2018 Year End Letter

The day before New Year’s Eve I suffered a case of food-poisoning, with all the fun that entails. Appropriately, I ended 2018 feeling a little beaten up and drained! But the first day of 2019 is the sigh after the storm. The sun came out this morning, and — for today at least — nothing could taste more delicious than sparkling water and saltines! I think if there were a theme for 2018, it would be “perspective.”

(The theme for 2019, I have decided in advance, will be “pictures” since I am looking through my photos from this year and realizing I don’t have a single one with both Paul and me in the frame. We’ll use this as a stand-in:)

couple holding hands

Paul and I still live in the top half of a Spanish duplex in Los Angeles. In the spring, we were sad (though happy for her) when our awesome housemate, Julie, moved to Brooklyn with her boyfriend.  We lucked out when another friend, Sue, was in the market for a place. She’s a photographer, a former stand-up comic and has similar standards for cleanliness to ours so we’re getting along great!

In 2017, Paul  helped out his friend from film school, Iman, with her first feature, a comedy about three young Muslim women balancing love, career ambitions and culture in the Big Apple. In 2018 he became an official producer, logging many hours on the phone and in the editing room (i.e. the editor’s bedroom … it’s an independent film!)

For me, 2018 was a “leap-of-faith” year.

leaping from cliff

I purposefully took no steady teaching or admin-ing in order to push forward my screenwriting career ambition. I developed several projects and a couple came close to the finish line of being sold — but despite hopes and promises,  and many people claiming to be “excited,” it was not meant to be… in 2018 at least!

On the bright side, because I can write while traveling, I was able to take a longer-than-usual trip back to Indiana and New York where it was lovely to see family and old friends. On the flight to New York I also read a novel by friend and talented writer, Eric Sasson, called Admissions, and couldn’t put it down. I asked Eric if I could option the rights and he said yes! This was my first time optioning another writer’s work – it felt good to find and validate, even in a small way, another writer’s talents and efforts!

I took a video editing class and used my new, rudimentary skills to complete a three-minute film!  (It stars my niece and nephew and had a very exclusive “cast and crew” screening at my sister’s home on Christmas Day.)

Day-to-day, the freedom /obligation to wake up and write into the afternoon was really satisfying. So was making it to the gym more often. I always wondered, if my schedule were more flexible, I would really make more time for the gym? I was happy to find the answer is yes! exericise-stick-figure.jpg

I saw some great plays, and Paul and I both saw many movies. For a few golden months our MoviePass subscriptions provided a non-stop film festival at the nearby Landmark theatre.

Almost-free movies, classes at the gym, extra hours at my laptop – as well as sunny days, rainy days, and days when you just wake up feeling good – more and more, I am aware of how these are gifts. Maybe because 2018 has been so full of perspective-giving moments. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a year when so many friends posted about losing their beloved pets. I’m regularly brought to tears by friends grieving the loss of a parent or dealing with  grave illnesses of spouses and children with a bravery, perseverance and poetry that stuns me.

In December, my mom and I traveled through San Francisco to Eureka, California, seeing old friends, family and Redwood trees along the way. The trip was over my birthday weekend, near the year’s end, and we had several hours to drive while looking at fields and listening to the Dirty John podcast. Basically the perfect conditions for woolgathering and taking stock– and, if one isn’t careful, lapsing into wondering why the universe hasn’t rewarded ones efforts in a way that’s “fair.”

This sense of why unfairness? might have been lingering in the back of my mind the morning we left Eureka. Mom and I were eating our free continental breakfast in the motel lobby when a mother came in with her four children under the age of ten. We tried not to laugh too obviously as one of the kids over-filled his cereal with milk and then carefully shuffled to the table trying (unsuccessfully) to transport the bowl without it spilling.

My mom, making conversation, asked the kids if they were “on vacation,” the six-year old girl replied, in the softest little voice, “No, we’re here because our house burnt down in Paradise.”

