It’s not an ocean but a sea, the Greeks keep correcting me. Why do you call it an ocean, they ask? I’m used to oceans, I say, it’s been years since I’ve floated on my back in a sea. The Adriatic is a sea.
The water tastes extra salty as I float on my back, no swimming required. I could do this for hours and just might.
Where am I and how did I get here? One year ago it would have been unimaginable. Planes. Passports. Film sets. Adventure. I can’t kick the feeling that I am in a parallel universe, living two lives, one here and one there. I can’t explain.
After a year of interiors, back yards, isolation, and familiarity, (once the constraints of a pandemic became normal) the exact opposite presents itself out of the blue. A job in Greece and Serbia? After a year of fearing I would never go anywhere ever again? This is a shocking possibility.
It is hot. The sea is blue and the farther out you go, the cooler it gets. I will likely only swim on weekends. During the week my days are filled with all the basics of being a costumer; laundry, strange schedules, working in the heat, personalities. But, on the weekends, I can be in Greece. For now.
Presence and flexibility, my new mantras. The costume department alone has people from four countries, working under four different contracts, in it. I tape a phonetic cheat sheet into my notebook. Efcharistò. Thank you. Little things I didn’t realize weren’t universal are quickly shown not to be. A three hole punch and binder? Nope. They have two here. I have yet to decipher a single symbol on the washing machine, still in search of the quickest cycle. It’s humid and clothes take forever to dry, unlike the desert.
An adventure I didn’t see coming until it was upon me. I take none of it for granted and try to appreciate every small, weird, sometimes inconvenient part, grateful for it and also for my life back home to which I will return before too long.
Anther spin around the sun and this one feels really different. 42. I keep forgetting the number and have to to do the math. 1979. Yup, 42. Last year was all quarantine and zoom and lockdown and 2020 and this one feels anything but. It feels hopeful! Trees in bloom, vaccinations are actually happening, schools are set to re-open next week for the first time in a year, and it suddenly feels like it’s all going to be ok. I kept telling myself it would be, but it like really might be ok! It might actually be great.
The shock of 2020 and all that it held is slowly wearing off. So many lessons. I’ve pulled back from the news and social media and really haven’t missed either very much. I assume they will reappear here and there, but, we’ll see. After a year that seemed to pride itself on keeping me/us on my/our toes and bringing every problem, imbalance, and injustice we’d ever buried or ignored to the surface, the last couple of months have felt strangely calm, balanced, and mundane, in the best of ways. Time to actually process and deal with everything that came up, rather than continuously being hit over the head with something new.
What I did not anticipate was that as the whole world was faced with one epic problem after another, my personal anxiety actually dissipated. Suddenly it became clear that no one knew what was going on and I stopped trying to be the one to figure it all out. My life became more present and I stopped living in my head as much. Hence, I think, less frequent blog posts too. Not that I don’t want to write, I just haven’t had as much swirling around that needs to get out!
And, when I might otherwise be writing, I now find myself in thrift stores, scavenging for the next amazing item to list on my vintage clothing site (http://knockaboutvintage.etsy.com). As a child, I’d spend hours sitting at the table , drawing “fashion books”. I’d make my friends draw them too when they came over to play. For hours and hours. Do what you love, people told me, the rest will follow. They were right! People love and buy the stuff I sell! I have no one to answer to and only need trust my eye. Instead of drawing fashion books, I now spend my time photographing, styling, and listing clothes and it’s fun! Though it started in 2019, quarantine and lockdown gave me the time to get and keep my shop going and now, with each month, I become a little clearer on my vision and where I see it all going… Stay tuned!
Along with this renewed drive and creativity, 2020 left me with gratitude for the mundane. I worked on a TV show last month for the first time in a year and was grateful for a job I once took for granted and complained about. I spent today digging in the dirt, planting plants I was given in response to “what do you want for your birthday?” It’s sunny and beautiful out and once again warm enough to eat outdoors. The birds are fighting over seed in my bird feeder.
And two nights ago I stumbled upon the new HBO documentary Tina about Tina Turner. Wowza!!! I’ve always liked her music but I really didn’t get how fierce, gorgeous, and iconic she was until I saw this movie. Just the role model I need for the last 55-60% of my life. Courage personified.
