Chloe Zhao gave me the red pill, Sharon Van Etten is teaching me how to fight
Act I: Portland looks best under the pink moon
As April takes its last breaths, Portland has been completely taken by a floral firework display. The streets are piled with the shed confection of the cherry blossom trees, and I see kids playing in the piles like I used to play in snow. On my evening walks to work, the cars that drive past me, having just left parking spaces under the branches, disseminate the petals like confetti blasters at the superbowl. It has turned the grey of pandemic fatigue unexpectedly festive. When the pink moon made her appearance on the 26th, I finally understood the significance of the name, and my enchantment with the PNW reached a new level.
I’m a casual observer of the moon. I note the cycles most often in relation to my need for a fresh start. A new moon is a signal of the time I should take to consider the integration of something fresh. Two weeks or so later, when a full moon makes her appearance, I take equal pause to consider what I should let go of. Fold in and shed, fold in and shed, fold in and shed. Though the aspirations of these mini resolutions usually surpass what I am capable of in that moment—more prayer than practice—the exercise of considering what I need, or what I should let go of, in line with the wax and wane of the moon is grounding regardless.
The moon is just one aspect of a broader interest that I have had in astrology my entire life as a result of my family. My maternal grandmother has been a practitioner of astrology since my mom was a kid, and this was passed down to my mom, and now me. I don’t believe that astrology is a legitimate form of future telling, but it’s an approachable tool for self reflection. The cancellation of astrology is often carried on the shoulders of misunderstanding, as people’s signs are so often used as a.) as an excuse for bad behavior and b.) by those who are well meaning but haven’t done the reading. I am a gemini, but in no way is that an excuse for being two faced.
Last year, the pop-astrologer Chani Nicholas released her first book You Were Born for This. Chani guides the reader through her process by using a star chartyou can get after typing in a few personal details. The results of the chart act as a guide, asking the reader to reflect on how the characteristics of their chart may lead to a greater understanding of their own patterns, and therefore, their personal potential. Its self help more than anything, the fuel is just astrologically based in the sky you were born under.
I can charge my crystals and write down my intentions, but at the end of the day I know that it’s my self actualized commitment that will make things happen. Balancing the value of both is key.
Act II: Should’ve known better
In preparation for the pink moon on the 26th, Chani Nicholas had extolled the information via a video on Instagram that Monday’s moon was going to be in Scorpio.
“Under these skies what needs tending to gets loud, whether that’s our grief, whether that's our longing, whether that’s a hunger that’s never been satiated. The full moon in Scorpio, that arrives on Monday, April 26, at 8:32 pm PST makes clear that it’s undeniably important to witness, tend to, and care for the aspects of self, and life, and body that have been waiting for such attention.”
I pocketed the information for a casual journaling session I would try to get to after I came home from work that night, and went on with my day.
I usually work the closing shift at the sensory deprivation tank center from 5-10:15 pm, doing laundry and leading floaters to their tanks, content in the rhythms of the workplace I’ve held since September. This shift overlapped with the Academy Awards. Having lost my faith in institutions like the Academy to acknowledge the breadth of quality in the industry long ago, I wasn’t particularly disappointed that I would be working during the livestream of a highly altered awards ceremony; but because I still hold an interest tied to my hope that things will get better, my mom was updating me with the Oscar results via text.
I was folding laundry, listening to a podcast with one AirPod in, when Siri took it upon herself to read my mom’s update.
As Siri read each individual exclamation point, I found myself crying at the news. Thankfully,I was alone in the back, because seeing the puddle I had become would have overloaded every sense our customers were attempting to drown out, as I stood puffy eyed and leaky nosed with a towel now drenched as proof of my emotional upheaval.
Chloe Zhao is the second woman, and only Chinese woman, to win an Oscar for best director. Many, many more have deserved it in the 11 years that have passed since Kathryn Bigelow wonfor The Hurt Locker in 2010, but the Academy has met much of this work with silence.
I didn’t think that the lack of visibility had had an effect on me, but on the eve of this full moon, Chani’s information in regard to the depths of internal life that would resurface rang true.The news of Zhao’s win had reignited a dream I thought I had let go of long ago: to become a film director myself.
Oscar night was always a big deal in our house. My mom’s and my winters were spent at the movies, taking in the films that would end up on the short list of nominations from every awards ceremony. We would drive to Boulder for the discounted first showings on Saturday or Sundays, curled up side by side in the middle of the second to last row sipping our teas, deeply rooted in our mother daughter routine as we turned off our phones to become absorbed in someone else’s story.
