It’s freezing tonight. A cold wind makes its way under the door, out of the swamp cooler vent and through every crack I normally don’t notice. A fire in the wood-stove feels good if you’re right next to it, but that warmth goes unnoticed once you step away. And yet, I can’t complain. Heat, house, fire, food, health. All is well right here, right now.
By the middle of December, I’ve normally begun thinking of my word for the coming year, but trying to predict or gauge anything ever again seems futile. I’ve been in a state of suspended presence for so long, it’s hard to imagine or plan for anything down the road. This forced presence has been a strange gift. I don’t find myself looking back on 2020 with anything less than awe and definitely not with any of my usual lists of boxes checked, places seen, things accomplished. I’ve just been.
Well, mostly. The year starts out at a pace that seems incomprehensible now and by the time February 2020 ends, I’ve already worked in LA for a month, been on a road trip to Las Vegas, and am on my way to South Africa and Zimbabwe because, way back then, we were told that as long as we weren’t traveling to China, Italy, Iran or South Korea, we should go about our lives and our travels.
On March 12th, just two weeks later, we fly back from Johannesburg through NYC and watch as, within 12 hours, the whole world shuts down.
Once home I buy vegetable seeds, a battery operated radio, and a bidet. I turn 41. I learn about Zoom. I bake bread. I buy beans. Just like everyone else. I think it will be over soon.
Then it is April. My boyfriend becomes obsessed with purchasing an escape vehicle. After one month in total lockdown, we drive to Colorado to buy a pop-top Eurovan in the parking lot of a Carl’s Junior. The interstate is deserted.
In May it starts to warm. Still on lockdown, everything is closed. I realize I should have bought more stock at thrift stores to sell on my vintage clothing site (http://knockaboutvintage.etsy.com) because who knows when they’ll reopen? Thousands of people continue to die from Covid-19. Then a man named George Floyd is killed in Minneapolis. He cries out for his mother. The lid is blown off.
A summer of protest. Millions of people take to the streets around the country and the world. Black Lives Matter. I am one of many to suddenly awaken to privilege taken for granted my entire life. I have never once worried about my boyfriend getting pulled over by the cops on the way to the grocery store or about my nephew wearing a hoodie. How fortunate I am. I can’t stop reading as I try to come to grips with the ways I have benefitted from years of systemic racism in my country. The book Caste- The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson lays it all bare, as does Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, among others. Thousands continue to die from Covid-19, with black and brown communities disproportionately affected.
In August I am in a slump of depression and know I need to change something. I start to treat my vintage clothing store like a full time job and apply to be an Election Official for the upcoming Presidential election. I need to DO something. Both of these succeed in pulling me out and pushing me forward.
The fall is hot. California is on fire. Climate Change and Covid collide and give us a glimpse of what our future will look like should we continue as we are. My friends’ house burns down, reminding me that things can actually always get worse. Another friend loses her son. Sorrow and a year that won’t quit. Each loss serves as another brutal reminder of our powerlessness over everything other than our thoughts and actions in the present moment, in a year that has been one big reminder of this.
At a certain point, there is nowhere to go but the Spiritual. Because nothing is as it should be or as I want it to be, there is nothing to do but hand it (jobs, finances, remote learning, lack of social contact, fear, loss, isolation, health, everything) over to the Universe/God/ Higher Power and say, I don’t know. This acknowledgement helps me to keep things simple and small. What do I know? I know that reading before bed helps me sleep. I create a morning coffee ritual, finally buy a ceramic pour-over cone and I savor that morning cup more than I ever have a to-go cup from the cafe down the street. I buy bird seed and make sure to always fill my outdoor feeders because watching the birds makes me smile. I donate money to public radio stations and food banks because I can. What to ingest and who I support are two things I actually can control.
In October I begin working as an Election Official and it is so satisfying. I use skills from the Film Industry, namely directing large groups of people into the appropriate line, and savor watching democracy in action. And it feels good to be around people! Even if through the dirty lens of a face shield. The Election comes and finally, as of yesterday, goes. Our institutions stand and local government officials do their jobs. But, we are tested in ways we never have been before. Someone else will come along in the future, someone smarter, and for that we should consider ourselves warned. We made it through this run, but by the skin of our teeth. And now, all eyes on Georgia!
