Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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There Are Some Loons at Asilomar

Isn't this around the time you have one of your crazy medical writing conferences?

Yeah, it was a couple weeks ago! You probably didn't even notice I was gone for a few days.

I always notice. I miss you.


I was being sarcastic, idiot. I was getting trashed with Raoul the whole fucking time.

I knew you two knew each other. So do you want to hear about the conference or not?

Well, was it like last year's? Or the one before that?

A mixture of both, you might say! If you used the word "mixture."

I prefer tincture.

Look, this year, a week before the conference, I was actually asked to direct the musical comedy skit! Because I'd done such a good job with The Wrik*do and enjoyed myself. I can't believe I've reached a point in my life where people are asking me to do awesome things I want to do anyway!

I will admit that sounds exciting. Fine, I will conduct this interview, but only if you end up becoming Facebook friends with at least two people you meet.

Dude, spoiler warning.

So you only got a week to prepare for this show?

Yeah, Dan sent me a few scripts written by an AMWA member who had passed away recently that he thought we could put on in honor of her. He said I was free to modify and improve as necessary. One script was off The Mikado, but I didn't want to do that again, and one was Evita, which I wasn't familiar with. The script that made me laugh the most was West Coast Story, and it was co-written by Dan. I set to work on the script.

I got the West Side Story soundtrack from the library, as well as the movie, though I never found time to watch it. I listened to the songs and tried to see how the parody lyrics fit. Some of them worked well, and some of them didn't seem to fit at all. Too many syllables! So I fixed them. Also, there was no dialogue at all, and I like dialogue, so I added some bits of dialogue between songs to connect the story a little more and make silly jokes. I didn't have much time to come up with anything, so it wouldn't be very good, but it was something.

Did you write any new songs?

I really wanted to filk "Jet Song," since it wasn't in the show, but I didn't have time. I wanted to replace this one song in the middle of the show that I couldn't figure out. All the other songs noted what the original songs were, but this one just said "????" I listened to all the songs and couldn't find one that matched the lyrics, though "Something's Coming" seemed the closest based on the first couple lines. The problem was that most of the songs did not adhere as closely to the original songs as I would have; they would smash up different verses or cut out verses and go straight to the chorus and it was hard to figure out what melody was intended.

So I decided to just fake the song in the middle—it was a song for the Narrator, and I intended to play the Narrator—by invoking the West Side Story snaps and turning it into slam poetry.


Hey, I didn't have TIME to fix it! And I didn't want to cut out too much because we were doing this in honor of someone, and I wanted to preserve her words as much as possible.

That's very honorable of you, good sir. So how'd it go?

Well, casting was difficult.

How so?

For one, Jimbo wasn't there! I had counted on him to be Placebo Domingo, even writing his dialogue with him in mind, as I had written Narrator's with me in mind. The attendance was fairly low, and when I arrived at Asilomar, only a few people had signed up. Dan had been encouraging everyone to sign up, and I joined in once I got there and hung out by the registration desk. One guy was almost interested, and then he bowed out, using the fact that he staying off-site as an excuse. He had looked familiar, as did his name, and I later identified him as a guy I'd talked with about Neil Gaiman in Atlanta.

Cool! Did you get to know him better here? You described him as a "young" man before, and you know young folk are in short supply.

Yeah, I really should have, but he didn't sign up for my show, so I hated him.

You really hold a grudge, don't you.

Yes. I do. Also, I didn't see him very often anyway since he was staying off-site. I only saw him in a workshop, and that was about it. Not much time to make a new friend.

So fuck that dude. Go on.

Well, soon after that dude passed on my show, we convinced a woman to sign up. That woman...was Crawfi!

It's all falling into place! Of course that place is nowhere near this place.

I drove across the street to where I was staying and parked in the garage. And as I was walking in the garage, who should I see but...Crawfi. She joked that she was stalking me. And then we were both going to Embers. We rode the elevator up. And then headed to our rooms.

Hers was right next to mine.

"Really?" I said. "Really?"

So how about the rest of your cast?

Well, one of the men who signed up did so while I was there, Smace. The first name on the list was Meri, who turned out to be the young woman I noticed sitting at another table at dinner. Then there was Nanci, who, unexpectedly, was working with me on a project; I did recall getting an e-mail from her just the other day. Dan said that he would be in it as well.

That's it? Small cast.

Like I said. I actually did convince another young woman, Soni, to join us, but she had to bail to work on an emergency manuscript. I tried to recruit Cathi, but she chose to sit it out this year.

You must hate her now!

Nah, I still like her.

It's 'cause she's a woman, huh.

