I'm sitting in a bustling coffee shop overlooking the bay in Port Townsend, WA. My grad school residency starts today, and I'm nervous in a way I don't remember feeling back when I was seventeen and moving into the dorms at California Lutheran University. Back then I was so desperate for independence from my (lovingly) overbearing parents that I think excitement easily trumped any feelings of discomfort.
This is different somehow, though I know many people probably don't understand why I'm investing time, money, or energy into an MFA program that takes place primarily online. All I can say is my gut knows it's what I need right now. I am the type of creative who does best with loose structure. There is a massive appeal in the idea of deadlines and semesters and study plans packaged in a format I can ultimately micro-manage myself- especially since I have such a clear idea of what I want to study. Zora Neal Hurston wrote in Their Eyes Were Watching God, "There are years that ask questions and years that answer". I am seeking so many answers right now, on both personal and universal levels, that regardless of what career opportunities the piece of paper may or may not afford me upon graduation, taking the time to delve in and get the answers I'm seeking is well worth whatever price tag the process may require. I say all this with a deep understanding and appreciation for how lucky and privileged I am to even be in a position to choose what I want to do with the next few years of my life .
My art has always veered toward the political, even in my younger days of charity benefits and anti-war protests. My decision to study art explicitly as a transformative means through grief, to me, feels more revelatory, more specific, more necessary than any of the causes I've championed before. For lack of a better word, it feels like a calling. And because of that, getting started (though exhilarating) is terrifying.
The other major difference is I'm no longer young. At some point over the last 20 years I went from being a Miss to a Ma'am, though I don't remember how or when that happened. I look in the mirror and it's not necessarily that I see someone old staring back out at me. I see someone bone-tired, with emotional baggage evidenced in the permanent bags under her eyes and the bloated curves of her cheeks. College in my youth felt like those cliche graduation speeches- I was on the verge of opportunity, a whole lifetime of decisions at my feet. Now, on the brink of my 40's, the decision feels less hopeful and more crucial, like there is somehow more at stake if I end up being wrong. If my friend JJ were still alive, this is where he'd say, "Suck it up, buttercup. You're younger 'n me! You've got time." But last week, as I walked through the school aisle at Target, picking out composition notebooks and thumbing through folders and binders, I couldn't help but feel like I'm running out of time. That there's still so much I want to say and do and create and help others with that I really need to buckle down, once and for all, or I won't ever come close to getting it all out of me.
That being said, I'm going on a self-imposed break from Facebook for the semester. You may or may not see me back on there between breaks. I spend most of my time on Facebook writing out and deleting comments/posts about my frustration with the current administration and America's media spin against ethnic and poor people. I would use social media more as a political tool except it all seems so ultimately unproductive and frustrating whenever I do go that route, and yet to use it otherwise seems complicit in a way I am not comfortable with, either. So instead of the negative energy I feel it brings to my life literally most part of most days, I am going to see what happens when I block it all out. This does NOT mean that I will not stay informed of world events or not take to the street when necessary (like if Mueller gets fired), but every individual can only do so much and I truly believe my version of "being the light" I wish to see in the world will best be realized when I can create art without such distractions. So if you need me over the next few months you can contact me via email or via my phone number, which has been the same since I was 18.
One of the first things I'll be working on during grad school will be playing Allison Bechdel in Fun Home with StageWorks Fresno. I can't think of a more perfect project to apply to my studies. Not only because of the obvious themes of processing grief, but because she's a character I think will sit comfortably in my bones because of our similar journeys with frustrating parental relationships . I won't be on Facebook to market it, but stay informed about tickets here. It's the first time I've had a lead in a musical ever, so that's also new territory that is simultaneously exciting and scary.
I guess that's all I want to say for now. Except for one last story.
When I got off the plane and got in my rental car and started the gorgeous two hour drive from Seattle to Port Townsend, a radio playlist on my Spotify channel started inexplicably playing a run of songs I associate with my mother- Michigan by The Milk Carton Kids, Rivers and Roads by The Head and The Heart, Dearly Departed by Shakey Graves. And a few more. They just kept coming, one right after the other. It felt like she was sitting next to me in the car, like she would whenever I'd drive her to the beach or on other longer trips. Her seat leaned back, her feet on the dashboard, singing along to the sporadic lyrics she had memorized by heart.
It probably sounds cheesy to say, but it felt like she was giving me her blessing.
And then, an Avett Brothers song that I've heard a million times before but never really listened to, came on. For the first time, I heard the lyrics:
I went on the search for something real.
