As a New Yorker, I have a particular relationship to souvenirs, which is the instinct to say “I don’t need that!!” when faced with the possibility of accumulating more objects in my home. I live in a shoebox, where a minimalist approach is gospel. Glory be to the refrigerator magnet, that succinct reminder of travels past, that won’t gobble up precious square feet or storage space.
Some trips, though, I return with loot. These are trips that changed me, somehow. And the souvenir is not so much about the object, but the feeling that comes with it. On a vacation in Hawaii, I bought a small framed landscape made entirely out of banana leaves. I look at it and am reminded that there are beautiful things at our doorstep, and people who appreciate that beauty. At a conference that put me up in a triple-five-star resort—who knew there was such a thing?!—I brought home (wait for it) the espresso machine they had in every room, and which they sold at the gift shop. Because, damn it, I deserve some luxury in my rent-stabilized one-bedroom. At an art gallery in Portland, I saw a print that at first glance seems like an artfully-assembled collection of scribbled lines, but upon further inspection sneakily reveals the letters L-O-V-E hidden in the design. I’d just had a bad break up, and the reminder that such a thing could be hidden amongst even the angriest scrawl was a gut punch. I brought it home, and along with it, the feeling of forgiveness.
I’m in a strange land right now, even though I’m sitting at my desk, in my apartment, in the neighborhood I’ve lived for nearly a decade. I know this trip will be a souvenir trip, not a magnet trip, for I am certain I will be changed. But what will the souvenir be? I’m not sure of the object, but I do know the feeling—it’s fearlessness. It is surprising to discover fearlessness in a situation defined by panic and anxiety. But I feel it, like a dormant superpower awakened by the bite of a brave, radioactive insect. I’ve been unafraid to redefine my entire process of living and working, and feel reinvigorated by the fresh approach. I’ve been unafraid to say “I don’t know how to do that,” which has led to learning new skills and collaborating with brilliant people outside my usual networks. I’ve been unafraid to speak up in Zoom meetings more than I would in person, because it’s clear that no one really knows what they’re doing right now—and I suspect that that has been the case all along.
Three months ago, I would never have described myself as a fearless person, except maybe in the sense that I’d ride any roller coaster or see any off-off-Broadway play whose logline seems interesting. Whatever object I find to serve as a reminder of this long, strange trip, I will look at it and think: “The world is fragile, but it won’t break. Don’t be afraid.”
Los Angeles has suspended tickets for street sweeping.
It’s often hard to find another space
And getting a ticket is never fun
So I hope they keep this rule in place
When all of this is said and done
My wife doesn’t have to move her car
And I don’t have to move mine
It’s glorious leaving them where they are
And the streets look fucking fine
It is January 2020. I am sitting in the living room of our New York City apartment with my 5 year old, William. I am bored and a little anxious. After about an hour I start to ask:
“Do you want to go to the playground?”
“Do you want to play Go Fish?”
“Do you want to go to the playspace across the street?”
“Do you want to walk to Washington Square?”
“Do you want to go to Books Of Wonder?”
No, he replies.
Fuck. I check my phone mindlessly. Our babysitter Eden arrives and I am out the door. I don’t like sitting at home. Even before I had William I didn’t like it. My city days are spent wandering the streets or meeting up with friends or sitting in the park–these feel like helpful and nourishing distractions.
And now it is April 2020. I am sitting in a living room in upstate NY with my 5 year old William. I am bored and a little anxious. We listen to an audiobook about Jack and Annie who live in Frog Creek, Pennsylvania. We color. I want a break so I leave him and sit outside for a few minutes and realize that a pressure that has existed since the first day I became a mother has lifted. This feeling that I’m not doing enough with my child. This feeling that other mothers love this more than I do. This feeling that my own mother did this so much better than I did– I don’t feel it right now. I am able to say to my husband John, “I think we are doing a pretty good job”.
I watch my son thrive just being with his mom and dad, day after day. This does not mean that I am thriving. I am not. But I am also not filled with guilt about the way we are spending our days. We don’t have much structure, we don’t always do a craft, or take a walk, or bake a cake, or work on our letters. We just hang out. It is a relief. I think about my own childhood and how boredom and sitting around talking to myself were just ordinary, everyday activities. I think about my own mother and her mother and how hard they worked. Society’s expectations of their responsibilities were different than mine, but my guess is they didn’t waste their energy comparing and despairing the way I do. They knew the business of motherhood required a lot so they read books on the couch and didn’t feel the need to occupy their children every moment of the day. I am trying to channel them during this pandemic.
I think about my job as an actor and how it required me to show up and be present. I mostly felt like I was pretty good at it. But somehow, showing up and being present in motherhood has always eluded me. Until now. These days, they are so long and so boring. They are sometimes insufferable. But inside of them, I’m experiencing something new. The mundane, traveling through my bloodline and transforming me into a more conscious, patient, gentle version of myself.