I can totally not like women! For instance, Dash-isha arrived on Tuesday, and when she saw me, she said, "Sunny!"



Do you want me to eat her?

That's okay. Dan tried to recruit her for the show, and she said she would be in it, but then she didn't show up to rehearsal, which was fine by me, given her unreliable performance before.

Then when we were at an open session, someone was asking for the time, and I gave it, and she said, "Sunny knows the time!"

"Sunil," I said.

"You're Sunny to me," she said. "You're my neighbor!"

"But it's wrong," I said.

Seriously, do you want me to eat her?

I'm sure there are tastier morsels for you.

All right, all right, get back to the play.

So I handed everyone their scripts and tried to pre-cast. I asked if Smace could sing, and he said he sang in the church choir, which was good enough for me to cast him as Placebo Domingo so that Dan or I didn't have to do it. For Dr. Ruth-less, I needed someone who could do a good Dr. Ruth impression. Meri said she would check out some videos on YouTube. Crawfi said she could try an impression; she couldn't sing very well, but she was still game.

The next morning, I asked Meri who she wanted to play, and she said, actually, she liked Narrator. I said I was going to be Narrator. She said Narrator gets a lot of good lines, which was true.

At the first rehearsal, I said I was considering casting Meri as Amoeba since she gets more dialogue, but then I realized that Ruth had more songs than any other characters, so I needed the woman who could sing for her, leaving Crawfi to play Amoeba.

Having gathered my four principals, we had a read-through with the accompanying soundtrack as I sang the new lyrics to the music. They thought I had an "amazing" voice, which was patently untrue at worst and unwarranted hyperbole at best. But Crawfi was even telling people how good I was when I was singing the lyrics for them. She said I was wasted on Narrator, who didn't sing, so I added a little bit of singing to my slam-poetry session.

You know who could sing? Meri! Holy crap. She was our secret weapon. Smace was pretty good as well. Crawfi, not so much, but she made up for it by being a fearless actress. I told her to act like an amoeba, all fluid-like, and I didn't really give her any direction at all, but she did shit that just cracked me up. There was a line in Placebo's song, "Watch her now as she splits into four cells," and I didn't even tell her to do anything, but she came up with her own hilarious choreography. Who needs to direct when you get a good, willing cast?

So the first rehearsal went well?

Yeah, we did a run-through and blocked on the fly as I figured out everyone's entrances and exits. My main directorial issue was the matter of Placebo's car, since the script made frequent references to the fact that Placebo and Amoeba get it on in the back of a car, but we didn't have the resources for such a prop. I had hoped to get enough chorus members for them to mime a car, but during a brainstorming session with Meri, I realized that all I needed to fake a car was some chairs. If I had Placebo driving the car at the very start of the show, the audience would understand what the chairs were and go with it for the rest of the show.


Are you being sarcastic again?

No, that was a good idea.

Thank you. The other props I needed were a pill and a liver fluke.

A liver fluke??

Medical writers have a weird sense of humor. For the pill, I thought maybe we could just use a pillow, and they agreed. I made a fluke by twisting up some toilet paper.

By the end of the first rehearsal, we had a decent sense of what the show would look like.

Did you have a prop run or more rehearsal on Monday?

Nah, I wasn't putting nearly as much energy into this show as before. I hadn't written it. It had only been occupying my mind for a week. I had a much smaller cast. I wasn't as invested in putting on a perfect production this time around. Meri was the most dedicated, however, so she didn't mind that I kept working with her on lines she had trouble with. She was watching YouTube videos to get the songs in her head.

Tell me more about this Meri.

Well, she spent Sunday night watching an episode of The X-Files.



We're already friends. Sort of.

No, I meant me and her.

Oh. Go on.

I think she mentioned watching anime. She also likes Beard Papa's cream puffs, as all right-thinking people do. Even though I have only had them a few times. Also, she wants to see Wicked, and so do I!

It's a date!

You're always trying to hook me up with people.

I am NOT. I resent that accusation and ask you to tell me more about Soni.

She's a redhead.


I KNOW. She's an odd duck.

She has a bill?

Not literally, idiot.

Hey, I'm the only one who gets to be hostile here.

Since she was also in my age range—I think she, Meri, that one dude, and I were the only ones there closer to 30 than another decade—I talked with her a lot as well.

About what?

Stuff. I can't remember now! I do remember that she was very confident in her ability to get an AMWA certificate faster than I had gotten both of mine. She was pretty serious, and our senses of humor weren't completely in sync, but she was still fun to talk to. She did surprise me once, though, when we were discussing the "green flash" that you can sometimes see at sunset over the ocean.

"Green flash sounds like a superhero," I said.

