Viva Las Vegas! 

No, not that one. The other one, in New Mexico, just north of Santa Fe, off of I-25. The once bustling, now somewhat abandoned railroad town, the one in which I have spent months of my life working on location, that is full of architectural beauties, albeit mostly boarded up. Yes, that one. 


And, here I am again. Because of its location in Northeastern New Mexico, where the Great Plains meet the Rockie Mountains and the High Desert, Las Vegas can pass for many places, hence its popularity with movie producers and location scouts. This evening, as I left the ranch where we are shooting and drove down the frontage road towards my hotel, I couldn’t help but think of all that has and hasn’t changed in my life, career, and in the town, over the many years I’ve found myself on location in Las Vegas, NM. 


In 2005, we used the Victorian houses as the backdrop for a small Minnesota town in the movie “North Country.” While working, my then boyfriend and I rented a “suite” at the Palomino Motel for $22 a night and pocketed the rest of our housing money. I turned 26 in that motel room and somewhere there exist photos of a party that included very tall grip holding a piñata above his head, while crew members swung at it with a machete until a bunch of porn fell out. 

In 2006 we were back with “No Country For Old Men.” Same boyfriend, same suite, room number 6, at the Palomino Motel. Weeks of filming, mostly nights, ice cream cones at Dairy Queen on the way to work in the afternoons. A shootout in the Plaza Hotel, my Trader Joe’s shopping bag full of different types of fake blood. An overpass turned into the Mexican border by the Art Department that made it onto the front page of the local paper because drivers on I-25 were freaking out, afraid they’d taken a wrong turn somewhere. 


Then there was “Paul” and an exploding farm house. “True Grit” in 2010 and then “The Homesman” in 2013, with six weeks of living in the Plaza Hotel, pretending the plains north of town were 1850’s Nebraska. 


And I’m back. It’s 1894 this time.  And again, a bag of fake blood. Another movie. Another hotel. Another year. And yet, so much has changed. This blog gives me a mission and instead of taking my  wacky career for granted, I find the beauty in the random places it brings me. I appreciate the experiences it has given me, I laugh at the bizarreness of it all. 


And I dedicate this post to my ex with whom I spent so much time here, who passed away in 2009. I think he always liked it in Las Vegas. 

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Love It All

  
 Back at work for a week and, so far, so good! I have been sleeping AND waking with enough time to stretch and meditate, two things I’m determined to hold onto as the hours grow longer and the off-time shrinks. 

I can feel the adrenaline creeping back in but hope to keep it at the lowest levels possible. The annoying little truth is that on some level I love the crazy, the high, and the pace of a movie set. And this show promises to be a busy, if short, one. 

As I stood on set yesterday, our first day of shooting, I felt comfortable and confident, doing a job I’ve done for years and that has, overall, benefitted me on many levels. I am also starting this job having just had three months off. I feel refreshed and know that the money I make over the next couple of months will allow me to take more time off this fall. 

I’m beginning to see how these two sides balance each other; the prompt, organized, slightly OCD costumer and the relaxed, creative, let’s just see what happens wanderer. It’s a tricky balance that, even after twelve years, I haven’t figured out, but I’m optimistic that with awareness I can have and/with rather than either/or. Balance, balance, balance. I want to be in love with every minute of my little, awesome life, rather than waiting for this or that to happen or for the time when it’s all crystal clear and figured out. 

It’s a whacky ride and I think that’s what I’m starting to accept and appreciate. And sleep, meditation, and stretching all help that appreciation!

Happiness. Tinged with melancholy. 

I’m having one of those moments. Sitting at the kitchen table with a glass of wine, the back door open on an April evening, and another job coming to an end. Willie Nelson is singing. 

I couldn’t have asked to be part of a more fantastic costume department  for the past several months. It was one of those rare groups, full of humor and talent, that made the most mundane or stressful of situations seem somehow not so bad. It was a department that earned complete respect from the rest of the crew early on and maintained it throughout. 

Aside from the fact that it was a physically difficult show for me, complete with the flu and a classic case of insomnia, it also reminded me that it really is the people who keep me coming back, movie after movie. There is an adventurous, creative, problem solving, non conformist, gypsy, irreverent attitude that I love about film crews, but costume departments in particular. Maybe it’s something about being the first in and last out, pinning and counting dirty socks, or seeing famous people in their underwear, but whatever it is, it’s unavoidably funny when you really think about it. Or if you haven’t slept more than four hours in months. 

