our family friends in the spiritual know-how sent me Reiki energy.
I am SO grateful to be surrounded by such loving, amazing people!

The day of the surgery arrived.  I wasn't allowed to eat or drink anything from the night before until after it was over.  My mom walked with me into the operation room.  The surgeons, nurses, and doctors were very lovely people; very cheerful and friendly.  I was strapped down onto the table and a mask feeding me oxygen was placed onto my face.  I'll admit, I was a little nervous... so then I waved goodbye to my mom and saluted the medical team.  A needle was jabbed into my right wrist.  They said that this was water to hydrate me.
"Oh, that's good..." I said. (I think the anesthesia was starting to take effect)
"I didn't drink anything yet, that's very considerate of you guys............"
The next thing i remember, I was on my back in the waiting room, surrounded by Quintin, my mom, and my dad.
The rest of my time at the hospital was REALLY weird.... it felt like I was dreaming, and I had no control of what I said at all.  My dad decided to use this to his advantage.
"So, did you kiss anyone?"
"No, just in Yeast Nation?  His name's Baird and he's stupid."  

I also accused my mom of being a lesbian.  She was the only one that was nice; helping me drink coconut water and holding my hand.  My brother was being just as bad as my dad, trying to get me to say weird things.
"Hey, knock-knock,"
"Shut up!"
One of the first things I said was asking if I could watch Doctor Who.  But the hospital didn't get BBC, so I listened to Food Network on the TV instead.  Then I started FREAKING OUT when she was making chicken caeser salad pizza and yelling, "You don't put butter on pizza!  YOU DON'T PUT BUTTER ON PIZZA!"  
I think I started becoming more "with it" once the nurses suggested my mom dressing me; some primal instinct of modesty snapping me back to reality. I was able to think and speak coherently at this point, though reality still had a dreamy quality and I couldn't stand up yet.  
My eyes felt sooo strange.... I was unable to open or move them for days!  I'm very grateful for my mom takig care of me these last few days... I  was able to do some things by myself, like eating and brushing my teeth.  Then two days ago, i opened my eyes.  Here's a picture.  Warning; it's gross.  

But it's funny to see my brother's reaction.  I can't move my eyes from side to side, as the muscles are still stunned.  I sort of stare.  Which is perfect for a computer screen!  As I've stated before; Valentina stayed the night.  encouraged me to get out of bed and walk around.  We watched/listened to "Mary Poppins" and "Pride and Prejudice".  She even helped me realize that I can play the accordion and piano!  

I'm very grateful to have eyesight now.  I've never realized how important it is for schoolwork!  Now I can read and watch netflix!  No more derpy eyes!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

My Holiday Season

Happy New Years, everyone!  Though it might be a bit late for that...
Ah, New Year's.  The day where you plan your goals for the whole year.  Only to have your resolution crumble very shortly.  Take my New Year's, for example.  I had planned on going on a juice fast for two weeks starting then and there.  But my family and I were at our friends' house.  And someone brought vegan chili.  And i REALLY didn't want to offend them.  Plus it was freaking delicious.
I AM juice-fasting now, and I've been doing it for three days so far.  I will post about that experience soon.
My resolutions include writing every day, eating more raw food (i bought two raw vegan cookbooks!), losing weight because of the Mermaid Parade in June, and financially supporting my sewing endeavors, which involves me making money on the subway, gypsy-style, which involves a ukulele.

I think you can guess the reason why I wanted to lose weight.  There is a two-month period at the end of the year that involves overeating.  And cookies.  And curling up under a cozy blanket to watch Disney movies.  I ended up being unable to fit into my favorite pair of white jeans.  Whoever said that veganism isn't fattening is a liar.
So for the SALT club closest to Christmas, I invited pretty much everybody in it to my house, and they had to bring cookies.  Any cookies.  And we would all eat cookies.  So... there were about 20 teenagers in my house, no parents.  I spent a good part of the morning making (gluten free and vegan) oatmeal raisin cookies, which turned out AMAZINGLY.  They didn't even taste gluten free, let alone vegan!  I think the trick to gluten-free baking is to mix some sort of texture in there.  Like this one time I made some vegan, gluten-free lemon blueberry scones, and there wasn't enough gluten free flour.  But I had a little extra shredded coconut.  The result was pure decadance!  Even my mom liked them!
Anyway, with 20+ kids, we had many, many cookies, and it didn't take much to get full.