"No," she said, "that's Green, Green...Lantern."

"There's Green Lantern and the Flash. But props on the geeky comic-book knowledge."

"I don't know why I know that," she said.

She lived in Walnut Creek, and when I heard that she hadn't driven down herself and was going to take a shuttle and BART back, I offered her a ride. I didn't think I'd have the opportunity to offer anyone a ride home from Asilomar, but look at that! She said she was going to stick around afterward and check out the aquarium, but she thanked me for the offer. I let her know it was still open if she changed her mind.

Did she?


Cool! How was the ride back?

No, about the aquarium. She left earlier instead.


Ah well.

Mmm, rats.

Didn't you eat already?

Can I eat Dash-isha now?

I'm not even done yet. Geez.

Fine, keep going. Go back to the stupid play musical skit thing or whatever.

Well, we had a rehearsal after lunch on Tuesday, and I gave everyone character notes. I wanted Placebo and Amoeba to act like stupid teenagers in love and play that up, especially when they made whoopie in the car. And oh God, did they have fun with that. The flailing legs! I wanted Ruth to act more like a drug pusher pushing her pill on Placebo. I instructed the rest of the cast to turn my slam-poetry session into a total beatnik cooooooolfest. We went over lines for songs. Everyone was pretty good on dialogue, and I encouraged improv, as Meri and I had found a couple good lines to add. My pseudopod joke seemed to go over everyone's head, but Dan thought that would be a tradition: in every one of my shows, there has to be a joke that no one gets.

What pseudopod joke?

So my song ends with the revelation that the baby they're having has a pseudopod, so Placebo says, "Pseudopod? Is that like an iPod?" (A callback to "Placebo? Is that like a gazebo?")

The Narrator says, "Yes. Yes, it's exactly like an iPod."

Amoeba says, "iPod, my foot!"

"Yes, exactly."


"It's your foot."

I don't get it.

A pseudopod! An amoeba's foot!

Don't quit your day job, kid.

Fuck you.

Fuck you too, good sir. How'd the show go?

Well, we met a half hour early to get a sense of the performance space, and I discovered that we didn't have the bar to hide behind this year! There was no backstage! How could people exit? Could we get a sheet to hold up? Oh, look, let's all hide behind this curtain. So that's what we did. We did a run-through before dinner.

After dinner, Dan introduced the show and the players, and we got our gifts: umbrellas! They were pretty good umbrellas, too. Now I have two good umbrellas.

I don't care about umbrellas. I care about your stupid thing.

No, you don't.

That's true, but my readers do.

You mean my readers.

Splitting hares.


I split hares.

Stay away from me.

Go on.

Oh man, I didn't even mention that when I arrived, Meri was in full makeup! She had put her hair up and everything to get in-character. It was awesome.

Wow, that's dedication.

I know, right? Anyway, the show went pretty well with no major screw-ups. They didn't laugh at every joke, but they laughed enough and enjoyed themselves, and that's what mattered. I took it more seriously than most people, but it was all for a lark, after all.

Did you get any feedback afterward?

Soni said it was fabulous, I think. One woman said she was disappointed—

How rude!!!

—when I switched from the opening Narrator to a postmodern Narrator who complained about having to speak in clever wordplay and puns all the time. She loved me in the beginning and would have liked to hear me talk like that the whole time. I explained that the original play had no dialogue, and there was no way I could match the concentrated cleverness of the Narrator's introduction for the rest of the show, so I wrote my lines as, essentially, a different character. She said that if I hadn't told her, she wouldn't have known that the dialogue had all been added after the fact.

That was either good or bad, I couldn't tell.

All right, show's over, let's go home.

Wait, wait, don't you want to hear about, you know, the stuff I was actually there for?

I thought you went there to put on shows.

No, it's a conference. Where you listen to speakers and learn things.


Dude, come on, we went over this last year.

Trashed. Raoul. Remember?

Whatever. So the first keynote speaker talked about how awesome MIT was at cancer research and how they were getting scientists and engineers to work together. It was neat but felt a little too much like a plug. The second keynote speaker was actually stuck in England because of that volcano!

What are the odds!

So they got a substitute speaker, and he spoke on shamanism and medicine, and it was really interesting! He'd made hundreds of trips to the Amazon and spoken with shamans, and those dudes really know their shit! They're able to diagnose things even real doctors miss. They have words for different diseases, and, sure, they tend to say that they're caused by evil spirits instead of bacteria or viruses, but as long as the cures work, who cares?

In the afternoon, I had the most fun I've ever had learning statistics!

Did you just use statistics and fun in the same sentence?

