For the last year or three of my late mother-in-law’s functional life – which is to say, when the dementia hadn’t yet made it too uncomfortable to tolerate even the 8-minute drive to our favorite lunch spot – she would eat only chocolate chess pie for lunch.

She didn’t just eat her slice of pie, though.

She savored it. She delighted in it. She was so exuberant, in fact, that people would often stop by our table on the way out to tell her how much pleasure they got just from witnessing her pleasure.

In those days, she would stage whisper about short, old people she saw in stores, no longer registering that she had long-since shrunk from her five-foot max height, that her hair had long been a wild halo of silver. In waiting rooms, I would leaf through magazine with her and she would use her arthritis-gnarled pointer finger to circle cleavage, giggling as she said, “I know why people read this magazine!”

So, when Eric Larson – a person who started as a colleague and friend, who has been a collaborative partner in projects both personal and professional, and who was even my supervisor for one intense 18-month stretch – said in our recent All Up in It conversation that his mother’s Alzheimer’s was funny even as it was heartbreaking, I knew exactly what he meant. I had witnessed that unique blend first-hand.

It’s this complex and countercultural blend of experiences that he’s currently exploring, along with a creative partner, hoping, as he said, that the audience of this eventual theater piece will find it, “…equal parts funny and heartbreaking. I want people’s hearts to break while they’re laughing, genuinely… I want tragedy and comedy right at the same spot.”

You could take a minute to watch our preview, or you could just jump right in here:

Key moments in the conversation include…

…how Eric describes himself as a human:

  • Understanding himself as patterns set in motion way back then and that the more he explores the things that set other things in motion, the richer he becomes. We noticed together that this is akin to karma, the complex original version, not the snappy bumper sticker version
  • He finds this exploration one that will always be a deep mystery yet still worthy of exploration
  • Eric parsed out the cause from the meaning, noticing that they’re interconnected and both important yet unique from one another

…what Eric is all up in:

  • He describes himself, too, as compulsively always asking the big questions like the core question that he circles around, “What the hell is going on around here?”
  • Making theater and healing from complex trauma
  • The theater is maybe about an exploration of his mother’s death from Alzheimer’s in a co-creative and playful process with a creative partner; he’s not sure what this project will do for him but he knows he wants the audience to feel their hearts break while they are genuinely laughing, akin to the tradition of the tragic clown

…his tools include:

  • Relationship and the coming together regularly beyond his usual habits of cutting and running
  • Similarly: crawling toward what he wants to run from
  • We noticed together that collaboration is counter to the popular story that creativity et al is accomplished by brilliant individuals working alone

…he chose to spotlight:

The Mattering Movement, an organization shaped around answering the questions: What can we do to combat the pandemic of loneliness and despair that are harming our youth? How can we combat today’s widespread mattering deficit?

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