On a Wednesday Morning.
I'm cleaning for cash.
On a Wednesday morning, I’m cleaning an Airbnb for cash.
Texas is hot. Severe heat warnings hot. Film work is slow. The thought of a 12 hour day in 110 degree heat is unthinkable.
I’m cleaning for cash.
In this lull, I find myself with coveted time to write. Yet here I am. With time. And mostly I sweat and stare at walls.
Too much to say. Nothing to say. I sit at my desk.
Except now. Except here where I am supposed to be cleaning.
I stop the vacuum to write this down.
Perhaps my art is derived from having to squeeze it in on the sidelines. The only flow I’ve ever known. I’ve been writing into my phone in bathroom stalls while on the job for as long as I’ve been grown.
Maybe I don’t know what to do with time except rest. Maybe that’s what’s needed.
I’m looking at my phone, at a picture taken from space. Bolts of light across my screen, all containing different galaxies. I am struck by how delightfully tiny we are.
Our world is burning. Flames of grief and rage. Our sweet dying planet. It’s bickering people.
We haven’t slept right since Roe v. Wade.
I can’t bring myself to put on clothes, tape an audition for “officer number four” or a character only referred to as “mom”.
I’ll be paying off the school loans that bought my BFA until I’m dead. Smiling and holding my hands up to the camera to make sure they are fit to hold a can of hard kombucha in a close up is not the acting career I’d imagined when I was studying Shakespeare. No hard feelings. I’d rather clean a house than be a prop that sells one more thing we don’t need.
I pray I am finished allowing the industry to determine my personal and artistic worth.
$100. I take the dog with me to condo to start the laundry, change the sheets. I sing a song about how it’s “take your pup to work day”. I’m stripping a bed. She’s bored. She’d rather I was throwing a ball. I tell her, “I gotta pay the bills — you’re a dog so you don’t know about that.” A sigh. She lays down.
I’ve been watching my friends, my fellow dreamers, get famous since I was teen. Some of them are on Broadway, in Oscar nominated films, designing multimillion dollar sets. I’ve ridden in their Teslas, dined in their mansions, attended their weddings in distant destinations. I’ve peeked inside lives idolized. A good many of them are friendships I continue to cherish. Some are quite happy. Some are the loneliest people I have ever met. Some were heiresses to great fortunes and have never bussed a table. Some are chased out of bars by paparazzi or smash their phones because they never stop ringing, or wish they could go to the grocery store unbothered.
We all pull our pants on one leg at a time.
Fame, in my mind, has lost it’s shine.
There was a time when I arranged my catering shifts around not running into friends I might be serving wine to at entertainment events in New York City. Months earlier I’d had steady directing work, been auditioning for series leads, fancy agencies with a brief and skin deep interest in me. Then gone in a blink. Shame kept me from pouring wine for my peers. I’d failed. I couldn’t bear the pitying stares, their sentiments — it just hasn’t happened for you yet.
I’ve surrendered to this thing where I’ve stopped waiting for my turn and started living. It turns out living is far more complex than yearning. I don’t have the living stuff all figured out. Most of it seems to be about having the patience to sit still and be where my feet are. Most times, like Nina in the Seagull, I don’t know what to do with my hands. What to do if not worry about how it hasn’t happened yet. It embarrasses me to admit this. Or perhaps it relieves me.
I’ve arrived. My birth certificate will tell you so. I happened.
I think of my 12 year-old self. How proud I think she’d be of the weird-ass-fantastic life I’ve cobbled out of scraps. Crowded around my kitchen table with a home full of queers, a box of wine, shared fables from our lives as we oscillate between belly laughs and tears.
We have arrived. We have arrived.
I keep thinking about a podcast with Ocean Vuong — the bittersweet moment of seeing his mother, who had worked her entire life in a nail salon, applauded for the simple fact of having a famous son.
Capitalism has taught us there is no honor in the simple task of folding a bed sheet, cleaning a toilet. It has taught us the reflex of asking what someone does for a living instead of how well they’re sleeping. It has taught us productivity is a currency.
We have done something unforgivable by turning art into something consumable, buyable — a bunkmate of greed. I often wonder what Banksy thinks of their art being sold on t-shirts.
With great pride, a friend tells me their partner is often recognized in bars because of the internet — their corner in it.
It feels important to them that I look impressed. I smile, though it feels goofy to applaud the clout of the artist rather than the art of the artist themself.
In my hand is a screen holding the internet, wherein you can find news and conspiracy, Shakespeare and court room controversy, photos of both the Kardashians and of the galaxies.
There is nothing, anymore, whatsoever, that does not feel like nonsense.
I wonder what Van Gogh ate for lunch most days.
Who is it that we hope to impress with the internet’s smoke in mirrors stamp of success?
What if we just took a nap?
In the Guggenheim hangs painted renderings of still frames from a movie on Black cowboys directed by a Black Queer artist named Dayday. They are painted by a white woman. The woman does not name or credit the artist who created these original images. She is quoted talking about the erasure of Black people. She is applauded for these paintings. They hang in a museum.
This is the broken logic in which we swim. It is unsurprising that many of us currently feel as though we have scrambled eggs for brains. Our bodies crave a different truth than the one being served.
In a week’s time I’ll fly to Los Angeles to shoot a small role in a feature film. To play. To act. To play a queer character. A job like this has never mattered to me more. Or less…
Mostly I’m looking forward to sitting on a familiar beach with my grandmother and having a laugh about the fact that I went all the way to New York then Texas just to book work in the city that raised me.
Scratch that. We will laugh about something else. Something absurd. Something about that time my grandma’s bra fell off in Denny’s. The way she uses her hands to punctuate words.
I’ll clean a house or two before then. I’ll cook a few simple meals and sleep in a bed. A privilege I too often forget. Somewhere someone is complaining and sending a steak back. Somewhere a person is carrying a child they don’t want to be forced to give birth to. A young couple is asleep in their honeymoon bed. Someone just spent their last dollar on a new pair of work shoes. Someone is working overnights to pay off medical bills. Someone is being fitted for a suit. Someone is being shot in the street for a traffic violation. Someone is kicking heroine. Someone is laying their lover, their mother, their brother, their dog to rest. Someone is taking their last breath.
I’m cleaning a house. I’m floating in a pool with my face to a full moon. I’m waking in a bed full of animals as my best friend says, “Young King, your coffee is ready.” I’m eating left over crafty for breakfast. I’m taking my meds again. I’m tinkering with writing a book. I’m cleaning a litter box. I’m wiping my mother’s tears as she recovers painfully and joyously from a long awaited surgery. I’m packing a suitcase. I’m paying a parking ticket. I’m hugging and hosting my friends. I’m watering plants. I’m getting comfy in my own company. I’m aching for love, for partnership again. I’m sitting in the soft duality of being alive. And I’m making a bed. I’m folding someone’s sheets and making a bed. I’m holding a photo of the galaxies in my hand. A dog who knows nothing about paying a bill is teaching me the simple pleasure of feeling the tall blades of grass beneath my feet and I’m alive. A little speck on a moment in time, I am alive. I have arrived.
About the author
Jen Parkhill “JP” is a first generation Cuban-American artist and proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community. Cat dad, writer, filmmaker, actor, friend, and graduate of the Tisch School of the Arts, NYU.
Hurling through time.