He gave us candy! Soni was excited and intrigued when she heard about that. But he taught statistics without any formulas at all, sticking to the basic concepts, and I think I finally understood what Type I and Type II errors were. I even said, "This is clearer to me than it's been in years." At which point he gave me a whole handful of Tootsie Rolls. He was hilarious. I made sure to show my new shirt.

Tuesday morning was immunology, and I couldn't really pay attention because I was too busy thinking about my show. Also immunology is not one of my better subjects. I thought the workshop would help, but it was merely okay.

In the afternoon, Nanci taught us what went into Module 2 of the CTD NDA.

Wednesday morning, there were a couple really cool talks, one on autoimmune diseases and therapeutics and one on nanomaterials.

Guess I'm done with the book learnin'!

You didn't even define something. Accurately.


Ho ho, your Buffy references won't work on me, you wily dragon!

Are you going to talk about wildlife?

SO MANY DEER! More deer than I'd seen the last two years combined. They were all just walking around, chilling, looking right at me, not afraid of humans, sometimes frolicking. Someone saw a pregnant one; I don't think I saw her.

Did you eat any?

Jesus, are you still hungry?

Also hung over.

Well, speaking of food, the food was typically good, although they had meal tickets now since they were under new management. And they had all these extras for breakfast like yogurt and oatmeal and shit. And there was fresh fruit to counteract the yummy desserts. I could talk about the individual meals, but it'll just make you hungrier.

Good call. So, are we done yet? Any more anecdotes to share?

One night at dinner, I brought up my career dilemma, the fact that I'm in drug safety even though I intended to go into medical writing, and I seemed to be pretty good at drug safety, so maybe I should stay there, except what about medical writing?

Cathi said, "Well, you know we're not going to talk to you anymore if you stay in drug safety."

"I know!!" I said. "That's what I'm afraid of!" Even though she was joking, it was true. I didn't want to lose this community that liked me.

Naomi mocked me, "'Oh, I have a great job and great co-workers and I love my boss and make a lot of money and I'm so happy with my job, what will I do??'"

Cathi thought I just liked to ponder impossible choices. They reassured me that if I was happy in my position and my career, that was okay. That was good. There was medical writing in drug safety, and once I got enough experience under my belt, I would be really good for risk management plans, which were an emerging document. As for making the move to medical writing, a lateral move would be best, but what I was doing now was okay. It was good to have my decisions validated by my peers.

...That wasn't an anecdote. That was boring life stuff.

Fuck you.

Did they do the creative readings this year?

They did! It was a small crowd, mostly comprising our cast, actually. Dan read some poems, including one in honor of the late AMWA member he had been good friends with. Crawfi told a patient care story. Meri read a hilarious poem about trying on lingerie as well as a non-hilarious poem about Golden Gate Park. I read "Killed the Cat." Even though I'd read it two years ago, only Dan had also been there, and he'd probably forgotten it. They enjoyed it. I also read the abridged, modified version of "Surgery of the Damned" I had read at the annual conference. They really enjoyed that one. Dan especially liked my wry sense of humor and told me I should write more.

This doesn't count, stupid.

I KNOW. Dammit.

So are we done NOW? Do you have anything else of importance to say? I'm sure you don't.

I made fire!

Oh, big whoop, I do that all the time.

Well, good for fucking you. I did it in a fireplace. I just lit a match and FIRE! It was warm and toasty. I read Transmetropolitan.


Well, I guess I should confirm for you that I did indeed become Facebook friends with two of these people.

Meri and Soni?

Wow, you're sharp.

Go me, oh yeah, I'm sharp, I rule.

I was being sarcastic.


Meri even e-mailed me her various places on the Internet...including LJ.

Oooooh snap.

Shh, she doesn't know about us yet. Maybe later. Maybe.

Well, you've certainly painted her in an exceedingly negative light.

She would totally be offended, right. Anyway, new medical writing friends are good.



But what if I want to watch your stupid play skit musical comedy shit thing whatever?

You can download West Coast Story and see it for yourself. It's a huge file, but it's only ten minutes. It was my first time directing something I hadn't completely written, so it was weird, but fun.

What about HelpMeVeronica.com?

Theatre, dude! It's different! Plus I was directing over the phone half the time.

Fine, well, what if I want to see your first time directing THEATRE that you had written?

You can download The Wrik*do and see it for yourself as well. It's a big file, but it's only fifteen minutes.

Well, aren't you just all that and a bag of chips.

Just a bag of chips, thank you.

Mmm, chips.

Tags: ethicalmedical.net, gerald the magic journal-dragon, girls, i am so awesome, medical writing, personal, pimpings, schmacting, singing, such is life, theatre
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