Thanksgiving is small. We make dinner for two and I miss my family. Thoughts of the future creep in and I begin to imagine trips and events once the Covid cloud lifts. On Saturday Night Live, one skit puts words to how I feel, “there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel but all that light does is illuminate how shitty the tunnel is.” Exactly. I make gratitude lists and am grateful for all that I have, including health and the inclination to imagine and create what comes next. But, I miss all that can’t be right now.
Two vaccines turn out to be 95% effective during trials and by the beginning of December are on their way to approval and then to hospitals. But, the promise of vaccines is dwarfed by the numbers of people dying. Hospitals are full and doctors exhausted. Everyone needs a break but that’s not how it works.
And here we are, coming to the end of a year in which we’ve been shown undeniably just how intertwined we all are. The year that will forever be synonymous with shitshow and awakening. The year that finally shed a light onto all of the muck we have tried so hard to ignore; overt and systemic racism, climate change, health inequities, health insurance tied to employment, the definition of essential, white privilege and supremacy, and the fact that WalMart and Amazon have made a combined $30,000,000,000 in profits since the beginning of the Pandemic while small businesses everywhere have closed for good. It’s overwhelming.
So, back to my Gratitude List-
We can now see all of the muck and therefor begin to fix it.
Scientists, doctors, and the fact that medical schools reported record enrollment for next year. Thank you!
Teeccino brand mushroom tea- delicious and good for immunity.
Music- I can’t stop listening to The Brothers and Sisters Dylan’s Gospel album from 1969 and John Lennon’s Imagine album.
Books- Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, when I needed to escape into some fiction.
My small $20 Christmas tree.
Mamba, the black lab puppy my boyfriend got in August who makes me laugh.
Trevor Noah and Stephen Colbert.
All of those I love and who love me.
We are all in this together and it is going to be ok. I have faith in us.
Onward to 2021…
Love and wishes for a safe and healthy holiday season.
There is an easy listening pop radio station in Albuquerque that began playing Christmas songs when the world shut down in March and they are still playing them, though now in late November it almost makes sense. Their logic was that Christmas songs make (some) people happy, so why not play them as everything we knew was changing and crumbling around us? While some may have found it comforting, I thought it was eery and creepy to come across Jingle Bells in June. Just more proof that nothing was ok. But, as the year of years continues on with one jaw dropping event after another, I can now appreciate that radio station’s logic, though I doubt this is what they meant- Make it weird! Because it is!
I was recently working on one of the few movies that has managed to get up and going here during Covid. Our costume shop was set up in an old theater, one in which I have seen numerous concerts and plays and that was operational until a couple of years ago. As I pushed racks of clothing through doors covered by weeds and over cardboard covered carpet in a lobby where theater goers used to sip water or wine during intermission, I thought about how quickly things can change. Outside the grounds are covered with abandoned sculptures, remnants of the art school it once was.
As Covid continues to surge in New Mexico, our Governor orders another lockdown similar to the one last spring. Just in time for Thanksgiving. Don’t travel, whatever you do. Don’t gather, please. Stay home. Wash your hands. Again. Ok. I concentrate on next year and the year after that and let this one be what it will be. Weird. Chicken instead of turkey.
During the G-20 Summit, going on now, our President joins for a few minutes but opts out of the Covid talks, preferring instead to golf, attempt to overthrow our democracy, and tweet. Again.
Covid piñatas are the hot ticket in Albuquerque. Hand made. Order in advance. Two week wait.
Nothing about this year is normal, whatever normal is. The good thing about that is I have never felt more flexible. I used to really really really want things to be the way I wanted them to be: they way they had always been and were “supposed” to be. That doesn’t leave much room for adventure and inevitable change. A woman on TV says she’ll be damned if Covid keeps her from cooking for the 20 she always cooks for. Such rigidity looks painful to me now and I feel sorry for her. It’s not that I don’t want to be with my family this Thanksgiving or that I don’t want the world to reopen so that some semblance of life as we know it can continue. But, because it can’t right now, I am going to make the best of it and I am definitely going to make it weird. Because it is.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Hold on to that light. We’ll get there.
Yet again I’m reminded about how much better it is for me to get up and DO rather than sit and FRET.
On January 20th, 2017, I flew to Washington DC to attend the Women’s March with my mom and sister. As our new President was sworn in, we wandered around the city and checked out a museum, getting ready for the March. Back home, friends were despondent, sitting and watching, fretting. But as we crammed into packed DC subway cars on the morning of January 21st and gathered to march with over 500,000 people, the mood was one of optimism and action. It was amazing.
