Archive for April, 2012

Cockroach leg moves to the bass. Rad.

April 27th, 2012

Woah! Bugs n’ Brains! Here is a great TedEd talk. As much as ripping a bug’s leg off is not pleasant. This is super cool. Besides, it’ll grow back! This guy make a cockroach leg move by using a beatboxer. This is how dancing feels right? I mean, not like ripping off your leg but like, you just gotta do it! Science makes you groove.

brain-made music

April 20th, 2012

i really want this to be real! i really want this to be $5!

like a line 6 for your brain.

Neat brain pics on HuffPo

April 19th, 2012

If you like to see pretty brain things like this…








go here:

Not a Neuro Quick Fix

April 18th, 2012

Just thinking today about Neuroplasticity and a bad taste I keep getting, a nagging sense that Neuroplasticity (my tiny knowledge of it) gets co-opted by new-ageness and brain game stores as a quick fix. And that cheapens it! Even if there is a place for it in those realms, which I’m sure there is.

No surprise. I love Oliver Sacks. Here is an interview with him about his book “The Mind’s Eye” and more, from Stanford.

In the interview he says something about Neuroplasticity and using what you have, that I really want to keep with me. Neuroplasticity is not just about neurogenesis, right? It is also working with what you’ve already got to create new paths. I think that is part of the beauty of Neuroplasticity. To change yourself and your internal connections because you have to to survive. Not just that new happens but what you do with it. How you incorporate new with the rest of the old you. ITS A BIG DEAL!!! You can SEE through your TONGUE. You can READ with your TONGUE

Just doing crossword puzzles is not a cure for Alzheimer’s! Maybe no one is saying that, and I’m really just mad about what a crappy job I had at Marbles! Anyway, just wanted to get that out. Feel free to comment please! Just don’t be a jerk. I’ve already said I don’t know what I’m talking about.

My First fMRI – some musings

April 17th, 2012

DUUUUUUUDES! I went tubing. That is what I will call going in MRI machines from now on. I did it for a research study at Northwestern and it (please read this as Chris Farley from Tommy Boy) … was AWEsome! I actually hope I didn’t ruin any data by being totally stoked. The whole experience and rest of the day felt like a body-high mushroom trip. My mind was reeling, aware that other people could possibly see that reeling and then I was gonna get a picture of that reeling. So many thoughts about thoughts!!! Drug free mind expansion paid for by science? Yes please!

It started with an email sent to me by the illustrious Lacy Katherine Campbell about a research study. I almost did not contact them cuz see, I’m a sinner and have an IUD. Ladies! Don’t let this tool of controlling birth (thunder crash) steer you away from the MRIs. Doctors will tell you if the machine is too powerful. So, I filled out the forms and a few days later was on my way to fMRI city.

Morning of the study, after a small anxiety dream about being buried alive, I bolted out of bed like it was the first day of school. What should I wear? Were the scientists going to like me? Would I come off too excited? I got there with time to spare, and got into this sexy number…


The woman running the study seemed as excited as I was, which was so great. She gave me the experiment rundown, of which I heard nothing but “at the end, you get a picture of your brain.”

Seriously though, the study was regarding Pain and Race, and the ramifications of this study could really improve people’s lives. There’s some very sobering and frightening societal shit regarding pain. Example, black people and other minorities being denied pain care because they are “just looking for drugs”, or poorer neighborhood pharmacies not being stocked with pain meds for the same reason. Y’know, infuriating BS. I intend to write more extensively about it with an actual scientist but this post is just about my experience “tubing”. So for now, onto the pithy and giddy…

I’m pretty sure I’m not claustrophobic. Besides an uncomfortable overnight train from Paris to Germany, that theory had not really been tested. I couldn’t help but remember that when I did try on a Snoopy mascot costume (during a gig at Fashion Week a few yrs ago) I couldn’t do it… not a proud moment. But, I was not going to let a little discomfort stop me from getting a sweet pic of my brain.

So, I followed a guy (also running the study) into the magic tube room, got on the bed plank and was hooked up with ear plugs, a hairnet, foam blocks to keep my head in place, a videogame like controller (to track my answers), and a mask. My study handler called it Iron Man’s. I preferred to stick with what comforts me, Batman. Even if aesthetically he was correct.

I definitely didn’t think the physical stress of tubing would take so much energy. But a LOT of the time was spent thinking, “don’t freak out!” It took a lot of brainpower to keep my body still inside of a corndog and be ok with it.

Oddly, the thing that freaked me out the most, sensory wise, were the earplugs. Everything else I could explain away as “for science” but the earplugs made me feel far away and not in control of one of the senses I thought I would be in control of. Every thought from here on out was sort of split. For example…

The Mask:
1984. Rat Mask! I can’t move! Or,
I am Batman and I must wear this for science.