During the meeting (It REALLY felt more like a party) Quintin, Baird, Valentina's brother Matteo, and Michael had a SHIRTLESS snowball fight.  A couple of us watched through the window.  It was VERY funny to watch.  Later, I felt a little green around the gills, which was unsurprising, as there was a bug going around in the circle.
I spent the rest of the party, er, meeting lying on my mom's chaise.  Apparently they played spin-the-bottle in my room.  And I repeat, there was some cold going around in the homeschool community.
I was sick for about a week, during which time i spent watching Disney movies off of questionably legal websites and eating oatmeal raisin cookies.  Thankfully, I was well by Christmas.
Christmas was a lot of fun!  I loved turning on the radio and listening to songs that i knew all the words to!  If there's one thing I love about the Christmas season, it's jazz music.  If there's one thing I DISlike about the Christmas season, it's the cold weather.  In my family, I'm known for having constantly cold hands.
The chilliness really came suddenly this year.  I think that next winter I'd like to go somewhere tropical for a couple of weeks.

This year's hanukkah was rather unusual, as it fell on Thanksgiving!  So there were a lot of crossover jokes floating around the internet and my friends.  Like "Menorackey".  I made a LOT more food than we could handle, even with eight people!  It was about 80 percent vegan.  Ironically, for my mom, the lentil loaf was her favorite dish there!  I posted pictures of the dishes as i made them.  One picture of latkes had quite a few comments from Leo about that there should be sweet potato latkes (yamkes).
There was also risotto, mashed parsnips, and rolls, among about nine other dishes.  My grandma came over with the turkey (hiss), and so did the Wattses (Coco, Ben, and Tiina from the previous posts).  The evening was filled with lots of singing and piano playing.
I think it might have been from the surplus of cooked food (I eat mostly fruits and vegetables and grains) or perhaps the wheat, but I threw up that night.
The next day I ate LESS of the leftovers.  But then I threw up AGAIN.  My dad asked me if I was bulimic.
And then i started researching raw veganism.  I was a bit sick of cooked food that weekend.
A few days after, Thomas and his family invited my family over for a vegan thanksgiving.  (OY VEY)
But it was all delicious.  I really enjoyed Thomas's apple pie.  Also, leo was there, so I came with sweet potato latkes, which were AMAZING.  (They taste like a baked sweet potato!)
Angie (Thomas and Izzy's mom) made me a sweet potato casserole (without pecans), which they insisted on calling the "Jan-the-Sweet potato casserole".  Later we watched "Monty Python and the Holy Grail".  I had never seen it before and, my god, all I can say is; pure genius!
The following week, there was a homeschooling Hanukkah party.  I was SO done with latkes.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Yeast Nation

Hi everyone!  Happy New Year!  Sorry I haven't been online in a while.  you know; Christmas, Thanksgivvukah... and the play I was in, Yeast Nation.
I wrote a bit about this project a few months ago, but that doesn't really do it justice.

Last year, I was in a very small, very homespun production of Oliver.  We had a cast of nine kids, with much double casting and creative use of space.  And there was an accordion.  And a tequila incident with a prop flask.  This was in Brooklyn, at a homeschool family's loft/massage studio.  The father of said family, Ben, directed the play alongside my mom, who was the musical director.  It turned out really well!
Fast forward a few months, and my buddy Leo, who played Fagin, proposed the idea of putting together "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."... guess who wanted to direct?  He was 13 at the time!  (he has a website here) Leo is a very talented writer and actor and I must say, he did a very good job of staging it and organizing the rehearsals.  I was musical director and accompanist for the show, and even though it was just six songs, i definitely overestimated myself.  I thought I was ready pianistically!  My mom makes it look so easy!  She DID help me learn the songs, but I just couldn't learn them fast enough.  "I am going to finish learning this song by next rehearsal," i kept telling myself.