In the end, I emerged from 2020, and I enter 42, less afraid. Of everything. The world is total chaos. People are nuts, but mostly good. The planet will flick us off like a mosquito whenever it chooses. Nothing is certain. The ability to pivot might save you. Flexibility. Creativity. Generosity. I can’t wait to go dancing, travel, and go to a concert. Never again will I take a hug for granted. And my mantra moving forward?
Easter will forever remind me of my Gramma Clarke. Holy Thursday dinner in her Church basement. Hot cross buns on Good Friday. Church on Easter and the smell of incense and lilies. Dyeing and hunting eggs. Brunch after Church, all packed into her small art studio turned dining room or outside, if it happened to be warm that year in Denver. Cousins.
My grandmother passed away on April 5th, 2005, and her absence still makes my heart hurt. Every once in a while I dream of her house and don’t want to wake up. I bought my house three months later and now my lilac blooms every year right around April 5th.
Three years ago when I was working on Big Little Lies in Monterrey, CA, I walked into one of the beach condos we were using as a changing area for the actors and stopped on my tracks. It smelled just like Gramma’s basement. Visceral memories washed over me with that smell. Musky mildew, but in the best way. I stood in that condo for as long as I could, soaking it in.
I always loved drawing in her studio. Trained as an illustrator at Parsons School of Design in the early 1950’s, my gramma was a truly great artist; sketcher, watercolorist, muralist, and draftswoman. I would usually just doodle or maybe draw my fashion books. Or, I’d sit on her spinning stool and look at all of the family photos hanging on the wall. I now have the bookcases from that studio in my studio.
Yesterday I poured small packets of dye into containers of boiling water and added a little vinegar. I got out my Ukrainian wax tools and beeswax and began to decorate eggs. This tradition began after my gramma had passed, sometime in my 20’s, with my mom and sister. Until yesterday, I hadn’t done it in years. But, anytime I find myself drawing, making, or creating, I think of Gramma Clarke and always will.
I was in Vegas one year and one week ago to the day and I’m back. Only one year?!
Back then the world didn’t yet know what was hurtling its way. Some did, but most of us ignored the anxious warnings of doctors and public health officials, preferring to believe that something happening over there wouldn’t affect us over here. We now know COVID 19 was everywhere by then. And so was I.
I am in a hotel room writing this and through my window there’s a closed pool and a sad, only somewhat open Las Vegas strip in the distance. Our film crew is the only guest staying in this otherwise closed hotel and as you walk through the ground floor casino to get to the elevator, there is a strange quiet. No clanging and ringing of slot machines or chatter of guests.
Two days ago, I pulled my dusty suitcase from the top shelf in my closet and ripped off the old airline tags. JFK> ABQ March 12, 2020. We laugh about it now but in a kind of astonished way. We were in the air, flying back from Johannesburg through JFK to Albuquerque on the day the world began shutting down. I haven’t been anywhere since, until now.
I spent years complaining about and taking my film career for granted and now feel nothing but immense gratitude for it. I’ve been able to keep my Union health insurance throughout this year when so many others lost theirs. I get tested 3 times a week while working. I have as much PPE as anyone could ever need. And, though all of the travel used to drive me crazy, I love that it is bringing me back into the world as we speak.
Yesterday I walked and walked. It’s all I do when here. Kind of like NY. Walk, watch people, walk more.
Covid has wreaked havoc on this city. The top layer is open, just enough to stay afloat, but everything else is closed. I don’t know how it keeps going with so few visitors.
But, Vegas will survive. Maybe more than any other city, people want to escape and that is what this city is. One big, dark, weird escape. And personally, I’m grateful for my own little work escape it’s given me right now.
Mundane joy. A friend recently texted me that this was both her current state and yearly goal. How beautiful, I thought. That’s what I want too.
After three insane Wednesdays in a row (insane begins with i; as does insurrection, impeachment, and inauguration), I want nothing more than to build a fire, drink the dark chocolate Dutch cacao I recently bought at an import grocery store, and light the green tea incense I also recently bought, at yet another grocery store. I do these things today instead, on a Tuesday, because tomorrow I’ll start my first full time, albeit short, film job since Covid craziness began.
This morning we woke to a snow storm I didn’t know was forecast and in the late morning I bundled up and headed out for a walk. Icy in the shade but it melted quickly once the sun hit from middle of the sky. Clear skies, white mountains, pink clouds. It’s sharp and clean outside.
A neighbor cat spent the better part of the afternoon sitting under my bird feeder, skittering away every time I banged on the window. I love watching birds crack seeds in their beaks.
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.