2023 in Snapshots

  • I started 2023 in Memphis. The first photo I took in the new year is dated January 1, and it’s of the Graceland gates, circa 4:30, 5 in the morning. I was on my way to the airport and figured I’d just swing by. Nobody was around.

     

  • I have a regular day job – with a salary and benefits – for the first time since the economic collapse in 2008-9. I work remotely. I actually got a promotion, the first promotion of my life. The job has been a steadying factor and has made a lot of things possible.
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  • I spent the winter/early spring immersed in Martin Scorsese, researching After Hours (and its surrounding context). This felt like a continuation of last year’s Scorsese-a-thon, when I was working on the Raging Bull essay. 2022 I got a handwritten thank-you note from Martin Scorsese. 2023 I talked with him on the phone for 45 minutes. Progress.
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  • There’s been a lot of family time this year. Time with nieces and nephews. Everyday things, not just special visits. Going to lacrosse games and color guard competitions, and also just hanging out. There’s still a novelty aspect to it, because of Covid and 2020, a terrible year for our family, made worse by the separation. And my brother and Melody and the boys are here now too. I get to get to know my adorable nephews, which really wasn’t a possibility when they lived in los Angeles. They are the sweetest. When I pull up in the driveway to see them, they are often standing there, outside the door, waiting for me. Heartcrack.
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  • I visited Chicago twice this year. Once in the spring, after going to Ebertfest with Mitchell, and once this fall, to see Mitchell in The Lehman Trilogy (it – and he – were phenomenal). I connected with friends, had brunch in Andersonville, hung out with Mitchell’s boyfriend Christopher, watched movies, walked along the lake shore, just where I used to take runs back in the day. There’s no place like home.
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  • Spent as much time in New York as I did at home. I went down a couple weeks a month, staying with Allison, going to screenings, working in coffee shops, going to Bloomsday, going to a one-act festival in Bushwick, having brunch and dinner and drinks with all my people. Keith, Dan, Farran, Charlie, Ted
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  • I have re-connected with Wade. Old-timers will remember: Wade! “Swann’s are beautiful and mean” Wade! “Dude, you need to be gentle!” Wade. After years of no contact (he’s not on social media), he reached out and we picked up again as though no time had passed. I welled up with tears at my first sight of him. He remains just as laconic and hilarious and smart as he was the first day I met him on the 1 train headed south from Columbus Circle. It’s easy with him. We’re just naturally in sync, and always have been.
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  • Re-connected with Liz, too. College friend. Old old friend. The pandemic just solidified a lot of distance with people I already hadn’t seen in years. We had brunch at a place on the East side, and sat there for hours. And hours. And hours.
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  • Spent a couple weekends with my Aunt Regina and her husband Garry, out in Queens and then also at their idyllic isolated place on Long Island: we took the ferry – and then Siobhan and the kids drove. It was perfect. Cousin time, sibling time, family time. I also stayed in Regina and Garry’s place in Queens during one of my New York stays.
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  • A dream come true: or, a dream I didn’t even know I had, or allowed myself to dream: I presented Viva Las Vegas at the Paris Theater in New York. I introduced the film and felt so in my element, so un-nervous, un-stressed, it was like it was a natural extension of my everyday life. 35 mm print. So many friends showed up. Sheila, Liz, an old co-worker whom I’m friends with on Instagram, my old boss, Keith, Ian and Spencer, Stephanie Zacharek, Greg Santos, Charlie and Yvette … and then strangers too, Elvis fans, people just walking by and seeing it was showing. Elvis brings them in!
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  • My car died. Basically disintegrating underneath me as I was driving. I had hoped it would last until the fall, because I had some big expenses coming up … but no. I had to buy a new car, like, now. With the help of my sister Jean, I found one. It’s “old” but it only has 50,000 miles on it. We call it a “grandmother car”. Some old lady probably owned it and used it only to drive to church and back, and to visit her grandkids who lived 3 miles away.
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  • After two years of “squatting” in friends’ apartments, and compromising – mightily – in the apartment I found – out of desperation – I found a place to live. It’s almost too perfect. I live in the second floor of a little house – basically in the roof – my ceilings are slanted, there are little doors in the walls leading to the eaves, and dormer windows, etc. The house has a yard. And a porch. And it’s a 10-minute walk to the beach. I wake up in the morning and it’s so foggy I can barely see across the street. I never planned on moving back here. It was never in the cards and the fact that I am in New York for two weeks out of every month gives an idea of my ambivalence. But I had to move back here for family reasons and Covid changed everything. At least I live in a little house by the beach, battered on one side by wind and rain, wreathed in fog on the cold mornings. I even have a study, an actual study. Compensation. I’ve had my family over for visits, coffee, donuts, walks to the beach. I’ve never been able to do this before. My place is a work in progress – still – with scattered boxes and piles of stuff I still need to organize – but it’s mostly set up.