Growing up, I thought that the closest I could come to the world of film was to become a costume designer, and so that was what I singularly pursued for undergrad.
I can’t deny that I have a passion for costume. Clothing is one of the most accessible tools of liberation, as it has the ability to visually translate an entire personhood in a glance. However, 6 years after I made the decision to leave directing as a potential professional pursuit, I now know it wasn’t because I didn’t want to become a film director, it was a result of subliminally internalizing the message that was still potent in the early-mid 2010s: that there wasn’t a place for anyone who wasn’t a cis, straight, White man in the director’s chair.
Part IV: The aftershocks
A day after this epiphany at work, I called and texted a multitude of people whose opinions I believed would provide some clarity to this overwhelming impulse TO DO SOMETHING about this reignition. This included my high school english teacher, friends in every time zone across the US, a bonus round of friends in London, and my mom...twice.
Are you surprised?
Do you think I could do it?
Should I go to grad school?
Where would I go to grad school?
Do you think I’m ready?
The questions went on and on, each person contributing their own thoughtful perspective from the very specific relationships I hold with each of them. It helped to a point, and then I became over-saturated. The hum of my brain had to be occupied by something other than my own panic.
Part V: Sharon Van Etten, patron saint of time and growth
When I’m feeling something, I want to feel it on all sides, and like a rat in a cage that gets food every time it presses a button, I listen to and watch content that thematically explores the very topic that is torturing me. In this instance, I began blasting the Sharon Van Etten album epic Tenon repeat.
Van Etten’s relatable lyrics have been a comfort to me since I graduated from college. Her albums often explore the ideas of retrospect, forgiveness, and self reliance. Having just turned forty, her discography is deep enough that her growth as an artist and as a person looking back at her own life has obvious markers of this natural metamorphosis. The song “Seventeen,” off of her 2019 album Remind Me Tomorrow, is a prime example of this. She dissects this step by step on the podcast Song Exploder,but in short, after collaborating with a younger musician, she began to sing the lyrics from the perspective of her present self to her seventeen year old self.
Down beneath the ashes and the stone Sure of what I've lived and have known I see you so uncomfortably alone I wish I could show you how much you've grown
Epic Ten was initially released in 2010 when Van Etten was 29. Detailing her recovery from a bad break-up with an ex who discouraged her pursuits as a singer/songwriter, she wrote the brunt of the lyrics after returning to New York City alone from a 5 year stint in Nashville. The songs are an extraordinary lesson in vulnerability, that follow the relatable arc of grief after exiting a relationship, especially one that was both formative and emotionally fraught.
Following the first song on the record “A Crime,” which is a ballad of frustration with residual feelings for a person that you no longer want to love, and “Peace Signs,” which is an upbeat focus on the evidence of getting over that person, “DsharpG” is a departure that is chock full of relatable questions of existence and the motivation for the life she finds herself leading. It’s not a coincidence that this is also the longest song on the record.
Why do they want? Who are we all? What do we do? What do we do? Everyone says I'm a fool to believe in that Everyone says I'm a fool to believe in that Following blind Following blind Following who? Who? Why do they mind? Why do they mind? What do they do? What do they do?
The first seven songs on this re-release are her own recordings, then on “side b” (only specified on Spotify if you are actively looking at the screen), she had fellow musicians, the likes of which include Courtney Barnett, Vagabond, Lucinda Williams, and Fiona Apple, cover the seven tracks in their own style. The result is a reflective pool of fresh interpretation.
Van Etten has provided a bastion of hope in the form of her songs, proving that time and distance does lead to perspective, and that when we share our experiences with others, the power of our own story can be harnessed far beyond what we ever expected.
If you really want to have a moment, listen to the original cut of “Love More,” and then Fiona Apple’s, cover back to back.
Part VI: Conclusion
I was in oil painting class when the full moon finally reached her peak. The emotional tumult of the day leading up to my evening class had resulted in the impulse to just blow it off and stay home. However, I pushed through the cloud and gathered my supplies. I disconnected so I could focus on capturing the still life of a burgundy tulip and eucalyptus branch, and reached a state of calm that seemed desperately out of reach a few hours before.
Moments are fleeting, as are emotions. By the end of class I felt more settled, and a week on, I have reached a more balanced place with my resolve to pursue the possibility of a path as a film director. However, living my life presently needs take equal priority. Applying to grad school, and going out with friends in a city I’ve yet to truly discover can live side by side, even if it feels impossible at times.
It's okay to fear, everything is real Nothing left to steal 'cause we're alright We're alright.
We Are Fine Sharon Van Etten
I’m alright, and that’s what matters.