Tech week arrived, and I was THIS CLOSE (imagine I'm showing you just how close with my finger and thumb) to having a nervous breakdown!  And then, like an angel descending from the heavens themselves, I had help for accompanying!
My friend PJ played "Sam Beauregard" in the show.  He's a longtime improv artist and actor, and comes from a family in the show biz.  His dad, Jeff Lodin writes musicals and is a jazz pianist.  He can freaking improvise music!  And so, he suggested that he be co-accompanist for the performances.  Jeff taught me some tips for improvising music, and played about half of the songs, in addition to cool sound effects and mood music.  I don't know what I would have done had he not stepped in!  Now go and watch his musicals.

During this, a friend/mother of friend/seasoned mommylord named Ayun suggested a play for doing the following autumn semester.  Her son, Milo, played Augustus Gloop.
Milo is... a wild one.  His "death scene" had us all in hysterics, and i witnessed firsthand how hard it was for the actors to not break character while he was tragically thrashing and screaming.  During the performances, there were definitely some added lines.  The ham.
Anyway, Ayun's husband, Greg Kotis, co-wrote "Urinetown" (great musical.  Go watch that one too!) with Mark Hollman.  They had written another play many moons ago called "Yeast Nation".
Ayun sent the script to my family and Ben's family to see what we thought of it.  I was initially weirded out by the story.  A kingdom of single-cellular organisms at the bottom of the sea at the beginning of time?
Nonetheless, I read the script, and was surprised at the satire, comedy, and romance.  It seemed like a very interesting play to do.
Not long after, Ayun and Ben (turned out they were co-directing!) and my mom (musical director.  Surprised?) announced that we WERE doing "Yeast Nation!"

Ben and his wife, Tiina, invited a bunch of us to their house for a yeastly acting workshop.  We learned a group number (Stasis is the Membrane) to figure out how our vocal ranges were for any potential parts we were cast as.
I wondered what part I would get.  Jan-the-Unnamed, the blind narrator yeast gifted with prophecy?  Jan-the-Famished, the pregnant one who gets manipulated into being in a horrible regicide plot? One part that I sort of liked was Jan-the-Sweet, the protagonist.  But she was in a love triangle and had to be kissed by two other characters, so I thought, "I feel so sorry for the poor sucker that has to play her,". During the workshop, we learned the story of the yeasts.  You can read it here.  We also learned to move like yeasts.  This included the grownups except for my mom.  At one point, while we were contorting and slithering across the room, she walked in, stared, and quickly left.  (She's not much into contemporary and weird theater) There are MANY deaths in Yeast Nation, caused by someone "popping" another's "jellies".
So we were working on that, too.  It was fun to die, and i found out which side of the family Milo got his acting from.

During the summer, the directors were casting us, which was very hard apparently.  We had "Stasis is the membrane" stuck in our head for months.  Which was horrible, cause there were 18 other songs!
Then we got the casting information.
Guess who was Jan-the-Sweet?  Oh, the bitter, bitter irony.

I took my script to Shakespeare Camp, and the entirety of July was dedicated to making sure the songs were in the right key.  This often resulted in sleepovers.
While I was in Maine with Leo and Quintin, my aunt sometimes made us shut up for 20 minutes, timing it on her cell phone.  (Leo's mom was in Bali, so we and another family were taking care of him for a couple of weeks.)  I really don't have to tell you what we were singing in the backseat, do I?
Then, finally, in September, we had our first rehearsal.  We basically started from nothing, and improvised our way through, doing the tidbits we liked that we did, and cutting, pasting, and refining the staging.  We made a throne for the king (Milo, which was the best thing ever) out of our bodies.  My "nook" (house/bedroom/sleeping cubby for a yeast) was formed from the bodies of chorus members.  Waves, a dungeon, breaking the fourth wall... you name it, the chorus did it!  They also got the best one-liners.  I got some SUPERB acting coaching from Ayun and Ben, the best that I'd ever gotten.
Honestly, the romantic/sexual harrassment scenes weren't TOO bad.  It was the teasing from other castmates that was worse.