BAM.

Perspective.

The mother told us that she and the kids had been at the motel for weeks while their father was on the road, looking for work and a place to rebuild their lives.

(Whoa, I didn’t mean to write myself into such a serious corner here at the end. I’ll try to wrap it up. Thank goodness this wasn’t a Christmas letter!)

Any year can be a year where our life plans—our life assumptions—get thrown off track, in big ways and small. If there’s a value in it, it’s probably that it makes us grateful for whatever remains—for me, there was a lot to be grateful for this year: health, the well-being of those close to me, people who remain resolutely kind and thoughtful in the face of the growing pressures in the world to be otherwise, friends, laughter, generosity, Skype, clean air, saltine crackers and sparkling water. And if you are reading this, you!

stock-vector-cartoon-stick-man-drawing-conceptual-illustration-of-businessman-climbing-mountain-concept-of-784718656Here’s to whatever you are grateful for, and whatever mountains you have to climb in 2019!

Love,

Barrington and Paul

These Cats Have Character

November 11, 2018

 

My Dad was a fan of items — ornaments, decorations and tchotchkes– that he described as having “character”.  If I brought home art from school, the highest compliment would be when he looked at something and determined it had character. Out in the world,  he would have a certain amused and admiring tone as he picked up whatever thing had caught his eye, said, “now this X has character.” I am sure he bought these honeycomb cats for their character.

My dad had a respect and care for objects that– with all love to my husband– I can say I don’t see much in my current life where even expensive electronic items are flung about and the disposable nature of anything inexpensive is emphasized in how it is treated.

I have this very distinct memory of my father sitting at our dining room table, carefully sliding the decorations out of their envelopes, and assembling them  with a precise  gentleness. Which is probably why, so many years later, they are in remarkably good repair.

 

How many years, exactly?

label

Something else my father did was put dates on things, as if he knew that one day someone would become nostalgic and wonder. It’s hard to say — does this look like 1980…or 1960? Do the colors look like funky 60s colors, or neon 80s colors? The 1980s  would coincide with my childhood. But doesn’t it look like 1960? In which case he would have bought them during his first marriage, and a decade later packed and carried them into his new life, and eventually his second marriage. That’s a lot of years and travel for these little black cats.

 

This is What Love Looks Like

I will not say that my father was a hoarder, but he was an academic, an artist and a collector of books and items related to his academic, artistic and other interests. His attitude might be summarized as — why throw things away when we have an attic… a basement… a garage? When he died he left behind enough stuff to populate three yard sales a year for the first few years, and some since then.

A truly lovely and thoughtful thing that my mother is doing for her children is making an ongoing attempt to cull through our house’s half-century of accumulated items so that it does not fall so heavily on our shoulders when the time comes.  To that end, she tries to help us help ourselves by asking us — each time we visit — to do some culling of our own.

“Just go through your box,” she says.

“What box?”

“I made you each a box.”

Here is “my box” compiled by Mom.  Newspaper clippings — dean’s list and classroom citizenship awards,  reading achievement certificates, poems, drawings and stories…

IMG_4671

 

Beyond the fact that my peak publishing success was in elementary school,  I am a struck by my mother’s diligence in tucking these items away in a semi-organized fashion so consistently,  for so many years.

But, more than anything, I see the kind of life and opportunities that allowed for this collection of paperwork — and the people who made it possible–in particular, my mother. My mother used coupons at grocery store and never had a manicure — but managed our money so there were music lessons,  orthodontia, and the dance classes that she drove me to and sat through week after week. There were stories  at bedtime, tennis at the park. Rides to the pool and swimming lessons, nightly practice spelling tests. Day after day, in a million ways, my parents provided.

“Think about what you’ll want to pay to ship or store,” my mom says. Which is practical and good advice.  I manage to prune away a few dozen math worksheets and duplicate theater programs, but I don’t get far with emptying the box.

