One Year Ago Today…

One year ago today, I lost my job to the COVID-19 pandemic. I woke up that Friday the 13th to an email that the theaters were closing and all cinema staff were being let go. Over the ensuing weekend I witnessed how strong and giving our film community and my friends could be.Y’know that scene at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, where the townspeople only have to hear “George is in trouble,” to come running to help? It was like that.

I cannot possibly detail, in one blog post (or a hundred), what life has been like since then. Mostly I’ve been staying at home, only venturing out for food or other essentials, occasionally meeting with one or two people at a time (when it was allowed), and quarantining completely when it wasn’t. With the new variants appearing over the winter, I even limited my trips to the stores and got my food and other essentials online.

For mental health purposes, I’m lucky that I live with my girlfriend and our cat. Even so, it has suffered. Since the weather has gotten better, I’ve tried to go outside at least once a day, and on especially nice days, I’ve gone for 20-minute walks. Luckily, I don’t have major issues with depression or anxiety, and since Cheetos Jesus is no longer in the White House, my minor to moderate issues have gotten better, particularly since early January, where –due to world events and the weather — my anxiety was at its zenith.

I’ve also had to grapple with the false narrative that more free time = more productivity. If the US had a working safety net, then I would’ve had a more productive year, but worrying about if your money is going to run out and when a vaccine will be ready doesn’t help with concentration. Now, things look more stable, but I’m still not working, movie theaters are still closed, and I haven’t seen the majority of my friends in person for over a year. Even with Zoom calls and FaceTime chats, I miss meeting people in person, or going out to a show and sitting amongst strangers. At least I know I’m not gonna catch COVID if I walk the streets of my neighborhood (especially if I’m masked), but I’m still not riding the bus.

Just as the nation and the world has grappled with truths revealed during these COVID times, so have I. Before we know it, the world will be whole again. It cannot be the same world we left, unless we want present-day injustices and suffering to last several more generations. And I cannot be the same person I was, but must become the person I wish to be.

On March 22, Washington State will go to Phase 3 for the first time since the pandemic started. And with everyone eligible for the vaccine by May 1, combined with a ramp-up in vaccine production, the future is looking brighter than it did a year ago, when the lights went dark in the theaters.

Update on the Novel 5, and More!

I have not one, not two, but three updates for all of you folks out there!

1.) I sent my novel out to my first readers on October 21st. That means I should get it back from them by December 3rd of this year. Once I receive their feedback, I will start writing the final draft of my novel.  You heard right.  After nine years of working on it off-and-on, the novel will soon be DONE!  Or, as Samuel L. Jackson would say, “This motherfucking novel will soon be DONE, motherfuckers!”  Thanks for the translation, Sam.

2.) Because I won’t be working on the novel for about six weeks, that means that I will have time to finally finish my updates from SIFF (two more to go), which has been stuck on half of Week Two since August.  Not only was that post put up two months ago, it was written more than two months after SIFF ended, so any movies I saw at the festival that would have come out in wide release by now (like Tabloid) have come and gone.

And don’t worry; I’ll provide links to the earlier and later entries, so that it will be easy to read them in chronological order.

3.) October 22nd marked two years since I arrived in Seattle. While not as momentous as my one-year anniversary (I celebrated by working, taking a nap, then meeting with my Chinese language exchange partners), every year I stay in Seattle means one more year that poverty hasn’t forced me back home, or into the streets. A small victory for the arts. 🙂

Bonus update! Since I will not be working on my novel for a month-and-a-half, I can finally catch up on my diary entries, post blog entries more regularly, and maybe scribble off some short stories and poetry — as well as revise what’s already written. In other words, I won’t be spending all this free time sitting around.  Well, actually, I will be sitting around, but it will be productive sitting around!  I also hope to become more serious about polishing up my French and Japanese language skills and actually studying what I learn from my Chinese language exchange partners. And, of course, there’s much work to be done on the job hunt front.

Here’s to a productive rest of the year!