I will miss this group. But will enjoy my sleep and time off. And I will welcome the idea that goodbye usually just means “see you on another one,  somewhere.”

  

Truth or Consequences

Sometimes you are on location in Manhattan. Or Austin. And, sometimes, you are working on location in the desert south of Lordsburg, New Mexico.

I do not want to leave my house today. As I pack my suitcase, yoga mat, humidifier, bag of food, pillow, winter gear, dust gear, shoes, tea, and scented candle into the car, I am reminded of how frequently this used to be my life. For years, I worked and lived between states, spending months on location, in hotel rooms, everywhere and nowhere simultaneously.

And then, it just stopped working for me. Leaving my house and the small routines I’d finally managed to make mine, became almost physically painful. The idea of living in a hotel room, dependent on catering, microwaved soup, instant oatmeal, and coffee made in the bathroom, was unappealing on every level. So, I stopped. I began to accept jobs based on whether the movie was in town or not. And that single decision has done wonders for my health, sleep, well being, and life.

Recently I received a call for a month long, out of town job in Southern New Mexico and, because it was with a supervisor I liked, accepted. And, for the past month, I have counted the days until I could be back home. My days consist of waking at 2:30 am, getting in a van, working until the sun goes down, stumbling from the van to the shower to the bed and doing it all over again the next day. Friends and family’s calls go unanswered, mail piles up, and my life is put in hold.

For the same amount of time that I’ve been choosing to work at home, I’ve also been practicing living in the present. It is the combination that seems to account for a happiness I can’t remember feeling at any other point in my life. I have been in the flow, in the right place at the right time, happily observing the world around me and all that it has to give.

So, it is with some annoyance that I find myself incapable of maintaining this practice while working on location. I recently awoke in my hotel room around midnight. I was hungry and, as I stood eating a slice of cheese by the mini fridge, steam from the humidifier wafted by my face. My sleep mask was pushed up on my forehead and the only light came from the nightlight on the hairdryer. At that moment I was completely present and aware of how strange my life was. And, though happy to be present, also knew it wasn’t a situation I cared to keep repeating.

Driving south on I-25, I go through a town called Truth or Consequences and smile. It seems that if you know the truth and ignore it, the consequences are guaranteed to follow close behind. My truth at the moment is that home is where I want to be and I’m glad that it took only a short job to remind me of that fact.

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Heading West For Work

Heading west on I-40, I think of all those who’ve made this journey before me.. Trekking through the desert in search of work in the promised land of California. From the 49ers to Okies to migrant movie gypsies like myself, the opportunities of the world’s eighth largest economy beckon and lure. I think of the previous times I’ve driven between Albuquerque and LA and of all that has transpired in my life and career since I began making the drive regularly, five years ago.
I now know where to fill up for gas and how far each tank will take me. I know In-n-Out Burger in Kingman is half way and Starbucks in Flagstaff and Barstow will get me through. I time my journey and usually come in just under twelve hours.
I’ve begun to see the beauty in the austere landscape of the Mohave desert and have survived Needles at 119 degrees and blizzards in Flagstaff. I’m ever grateful to have a dependable car with heat and AC and think of those who traveled my route with neither.
Coming down from the mountains that separate the desert from the coast, the air is softer and a glow fills the sky as the lights of Southern California spread out before me. The traffic speeds up, the 40 becomes the 15 before dividing into more and more freeways with every mile.
I have had a rocky relationship with this city, as with the industry that keeps bringing me back, but for now I am grateful.

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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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Remind Me How To Cook.

Remind Me How To Cook.

Over Memorial Day weekend I realized I’d forgotten how to cook. For the past three months I’d been making do with hotel room microwaves, room service, and, most frequently, catering and craft service at work, and, as I stared blankly at my open cupboard, I couldn’t think of a thing to cook. I proceeded to feed myself as an eight year old, left home alone for the first time, might. Granola, a Popsicle, cheese, more cereal, toast, an apple, and finally a steamed artichoke with half a bottle of wine. Now, you might think an artichoke is too much for an eight year old, but the fact that I let the water boil away and managed to burn it, demonstrated some very amateur cooking skills.
And, as I sat eating my slightly smoky artichoke, I wondered… Would I remember how to arrive places on time, without a call sheet or a map? Would I know how to schedule my life without a movie schedule doing it for me? I obviously didn’t remember how to feed myself without a catering truck and Jaime’s smiling face asking what I wanted, so what else had I forgotten? It wasn’t the first time I’d wondered these things after finishing a job, but as the light at the end of the tunnel loomed brighter, it illuminated many things I’d spent the past few months ignoring. Fortunately, cooking is always one of the things I find most grounding and I have no doubt that after a few days of staring blankly at the cupboard, it will begin to come back to me again.

