Review: The Tempest at the Shakespeare Theater


First of all, you’d be hard-pressed to have me not recommend a Shakespeare production. Any competent one is preferable to merely reading the play off the page, and most are intriguing just to consider their choices in interpretation and thematic emphasis.

And I think the production of The Tempest at the Shakespeare Theater’s Free-for-All is a very solid offering. It didn’t blow my mind or force me to consider the play in new light, but it staged a pretty faithful enactment of the play that was entertaining and pretty.

If that sounds like faint praise, I must disclose that I have pretty high standards for this particular play. I taught it in middle school for a few years and have seen many, many productions of it, in theaters, in movie theaters, on DVD, on Youtube. It’s a play that invites fanciful, playful interpretation because of its themes of magic and stagecraft, its subsequent employment of special effects and music, and its meta-narrative nature and possible commentary of Shakespeare’s entire career. Prospero is a meaty role, and the secondary roles are not too shabby either: Ariel, Caliban, Sebastian, Stephano, Trinculo, Miranda, Ferdinand, and on and on.

All the actors were very good, but I think they were a little let down by the lack of ambition in direction. Some interesting choices were made: both Ferdinand and Caliban are black, and Caliban has a heavy Caribbean accent, but nothing much is made of the play’s famous mirroring. Prospero is struck by heavy rumination at the end of the wedding scene, but it’s not clear what prompts this — he doesn’t seem particularly moved by Miranda nor Ariel nor anyone else. Miranda is played as a kind of Pippi Longstocking, wild, unconventional, uncultured, and free, but it’s not telegraphed why this might be so fiercely attractive to the prince Ferdinand. Ariel’s jeremiad at the judgment feast is at first appropriately shocking and haranguing, but then goes on too long and feels static and even derivative.

There was one standout moment of delight and wonder in the play, however — the wedding masque. Most directors have real trouble with this scene; it’s idiosyncratic, jarring, and over-long. It’s often excised entirely or redacted severely, and when it isn’t, it often feels shoehorned in. This production decides to honor it with gigantic puppets and an opera singer, and it feels very right. For a flicker, the play became transcendent.

The Tempest is part of Shakespeare Theater’s annual Free-for-All, its free (and popular) summer gift to the city. You can get tickets on the day of showings by online lottery or waiting in line. Shows start at 7:30 or 8:00 most evenings until August 28.

New Habit: Allowance


Biggie has made some recent purchases, which allows me to start from scratch in accounting his allowance, which prompts me to re-commit giving him an allowance a weekly ritual.

Some tweaks I’m making this time around:

I’m now adding another category: a Book Allowance. I got this idea from Read-Aloud Revival. Not only does it make it easier to split his eight dollars (per week) across four categories instead of the previous three (Spending, Saving, Giving), but I have in mind a monthly ritual of shopping at the local bookstore with Biggie. I think having an allowance is kind of abstract for him right now, and I’m not sure he’s getting the full benefits of having assets and resources to manage. Going to the bookstore once a month with cash in hand will, I hope, give him an opportunity to make some concrete decisions about whether to save or spend (and what to spend on). And whatever he spends on will grow his own personal library. Maybe it will strengthen his connection to books; maybe it will also encourage him to support local businesses. Who knows? I think there’s enough positive potential there to give it a try.

I’m also adding interest to his Savings pot. 10% a week.

I’ve also experimented with different ways of keeping track of his allowance, and I’ve decided the best way is to make it very visible and public. As I said, I’m worried that money is still a little too abstract for him when it’s just numbers somewhere, and I’ve found it too annoying to make it all cold hard cash. So I’m going to buy some post-it posters, and just write it out (and make him do the math, natch) week after week.

Bring Your Own Slurpee Cup


Ah, it has come back.


On Friday and Saturday, August 19-20, from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm, you can bring your own cup of any size to a 7-Eleven and fill it with a Slurpee for $1.50.

Happens to fall on a cheat day for my diet.

The fine print:

  • The cup must fit upright through a 10 inch hole.
  • The cup must be food-safe and watertight.
  • Only one cup per person.

If interested: I made this into an educational activity last year.

The New Norm


A couple of episodes of the recently finished season of the podcast Invisibilia so impressed me that I really, really wanted to share them with Biggie.

So we spent two days listening to the first episode of the second season: The New Norm. Sitting down at the kitchen table, not casually in the car.

Each episode is about an hour and features at least two major segments. And to listen to it with Biggie meant pausing it often to ask questions, check comprehension, make predictions, tease out implications, and so on.

For example, this particular episode begins with a teaser of the second segment, which is about opening a McDonald’s in the Soviet Union.

“Wait, do you know what the Soviet Union is?”

“It’s a country?”

“It used to be a country. It was what Russia used to be. And this was back when it was communist.”