Note: Both photos were taken in early November of last year.

Remembering 9/11

Times Square, busy as ever

Note: My diary entry that outlines the events of the week of September 11, 2001, is in a box in my parents’ attic on the other side of the U.S., so while the gist of what I remember is accurate, the actual order and execution of events may not be.

Ten years ago, I woke up, ready to work on some short stories on my quest to get paid for my literary pursuits, when my mom called me downstairs.  As I headed down to where the TV was, she told me that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center, and while I saw the repeated replays of the event (this would be the second plane to hit the towers), she had seen it live.

She had to head off to work, leaving me to watch as the first tower fell.  My dad called a few times, the last time to say that they were shutting the courts and he would be home soon.  In the interim, a plane hit the Pentagon, United Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania, and the second tower fell.

What I remember the most about that week was the fear: fear caused by the unknown.  Living where planes routinely flew overhead, it was eerie to hear the sky silent.  The first few days that planes started to fly again, we looked up every time we heard one flying overhead.

I had been planning on visiting some of my friends later in September, in Virginia, and while the events on 9/11 didn’t change that, I flew out only ten days after the attacks.  Had I booked an earlier flight, it’s possible that it would have been canceled. On the way back to Connecticut, I saw, outside the wing of the airplane, the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen.  Only years later, when I flew from Tokyo to Nagasaki, did I see a similarly beautiful sight: of Mt. Fuji, Tokyo Bay, boats, and clouds at various heights and distances from the plane.

I had graduated from college earlier that year, and so had decided to save all of my email messages from graduation on (the last email I saved is from the middle of February the following year).  Reading through those emails now, particularly the ones right before and right after the attacks, are fascinating in how most of them aren’t about the towers falling, or the Pentagon smoldering, but the logistics of putting together my trip.  In early September, i”m still ironing out details of my trip, while the ones immediately after September 11 are making sure everyone is okay and to assure them that I’m still coming.  Only directly, on September 12th, do I address the attacks and my feelings about them.  The same with my friends, with one friend mentioning how she saw smoke pouring out of the Pentagon on her way to work the following morning (September 12), how she saw people slowly driving by, and how she could smell the smoke through her car vents.  After September 12th, I mention checking airlines, buses, and metro lines to make sure they are still running, but I do not directly comment on the attacks.

For a couple days after the Twin Towers fell, I was paralyzed creatively, only wishing to watch Tom Brokaw every night as more and more information became available.  Then, on September 15th, I wrote a poem.  It would be on September 19th, however — two days before I left for Dulles International Airport — before I wrote any creative work dealing with the attacks.

The works in question were poems.  The second one seems trite now in some of its construction, but the first one — even without any tweaking — is still one of my stronger poems.  That Christmas, I framed a copy of it and sent it to my grandmother to help her deal with some difficult issues.  When she died a year later, it adorned the room where her wake was held.  It now sits in my parents’ room.

I have shared this poem before. I’m no longer happy with that version of the poem, however, so I thought I would share the original with you:

Time is a Jealous Mistress

Time is a jealous mistress
That always gets its way,
Whether it be tomorrow,
Or whether it be today.
It doesn’t give without receiving,
And it receives far more than it gives,
Yet as it passes, wounds will heal,
And Life will continue to live.

I used to get emails from national honor societies right after I graduated.  They always came with quotes.  I find it interesting that, right after the September 11th poems, this is the quote I wrote down from those emails:

“You can only protect your liberties in this world by protecting the other man’s freedom.  You can only be free if I am free.” -Clarence Darrow, lawyer (1857-1938)

The real tragedy of September 11th will be if our initial response to those attacks and other terrorist threats — increased spying on our citizens, black sites, torture, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (if that name doesn’t make you shudder, you need to read more Orwell than I have), security theater at airports, increased suspicion of Muslims and “outsiders” — becomes the lasting legacy of that day.  If we allow fear to overthrow reason and common sense, and our rights and the rights of others along with them, then we have not protected other men’s freedom, and have lost our own.