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  • All this being said, I’m spending more than half of January in New York.
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  • Tons of time spent with Allison. Staying at her place. Renting little places out of town, in the woods somewhere, and chilling out. She came up here for Thanksgiving, her third time, a new tradition.
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  • Went to three plays put on by the local community theatre. I am now a subscriber. They do such good work. I am so impressed. Jean and I went to see their Merry Wives of Windsor, done outside on a hot summer night. The play is so stupid! The company really leaned into the madcab Three’s Company-episode-esque absurdity. Jean and I were dying. Then Lucy and I went to see two plays – The Book of Will, which Lucy loved so much she went to see it twice – and Much Ado About Nothing, which Lucy of course hadn’t seen. Lucy was afraid beforehand she wouldn’t understand it. I told her the whole plot to prepare her. And then, of course, she understood every word. And was laughing hysterically at some of the shenanigans. Again, so impressed with this company’s work.
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  • Got new glasses, with big thick black frames, designed by Oliver Peoples (!), retro Buddy Holly style. I adore them.
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  • Had a blast interviewing Peter Sarsgaard – !! – in a QA following a screening of his new movie, Memory for which he won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor in Venice. I have admired him for so long – I saw him in two plays back in my grad school days – Kingdom of Earth and Burn This – and my first encounter with him in a movie was seeing The Center of the World at the Angelika, way back in the day. Shattered Glass solidified my feeling that he’s one of the best actors working today – but in such an understated sneaky way. You don’t see “the work” at all. It was an honor meeting him! And talking with him in front of a packed house at the Jacob Burns Film Center. And I finally got to meet Todd, who’s been commenting on this site for basically 20 years. It was amazing! Bonus: my dear friend Jen came – we were roommates for nine years; in fact, we were roommates when I started this blog. and Siobhan came too. We all sat together in our reserved seats and … not gonna lie … it felt really good to have them there!
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  • Just a month ago, in New York (of course), I went to a workshop reading of Alex’s show – a musical based on her life – ! called S/He and Me. Mitchell flew in for it, which was such a treat! I haven’t seen Alex, one of my dearest friends, since early March 2020 (think about it), when I went to go see her in Wicked on Broadway. Her contract had just started. Our time after the show was brief and glorious – but then the pandemic came and Wicked closed (I’m so glad I caught it before everything shut down) and I haven’t seen her – or her wife Chrisanne – another dear friend – since. This is the longest we’ve gone without seeing each other since we first met. So first of all, I am so proud of her for everything she’s accomplished in the last bunch of years, but selfishly I was also over the moon at seeing Chrisanne and Alex again. The day of the workshop also happened to be World AIDS day. The tiny audience – 20 people – all wore red ribbons. Alex has AIDS so it’s a huge part of her story – as is her survival, beating every odd on the planet – but it’s not just her story, it’s also the story of her generation, and ours. A generation of elders was wiped out. Afterwards, Mitchell and I went out for drinks, and raised a glass to all the friends we have lost. We felt so lucky and grateful and happy. The show was amazing and Mitchell and I – sitting in the front row (Alex, to us: “Really? Really?”) – were absolute wrecks for much of it. At one point, during the extraordinary song – sung by Alex – paying tribute to everyone who died of AIDS – I felt Chrisanne’s hand – reaching out from where she was sitting behind me – and I reached behind me to hold her hand, and Mitchell’s hand reached out to me too – so we listened, all gripping on each others’ hands for dear life. The score was amazing. The show will for sure be hitting New York, maybe next year, so it was an honor to be in that room – invitation only – part of a tiny group of loved ones.
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  • Of course the books I read and the movies I saw make up an important part of every year, but I’ve written about them (or, at least the movies I saw) elsewhere.
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  • Grateful for my life, although it’s still sparked with “divine dissatisfaction”, and a yearning to do more, accomplish more. It’s important to me – finally – to have balance, although I miss my exhilarating high-flung energy. It’s a trade-off I’m not completely reconciled to. But then I think of my nieces and nephews erupting into happy cheers when I come over for a visit – instantly begging me to sleep over – like it would be the most exciting event in the world – and I realize what I have gained by being able to be present to everything that is good. Present to it especially since 2023 is a 10-year anniversary for two life-changing events. Good to take stock and be aware of the magnitude.
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  • Here’s the beach at the end of my street on a chilly still morning.
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    Thank you so much for stopping by. If you like what I do, and if you feel inclined to support my work, here’s a link to my Venmo account. You could also subscribe to my Substack Sheila Variations 2.0.