“Do you know what communism is?”

“Uh, we talked about this once. It’s where everybody … has nothing?”

“Not… exactly.”

So half an hour of listening easily turned into one and a half hours of discussion for us. And Biggie needed to take five-minute breaks every half-hour because he complained of “migraines.”

The central question of this first episode is: “Can you take an emotional norm and transform it?” which gets to a fundamental throughline of the series: “How do people change?” To me that is not just a psychological or neurological question, but a metaphysical one.

This first episode was a great way for me to talk about mental models with Biggie, this very fundamental notion that everyone has a different way of seeing the world, a consistent but limited perspective that governs how they interpret reality.

This is an important idea in developing empathy and analyzing complex human systems, but it’s also a cornerstone in understanding — and dismantling — relativism. Having different interpretations of the truth, even being absolutely limited as humans of only being able to access interpretations of the truth, doesn’t negate the actual existence of the truth. Each of us are like the storied blind men on the elephant, firm in our science without omniscience.


We also touched upon how each perspective, with its conclusions for living, has its advantages and disadvantages. It’s worth questioning why someone thinks the way they do; what does it do for them to be so negative? Or to always blame others? How does thinking this way limit your options?

We spent a lot of time talking about the first segment and how the taciturn hyper-masculinity of the oil rig guys calloused them from the regular tragedies they were confronted with — but limited their ability to adapt to a complicated new system. They had to re-fashion their mental models to make it okay to be vulnerable, share emotions, and establish trust.

How? Interestingly, Invisibilia drew back a little when talking about the how, but we did end up talking about “faking it till making it”: adopting practices and pretending ways of being until they start making sense and becoming more natural.

Biggie was skeptical, but what was great about listening to this episode with him together was that we now share concrete examples and stories that we can refer to when we talk about related issues again. “Remember how that oil rig guy was forced to share his feelings, and he broke down crying? And all those things that he was afraid would happen didn’t happen?”

Message Watch: Body Image


A rant worth transcribing: Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair’s rules to not complicate body image issues in your kids

“Never put your own body down. Don’t practice body loathing in front of your kids, especially moms…. Never put your body down. If you think those thoughts, just keep them to yourself.”

“Never make a nasty comment about anybody else’s body…because it says to kids, ‘What you look like will define who you are.’ And it’s really tricky because that’s one of the few forms of social unkindness as well as comparisons and put-downs that are very condoned in our culture.”

“Do not be a nutcase about what your kids eat…. If you start talking about all different kids of fats and oils and white food and carbs, you’re basically practicing a form of obsessive vigilance. Buy the stuff in your house that you think is healthy; healthy eating includes eating things like birthday cakes and treats.”

“Do not model baking a cake or delicious dessert and then not eating it yourself because you are ‘being good.’ We have a tendency in our culture–and this is something that’s very linked to eating disorders for girls… where when your life feels fat or you’re depressed for other reasons or… life is just not giving you the happiness you want, it’s so easy to resort to what our culture says you should do, to fix it. And those two things are either: go on a diet or go shopping…. But it doesn’t work. And the other thing that our culture does, for women in particular, is that we have a morality of orality, where we actually think of ourselves as good or bad based on what we eat. So moms and daughters… go out for ice cream and say, ‘Let’s be bad’…. So what happens is that we decide and pass on that we’re good or bad… our character, is based on whether we get frozen yogurt, nothing, or ice cream. And kids resort to that when they feel crummy because there’s very little you can do when you’re a teenager and you’re not happy, and one thing you can do is buy into the cultural myth that controlling your body will bring you happiness. That’s a slippery slope for kids.”

[Q: How do we promote an active, healthy lifestyle without applying undue pressure?]
“Don’t talk about it. Just do it. You exercise, go for walks, go on vacations that are fun, help her find things that she loves that are physical, be physical together. Make it fun. And just eat healthfully. Don’t talk about it. The more you talk about it, the more you’re driving it with anxiety. Just practice it. Be it. Live it. Be the model that you want her to be; she’s eleven years old — she knows what you think….”

“So much of our anxieties drives our behavior as parents and the biggest thing to do is to check your own anxiety. Really try not to let your worries trump your common sense.”

“One of the things that you want to talk about with girls that is particularly a challenge for girls is … help them claim the things that they do like about themselves, help them claim their strengths…. Girls are taught that if they like things about themselves that are not body-related… if a girl thinks she’s great at something, the culture starts to say… ‘You’re bossy; you’re stuck-up; you’re a bitch; you’re so full of yourself; who do you think you are?’ And one of the few areas that girls are supported for either putting themselves up or down and looking for validation is their bodies. And the other reality is that it is a form of prejudice and misogyny that girls are so harshly judged by their bodies. I mean, they’re not nuts for being so concerned about it. And you lose ground with an eleven-year-old if you say, ‘Oh, honey, looks don’t matter.’ The challenge… is to help them figure out what’s genetic–what they have leverage with… as an 11-, 12- year-old you have no clue as to what you’re body is going to look like — but, most of all, what matters most to you.