The Ear Plugs:
I can’t hear things! Where are my new scientist friends, can they hear me? Or,
You will lose your hearing without them. This is for science.

The Breathing:
I’m scared! Breathe fast! I don’t know why! Or,
Breathe slowly to feel good and not pass out. This is for science.

I had to make these mental switches with every new element that was introduced, and it worked, I had a freaking blast! I know there’s a life lesson in there somewhere. Science rules!!!

Now add the mental/social stress of thinking about pain and race like… Oh god, am I racist? Oh god, the whole fucking world is racist and we’re all going to die in horrible natural disasters and/or war that we could have avoided, I love everyone too much to die!!! Thoughts like that were not conducive to remaining calm in a tube.

So I concentrated on the tasks at hand. Tasks like pressing buttons while looking at pictures or watching a line. That I could do. In fact, the whole time in the machine all I wanted was slow consistent stimulation. I could have played Pong in there for hours. On the reverse, at one point the research computer screen flashed up on my video screen while they were doing sciencey things. I thought about asking them if I could update my facebook status. I didn’t ask because the mere thought of actually doing it made me want to hit the escape hatch. Think of all that entailed, talking, revising and editing what to say, thinking about things outside of my head and immediate vicinity. AHHH NO!

A few normal relaxation techniques didn’t seem to work. For example concentrating on where my toes, feet, arms, etc. were was not what I wanted to do, at all. I wanted to be completely in my head. Dissociated from spatial recognition. A slab on a slab. Unaware of looking in at my slab. The thing that made this really hard was the mask contraption. You could see through the mask up into a series of mirrors that showed you the video screen you were supposed to focus on. There were two problems here. Because the mirrors/video were shaking, a sense of movement or transport was created. Usually I fall asleep in humming small traveling spaces, but imagination was not my friend here. I kept thinking spaceship… Challenger! Race car… Explosion! The other problem was, I could see the outside of the machine… the machine that had me inside of it. That cognitively placed me inside of a tube, inside of a room, inside of a hospital, that could collapse on me at anytime. No thank you. Additionally, I could see a backwards “Warning” label on an arm of the projector. Generally unnerving because it said warning, and specifically because it meant everything I was seeing was actually flipped. I could not deal with that dissonance. So I had to ignore it.

I guess ignoring was one of my relaxation techniques. Haha! Gulp. That means nothing I’m sure, right? Also, rubbing the sheets with my fingertips, concentrating on the simple tasks and just breathing. I was ok realizing myself in the machine if I didn’t relate it to the outside world. Touching the bed ok. Pinching myself, not ok. Which sounds weird but if I was just touching or thinking about myself (pinching) it was me inside. If I rubbed the bed I was on the environment, not scarily inside of it. Hmmm. I dunno people I was high on science.

Oh yeah, it got real existential up in there. Who am I physically, morally? Why does my body react differently then my intellect? Where am I in space? What is a body? I got cocky the second time in the tube and stretched my arm to test how far I could move… WAY less then I thought! Told myself to swallow that thought. Tried another stupid thing. I could see a light that I thought was the opening, so I looked down and HOLY CRAP, not the outside! Oh god, no more testing those boundaries. I’ll go back to ignoring normal signals from my body.

They had me close my eyes in the first study to take the MRI scan of my brain. That was lovely. Just me in a sensory deprivation cave, a black hole sort of shifting diagonally in my mind. I didn’t want to not be in the MRI machine! I just wanted to remain calm.

From all the “freak out” statements, it may sound like I did not enjoy this. Au contraire, I loved being so aware of everything that my body was feeling and how in control I could be of my thoughts and fears. Also, knowing someone was recording that and was about to filter very specific information from all that, well that was fascinating. Like looking into the stars or standing on a mountain. Awesome, for reals. I felt super plugged in and connected to inner space, awed by how much there is inside us and how it echoes the outside universe. The awareness was exhilarating and I can’t wait to go tubing again.

And now here is my brain…

my brain

I feel so naked.

Hey Science! Make it rain…

money from science

Thanks to the people running the study at Northwestern. These folks were all very cool and electric (and younger than I’d imagined). I wanted to go for a whiskey with all of them, but it was like noon and they have science thesis things to do so, I’ll call them later.

Watch this! “You’re Looking At Me …”

April 13th, 2012

You’re Looking at me Like I Live Here and I Don’t “Lee Gorewitz lives in a care facility for Alzheimer’s patients, but she is not simply waiting to die. She is full of curiosity and frustration, struggling to remember herself and make sense of a world that is falling away from her.”

This movie will punch you in the face, in the very best of ways. As Mary Louise Parker from Weeds told me in the PBS intro, there are no doctors, no experts, and it is basically from the perspective of patient. Yes, that point can be argued a million ways from Tuesday, but it feels right. So, onward. You’re Looking At Me… films the day-to-day life of Lee, a patient living in an Alzheimer’s home. Read more here.