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    17 Responses to 2023 in Snapshots

    1. mutecypher says:

      Wow, sounds like a very full year. One that you made the most of. Very cool that you reconnected with old friends.

      The glasses look good. I had to get glasses this year. Too many things were getting blurry.

      Best wishes on the new year.

      • sheila says:

        Yeah, my old prescription was a little outdated – it took me a second to adjust.

        I bought the frames at a little vintage shop in the East Village – so they’re actual vintage, not faux vintage – and they cost an arm and a leg, but I wear glasses every day and so why not get what I want, and also get something good quality!

        Happy new year!

    2. I was just working on my own year’s end post, and I remembered that I also got new glasses. (Well, kind-of–this time I got new lenses in frames I’ve had for thirty years but stopped wearing in 2000 or so when my prescription changed.)

      I really can’t believe what a mixed bag 2023 was for me. Some real highs that have me excited for the future, and some disastrous stuff that has me wanting to move to a shack in the Montana mountains (but without the Unabomber stuff).

      • sheila says:

        Kelly – yeah I bought the frames separately – there were no lenses in them – so I just filled it with the new prescription. You’ve had frames for 30 years!! those must be some well made frames!! I’ve had the same frames for about 10 years – maybe more – and I did love them. They were a dark green and very durable. But I wanted a change.

        I’m glad you have some highs – with hope for the future!! I have the same. The world in general makes me want to move to a shack in the Montana mountains. and 2024 is an election year. Great. Can’t wait.

    3. Beth says:

      I love all of this. And your glasses ❤️

      • sheila says:

        Unfortunately no swoopy frames like the famous ones you had in high school! Those are probably so retro they’d be in now!!

        Love you, friend. You’ve had a big year!! Ceileidh! Harper!!

        I need to have you over. let’s do it soon.

    4. Lyrie says:

      You’ve been BUSY! The “call Marty” note casually dropped on your IG made me laugh. But how cool is that?

      Your new place sounds like a dream. Although I understand the ambivalence. Right now, I’m trying to plan for the next few years – a novelty in my life, planning! And I can’t make up my mind: move to to the country where things are more affordable and quieter, or closer to a bigger city, with more opportunities? I have time to make up my mind, but I hate not knowing. I want it all. The quiet AND the opportunities.

      But I love seeing all the moments you share on IG with the kids. You showing them movies. Them showing you movies. Wishing you much more of that!

      I’m so glad I started hanging out around here again this past year. I had missed our convos! I finally started my Substack, and today’s post was in part inspired by you. It feels a bit weird cause at this point I’m just talking to myself, but in the section about the movie Men, I tried not to ramble, when really I just wanted to write: I WONDER WHAT SHEILA WOULD HAVE TO SAY ABOUT THIS. I didn’t write it like that so I don’t look crazy right away. Give it a few months, let people get used to me first.

      Anyway, it’s kinda like one of your blog’s bastard child. Look at what you you did! :)

      • sheila says:

        // I want it all. The quiet AND the opportunities. //

        I know!! I literally lived in NYC the longer I lived anywhere else – it was my home for many many years, so I’m just USED to it too. It’s good I live close – AND I am fortunate that I work remotely, so it kind of doesn’t matter where I am. I can sign on from anywhere. although not outside the US, I don’t think. lol believe me in the last couple of years I checked. “Can I sign on from Zagreb?” apparently I cannot.

        It is really hard for me to “settle down” anywhere – I always want to keep my bags and boxes somewhat packed – because I know I’ll just have to move again. I really want to stay here for a while though – NYC is a quick train ride away – and it seems to be working.

        The apartment hunt was a whole other nightmare – although I’m sure things are similar where you are – because it’s kind of how things are going everywhere right now. It was legit harder to find an apartment here than it was back in the NY area. Airbnb has decimated the rental market. I couldn’t believe it. I found this one through word of mouth – which is really the only way!

