Saturday, March 27, 2004

The sound of silence.

For those of us who remember the Chernobyl disaster, here's a first hand account of the present scars the disaster left on a region. Take a ride with Elena, a very brave and adventurous biker from Russia who chronicles her rides through Chernobyl with a photo essay on her website. Haunting, moving, and real. It was a day when normal life in a city stopped in its tracks when a nuclear reactor set fire, the people were evacuated and forbidden from taking anything with them. One day they were there, the other...

"People had to leave everything, from photos of their grandparents to cars. Their clothes, cash and passports has been changed by state authorities. This is incredible, people lived, had homes, country houses, garages, motorcyles, cars, money, friends and relatives, people had their life, each in own niche and then in a matter of hours this world fall in pieces and everything goes to dogs and after few hours trip with some army vehicle one stands under some shower, washing away radiation and then step in a new life, naked with no home, no friends, no money, no past and with very doubtful future."

Simply amazing. These pictures depict the Chernobyl area now, inside the abandoned buildings, empty roads, vehicle graveyards, and the plant itself, almost twenty years after the disaster. Yet they tell us so much about that day. And, about the consequences of our actions.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

I have returned.

I'm not going to reflect much on what it feels like to be back, because what's most important is where I've been.

Afforded the freedom of a car from a friend who had one to spare, I was able to drive where I wanted, and when I wanted. I came to Los Angeles poor. Incredibly poor. But I wasn't going to let lack of cash stop me from what I knew I had to do. Two days before I had planned to leave and had told everyone that I wasn't going to make it, I decided how silly that was. Silly to let a few hundred dollars keep me from going to Los Angeles, which I knew was meant for me to do. Everything was working out too well for me to ignore the signs. And those signs were pointing west. I was writing in my journal that on my death bed, I wasn't going to be glad that I saved money by skipping this trip, but regret that I didn't take the hands of so many people that offered them to me to get me there.

It is extremely hard for me to ask for help. And extremely hard for me to accept it even when I didn't ask for it. And though I resisted it every step of the way, help from others is not only what made this trip possible, but the wonderful experience that it was. I will cherish it for my entire life, and seeing the people whom I adore who allowed me the space and understanding to do what I had to do while I was there. And, to trust me to understand that they had lives and jobs that had to go on during my visit.

And that is such a change from when I left. I am usually a nervous flyer. I fret the week before and replay everything that can go wrong during air travel. September 11th didn't help this fear, and since takeoff is the thing that I'm most frightened of, I always try to get non-stop flights. However, when I learned that my flight would have a stopover in Cincinnati, I didn't care. And when the plane took off from Baltimore to Cincinnati, I wasn't afraid. Not because I'd suddenly overcome my fear of flying, but because I felt I didn't have much to live for anymore. Though I'd never do anything drastic, I've been feeling that way increasingly over the last few months and have had a pretty fatalistic attitude when it came to life. So, when our plane took off and bounced around, creaked and tilted as it climbed in altitude, I felt nothing. Normally, I'd be turned away, my hands on the arm rests in a white-knuckling grip, scanning the plane for a view of the flight attendants to see if they looked nervous in their jump seats. But instead I just sat there in first class (due to a buddy pass from my sister, a Delta flight attendant) with my head leaning against the window and watched as the harbor, roads, houses, trees got smaller by the second, then back at airport as we made a 180 turn and watched planes land on the runway or make their approach into Baltimore. All the while, feeling completely numb. It was the same thing when the plane took off from Cincinnati. I relaxed in my chair and five feet of leg room, unperturbed by my usual fears during takeoff.

When we descended into Los Angeles, it was raining and the cloud level was low. The orange and yellow lights from the buildings and street lights glowed from below and reflected off the streets and the 405 freeway during the thick of rush hour, was two arteries clogged with red and white lights. I wondered how long it would take me to get to my car and to my apartment, then realized that I didn't have one here. And that's how the trip went. It was as if I never left, and never moved to Baltimore. Thanks to my friend Felix, I had a car and could experience it that way.

