Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan in "Private Lives", London

A Theater-Goer’s Diary: “Private Lives”

I’ve been meaning for years to write a list of all the great theater I’ve seen in my life, thanks largely to my theater-loving dad. The production that’s on my mind this week, for obvious reasons, was one that I attended not with my dad but with his wife, Ruth, in London in 2001.

I had become aware of Alan Rickman when I saw Sense & Sensibility while on a visit to my friend Sue in Dallas in 1995 (I hadn’t seen Die Hard at that point – not my kind of movie). As soon as the film was over, Sue and I turned to each other and said: “Who was that?!?” We had shared tastes in men since high school, and Rickman was instant-crush material even in our 30s – that voice!

I had also seen him in Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood, but, though I thought he was better than anyone else in that movie, he hadn’t made a huge impression on me at the time, probably because I saw it dubbed into Italian. Years later I tried to watch it in English, and realized that the film is unbearable with Costner’s original voice and accent. (I should look for a Rickman-only edit on YouTube.)

I became a bit obsessed with Alan Rickman long before the Harry Potter films started coming out. I was mildly a fan of the books, but knowing that Rickman had been cast as Snape was a major motivation to see the films. I was not surprised that the rest of the world rapidly came to share my opinion.

It was a wonderful gift that Ruth managed to snag us tickets to the West End production of Noel Coward’s Private Lives starring Rickman and his long-time stage co-star, Lindsay Duncan. As we took our seats, I was amused to note that our fellow theater-goers were about 75% female.

The play opened on a magnificently raked set – an external view of a posh, balconied Art Deco hotel in Monte  Carlo. The first scene starts with Amanda, the female protagonist, talking to her second husband on her balcony. After a bit she is left alone, and the male protagonist, Elyot, in evening dress, walks onto his own adjacent balcony and stands looking out, as if to admire the view. Rickman paused there with a sardonic smile. He knew what to expect: a collective deep inhalation from the audience, somewhere between a gasp and a sigh.

From there, the show was off like a rocket; I leave it to you to read the play, including well-known lines such as: “Extraordinary how potent cheap music is.” A few excerpts are available on video, mostly poor-quality bootlegs. I’d like to believe that the whole play was filmed and might someday be released, but, like Rickman and Duncan’s earlier Les Liaisons Dangereuses, I fear these great performances may be largely lost to history and fading memory.

photo from obituary of Alan Rickman


Books I Read (or Re-Read) in 2015

Not surprisingly, I had a lot of time to read this year. I also had a lot of material, in part because many kind people bought me books (and DVDs) from my Amazon wish list. Below, in no particular order, is a not quite a complete listing of what I read and re-read this year, I’m certainly forgetting things, and not listing some books that I haven’t finished (or, in some cases, even started) yet.

…one thing that grave illness does is to make you examine familiar principles and seemingly reliable sayings. And there’s one that I find I am not saying with quite the same conviction as I once used to: In particular, I have slightly stopped issuing the announcement that “whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” In fact, I now sometimes wonder why I ever thought it profound. In the brute physical world, and the one encompassed by medicine, there are all too many things that could kill you, don’t kill you, and then leave you considerably weaker.
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changing 2015 to 2016

Goodbye, 2015

In the past I’ve said that every year of my life has gotten at least a little better than the ones before it. I’ve chosen to believe that even in years when it wasn’t strictly true by most measures. 2015… well, I can’t say it was a good year, though some aspects were, in between a whole lot of nastiness. But… I survived it, with abundant proof that my life is worth fighting for, to me and to others.

I have a feeling that 2016 will be not just better than 2015, but better than most of my life to date. 2015 was just a bump in the road, and it’s behind me now.


ps If you want deep end of year reflections, read this.

^ photo: We caught the year getting ready to change on King’s Wharf, Sydney.

2015-12-pink hair

One Year On

So… it’s been a year 13 months since I was diagnosed with breast cancer and began treatment. A long, arduous year, the likes of which I hope never to see again.

At the moment, I don’t have the time, energy, or interest to do a full recap. The short version: I found a 2.3cm tumor in my right breast. The tumor (along with a large but not disfiguring chunk of my breast) was removed, along with some axillary lymph nodes (to which the cancer had not spread).

Analysis of the tumor determined that my chance of recurrence would be diminished by chemotherapy as well as radiation, to < 7%. So… I did chemo and radiation. The irony is: if I never get this breast cancer again, I will not know whether the treatment succeeded – or was simply unnecessary.

Thanks to a very understanding and supportive employer (Ericsson) and colleagues, I worked (from home) through all but five weeks of treatment, because I wanted to: it was a lot better for me mentally than taking months off would have been. Ericsson has fantastic about all of it; I wrote about that for the Ericsson Careers blog.

Huge thanks also to a great many people in my life – friends, family, and some friends I haven’t even met yet (except maybe on Twitter) – for supporting me emotionally as well physically through all of this. A good support system helps in the darkest times, and I am humbled by the love and generosity of so many. Thank you!

Last  week, I had my first post-treatment mammogram and ultrasound: all clear! Which was a huge relief, though cancer is never really “over.” No test can definitively say that a cancer will never return. And I’m still dealing with side effects from chemo, radiation, and tamoxifen, and will be for some time (with some side effects, possibly for the rest of my life). But, little by little, I can catch glimpses of what normal me (whatever that was) used to feel like.

photo above: first hair styling post-chemo, December 2015

A list of all my pieces about breast cancer (some of them long) is here.

Stockholm September evening

Treatment Roundup: August & September

Aug 1 – 7 weeks post chemo, Saturday after Rad 15

Maybe the sinus infection is going and that fatigue is ramping down – I was feeling more alert and energetic last night. This morning somewhat more tired – maybe the radiation fatigue is ramping up? Gah. I have work to do!

Aug 3 – 7 weeks post chemo, Rad 16

Monday morning: A few twinges in the surgery site, occasionally feels as if someone is running a hot wire in there.

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