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Creating Meaning After Loss

Steven Low's solo performance, Tastes Like Chicken, explores loss, depression and mental health. The show is inspired by Steven's personal experience enduring his father's decade-long depression, and the loss of the person he once knew as his father.

Creating Meaning After Loss

Tell us a little more about what inspired your upcoming solo show Tastes Like Chicken?

My performance is loosely autobiographical and is inspired by my family's experience being targeted for predatory mortgage lending. The resulting financial pressure led to my father falling into a catastrophic depression — now going on ten years (in addition to a series of other personal losses within a short time span).

While my father is present physically, in all other ways he is not. It is loss of the person I once knew as my father and the loss of the relationship I once had. People who have loved ones who were at one time "their real selves" and later develop extreme depression, dementia, or other severe mental health condition will understand this all too well.

And what's the meaning behind the show's name?

Well, there's the old joke/idiom that exotic seeming things yet to be eaten, taste like chicken. There's a sense of mystery. Joking that something we've yet to eat for the first time tastes like chicken I think is an attempt to banish the unknown and exercise control over this mystery meat or barbed, oblong fruit. It's our way to make something that is exotic and potentially unpleasant (like durian), familiar, benign and tasty.

Similarly, I think when one experiences major loss, (e.g. being fired from a beloved career, death/decline of a loved one(s), a sudden disability) there is the instinct to expel the resulting pain. More to the point there is a deep and ultimately unknowable mystery: what does this profoundly hurtful experience mean and why did it happen? We're left alone to find this meaning. The idiom, tastes like chicken, in a way encapsulates this mystery.

In another sense, the idiom, tastes like chicken can be shorthand for, "I don't have the language to describe this. You have to tastes this yourself.  "How does one describe the taste of loss to someone who's yet to experience it? The empty pain. I don't think standard human conversation is up to the task. So I go for the next best thing: it tastes like chicken.



I understand that you created this show to make sense of a loss. Could you share more about the personal experiences that are shaping this show?

The funny thing about stories: where we choose to start and stop the story changes the narrative immensely. Do we start in 2007 when my father signs the mortgage documents which would radically change the course of his life and that of his family? Do we start in 2018 when I begin to understand the person I knew as my father will probably not return? Do we start the story in 1937 when the traumas of war and poverty laid the seeds for a bitter harvest in the future?

To put it more plainly, finding meaning in my losses is something I must find and create. That search took on new urgency several months ago when my father had some serious health issues and the possibility of his physical death became tangible. I realized I had wasted the last ten years of my life waiting for my father to return. There was always a deep assumption that one day this nightmare would end. The reality is it may not end.

This script has been sitting on my desk for five years. It seemed important that Tastes Like Chicken be performed now, partly to find the meaning to all that has happened over the past ten years — one of many bookmarks in this sprawling journey; and also to lay to rest the many things, now at the age of 43, may never be.

Why did you feel it was important for your show to be performed during National Mental Health Awareness Month?

While Tastes Like Chicken is primarily about loss, it's also about depression and mental health — about the reality of those who suffer from depression and those that are within orbit. In each of these cases: people with severe depression, and the loss experienced by those who have loved ones with extreme mental health issues, there is often a sense of invisibility, of isolation. I wanted Tastes Like Chicken to open during Mental Health Awareness Month to take advantage of the conversation that will already be occurring in October and shine an additional light on these experiences.

You can learn more about Tastes Like Chicken at The show will be performed at The Monkey House in Berkeley on 10/20, 10/28 and 11/4.