A car, by the way, that had Bush/Cheney and NRA bumper stickers on the back along with Florida plates. I felt as if I should have a big chad hanging from the rear view mirror to finish off the theme. However, people let me change lanes with plenty of room and the guards at Warner Bros. lot were more than amused. They kept asking me, "YOU belong to the NRA?" Then, they proceeded to check every single inch of the car.

There is so much to report, but in short, I walked the sidewalks of my old neighborhood, sat at my old coffee shop and reconnected with the workers and customers who recognized me, saw my therapist who also generously cut her fee so I could afford it. I drove by my old Barnes and Noble and became instantly sad that I was no longer there. On another night, I went into the store, sat in the cafe and watched the customers, then caught up with the one coworker whom I recognized. So many new faces, even a new manager. I managed to see my friends even though I had only one night to spend with each of them, and once again, felt like we'd seen each other yesterday. Just having them around was invigorating, hilarious, reflective, bawdy, comforting and just all around great. I worked on a project with a friend during which I reconnected with the skills that I'd tucked away this last year. To live inside myself being so incredibly organized and confident, and regain optimism about the future and my part in it. To not be afraid to set my boundaries nor feel the need to explain them. To be tired at night and get a full night's sleep and wake up in the morning feeling actually rested.

To realize how strong I've gotten, and that instead of being at the end, that there is so much more to come.

And regardless of this newfound zeal and purpose, when the plane took off out of Los Angeles, I still wasn't afraid to fly.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

I'm sitting in the Starbucks on the Warner Bros. lot taking advantage of their computer lab with free internet access. I just finished visiting my friend Cathy on the West Wing and am killing time before I go to see Shannon. Speaking of shooting from the hip, that's exactly what they were doing today. They are doing another kind of filmmaking unprecedented for their show, and it was interesting to watch them work, and yes, struggle a bit.

My trip so far has been fantastic, thanks to the generosity of my friends, mom, and sister. It's brought me to this moment, enjoying an iced mocha in the middle of entertainment central and listening to the 80's new wave they're piping through the speakers. All around me, dreams of stardom are being realized and creative worlds and visions are being actualized. I still find it fascinating how much effort us humans will put forth in order to tell a story. To create a world that doesn't exist in order to better understand the one that we live in. The vastness of the lot and the stages, the intricacy of the sets, and all the people that it takes to pull one creative vision together. Art directors, actors, script supervisors, directors, writers, make-up artists, wardrobe specialists, production assistants and so many more. In short, dreamers. So as I sit here, I am comfortable and at peace. Most important, is that I don't feel like a foreigner anymore.

On another note, most times with visits back to your home town that have you picking up with old friends, there are usually loose ends. Suddenly, you are in the position of having to tie them back up. Some of these loose ends, time takes care of and you can enjoy the comforts of friendship without the discomforts of unspoken words. With others, you must be the one to speak those words and hope that you can reach an understanding that will leave you friends. I had to do such a thing, and the only thing to do now is wait for the dust to settle and hope for the best. Friendships can be a very complicated, delicate thing, especially when they are between men and women and span several years.

Funny, as I type this, REM's "End of the World" is playing. But it isn't the end of the world. It's the beginning of something new. Something different.

This trip has also served as a reminder of how many smart, interesting, funny, quirky, and talented people that I know, and how being around them brings out the best in me. I know that I'm on a week vacation and that I'm looking at the world through rose colored glasses, but I don't remember smiling this much in the recent months. Make that year. Smiling at people, at myself, at something I see and not having it be forced. I thought that perhaps I'd lost that ability, but it was just dormant and waiting for an opportunity to surface. How good it feels to have the corners of my mouth turn upwards on an almost unconscious level.

I guess that's what happens after you make that scary jump off the high dive. Eventually you surface and can enjoy the water.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

So I jumped after all.

Greetings from Los Angeles. I'll be sure to post details of my visit here in days to come. The important thing for now is that I'm here. Yes, only a week, but I'm here.