        Good luck with making the choice! the way I try to look at it is – okay well I’ll just try this out, see how I like it. Nothing is final. Kind of nervewracking to live that way lol but … it’s really the only way I can even MAKE these big decisions. I really admire/envy planners.

      • sheila says:

        I love that my blog has inspired a Substack!! Talking to yourself is definitely a great way to start. It’s how I started ! I wasn’t even looking to reach “an audience”. I was writing posts and my dad and my high school friends were reading them. ha!! so I have no idea how all this happened. Personally I think the best writing is where you get the sense that the writer is talking to themselves – where they’re just enjoying digging into whatever subject it is because they like thinking about that particular thing. A lot of people cannot write like this – you feel them straining for an audience! I’ll go check out your substack immediately!

    5. Lyrie says:

      // believe me in the last couple of years I checked. “Can I sign on from Zagreb?”//

      ha ha, no I get it. I’m wondering where in my country I can move – it’s not perfect, but no place is and there’s so much I love here. I’ve been asked if I’d move to the US, and listen, if Sera Gamble wants to hire me I’m in LA tomorrow morning. But other than that very improbable scenario? In 2024? No thanks. Nope.

      //Nothing is final. Kind of nervewracking to live that way lol but … it’s really the only way I can even MAKE these big decisions. //

      Same. I’ve never really had the opportunity of stability. It’s very new, and also very shaky, still. And I have very ambivalent feelings about it. I NEVER thought I’d live that long, so now I’m like wait, you mean maybe I should start looking into retirement? Will we even have a liveable planet in 25 years? I settle but not for long periods, and I’m always ready to bounce if something interesting comes along.

      // I wasn’t even looking to reach “an audience”. //

      Yeah, now that I’ve started publishing I get those Substack emails “build your audience”, your brand, how to broaden your reach, etc, and my gut reaction is “fuck no.” Then I think about it, and my conclusion is “fuck no.”

      I’d love to find people who enjoy my posts and want to engage in conversation, but if it happens it will have to be on my own terms. I have to adapt to everybody else everywhere else, I’m not doing that on my own platform. You can tell I am very good at selling My Brand, cause I didn’t even share the link with you, ha ha https://rhymeswithgenre.substack.com/

      In a way, your blog has been great training because I didn’t worry about anyone reading my comments here – not in the same way as when you’re the host, at least. I think you’ll find the tone and the obsessions very familiar, ha ha

      • sheila says:

        Thank you for the link! and I love the thought about you not worrying when you leave comments here – I think a lot of people felt the same way during my SPN-posting heyday and that’s why those threads were so epic. even though we all were “annoying c*nts” lol . it’s because we felt free and safe to just BE. so it’s a great place to start!!

        and yeah … I actually have an accountant now – like a real grownup. I started as an actress and now I’m a writer – and then I do “jobs” – contract work – to keep the lights on. None of us is about retiring. You don’t “retire” as a writer or actor. I’ve never worked at a place long enough – AND I was always freelance. Plus the overall Gen X skepticism and over-it-ness which I admit I have as well. The thing is – people like me – the bohemian types – are REALLY the ones who need tp “plan for retirement” – since we don’t make any freakin money as it is. so. my accountant at least has now set it up so maybe there’ll be a little something something there. but I’ll have to work until I drop, I came to that conclusion a long time ago.

        Whatever, I’m from peasant Irish stock, we know how to work!

        • Lyrie says:

          Yeah, no bohemians here, but white trash all the way – I’m the first of my family to finish high school – although I didn’t, actually. I was a high school drop out and managed to go back to uni a few years later. But same, I’ve always known I’d work until I drop dead.

          //even though we all were “annoying c*nts” //

          Ha ha ha we will NEVER let that go! It’s a badge of honor, really, and something I hope to carry over to my place.

          //I hope you enjoy the process!//

          Thanks! A few people subscribed and it made me want to delete everything but this time I’m resisting the urge and trying not to freak out.

      • sheila says:

        and I’m happy you started a substack – I hope you enjoy the process!

    6. Dan says:

      Happy (belated) New Year!

      Happy you found a place near your family. When I was younger I didn’t think twice about being far from mine, but as I cruise through middle age I appreciate being near them, and wish they all loved near by. (Visions of a Godfather-style compound here.) It’s lovely to watch my kids bond with their cousins like I did.

      Als0 – Wade! I forgot how funny that ‘got to be gentle’ story was.

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