It was in that spirit that in August I contacted my County Clerk to inquire about becoming a volunteer at the polls for the Election. I’d just sat through two weeks of political conventions and was tearing my hair out at home, wanting to do something, anything, but feeling stuck and helpless. After filling out an application, I received a call back and accepted a one month long, six day a week, minimum wage job. And now with one day left to go in early voting, it has been great! Though, as you can probably tell from my lack of posting, exhausting too; endless interactions, COVID safe practices, and a sort of herding of cats.
But, I love voting! I love helping people vote and I love clapping for first time voters (some who are quite elderly and some who have just turned 18). I love the seriousness with which the polling stations are run, the layers of protocol and ballot security not visible to the voters. And I really love watching the people.
I watch as an elderly woman tightens the mask on her husband’s face. They both wear almost identical polka dot tops, though I don’t think they intended to match. It just happens after so many decades of marriage.
A young man asks if there’s anything he can do because only after inserting his ballot into the tabulator does he realize he forgot to vote for President. He was saving it for last, though why I’m not sure. He looks like he might cry. I would if I were him.
Kids in their seventies bring parents in their nineties. Friends line up together to wait, pods six feet apart.
I make it my spiritual practice to be extra kind and courteous to those I assume (though obviously I don’t know), are voting for Trump. I usher anyone elderly or sick to the front of the line. I chit chat with most. People order us pizza and bring donuts. TV news crews set up in the parking lot daily. The days pass quickly.
We break records. Over 80% of the 2016 total have already voted in NM, with one more day to go until early voting ends.
It is truly inspiring! And again I remember how much better it is to take action than to worry and fret.
What to say when the suffering won’t cease, the sun disappears, quarantine turns into evacuation, loved ones who are too young to die do, and houses burn to the ground? I haven’t written in over a month because what can I say? These are examples from close loved ones, people I know and love and, though that shouldn’t matter, they have shaken me from the numbness of months of horrifying news stories, one after another, about strangers; also humans, also neighbors, also loved by so many.
I normally find comfort in the idea that this too shall pass; the fun, the grief, the awesome, the mundane. That phrase has helped me to get through the dark and to appreciate the good, as it is happening, understanding that it will shift and change, change being the one inevitable. But, into what? Somewhere in that aforementioned numbness was the idea that things would eventually go back to “normal” and I just had to wait it out. I knew normal wasn’t working for many, it was not sustainable, and that things had to change, I just thought it was farther down the road. I thought I could believe that and know that and continue on my merry way.
Those days are over.
How to find the beauty in the chaos? How to appreciate where we are instead of wishing it were different? How to completely reimagine the world we are becoming and use hope rather than fear as our north star? It is hard! A series of tiny steps on my end. Tiny little itty bitty baby steps. Every day.
A freak winter storm just blew through New Mexico and left the air clear and cool. Though another reminder of climate change, I am grateful for the relief from 98 degree days. I went for a walk this morning. Albuquerque, a city I so frequently defend and which gets a bad rap nationally, looked so pretty. Cactus about to bloom, a mural around the corner that is finally complete, and sunflowers poking over adobe walls. I felt almost guilty to be on such a beautiful walk.
Over the years when I learned about horrible events in history (pandemics, wars, depressions), I always pictured those times in stark black and white, like the textbook photos I’d seen. It never occurred to me that the horror wasn’t constant and that people still ate dinner, slept, laughed, and lived their lives as best they could, in color. Sunflowers still bloomed. It is only now that I realize in the midst of crazy and hardship, life continues on. Forward.
I want to think that we will look back on these days, on 2020, the way we look back on so many other difficult times but, I don’t know. Is this just the beginning? Will we look back and realize how good we had it, even now? This present moment too shall pass, with all of its beauty, color, and pain. That I know.
2020. A year without the demarcations of time, ritual, or routine. I fall into bed every night, exhausted and unsure why.
I got a haircut in June. Went camping at the end of July. Haven’t been to work on a film set since February.
No weddings, no graduations, no summer trips. Five months of days blending into weeks into months and the questions persist; Where does the time go, what have I done, and how can I be so exhausted?
