Freelance by Jen

Consider me the No More Tangles of your writing needs.

I’ve been thinking about past lives a lot. In a world in which our hand computers readily access moments from the past, this doesn’t feel that strange. And part of me embraces it. Who among us doesn’t want to relive moments that made us happy? The additional beauty is that moments that made us cringe can disappear with the touch of a screen button (it’s all I can do not to completely erase 2009, when I was new to Facebook and didn’t understand that a status wasn’t the same as a middle-school diary).

We’ve spent the majority of our quarantine gutting – down to tearing out the shower and being able to fully see the crawl space – our master bath. This descriptor felt embarrassingly confident before, as the decrepit and mildewy space attached to our bedroom was not something we even wanted people to know about, much less use. (In fact, my mom, who has stayed at our house overnight on several occasions, a house that’s 1600 square feet total, said she didn’t even know it existed.) And in that process, it made me think of other past projects that I’ve worked on, which were all linked to home improvement and all ended up looking better and all brought a smile to my face as I remembered in that misty, water-colored-beauty-wash-of-time way.

Until this morning, when my husband, who is a big fan of Facebook memories since he has young children and can access their whole lives this way (super jealous of all of you with these abilities), held up his phone. On it, a video playing of me from four years ago, dressed as a human form of the sun, a character of my invention. Named Sunny Day, she was an always-wondrous, mostly-yellow lady who acted as if solar was a crazy and beautiful and fascinating world that she wanted to live in every moment.

It was my biggest stretch, acting-wise.

I worked in solar for two years, total. While I have long been a tree-hugger, often literally (I always got consent first), and a believer in recycling containers for personal use or in burning things that you can’t recycle that are burnable, I didn’t understand the science of renewable energy, specifically solar, in detailed ways. My husband is amazing at this. I could basically only sputter that it was good for the environment, or burble “Harness the power of the sun” or similar ridiculously general platitudes. When asked about the equipment or the connectors or the generator add-ons or electrical components or the grid, I would smile and refer said person to anyone in the company smarter than me, which was everyone.

The downside of solar was that there are limited ways to make it sound fun. This is where a lot of my job came to be. My colleague Sarah and I did our first video series about solar, meant to be entertaining, but very quickly not entertaining. Once we’d run through the main questions customers asked, we were stuck again.

So it was, in sunny August of 2016, that Sunny Day was born.

Sunny was not intelligent in the ways of solar, or in the ways of the world. She found wonder in little things, like the fact that a forklift transported panels to a truck that took that magic right to the houses, or that she could sit right on a solar panel and not break it. She awkwardly skipped and turned failed cartwheels. (Turned is really a strong word here, actually.)

It was not a stretch to play her. Because that little sun was me.

I was embarrassed to be playing the character. One former co-worker made fun of me because I had an advanced degree but was dressed in a long neon yellow wig, giant prop sunglasses, and a sun suit for money. Most people who saw the videos just laughed with no further commentary. Our marketing firm dismissed them as silly. The feedback, in short, was less than promising. And yet I continued to make the videos and appearances, for several months. And once a year, they pop up over the course of those corresponding months in memories.

Unlike most of my life in solar, though, I never deleted these memories. And until this year, I didn’t understand why.

There are so.many.things that I don’t understand. In the case of our remodeling the bathroom, Josh did most of the work. I just cleaned up and made it look nice afterward, and felt guilty that I couldn’t make myself try to understand the intricacies of building and plumbing and wiring. It wasn’t something that I could make myself want to understand. But I could grasp the bigger picture – having a nice space. And I could do all of the things to make the space nice when the hard part was done.

And that’s what Sunny Day provided. She took a complicated process and made it ridiculously simple. She openly didn’t understand the science, but knew that it was “really cool.” She didn’t pretend to be – in fact, she wasn’t even capable of pretending to be – something that she wasn’t.

So it is that now, looking back on the 160 days-plus of pandemic that has gripped the world, I see that it’s okay not to pretend to understand. It’s okay to narrow your worldview down to extremely simple pleasures, even reactions. It’s okay that I haven’t written a book, that I wasn’t behind building a vanity or a shower from scratch, that my major accomplishments have all taken place in Yahtzee with Buddies, even that I haven’t lost all of my Covid-19-pounds quickly packed on in March through May. It’s okay that I’ve had four terrible interviews and a whole lot of job ghosting.

While I’ll continue, daily, to have doubts in what I bring to the table, I also know what I do bring to the table.

Need a girl to dumb down smart things? That girl is me.

Song of the Day: Past Lives, Langhorne Slim & The Law. This was my first Langhorne song, and my honorary favorite, in a catalog that is solidly top-tier work. Absolute haunting beauty.

Bonus Song of the Day: Sunshine Day, my Sunny Day theme song. Tell me this doesn’t just make you feel a weird positivity.

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