Let’s say you’re a magician and tonight is your first big show for an audience - your big break. Somehow, that small YouTube video you posted in your garage blew up and now people want to see what else you can do. You’re excited, your audience is excited, everyone’s excited. As the show goes on, things are going so smoothly. You’re getting a lot of Oooo’s and Ahhh’s and then you decide to pull out the big guns - even though it's a trick that everyone’s seen 1000+ times - the one with a tabletop full of dinner china and you pull the tablecloth out from under it without breaking anything. It’s the oldest trick in the book - other than pulling a rabbit out of a hat. You’ve got this. Then you pull.
Everything comes crashing down. Every plate and drinking glass shatters as they hit the stage floor - I picture the shot in Titanic when all the plates shatter as the boat sinks - the silverware clangs, each with an extremely high pitch that hurts your audience’s ears that they, and you, and instinctually cover their ears to protect them, while squeezing their eyes shut. A few moments later, after the audience has stopped screaming, caught their breaths, and uncovered their ears, you stand, look out into the audience and that’s when you see that the dinner knife has landed sharp, pointy side down, in the carpet, at an audience member’s feet.
That is what it felt like for me (and probably most, if not all, of the world) when the pandemic hit.
Prior to 2020, on the surface, I was never bored. I was performing every Monday night with the Fans of Mumo at Musical Mondays, line dancing every Tuesday and Friday at Oil Can Harry’s, attending a traditional weekly TV night that had started way back in 2010, working fairly steadily on TV/movie productions as a background actor/extra (which I LOVE), driving for Uber (which I didn’t love), was leading a writers group for TV writers, and working on a few promising pilots myself. I’m a workaholic and by keeping myself extra busy and thinking about everyone else, I was ignoring some deeper issues.
Prior to/As 2020 began, I was slowly tearing off the onion layers, processing some traumatic events in my past. Meanwhile, when/as/while Donald Trump was in office, a lot of people in my life started showing their true colors of bigotry, etc, which brought up even more feelings that I still feel guilty for as I’m writing this. Everyday there was something different in the news that DT said or did and we (or at least I) couldn’t keep up and got extremely overwhelmed. The world I trusted and felt safe in was crumbling almost, if not faster, than when Dorothy landed in Munchkinland. I’ve learned tons more about how unsafe this world can be in the last fourish years than I have my whole life - and still have tons more to learn - about my white privilege, how one sided my entire education was, and how extremely sheltered my childhood was.
To be clear, I grew up in a conservative Mormon/LDS house where there’s still tension because of my sexuality - which, if you haven't discovered it by now, I identify as gay. It’s not like I was locked up like Disney’s version of Rapunzel during my entire childhood... Probably more like Sleeping Beauty - conservative enough to “keep me close to home” yet, not enough freedom to explore new things to discover my own identity; not just about my sexuality… everything. But that is a completely different post.
As 2020 started, just before Covid, my life made a drastic left turn. My best friend from college died from breast cancer.
Nikki Gwin - 1977 - 2020
She was the first person, yes, the very first person, to show me unconditional love. (At least, that I noticed. I’ve learned stories of others over the past few years who showed it to me but I didn’t even know about - that's how sheltered I was.) As I was processing her death and Covid was beginning to make headlines, I auditioned for the LA Wranglers, a line dance team associated with a local Los Angeles bar called Oil Can Harry’s. I made the team and was given a schedule for the year of our planned performances. (I really don’t know how I made the team because my thoughts and emotions were all over the place during that audition, lol). Slowly, while other countries were going on lockdown, these performance events were getting cancelled. Then went Comic-Con, WonderCon, other travel plans, money, toilet paper - gone, gone... gone, gone, gone.
Going from having my days filled to zilch was difficult, to say the least. Questions went through my head of: Now what am I going to do? What is the world gonna look like after this? How do I pay my bills with just one $1200 stimulus check? How long is this going to last? What will my job be like? I can’t drive for Uber and put myself a risk, should I though? I need to eat. Am I going to be evicted when I can’t pay my rent? Who can I go to if I need to borrow some money?
Social Zoom calls worked for like a month, but even those started stressing me out and feeling more like a tease. Then, it got worse - local businesses were dropping like flies - more specifically, the gay bars.
When Rage was officially sold, the bar where Musical Mondays was held, I wasn’t that surprised. Rumors had been floating around for a while and I’d kinda already processed this as six years prior, when the bar Eleven closed, the place where Musical Mondays LA originated. The uncertainty of where the weekly event was going to be held brought on so many questions and emotions and everything turned out great. With Rage gone, Musical Mondays is now homeless again. I'm not sure where we’ll end up, but I believe that The Fans of Mumo/Musical Mondays will be back and better than ever!.