Looking at individual items I don’t think there is anything specific I would miss if it were gone. But when I look at this collection, I see how much I’ve been loved–

–and I don’t know how to throw that away yet.

 

Eclipse, August 21, 2017

August 21, 2017

5:40 AM
I open my eyes and squint at my glow watch in the dark. 5:40 am. No Paul in the bed. I make my way downstairs to where he sits on the couch with his laptop.
“Are you and Mom ready?”
“No. Getting ready was supposed to happen after you wake us up when there’s a plan.”
“There’s a plan.”
“I’ll wake her up. Where are we going?”
“Kentucky.”

Our original plan, to depart the previous day for Columbia, Mo, was thwarted when the weather forecast shifted to mostly cloudy.
“And they’re saying maybe a thunderstorm” said cousin Jan on the phone, morose.

Carbondale, IL was also mostly cloudy. For a while Benton, KY, a mere two hours away from my mom’s house in Terre Haute, was a contender, until it also succumbed to a forecast of partly cloudy.
“So where, exactly?” I ask, as we assemble food–egg salad sandwiches, bottles of water and cookies–for the car.
“Hopkinsville. It should be mostly sunny, and the Waze says it’s a three-hour drive.”

Yes, we are chasing the eclipse.

8:30 AM
There were concerns that the traffic would be impenetrable, that the gas stations might run out of gas, but except for a stretch of single lane traffic near some bridges under repair, the traffic flows, plus, we realize midway there, Hopkinsville is on Central time, so instead of arriving after nine, we’re in town by 8:30.

Handmade signs advertising $20 and $30 parking in people’s yards dot the road into town, but as early birds, we get a free parking spot on the curb just a couple blocks from downtown. There are just the beginnings of a crowd. Pedestrians emerging from hotels around town, others arriving by car and marveling at their parking luck. A line of people gathers at the 6th Street Café, which I assume is a breakfast spot. According to news reports, 25,000 people are coming for the eclipse, and the town has been celebrating through the weekend,with live music, food trucks and eclipse swag. But these festivities ended on Sunday, so although we see many eclipse-themed T-shirts, we see none for sale. The trucks with ice-cream, tacos and the like are not yet open, although the lemonade truck is doing brisk business already.

With the temperature rising, we wonder what we might do for the four hours until the celestial moment. The public library looks like a good prospect—especially since I have write a pitch that will be due soon after our return. (As Paul likes to say of our freelance life, “it isn’t a vacation if there’s not a deadline at the end of it.”) But approaching the front door, we see a sign saying the library is closed for the day.

I wander behind the building, and see a small valley with trees that looks cool and shady. It’s a trail that is part of the the town’s greenway. My mother and I take the path,  which turns out to follow a slightly stagnant creek, and emerge at the end into a park that boasts some play equipment, a picnic area with three tables and a view to the street and a Sherwin-Williams Paints. It seems less-discovered than some other places, and there’s  a place to sit, so we decide to settle in.

11:00 AM
We’re sitting at a picnic table under a shelter. Next to me, my mom reads a book. Across from us, Paul plays on his new ipad. On the table, some potato chips and egg salad sandwiches, and, fluttering in the light breeze in a way that is slightly concerning, our cardboard solar glasses. I’ve got my laptop open, with hopes that the right words for my pitch will magically flow from my fingers, but I’m distracted, not unpleasantly, by the world of here and now.

The tables around us are occupied by a Spanish speaking family who I judge to be from Spain. Have they come all this way for the eclipse? Behind us is a very talkative teen. Non-stop talkative. He’s talking about how he purchased the biggest snow cone from one of the trucks. I can’t help but turn a sneak a look. It is large and every color of the rainbow. The pineapple section is sweeter than he’d expected, he notes, striking up a conversation with a couple perched on a cement barrier nearby. We had offered to share our table with the couple when they arrived, but they’d declined, perhaps wanting to avoid conversation. If that’s the case, their strategy has backfired. Where are they from, the teen asks. Indiana? He’s from Louisville, but he lived for a few years in Indiana. It was a fine place, in terms of the buildings, but over-strict laws. In elementary school his parents had spanked him—not abusive, he wants them to know, just the kind of discipline that was normal in Kentucky. But at school he’d told his teachers, who flipped out and started a year of oversight with a social worker before life could go back to normal, he said. The couple nods politely at this disclosure, and makes an excuse to relocate to a bench across the park.