Traded what I know for how I feel.
But the ceiling and the walls collapsed
Upon the darkness I was trapped
And as the last of breath was drawn from me
The light broke in and brought me to my feet.
There's no fortune at the end of the road that has no end.
There's no returning to the spoils
Once you've spoiled the thought of them.
There's no falling back to sleep
Once you've wakened from the dream.
Now I'm rested and I'm ready
I'm rested and I'm ready
Yeah I'm rested and I'm ready
I'm rested and I'm ready
Yeah I'm rested and I'm ready
I'm rested and I'm ready
I'm ready to begin.
Happy 2018, everyone!
2017 was the single hardest year of my life, no diggity no doubt. But from the lessons it brought, I think I am stronger, smarter, and more invested in using the precious few decades I (potentially) have left to do as much good for myself and others as humanly possible.
My mom would be thrilled to know I left my job this past fall. She hated seeing how much I gave to it and what little it gave me in return (aside from eye twitches and hand tremors). It's bittersweet that the inheritance I received from her passing is what helped make the decision to leave so much easier, but I am grateful for that gift every single day.
Speaking of...I applied to grad school last month, for no other reason but than my gut kept telling me to do so. I kept wrestling with myself over the cost and time commitment, deciding whether or not I needed to move, trying to figure out whether I should go for theatre, film, writing, or something more practical. I had lots of conversations with friends who have their degrees and all of them said, completely aside from any sort of career gains they had after graduation, the process itself was worthwhile and something they treasured. There is this Zora Neale Hurston quote from "Their Eyes Were Watching God" that I really love. It says, " There are years that ask questions, and years that answer." Starting with the call I got from my cousin saying I needed to get down to the hospital ASAP to say goodbye to my estranged mother, the past few years have asked many questions. I really think devoting the next few years to answering some of them could be a healthy and productive way to process my own grief and learn to better help others with theirs through my art.
The information for Goddard College sort of fell in my lap, as synchronicity is apt to do. Goddard offers an Interdisciplinary MFA through a low-residency program, and even though they're based in Vermont, they have a west coast campus in Washington. So I finally had the option of applying to a program where I could study all of my artistic disciplines in one fell swoop and stay in Fresno (I just have to visit Port Townsend once a semester). Did I mention their tuition costs are on the lower end of the grad school spectrum? I stopped wrestling with idea of going back to school and decided to at least just apply. The universe would deal with it. Maybe I wouldn't even get in and that would be that.
Flash forward to today. I just got home from a wonderful New Year's excursion to Portland with my college buddies. We even got matching tattoos in honor of our 20 year friendships and in remembrance of our friend Aaron! Sitting at lunch with my friend Barry today, the last meal before he was going to drive back to LA and I was going to get back to my regular life, I had an email come through on my phone. I'll let you read what it said:
So, there you go. One of my answers. Grad school, it is. And with a small scholarship, no less. I'm excited to see where this next adventure takes me. I hope, wherever my mom is, she knows I recognize this as a path I wouldn't be on if not for her.
I won a $5000 filmmaking grant this past summer, through the Central Valley Community Foundation. I'd tell you all about it, but CVCF wrote a profile about me on their site that basically covers everything I'd tell you anyway, so I might as well just direct you there instead: http://www.centralvalleycf.org/big-tell-filmmaker-profile-haley-white-noco
The showcase is this Friday evening at Warnor's Theater and tickets are free. If you're not doing anything, join the fun!
Lately I’ve taken to painting as a form of releasing grief. Some of my other preferred disciplines take too much patience, for the times I literally want to get my hands dirty and have something to look at right away. I’m not sure if I’m any good at painting or not- I certainly don’t know what I’m doing- but I enjoy it. I guess that’s all that matters. I’m currently attempting to work my way through visual representations of the different stages of grief. This is just to give me something to focus on, by the way. I don’t believe the “stages of grief” are really a thing. In fact, I think maybe when I’ve gone through painting something for all the different stages, I’ll paint something else that showcases how grief is really all the stages at once, over and over again, every day, for the rest of your life.
Ok, I’m just being dramatic now.
Even though Kyle was out of town on vacation, we wrapped up our reshoots for Maudie (my favorite thing I’ve written and directed, to date). I’d love to show you the film in its current, near-complete format, but I’m afraid that will have to wait until after festival season. So far, we’ve submitted to about a dozen fests and have had two different festivals reach out to us after coming across our IMDB page. Although I can’t show you the entire film, here are a few of my favorite stills from the reshoot: