One of my favourite people in the world is called Laura Virginia. Or as I like to call her, "grandma". As a kid, I was subjected to long tortuous hours sitting around her odd angular kitchen table. My mom would ask her to tell stories when grandpa was in the war, or how they met, or that job that she had at "Martine's" when she moved to Sarasota. My sister and I would be subjected to these long, detailed stories about "back then".
I don't know when or how it happened, but those long boring afternoons have become some of my most cherished memories. Every time I get to sit with the extraordinary Laura Virginia I beg her to tell some more. She usually obliges, takes my hand, and starts by saying, "Ok my darling".
Now let me back up a little and describe Laura Virginia to you. She is not a perfect angel. She would readily admit to that with a facetious chuckle. She is a little rough around the edges. She's got a hard past and a tough demeanour. And if she points her finger at you, beware. Now that she is 92, I guess you have to watch out for her cane instead. However, she has soft white locks of hair, and beautiful kind eyes, and when she smiles you can't help but laugh along. She has got a voice that sounds like she should be on a Count Basie Orchestra album. She is beautiful. With all the wears the years bring in, she carries them with stride. She is now 92 and her body doesn't work the way she wants it to. Her eyes are nearly blinded by macular degeneration. She would say that she is a 30 year old stuck in a 90 year old body. To me, she is the softest, warmest, funniest person I know.
When I was a kid she was not easy on me. When my family was going through hardship, she was blunt and never let my character slip even though everyone else treated my sister and I as fragile. Personal problems were not excuse for bad behaviour. When I was sick she wouldn't let me watch anything other than the news. She would put two glasses of water in front of me, and say, "These better be finished when I come back in five minutes. You are gonna pee out this cold... today!" And you better believe she would be back in five minutes on the dot to make sure the water was gone, to refill the glasses, and start the clock again. However, after her tough talk she would kiss me on the forehead, to check for fever. She would always leave the room by saying, "I love you my darling."
I remember her stories of holding three jobs to pay for 9 of her rotten kids (she would always crack a smile and look to see if my mom was listening). I remember the stories of my grandfather in war. I remember how she used work at the drive through, because it was one of the only jobs available. She would rock the cradle of her baby with her foot underneath the drive through window. The Serena family has always faced hardships. Laura Virginia would always tell me, "but what are you gonna do? You can only get back up and keep moving forward. It's gotta get better at some point." We have always been a family of fighters. Do yourself a favour and find copy of Frank Sinatra's song "That's Life". You can get a pretty good idea of what this family has been through. All of our family parties usually end with this song. Everyone arm in arm, and singing at the top of their lungs...even if they mumble through a few of the verses.
This week, I have been dealing with some challenges in my personal life. My process with trying to get permanent residency has proved to be harder than I thought. I miss my family, including the incredible Laura Virginia. I have been under a lot of stress trying to gather everything I need. I called my mom for a few more important documents. I could immediately tell when she answered the phone that something was wrong. She told me that the amazing Laura Virginia was having a rough day and even grandpa was praying again. I spent that whole night tossing and turning worried about my wonderful Laura Virginia. I woke up and called again and luckily she was doing better. I got to talk to her on the phone. I told her to keep ordering people around (sorry about that mom and aunt Gina). I asked if she was feeling better, she replied, "well my body doesn't want to work properly anymore, but what are you gonna do? I'm gonna sit here and eat ice cream." What a great outlook. I don't know what else I can do, but I'll keep breathing today, but for now, I'm just gonna enjoy this ice cream that's in front of me.
I am learning everyday, that the stunning Laura Virginia made it through the hard yards. And anytime she was faced with adversity, she would shrug her shoulders, stand up, and keep moving forward because "What else are you gonna do". Well, I would put forward that there is a lot else that you could do. You could sit and have pity on yourself. You could blame others for your current lot in life. You could just give up on your dreams and try something else. However, if there is anything I have learned from the remarkable Laura Virginia, keep fighting and don't waste your time complaining. And for goodness sake, eat some ice cream.
I love you grandma. Keep fighting. I promise I will too.
I've started running and I don't like it at all. But I know its good for me, but I really don't enjoy it.
It all started when my friend Jenni invited to do a 5k park run. "Run at your own pace," she said. "You can walk as much as you want," she said. "It's a lot of fun," she said. So I showed up at 6:45am, surrounded by a lot of skinny people who looked like they might just float away if those big shoes didn't hold them to the pavement. And then there were those, who were forced to be there with their wives. You could tell who they were. The stayed on the outter fringe, and were obviously not awake yet. And then there was me. Someone who looked completely out of place. I didn't have the Lycra running shorts. Or the elastic headband with the little Nike symbol. I had a scowl on my face feeling like I had been tricked into something.
Ready, set, run!
So I had a great pace for about three seconds, and then panic set in. My inner monologue started kicking in asking, "What are you doing?" "This is rediculous." "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" My lungs started contracting and started feeling like stones in my back. My legs started hurting. I won't even get started on my shin's. My heart was almost visibly shaking my body. I ran for as long as I could, until my running partner Jenni, said "do you want to take a break?" Of course I didn't have any breath to spare to give her a verbal answer, so I just shook my head. For the rest of the 5k I took turns walking and running. Anytime it looked like I was gaining color back in my face, Jenni asked me to start running again.
I remember seeing the finish line and expecting to have this incredible sense of victory or triumph. I was hoping that the feeling would rise up within in me and inspire me to cross that finish line with my hands held over my head. I was hoping the chariots of fire music would start playing in my head, the way it did when I ran in my elementary school's kids olympics. Sadly, none of these things happened. There was no swell of music, and no inspiring feelings. There was just a feeling of, "please God, let it be over." I crossed that finish line, and the guy patted me on the back, and as encouraging as that was supposed to be, I wanted to punch him in the face for being part of the torture. I sat on the fence trying to catch my breath, but that didn't work. So Jenni shoved me into a car and said, lets get a coffee.
It took a long time for my body to finally recover. And that's when it hit me. I did it. I DID IT! Sure it was hours later. But I DID IT!!! I had so much energy. My body hurt so bad. But it was the good kinda hurt. It was the soreness that comes when you worked really hard at something. It was a great feeling. Well maybe saying it was great feeling would be a stretch, but it was a well deserved feeling.
Ok here is the part of the blog where the moral of the story comes out. Thinking about that day, I realized that is probably a good picture of what the last few years have looked like for me. It has been a daily struggle asking God, "What am I doing?" All that I have undertaken over the last few years have seemed like insurmountable mountains, and sometimes naively forgetting the sacrifice that is required. But now that I've crossed the finish line for this particular season, I'm jumping up and down saying, "I DID IT!" I'm a little sore and battle worn, but I did it. Every time It looked like I was getting comfortable, the big guy upstairs would start pushing me to start running again. Despite how my physical need for rest kept nagging at me for the last several years, I knew there was someone running with me through this journey. I knew that I was apart of a much large race than I thought.
My point is, when you are called to something, you have the strength within you to carry on and cross the finish line. When you feel like you are going to quit, look to the people running with you. When you don't have that, think of the people that have gone through the same thing and finished ahead of you. I know this isn't super eloquent. But I learned a lot from it. Running is getting a bit easier now, at least mentally. My body still hurts a lot, but at least I know running is worth it.
It has been a long time since I have done much with my website, so I thought I would re-design it, to make it more useful. I've erased all of my past blogs in hopes to start a fresh. I hope you enjoy it.
As the world is meant to be ending by Myan calender standards, I thought I might jot down a few observations about my year. After all, the world is ending, so a little honesty couldn't hurt. I feel I have been living in a paradox of values the last couple of years. On one hand, I work full time as an unpaid volunteer in an international not for profit organization, On the other hand, Most of my time is focused on the creative side of things in the world of film. These are two completely different worlds, with completely different values. Nonetheless, I love them both.
I have accomplished a huge life goal this year with the completion of production on my first feature film called "The Umbrella." This will be my directorial debut (prounounced the america way, because it sounds cooler than deboo). And with that comes a personal, end of year assessment. How did I do with it all?
First off, I am very proud of the fact that me and my team of five staff, accomplished a feature film in the first place. that is not an easy feat to tackle. That took courage, I think, and even though this a personal assessment, I can be proud of those facts. Second, I would not trade the experiences with the 25+ crew and 35+ cast for the world. I have worked with some incredible talent over the last year, not to mention discovering the raw talents of someone who may be going far in this industry. It just so happens that he is my best friend, and co writer on this film. But the experiences will never leave me.. Standing under a rain machine in the cold wind at the end of a Jetty for an entire day. Guerilla filmmaking in the city, trying not to get arrested by police. Getting goosebumps at landmark performances. I feel privilenged to have these experience with these fine people.
But as I look back, I realize that this has also been the hardest year of my life. The stress, the pressure, and the looming fear of failure can bring the worst out of people. I don't know exactly how I did, but I do know this. I could have loved more.. I could have been more patient, more kind, less envious, less boastful, slower to anger... but most of do better and keeping no record of wrongs. I think of the familiar passage that is often read at weddings. Well I would like to change that today. I will read it at the end of the year and learn those painful yet powerful lessons all over again. I hope you will join me in learning as well. I love you all. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.