The Boat People

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I remember when I was a child and my Great-Great Aunt Clarabelle came to visit. She was well over one hundred at the time and as we sat on the deck of Mavis’s wooden sailboat, she told stories of a time before the rains of 2013 and the great floods that followed.

She was in her 30’s in 2013, with three decades of dry land living already under her belt. She grew up in the desert, a place I read about as a child but thought was imaginary, like the end of a rainbow or the land of nod or Manhattan. I couldn’t imagine that such a place had really existed. Roping cattle on her father’s ranch, everything in her life was dependent on the land.

In place of water, she grew up on dry, cracked earth, surrounded by cacti and plants that knew how to survive on less than an inch of annual precipitation. She told us of things like baseball and camping and roads. As a child, she and her sister would hike and climb trees and they never even learned to swim. She told us that the smell of rain in the desert is the most beautiful of all the smells. Better than bread baking or things called roses.

As Clarabelle grew older, she knew the world was changing. Years went by with no rain at all, wildfires followed, and then rain fell too fast and couldn’t be absorbed. She said it became extreme and unbalanced. People discussed what was happening, but no one really knew what to do and nothing changed. The droughts became longer, the tornadoes stronger, the winters colder, and the summers hotter. We tried to imagine the world she described, but having water as our only reference, it was difficult.

Sometime in the 20’s, after the floods of 2013 began and it became clear they wouldn’t end, corporations began buying all of the land over 8,000 feet. They built their headquarters and factories on the sides of mountains, with homes for the executives in the back. Replacing things called continents, these small islands stick up here and there, but for over 90% of the world, life began to be lived on and in the water.

Great-Great Aunt Clarabelle’s generation had to adapt quickly to these changes, or be swept away. Her days as a cowgirl were over. Her parents wanted to give up, too tired and old to learn an entirely new way of life, but with two thirds of her life ahead of her, Clarabelle knew she had no choice.

After the rains started, they did not stop. The lowlands disappeared and people abandoned their lives and headed for the hills, literally. Then, the hills disappeared, followed by most mountains. In the course of a decade, the world became unrecognizable. Horseshoers turned to boatbuilding, as did carpenters, bankers, and farmers. Life became about boats, fish, and water purification tablets.

As children, we fashioned snorkels and flippers from found pipes and old tires. We dove for fun, making our way down to swim amongst submerged skyscrapers, neighborhoods, and abandoned amusement parks. Islands were fashioned from old car doors, railroad ties, and tree limbs, taking the place of land. People with money constructed floating villages, haciendas, villas; small self sustaining communities. The rest of us did what we could, inflatable inter-tubes orbiting around a sailboat nucleus, fishing lines extended. And it became the way it was.

Nothing ever dried and the sun was something spoken of by poets but never seen. Scientists predicted toes disappearing, evolving into a more useful fin, possibly in the next million years or so. Sleeping on our rafts, bobbing in the waves, we dreamt of prairies and cars and of running.

Great-Great Aunt Clarabelle adapted well. Instead of clinging to her previous life, she forged ahead, becoming the lead mermaid in Poseidon’s Great Circus. Traveling the world by submarine, she and her fellow mermaids tried to lighten their fellow human’s load with laughter and joy. Later, living in a pink houseboat, she sailed the world, eventually making her way to us when I was ten.

Original photo by Helga Ancona

When is the time?

When is the time to do the things you’ve always wanted to do? Retirement? Next year? Sometime when you’ve got it all figured out? Now? Lately I’ve been trying to answer this question for myself.

For the past decade, or maybe longer, the same lists of goals have appeared and reappeared in journals, New Year’s Resolutions, scrawled lists, and personal manifestos. I have done what I felt I could with some of them, but most have been left for some unspecified, future date.

The lists look something like this-
Learn to surf
Return to Mexico, practice Spanish
Write every day
Go dancing once a month (at least)
Find a German class
Read the books on your bookshelf that you haven’t read
Cook
Spend time with family
Head south of Mexico
Take time off and do the things you always say you want to do
They go on and on, but you get the idea.

My job, as a set costumer on films, should allow me to accomplish all of these things and yet I don’t feel that I ever do. Working intensely for months and then having large chunks of time off, I frequently find myself slightly catatonic once the adrenaline and dust from the most recent movie settles. I’m slowly realizing that the chess game of finding the next job while diplomatically turning down those I don’t want to do, takes up much of my free time. Because the film industry is most similar to freelancing, more than self employment or full time employment, it really is up to me to make it what I want.