A lone man comes and asks if it’s okay to sit at our table. We say of course. He is the first Asian man I’ve seen in the town beside my husband. I wonder if it’s coincidence that he would choose to sit next to my husband.

We debate our plans for the next couple hours. Should we stay in the park for the big moment, which is scheduled for 1:23pm? I lean toward this, liking the idea of viewing the event in a leisurely manner from the grassy field. Paul is of the opinion that we should make our way to the car before the eclipse, so that the moment after the moment of totality we can beat the rush to the highway back home. We leave it undecided.

11:55 AM
This is the official start time of the eclipse, and everyone looks through their glasses at the sun—a glowing sphere that through an E15 filter looks like a glowing moon. The change in shape is not yet apparent. The moment of totality is almost 90 minutes away. Glasses come down, but the chatter gets louder and more animated. The Spaniards talking in Spanish, the talkative teen reciting every European and Slavic country where his various relatives are from.

12:10 AM
“It’s there in the upper left corner!” someone says.

I step out from under the roof, and look up through my glasses into the sky. It’s black. Black. Through the glasses, I can’t see anything but the sun. I finally get my head turned in the right direction, And there it is,—a bright sphere with an circular corner obscured. Exactly what you would think one spherical object moving in front of another would look like.

We finalize our plan. Paul decrees we shall stay at the park until 12:45, and then spend the last 40 minutes of the event near the car. And if it gets too hot, we can get in and turn on the air-conditioning.

12:20 PM
Paul sees a bug crawling on his bag. It is pale, has pincers and is the size of a small ant.

“Scorpion!” he cries. He shakes it off his bag and announces that the time to retreat to the car has been moved to now.

We make our way back along Main Street. On our right, we pass various government buildings and churches, their parking lots full of cars, their lawns full of people with chairs, blankets and canopies. It’s like a pre-football tailgate. Across the street, in a residential yard, we hear the gulp of a speaker being plugged in, and then, loud enough to provide party for the whole block, Rick James’ “Mary Jane,” begins to play.

12:40 PM
We’re back at the car. The sun in the sky looks almost, but not quite, like a crescent moon. The proportion and arc of line aren’t quite right. It’s more like if a Pac Man had a curvy mouth instead of straight angles.

We cross the street to the county clerks office.  Paul and mom sit on a bench in the sun, while I, always deferring to my paleness, retreat under the awning into the shade

1:00 PM
Although there are no shadows, the sun feels less bright. I can join my family on the bench. There’s a faint cool breeze. I look up through my glasses: The sun is a quarter full. It now definitely looks like the moon –but like a moon in a children’s book, its corners a little more acute and C-shaped than the moon we see in the sky.

Small clusters of people walk past away from the main crowd. Maybe they’ve had our same idea of avoiding the crowds, or maybe they are locals who have realized that the sky is visible from anywhere in town.

A tall lanky man arrives crosses the intersection toward the crowd.

“Oh yeah,” says Paul, “I’d forgotten that Kentucky is an open carry state.”

For a moment I look in the guy’s hand for a beer then realize that Paul is referring to the large handgun nestled in the holster on the man’s hip. He’s wearing dark jeans and an oxford cloth shirt. No uniform. No jacket. It’s jarring to see the gun on a civilian walking toward a large crowd of people.