I was startled to see and smell Hatch Green Chile being roasted as I drove near a downtown market in Albuquerque last week. That delicious smell is one I associate with back to school shopping, cooler nights, and the return of routine after a summer without. And here it is… a new (so far mostly virtual) school year, the return of the monsoons, and roasting Chile. The seasons do their thing, flowers bloom, vegetables grow, and nature carries on.
I find it hard to do the same. Too much time in my head, hanging with the what if’s and the uncertainty. This does nothing but lead to lethargic low grade panic and stress. With each passing week and month, the reality of my/our current predicament(s) sinks in a bit deeper and the hole in which I/we find ourselves needs that much bigger of a shovel.
I am attached to my productivity. Without my doing and achieving, who am I? Without a schedule, a routine, accomplishments, or the need for a calendar, what do I have to show for the past six months, or for myself?
And then I remember the antidote to my fear. Find the beauty, have gratitude, and look for the helpers. There are so many beautiful things happening in the midst of our chaos; new leaders using their voices for the first time, neighbors helping, and creativity bubbling. Find something you believe in and just do that. You don’t have to know or do anything else.
My house smells like bleach. Not because I’m cleaning, nor am I drinking it. I’ve reverted to my punky 12 year old self and to keep from screaming every time the news comes on, I’m writing an anything I can with a Clorox Bleach Pen.
I sometimes feel that my belief in the power of words, and of Democracy, is naive and will never lead to anything but yelling at the television and disappointment. But, I keep at it. I have faith that it and we can be better.
I believe in the power of words, of fashion, of voting, and of peaceful protest.
If nothing else, bleach is an outlet, a pillow to scream in, and one more small thing I can do, in addition to writing letters to voters through The Big Send and votefwd.org and donating financially what little I can. On January 20th, I want to be able to say that I did everything I could to preserve what’s left of our Democracy and to defeat the sociopathic baby now in charge.
So, until then, I’ll just be over here with my bleach stick, pen, envelopes, and stamps, researching guillotines and trying not to scream.
Wear a mask.
Wash your hands.
July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
“It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work…that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that, government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” -Gettysburg Address (Everett Copy) November 19, 1863
I haven’t known what to say.
Listening. Reading. Processing. Not feeling the urge to write or to speak.
Yesterday I have the final of three Zoom poetry classes which I’d enrolled in back in May, back when the Pandemic was the headline, when we yearned to leave our houses but had no reason to because the world was still closed. In the month since, a new headline; this one turns out to be the bigger of the two stories, intrinsically linked to the first.
As I try to conjure that poem, several young men sit in the shade of a tree just outside my front door, on the other side of the property line I share with a church parking lot. They speak of gangs, prison, women, a kidnapping, fatherhood, and of being thirsty. One of them keeps breaking into song. I can’t help but listen as I try to write an epistle ( a poem written in the form of a letter. I didn’t know that word until yesterday). These are the real poets, I think.
On Monday night, a man is shot as he tries to topple a statue of the Spanish Conquistador Oñate in front of the Albuquerque Museum, nine blocks from my house. I hear the helicopters but don’t think too much about them, there have been so many lately. The man survives and the Mayor has the statue removed the next day.
Today it is hot and very smoky because of a fire burning in another state. This reminds me of the next crisis, the mother and father of them all, just around the corner. Actually not around the corner at all but sitting here on my porch with me in the hazy, yellow light. It smells like a camp fire. I water my garden and notice that the snails have eaten all of my peas.
A friend comes over for dinner and we sit outside, six feet apart. We laugh and eat and drink. What is normal any more? This is good. I smear brie on a piece of baguette and sip my margarita like concoction.
My world seems to have shrunk while at the same time my interconnectedness with the macro has become undeniable. Four months ago I flitted about, traveling, working, consuming, but paying little attention to the role I played in my neighbor’s health, to the fact that my airplane emissions contributed greatly to climate change, or to the privilege that allowed such flitting. In the world but not of it. I said I wanted to be more present, but spent much of my time deep in the future, planning and fretting.
And now that fretting has been turned on its head. Had someone knocked on the door on New Year’s Eve, maybe right around the time I finished writing about my word (vibrant) for the coming year and decade, and told me “Oh, by the way, let me tell you about 2020…” I would have stood mouth agape, unable to imagine.
But here we are; waking up to the parts we play within both our micro and macro worlds and to all of the ways those are inextricably linked.
Be the change you want to see in the world.