Not viewing myself as someone motivated by fear or money, I’ve been taking a good look at that recently and realizing it’s not entirely true. While my job suits me on many levels and I’m grateful for it, I am also aware that, in large part, I do it for the money and it is not my end all be all or my creative outlet. But then, that’s why they call it work, right? I spend hours worrying about buttons, collars, ironing, crazy personalities, and hoping I didn’t forget the actor’s hat after the crew has trudged up a mountain and any forgotten item will take hours to retrieve. When it’s four in the morning and I haven’t fallen asleep because I’m worrying about a silly continuity issue and I know that a seventeen hour day looms in front of me, I often find myself asking, ” is it worth it?” I think if I can be more disciplined in my off time and trust that there will always be another job once I’m ready to work again, then the answer is yes.

Recently I’ve been handed what might turn out to be a gift. I’ve been offered, and accepted, a job on a movie that promises to be exhausting, crazy, maybe fun, and will take me far from home for the first half of 2014. So, now the question is, knowing that that is coming, will I be brave enough to spend the next several months doing the things I always say I want to do and forgoing the immediate security of jumping on a job this fall, to fill the void? Will I finally start to cross things off the list? We’ll see. I think so.

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The Sleepover

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On my recent trip to New York, I stayed with a friend I’ve known since the 4th grade. Our friendship has survived junior high, college, family emergencies, boyfriends, and traveling together. Now, 25 years later, we come and go in each other’s lives, sometimes going long spells without talking, but always fitting like a puzzle piece back into our reserved spots.
Upon my arrival in NY she gave me an extra set of keys to her apartment and a blow up bed in her room. Most of my days were spent wandering either alone or with other friends, meeting with her after she got off work.
And I was reminded of how much I still love the once taken for granted sleepover. As a child it was a ritual built mostly around parent’s schedules and lack of one’s own transportation. Then, after everyone had a car, the sleepover became less necessary unless some form of curfew evasion was needed, in which case it remained quite useful! Now, as an adult, I find that I covet the extra time with friends that comes between brushing teeth and falling asleep or waking and drinking coffee. Inevitably we find ourselves saying good night and then laying in the dark, talking late into the night about the day and life. Or waking and combining our morning routines, letting each other in on the small rituals that are so easily glossed over on the phone or at dinner, but which make up such a large portion of our lives. I feel very fortunate to have had not only friends for so long, but ones who I can lie in the dark talking to, like back when we were ten.

Sandals in the Subway

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I just returned from a quick and delicious weekend in Manhattan and Brooklyn… Almost two years since my last visit, I was craving a quick jolt of the energy only that city can provide.
While packing I realized my normal season for visiting is autumn, and scarves, sweaters, and boots are all I want to wear there. But, instead I tried to pack for hot, humid, dirty urban, which meant black skirts, dark tanks, and the sturdiest sandals I own. Though sandals in the subway just seem wrong.
I spent my days wandering, eating, and drinking with friends, agenda and plan free. Some highlights included Bryant Park iced tea drinking discussions, Le Labo Tubereuse, donuts on the lower east side, great black squid ink pasta with king crab and lemon, and a quick walk on the Highline.
For the first two days, a cool breeze blew as the sun shone, with a sticky humidity holding off until Sunday. Though to my parched desert skin, even that felt great.
As a child, New York was the only city I wanted to live in. The anonymity it allows people appealed to me, along with its inherent attitude and style. But now, as I watch my friends navigate lives and careers in the city, I realize that for me, it may only ever be a place to visit, to read about, and to soak up, once a year.

Summer

It’s 102 outside…what to do?
I can’t remember the last time I was off in the summer, must have been before college, before summer jobs became the norm. Back when long, hot days stretched on for three empty months and my sister and I entertained ourselves with board games, books, and running through the sprinklers.
At some point in high school, summer restaurant jobs began, followed by year round restaurant jobs in college and summer break became about saving money rather than lounging in the heat. The past decade has been no different as producers love to shoot their movies in the summer, after the spring winds die down and the days are long. But, here I am, for the first time in over 15 years, with time to…
Check out the rodeo
Ride the Ferris wheel
Make gazpacho to eat outside with friends
Drink sangria
Take a road trip
Lie in a hammock
Read a pile of magazines
Read a pile of books
Write
And so on.

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