Location

Working on location. It’s not a vacation, it’s longer than a normal business trip, it feels almost like living somewhere, but it is definitely temporary.  Every once in a while you luck out and end up somewhere really cool, somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, on a show that is mellow enough to actually let you have the time to enjoy and explore your new surroundings. But, more often, you end up in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere and are glad that the show is a crazy one and that you don’t have too much time to sit in your motel room wondering what’s happening back in your other life.  

I’ve been lucky enough to end up in some great cities and to have come away feeling that I really know them.  But, much more frequently than being sent to Austin, New Orleans, or New York, I find myself in places such as Wilmington (Ohio), Las Vegas (New Mexico), and Shreveport (Louisiana) and am forced to figure out ways to continue living some semblance of my life, while away.  

I used to find myself counting down the days, putting my “real life” on hold, and waiting until the job was over to return to it.  But, slowly it became apparent that it was all my real life and the quicker I realized it the better it would be.  Waiting caused me to miss out on things I may have enjoyed in my new town and to place my life in between jobs on a pedestal, only to realize that while I’d been away, things kept moving along without me and I had to find my new/old place in the current layout.  

In addition to a suitcase of clothing and shoes, I started packing a bag of things that make me happy no matter where I wake…Vintage Earl Grey, coconut oil, my yoga mat, books, my ipod,  a wine opener, my linens and pillow, and a candle.  Upon arriving in my new town, I take a few hours to “move in”, rearranging furniture if I need to, until it feels like somewhere I can live for a bit.  It took me a few years to figure out little ways to keep my life running while out of cell range, or the state, for months on end, and I realized, with some planning, it is possible. I’m dependent on timers to water my plants, the postal service’s premium forwarding service to send me my mail, and an expandable file folder which serves as my office while away.  For most of last year, while on location with “The Lone Ranger”, a cardboard girl scout cookie box served as my medicine cabinet, full of the supplements and vitamins that kept me going for ten months.  

There is a camaraderie among people working on location that is a relief when in a strange place.  It’s easy to tag along with a group to dinner or find somewhere to meet on Saturday nights.  It’s a strange, gypsy life we have all adopted and though it has its good and bad, most of us keep coming back for more. It was only after I started to look at all of it as my “real life”, that I began to enjoy it, seeing it as an adventure, and trying to find the good in wherever I landed.  Trusting that home would still be there when I returned.  

Heading West. Again.

Heading West. Again.

It’s been almost four months since my last movie ended and tomorrow my next begins.  Because it will be another Western, I’m dusting off the boots, packing jeans, flannel shirts, and straw hats, preparing for three months of wind, sun, and dust.

When I chose to base myself full time in New Mexico, instead of LA, I resigned myself to the fact that I would spend most of my days outdoors, working in the elements, rather than on a soundstage. When I do end up on the occasional stage movie, I am amazed at how much easier it is than what I am used to, if for no other reason it involves pavement, which makes rolling a wardrobe rack exponentially easier.  But, alas, I end up working on Westerns the vast majority of the time.  They are beautiful, dirty, and everything about working on them is more difficult than any other type of movie.  The locations are in places where no roads, cell towers, or power lines are visible, thereby making them hard to get to and hard to work from.  The cast and crew are at the mercy of the weather and the light, which makes the completion of a day’s work a real feat.

I know many costumers who avoid Westerns like the plague and I understand why. I spend my days dealing with leather, wool, fur, fake blood, and dirt when I could be dealing with the cute, latest styles if I was working on a clean, romantic comedy somewhere. Chaps, corsets, and detachable collars are just a few of the clothing items I have become an expert on and each makes me so happy that our styles have evolved. Many of the costumes I set in actor’s trailers weigh more than a small child and when people ask me if I work out, I laugh. No, I work on Westerns and lug wet wool through the dirt.

But, I also get to be around really interesting costumes, horses, to see beautiful sunrises and sunsets almost every day, and to get a really great tan. On my last day of freedom for the next few months, I am dusting off the boots, finding the dust goggles, and packing the bandanas.  And it all seems so normal.