Halfway through rehearsals, and the same friend who wishes to be anonymous joined us!  (I forgot what i called her before, so I'll say her name is Claire in this one.)
The music was amazing.  It's a bit rock-opera, a bit musical theater, and a bit, "What the hell is that?"  They got stuck in your head easily.  Oh!  here's a song with me singing in it!  In the story, there is a famine.  Sweet's father (Quintin!) was popped open for defiling the strictures and rising to look for food, and she's grieving horribly and questioning life and having new feelings.  Then the prince of the yeasts, Jan-the-Second-Oldest, (he was played by a kid named Baird, who surprised me in the last month of rehearsals by shooting up past my modest height of 5'2) who is smitten with her, comes with a giant piece of salt called a "fatty" as a gift for Sweet.  Sweet hates his guts and yells at him a bit.
Anyway, Claire suggested playing her doumbek for some of the songs, and it worked amazingly!  You didn't really know that the songs were missing something until you heard the drum with them.

The costumes, props, and set were scavenged for as little money as possible.  We managed to find a few bolts of fabric (pale green for yeasts, and garish blue and pink for the new life forms, known as the New Ones) for free, and spent several days cutting out no-sew tunics and jazzing them up with black marker.  The result?

Photos by Schecter Lee

Amazing under-the-sea effects created by tinted lights, sheets, and tulle.  The family who owned the space and was already generously lending it to us, donated their living quarters for audience and bedsheets for the set.  It was performed in the round, with a ladder for the effect of rising to the surface of the ocean.
If ya want more pictures, lookee here!
Whenever I invited people to see it, they were confused about what the play was about.
"Hey, is that a science song?"
"No, Stasis is the Membrane.  It's from a legitimate musical I'm in."  (He didn't believe me)
Another person:
"So, what's Yeast nation about, baking?
"Yeast infection?"
Despite the lack of clarity, a TON of people came!  A few times, the studio seated 100+ people!
This was definitely the best production of ANYTHING I've ever been in, and the audience really liked it!  Apparently one person said, "Oh we were expecting this to be a cover play done by some homeschool kids, but it turned out to be a serious play done by actors that just happened to be young!"
The playwright came, of course, along with the composer.  I spotted my ophthalmologist in the audience, and on the second night, a retired character from "Sesame Street" came to see us!  My friend, Thomas, who was in the chorus, is a HUGE fan of Urinetown.  His ambition is to play Officer Lockstock in it.  One night, the actor who played Lockstock was sitting in the audience.  During the "stasis is the membrane" scene, it's parodying a sermon or something at church; that whole "peace be with you"hand-shaking thing.  So everyone on stage shook the audience's hands.  Eliza, another chorus member, saw that she was going to be right in front of "Lockstock", so she traded places with Thomas!  Aw!  Wasn't that nice?  His excitement was VERY clear backstage.
Before the show started, it made us all very anxious, being backstage, but Claire and I figured out that meditating together helped the nerves.  And then two became three.  Three became everyone in the girls' dressing room, regardless of gender.  Ayun and Ben were impressed to see us like this before a show.

I'm very glad to have been in this.  It's made me grow as an actress and a singer, and unfortunately, what with all the care I've invested in it, it's become a part of life.  I'll never be able to look at the words "fatty", "jellies", or the punctuation of "January" the same way.  Luckily, I'm moving on. I've gotten over it, and I'm currently focusing on my vocal training, and the accordion, and Doctor Who, and important things like that.  It's 2014, and I've got other projects to do and... and... ooh!  It's being performed in San Francisco next fall?