Editor’s Note: We’re excited to announce that The Denver North Star will now be featuring periodic articles and columns from Regis University students in a new collaborative effort with The Regis Highlander. We hope this new endeavor will help bring our community closer together.
In March of last year, I was on a date with a model at a fancy Italian restaurant in Hong Kong. In March of this year, I was alone in my parents’ basement with a plate of chicken tenders. I ordered chicken tenders in Hong Kong as well, but that’s not the point.
I’m among those that had a ‘good’ life before the waves of COVID-19 swept me overboard. I’m a filmmaker and the third big project of my career was set to shoot in the summer. But by the end of Spring my entire industry wasn’t sure how it could even exist. Sure, the quarantined masses need entertainment, but how can projects be funded when no one has any income? If actors need to stay six feet apart, how are we supposed to shoot that romantic scene where they share chicken tenders?
I initially used the free time to finish a screenplay or two, as well as indulge in the video game Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Focusing on myself was beneficial, I grew as a person through this isolation. But I own a business and it’s not like my operating costs stayed six feet away. My business partners and I looked at options for ‘COVID-proof’ film concepts, but it’s very difficult to draw up battle plans for a large group effort when ‘large group efforts’ are illegal.
By June, I imploded. There’s only so much ‘internal growth’ one can attempt before weakening your sense of self to the point of collapse. Flurry, the hamster who lives on my Animal Crossing island, may be the sweetest being in existence, but she doesn’t actually exist. They may be tasty but I can only eat so many chicken tenders. I am a modest and frugal man, but even I have my limits.
There are only two options when faced with misfortune. One can stop, resign, and sink into the abyss, choosing to see the present conditions as insurmountable. Or there is strategy; it’s simply a matter of physics in saying that there are four choices when faced with an opposing force: you can go over, under, around, or through that which is antagonizing you.
COVID-19 is not an obstacle: it’s a state of reality. In the same way one wouldn’t lament the impossibility of breathing underwater, there is a respiratory disease that spreads through close-contact infection and it can’t simply be ‘willed’ out of existence. It’s not a stone in your path, it’s the uneven stones upon it. The terrain has changed, your tactics should change along with it.
By July I surveyed the peaks and valleys of 2020, those rolling hills that none expected when cresting the New Year. Filming anything this year seemed foolish, but remaining reserved until conditions cleared was clearly causing me to sink. John A. Shedd once said, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for”; the territory of 2020 isn’t a solid land, our peaks and valleys are the rolling waves of an unsure sea.
So, I crafted buoys to guide me. I found a great apartment in Denver, not as great as my apartment in Beijing but I learned to curb my conceit. I hadn’t done manual labor in years, but I found a part-time job loading shipping boxes into the back of shipping trucks so they can be shipped to the coast and into shipping ships. Each day is tough, dirty, and tiring, but I sleep like a baby. And I returned to college to finish my degree, having left to pursue my career; a decision that really floated until a force of nature ground the entire globe to a complete halt. Like Mike Tyson said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
The benefit of COVID-19’s all-encompassing punch is the psychological certainty in knowing that whatever you’re struggling with, there are multitudes who are just as unsure, unstable, uneasy, and unprepared for tomorrow as you might be. Chart your uncertain shores and look to be one of those facing this seemingly-ceaselessly-stormy sea with open sails.
Last year, my feet dangled over the waters of Victoria Harbour as Hong Kong struggled over who they wanted to be. This year, well, the rug having been pulled out from under me; I’ve no choice but do the same, head over heels about being up in the air and excited to see where I might land next. In the meantime, maybe I’ll get lucky with the in-flight meal, “Flurry! They’re rolling out the chicken tenders!”
Jesse Stewart is a writer, filmmaker, and now student at Regis University. Despite working around the world he’ll always be happy to call Colorado home (unless it’s snowing on I-25)