Someone likened the film to a Beckett play, which may have filtered how I watched it but damn, the language feels like it. Lee’s language is focused meaning inside of seeming gibberish. Word salads strung together with intention and clear emotion. If you just pay attention the meaning is there. The connections are slant to a neurotypical mind but communication is there. It makes sense. It was beautiful.

“Did you take care of daddy or is your face so small?”

“Any truth you wanna take, but its truth.”

Shot by shot of empty rooms and no movement might seem sad or heavy handed but the place exists that way. It is clean and repetitive. So that may feel uneasy, but doesn’t feel manipulative and sets a great contrast to Lee’s liveliness and personality. Within the hospital environment, I found myself trying not to judge the employees in Lee’s life. It’s hard to listen to people who are, hmm… used to an environment? Is that an ok way to put it? It’s a tone that seems condescending even if it’s not meant to be. That tone mixed with group activities that make me squirm and want to rip my face off. There has to be better theatre and performance for people in homes and/or with disabilities, right? Specific and tailored is important for any audience. But why in these circumstances does it always sound so condescending?

It makes me think of my grandmother who is 102 yrs old and in a home now. She is cognitively and physically together (incredible actually for 102) and I still hear people talk to her like a child or without the prosody of truthful concern. It is infuriating and I hope people don’t talk to me like that when I’m old or that I don’t talk like that to anyone. This was not across the board in the movie AT ALL, just occasionally stuck out at me. One of my buttons I guess.

“I don’t know why, I don’t know what I do”

Of course there is a moment of bawling my eyes out, I knew it was coming; we all know it was coming. But I was surprised at how it did happen. And I think that speaks well to the art of the film. I was paying such close attention throughout the movie to Lee, because that’s where the focus was.  All of a sudden I realized I was breathing in the same pattern as she was. I noticed this at a point in the movie where she started to cry and I could not help but join. I was sobbing in the same breathing pattern as the character. A goddamn textbook Greek catharsis. Maybe more correctly, visceral empathy for another human. This wasn’t a crybaby moment for the poor old forgotten/forgetting woman. It felt so present. It was a shared moment with someone I’ll never meet. That’s like pretty good art and stuff.

“I wouldn’t call it sad, I would call it get outta my way.”

My grandmother does not have Alzheimer’s but she is 102 and can’t remember some stories or dates. She doesn’t fully answer when I ask her about Woman’s Suffrage or electricity or cell phones. That used to make me sad, I wanted to get her perspective on change, pass down an anecdote or two. But maybe this time in her life isn’t about remembering stories from the past. It is not about me taking it in. It should be about her in the present. How can her life be full, now? And at the very least, how can we keep clear communication with an aging mind.

For an op-ed from the director about making the film go here:

For more info on the movie go here:

You can get it right now at itunes or amazon!

Red Kite Project: Theatre made for kids with Autism

April 5th, 2012

This February I had the absolute pleasure and delight to work with The Red Kite Project. It is a show/experience and sometimes camp through the Chicago Children’s Theater . The purpose is to create theatre that is created specifically for children with Autism. You can see their mission eloquently put, as well as watch a movie about Red Kite on their site here…

The facebook page is often updated with news, events, etc.!/pages/The-Red-Kite-Project/120621808004073

The month that we worked to put up the most current production of Red Kite By the Sea, went by so fast and was in some ways a blur. So many magical moments, from the actual technique/art of the show (beautiful music and projections) as well as of course, from heart and mind connections. Smiles, laughter, and no thank yous, group dance parties, learning boundaries, and impromptu sing-alongs. Its hard to not sound cheesy about it, but as a performer on stage to hold an audience members hand, interact with/explore a prop together,  be held accountable for knowing when something is too loud or too scary and have to change in the moment is beautiful and rare. Its a real live event! And that is why I want to do any theatre, for emotional communication, a present connection. This specific audience demands it. This specific show was a sensual (as in the 5 senses), emotional landscape (to borrow a term from bjork) with an attention to schedule, storytelling and detail that I hope to remember for future writing and theatre creations. Also, bubbles are rad. Period.

I can’t wait to get back to Red Kite after a bit of time off (we’ve got a gig at the end of this month!) Speaking of that, if you know of anyone who would like to have Red Kite come to wherever they are, please contact Red Kite for more information … and I’m not just saying that because that would get me work. Although that’s part of it! This is a lovely, gentle, wondrous, dreamy creation and I am so glad to be involved with the team.

learning the sweet tunes! these were some tight harmonies y'all. i even learned some uke. don't worry i'm not gonna go all ukelele bangy and post a youtube vid of the 3 chords i learned.