A group of teenagers approach, carrying the inflatable air loungers. They set up on the brick walkway next to us, lying back and gazing upward in a way I’m too paranoid to do. There’ve been enough rumors of fake glasses and news stories about waking up partially blind that I limit myself to quick glances, even through my glasses. I wish I had their seeming peace of mind and lack of worry about the future.

1:20 PM
The breeze kicks up and the sky darkens, like before a summer storm. The streetlights start to come up, activated by the false dusk. Above us, the sun is a sliver in the sky.

1:23 PM
In the distance and the nearness, whoops and screams. I let myself watch the whole transition as the light becomes a line, then a shorter line and then a dot. And then—nothing. I remove my glasses and look up. A circle with a white fiery ring around it.

Around us, the world is not as dark as I’d expected, partly because the streetlights and the large LED screen blinking through the windows of a bar across the street. The horizon is purplish. I take more glances at the orb in the sky. I’m not sure how long its been. I put my glasses back on and wait until on the opposite side of the sphere a spot of light appears, then a line. The sun is coming back. The world around us seems a different color than it was before. Pinker? But not pinker. Yellower maybe. Warmer.

1:26 PM
“Ready to go?” asks Paul.
I am taking notes, trying to make a memory.
“Seems like you could do that in the car”

That’s what I do, trying to get the details down before they are gone.

1:39 PM
In the car, we’ve already turned north onto the Pennyrile Parkway out of Hopkinsville. In a few hours, I will read the Facebook statuses of drivers trapped in the bottleneck and Paul will be vindicated. For now, the traffic is slow but moving, we’re headed home. I crane my neck to look out the sunroof. The sun is a 1/8th crescent. Removing my glasses to look out the car window, the world looks normal, like any other day when a thin cloud passes in front of the sun.

The List is Long but Not Insurmountable

This past Memorial Day, I did not feel like BBQ’ing. Instead I was struck with the idea that I should tackle a task that has been on my To-Do list for nigh on five years: transferring a dozen VHS tapes to a digital format so that the tapes could be discarded.

This entailed purchasing a converter box and accompanying software, borrowing a PC computer (the software doesn’t work on a Mac) and a working VCR.  There was a false start about three years ago when the VCR only played with a time-code window that couldn’t be turned off without the remote, which we did not have… The computer returned to its owner and I lost momentum… for about three more years. But the power of list is strong, and a vaguely guilty sense of obligation can push when passion does not, so for the last week I have returned to the cause.

 

The recording process entailed watching much of the content on the tapes — which ranged from boring-to-watch, to embarrassing to emotional. My mom looks like my sister. My brother has more hair. My father was alive. But everyone was also so… them. So exactly the people I know that it kind of stabs you in the heart.

I, too, sound the same and look like a younger version of myself, which is… I don’t know. I think without any evidence to the contrary, one can begin to think that one has progressed from some mild stupidity in youth to wisdom–but the person I see on screen doesn’t seem to be in need of any great advice that I might now possess…

One tape is a “video portrait” I did for my first ever video class.  I interviewed a friend for the portrait. In the interview, he says “I have lists for everything–you can ask me my favorite songs, movies, television shows, friends–anything. I probably have a list for it.” This was true — he was (and remains) someone who has always amazed me with his ability to categorize and rank his preferences for all sorts of things.

I, on other hand, do not have those kinds of lists.  I’ve taken part in a dozen writing workshops where we are asked to introduce ourselves and mention out favorite books or writers. Despite having experience that has taught me this will be the first question, I often come up blank.  I despair as password authentication questions trend away from the factual: “What is your mother’s maiden name,” toward the subjective: Who was your favorite teacher?” I don’t have a favorite song or a list of favorite songs…

I do, however, have a list of things that at some point I thought would be good to do and have become part of mental To-Do List that keeps turning up in my brain like that pair of florescent sunglasses you bought at a gas station a decade ago on the way to the beach and now keeps reappearing under the car seat.

I don’t know how many items are on to-do list, or which items are at the top.  But today, the list is one item shorter. Small victory.