“Help them understand: your body’s changing so much… you know, the average girl gains about 40 pounds between the ages of 8 and 14 and, you know, it’s just such a time of awkwardness. And I would just validate that it’s a time of awkwardness…. ‘Your brain doesn’t stop developing until you’re about the age of 25, sweetie. You’re gonna grow… we have no idea what you’re going to look like. So if there’s stuff you’re unhappy with now, try not to get too stuck on it because it’s gonna change.'”

“And get your pediatrician to normalize [all the change they’re going through.]”

“For the dads: … You want to help them understand that their movement in their physical body, their playing hard, their being full of dirt from going to the beach or whatever, is beautiful to you. You want to normalize and expose the idea that you being physical in your body in the outdoors, messy, to me: gorgeous.”

“Any comment to a child about weight loss should always come from a pediatrician or a nutritionist, not a parent. So go talk to a pediatrician… download all your worries… and if they think there is something medically necessitated, you then deliver that news, you get a good nutritionist. And then you never judge what they’re doing. You talk about their effort to do what the nutritionist said…. But you never want to get into, ‘Don’t eat that. Don’t eat that. Are you sure you want a second helping?’ Much better to not get into that kind of power struggle with your child.”

New Habit: The Diet


As I mentioned in a post last week, I’m accumulating a small habit each week. I more-or-less successfully pulled off doing devotion at the beginning and reflecting at the end of each day, and this week’s habit is to go on a diet.

That’s actually not a small habit, but it’s technically to get back on a diet.

Just before Biggie took his month-long vacation away from home, I started on the slow-carb diet outlined and popularized by Tim Ferriss. I lost some weight, bought new pants, got more energy. The sudden disruption in life knocked off my commitment to it, however, and now I’m re-committing to it.

There’s a couple features of that particular diet that appealed to me and cemented some insight into building habits overall:

  • It made meals automatic. You basically eat the same thing for most of the week: some combination of beans, protein, and veggies. Removing any mental energy around deciding what to eat helped with my willpower. Once I made a single decision to live with a boring regimen, I was okay with it.
  • It had some quick initial gains. I lost weight immediately. I also felt my energy and blood sugar even out fairly quickly. That began a momentum to stick with it.
  • It answered absence with abundance. Going cold turkey with sugar and fried foods was going to be hard — but I knew that whenever I felt pangs or cravings, I could just eat, just as long as I was eating the basic boring regimen I committed to. It was handy to have a ready answer to temptations.
  • It had a periodic reward. Every Saturday was a cheat day in which I not only got to, but was encouraged to, gluttonously indulge in all the foods I was normally forbidden from. Every time I had a very specific craving, I could park it temporarily into a running list of things I was going to sate myself with on Saturday. Interestingly, those Saturdays started out as necessary weekly finish-lines and eventually became kind of a chore. My body learned that it did not feel great when it got fed like that.
  • My biggest allies–and enemies–were my loved ones. They were generally very encouraging, noting the many positive changes, and I thrived on their support. However, they were also subtly undermining in a number of ways. My mother-in-law, in particular, often bought or cooked a mess of food that I couldn’t readily just channel to the kids–and I loathe wasting food. I could have also benefited from some dedicated refrigerator space, but I often felt the fridge crowded me out. Being the sole family member on the diet was isolating. I’m sure if I dwelled on this more, I could think of a number of other things, but I’m-a-cut myself off there.

I can’t really strongly advocate for the slow-carb diet regarding its nutritional superiority, but in terms of adoptability and habit-building, it’s kind of genius.

What about the kids this week? I’m not putting them on a diet. Not really.

But I am adopting the Santillos’ policy regarding food with their kids: recycling meals.

I provide meals. Written proposals are welcome. The kids may choose to eat as much of the meal as they would like. Any leftovers, though, will get packed up and used again for the subsequent meal. Until it is finished.

Again, I am constantly in danger of getting undermined here, but it’s kind of working, and I’m stressing out less around meal preparation.

Fearsome Symmetry


We’ve been seeing some incredible things in nature this summer just in our local area.

Here’s a large hawk we spotted outside our kitchen:

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Here’s a cicada we found outside our front door (communing with a pill bug):

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Here’s a dragonfly, who seemed to have an epic and tragic battle with wasps, that we found on the sidewalk on the playground at Lee District Park:

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Here are some geodes, Biggie split open:

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Here’s a fossil he found at Dinosaur Park in Laurel, Maryland (a horse tail):

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And some lignite:

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And a conifer fossil — it was significant enough that we couldn’t hold onto it!

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