Damn this year, amirite? Just to get that out of the way – the major, macro level things were fairly crappy and damned near traumatic, weren’t they. David Bowie to Carrie Fisher, Prince, Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder, Florence Henderson, Debbie Reynolds and on and on, even in geopolitics, Janet Reno and Fidel Castro, all trampled under this blind troll of a year.
And then there was an election that may yet have consigned us all to hell. I definitely feel like I’m in a hellmouth, being frog-marched toward the flames. After a year and change of being forced to listen to Donald Trump, I was looking forward to having him turn into an obnoxious footnote of history. I wanted so bad to forget this asshole by Nov 9, the garbage he had said, the mockery it made of a Presidential election. That he won the election – that he won despite his opponent receiving almost 3 million more individual votes – probably makes me the most sick out of all the major level disasters of this year.
If you’re wondering about the goldfish, well that’s the real point of this post. Trauma and tragedy extended into my personal life; and it’s been difficult to grapple with given the noise and fury of political and social losses.
My dad’s baby sister, my aunt Sister Virginia passed away in May. My dad is down to just one little sister, after growing up as the middle child of eleven. Sister Virginia was always a no-nonsense, organized and take-charge sort of person. The (gigantic) family hung together because she kept everyone’s phone numbers, mailing addresses, email addresses, and birthdays, weddings, baptisms, etc, together and knew how to reach *everybody*. What I didn’t realize because she was always bustling little bundle of energy in a Franciscan nun’s habit, was that she was always a bit anxious. And she kept the anxiety in check by helping other people, her family, the students of the school where she taught years ago, the elderly women of the convalescent home where she spent the last dozen years of her life working, and so on. When I was a child at family parties I didn’t find her very warm and sweet, but she was always moving, getting food and drink for her aged mother, singing or dancing, clapping for others as they sang or played guitar, looking after kids when they fell and scraped their knees, finding extra chairs for extra guests, and cleaning up when everything was over. Sister Virginia rarely sat down and never stayed sitting for long.
Lying sick in a hospital bed, racked with pain, Sister hated the family coming to see her. *Hated* it. And it finally sunk in then, that being in a position of helplessness was her worst nightmare. When I saw her the doctor was frustrated that she wouldn’t permit them to do more. From where she was, I was told, she’d have a week to live, maybe 10 days. She could extend that by several months if she agreed to further procedures. Well, the doctor was wrong. She passed away that night.
Losing Sister Virginia was a severe gut punch. But it wasn’t the only loss close to the family. My Uncle Frank – dad’s remaining little sister’s husband – passed away in the fall. And Ernestina Rivera, Tina, one of my parents’ oldest friends and a woman who had been in my life for as long as any family, passed as well. I’ll miss Tina and her wonderful cooking. Her husband, Hector, passed away last year. He had been a good friend to my dad for a good 50 years.
Of course, over the summer Paul Backer, one of my college professors, died suddenly.
And the goldfish? hehe- Well that’s part of some of the odder and less-horrible things that went on this year. Friends in Encino invited/asked me to stay in their house and take care of their goldfish while they went on vacation to Florida. The fish was the excuse, since I’ve cat- and dog-sat so much in recent years. They just meant to give me as much of a vacation as they could, and it was well appreciated. So, the fish itself. In my defense, the thing was a freak of nature. It lived a good six-ish years before kicking off. Just… did it have to do that when I was trying to look after it? At least I was warned it could happen, and furthermore instructed NOT to replace it. I can say this for it, it was the biggest won-at-fair goldfish I’d ever seen.
Other than that, I lizard-sat later in the summer at another house in the valley. 20 year old iguanas are fairly tough and only barely need some tending. So I fed him, avoided his claws, and relaxed in my friends’ house.
I don’t really feel like going through the year and the stuff I did. I can barely remember, honestly. But there were some really nice steps forward in the career and interesting artsy projects I worked on. I got into voice classes with some of my heroes – a workshop with Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, Matt Mercer and James Arnold Taylor, a class led by Richard Horvitz – and received some really nice compliments as well as endlessly useful insight and instruction from them. I worked on a text and voice message-based alternate reality game (ARG) that was all about Shakespeare. And I landed a fairly hefty gig translating content from English to Spanish and then recording it at home for a real estate video designer. It took a couple months to get through it all, but hey for a while there I was a real, working voice over artist!!