During 2020 I had to stop going to therapy because I didn’t know when/where my next paycheck was gonna come from. I was so stressed that there were days that I couldn’t get out of bed and was sleeping 16 hours a day. Memes were being posted that said “If you don’t come out of this with a new skill, you’ve wasted your time!” and they made me feel so guilty for sleeping and not understanding what I was feeling. Then I saw a post that made so much more sense to me. “Now is your chance to just take a break.” With the world literally on hold, there were no distractions for me to avoid peeling away these onion layers I’d been [half] ignoring. I started small and learned (still am learning) to forgive myself if I didn’t accomplish anything that day, even if all I did was get out of bed. I started by cutting back on social media, journaling, doing daily yoga again, reading two chapters of a book a day, and world building some short stories on days when my stress wasn’t overriding my emotions. It was and still is really hard, but I started to give myself permission to say YES to things/thoughts/emotions that I’d usually say NO to regarding my self care and mental health. I also chose to begin the mourning process of ‘The Before Times,’ as people started to say, so that when this was over, I’d come out feeling at least somewhat more stable than I was currently feeling.
By Fall of 2020, Oil Can Harry’s was the last thing that I was still holding on to from ‘The Before Times.’ Rumors swarmed that the building was for sale, but nobody had bought it yet. Could it be? Was there going to be at least one thing from my past that would still be in my future? At the end of 2020, Oil Can Harry’s was officially sold and closed. On February 8, 2021, I learned that the OCH sign had officially been taken down from the building - the nail in the coffin.
Honestly, I don’t know how I feel about this yet as I’ve already processed a bar closing on me and adjusting to a new venue with Musical Mondays, and the pandemic isn’t over yet. The faces I saw at OCH will be seen at another bar, and it will be lovely, but OCH, will definitely be missed. I’ll probably have a rush of emotions when humans are given permission (and I feel safe) to mingle socially again. But until then, I still have some personal work to do.
After almost a year of being alone, by myself, with my own thoughts, and nobody else around, I think (No, wait, I know! Be more confident, Chris!) I’m actually starting to see a new life for me or at least a better version of what I was aiming for before the pandemic hit.
Somehow, during quarantine, I was led to Tarot cards - both as a creative writer's block tool and a mental health, constructive therapy tool.
Over this past year, I’ve learned some major insights about myself - like, even though I was (am?) a social butterfly, I’m an introvert, with extrovert tendencies; that the reason I didn’t know who I was/am is that I was unknowingly suffering from FOMO, like, all the time - comparing myself to my friends, their families, their accomplishments, their relationships, and thinking I was lacking in comparison. I was able to have a chiropractor help me alleviate some of my back pain - had to stop because of finances, but between that and the daily yoga, my back is feeling soooo much better. I was able to organize some creative thoughts about the stories/worlds I want to create/write/tell and found more of my voice and, if everything goes to plan, I hope to self publish some short stories on Amazon later this year. I still want to work/write TV, but this is my path for the time being, and I’m learning not to force too much all at once.
And now, February of 2021...
TV/movie production has found a way to continue, so I’m back to work. The Wranglers are still together - even though we don’t have a rehearsal space. The Fans of Mumo are welcoming when I do have the strength to Zoom with them. I’m learning to recognize love when I see it - from my friends/chosen family and learning to accept how blood doesn’t automatically make someone family (there’s a lot to unpack there, so we won’t here). I’m feeling more comfortable in my own skin than I think I ever have. I’m learning to live a more flowy lifestyle, and doing things that I want to do and not asking ‘should I do this because so and so is doing it’ kinda thing. I’m being selfish and because of this, I’m actually beginning to feel, dare I say… happy? But, like, anxious-happy because I’m still not sure if this feeling I’m feeling is anxiety, happiness, or like a weight has been lifted off my chest - if that makes any sense. I'll journal about it and get back to you.
I’ve noticed that I’ve started to see the glass half full instead of half empty, that I am not as emotional over online trolls as I once was - I mean, it is still a work in progress, but there’s definitely been some personal growth there. I'm not sure I ever had the opportunity, or even gave myself the opportunity, to love, find, and accept my true self until 2020. Reprogramming my brain has been really hard, but I really glad I'm doing it. I’ve only scratched the surface and I still have a long way to go, but I’m feeling really good about where I’m heading. I’m learning to be okay with being a human who is still figuring it all out. By taking a bunch of steps backward, getting rid of a lot of "noise," and looking inward, it looks like I am going to come out of this pandemic with a new skill after all.
Yes, the handling of the pandemic from the USA has not been good, but DT is gone (hopefully forever) and there’s a new administration in office. If worse comes to worse, and you’ve read this far and I've depressed you, just remember that the next generation to hold positions of power will be more caring of LGBTQ, POC, female, and are more aware of mental health than the States have ever been and were homeschooled with parents who were day drinking.
Whatever you are feeling right now, it’s valid. My unsolicited advice? Remember to take this one day at a time. Stay strong. Wear your mask(s). Get vaccinated when you can. ‘The Before Times’ will definitely be missed but I can’t wait to perform a comeback magic show, full of self confidence, love, and acceptance, that’s not just for one night, but every single day.