Between working on that project and the class with Richard I felt more and more emboldened to call myself an actor – something I already was, but felt nervous saying out loud. So before I could talk myself out of it, I joined a theatre friend’s workshop and now I’m part of the cast. I’ll be onstage in WONDER CITY next month at Son of Semele’s Company Creation Festival.
I got to fit in some adventures with friends, too. I went to Wondercon, which was a lot of fun. I like getting to panels (I find the shopping really tedious, there’s rarely more than what I’d find at a local comic store (that I’d buy, anyway) and I have to dodge throngs of people, some of who are wearing large bulky costumes with spiky armor or ridiculous weapons poking out). But the most amazing part of cons is always the surprise encounters. And frankly, that’s usually with friends I haven’t seen in a long time. Thiiiis time though…
I met Edward James Olmos!!!!!!
And that’s one of the crazy things that can happen to LA. Meet an actor, strike up a conversation, get invited to a movie screening. Okay, that rarely happens – but now I can’t say it never happens!
Back to talking about the family, we also fit in some good times. A few months ago my cousins put together a 90th birthday party for their mom, Teresa. She is the widow of my dad’s oldest brother, Tony. They hired a mariachi band to come and sing her favorite songs, and 90 being just a number, my Tía Tere got up and danced over and over, and even grabbed my sleeve so I would dance with her! And just last night we had a 91st birthday party for my dad at his favorite restaurant – a Chinese all you can eat buffet. My mom and sister invited everyone they could think of, friends and family. I got to see people I hadn’t seen in over 20 years. We all hugged and delighted in seeing each other – for happy reasons. For many years we’d only see each other at funerals (again, my dad had nine siblings who’ve all passed away).
So, that’s how it goes. Tragedy and worries, deep concerns for the future, as well as continued efforts in the career, and really cultivating more boldness. It’s really scary. I can’t say anything without mentioning that. I’m full of doubt, and when I look around at the world around me, everyone is nervous of what the next year will bring. Will we lose equal rights and harassment protections? Will businesses be granted the latitude to treat human beings as mere resources to be scavenged? Will the environment be ravaged without an ounce of protection? Will unions be completely undermined? And on and on…
There’s this saying, “as above, so below,” and I’ve watched it be true in human institutions time and time again. If the leader of an institution is thoughtful and calm, the institution they lead will be thoughtful and calm. If the leader is rash and prideful, so will the people who follow them. If the leader is either mindbogglingly stupid or crass and cruel, I’ve watched institutions follow suit. The man who is about to be installed at the head of the government – at least at the head of the Executive – is a frightening mix of self-involvement, pettiness, greed, and superficiality. And he is surrounding himself with people have shown open disregard if not disgust for the responsibilities of a government toward the governed.
I hate that we have to face this at all, to say nothing of being without our heroes, the big men and women who shined so brightly we felt like we could find our way.
I felt this keenly when Sister Virginia died. Who was going to keep the family together? Who would organize the major parties and keep the phone trees up and running? Who would keep all the old photo albums and baptismal certificates? It’s still painful to think about.
But it was at her funeral that I realized we were going to have to step up now. That if the times made me anxious, I’d have to take a page out of Sister’s book and see how I could serve others. Getting stuff done, like she always did, really does calm the nerves. My heroes may be fading out, but it’s time for us to be heroes.
Resist movement toward the dark, be a beacon of light. Does it sound cheesy? How cheesy were you feeling at the end of Nov 8th? People are going to need help finding their way. You may be one of them–we’ll all take turns. We’ll need light. We can’t hope someone else will provide it. It’ll be difficult, it might be frightening. But it’s never the wrong time to the right thing. Sometimes the goldfish dies despite everything you could do, and sometimes you meet a movie star and he turns out to be cool, friendly guy.