Day in and day out, we’re told by journalists and public health authorities that 2020 and now 2021’s events are inflicting collective trauma on the general public. There’s no question that they’re right.
So how do we continue to live through uncertainty, death and isolation? How will we treat the trauma that will cast long shadows over the future? I’d like to see more discussions around these questions as we approach a return to communal living.
A talk with my friend Eric West is a good place to start. If you’re not familiar with Mr. West’s work, here are some of the greatest hits.
“An actor, singer, songwriter, dancer, model and record label owner. Eric West is considered one of film and television’s fastest rising stars in Hollywood, with a wealth and variety of performances to his credit. Named “Hottest Actor of 2013” by Cosmopolitan. West also drew major attention in the fashion world being named by the publishers of GQ and Vogue a Style Icon and Innovator. West was awarded the “Next Award” by Vibe Magazine and nominated for the Best Actor Shorty Award for this role as Garrett in USA Network’s hit “Satisfaction”. West also won the NJ Webfest Award for Best Ensemble Cast in a Comedy for the hit web-series “Labeled”. West has also appeared on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert and danced with Rihanna on the MTV Video Music Awards”.
We met in 2014 and I was instantly struck by his capacity for joy and generosity in places characterized by despair. Eric is a person who could maintain a happy mood at the DMV: it’s easy to picture him sitting in a windowless room smiling while children’s screams bounce off his Gucci sweatshirt like raindrops.
Back then I longed to understand his ability to walk through life’s inevitable pain with unshakable faith in the basic goodness of people. That core belief seemed to inform his perspective on the abundance of opportunity for growth and connection as well. I’d become a deeply cynical New Yorker by 2014, embattled from morning to night in the struggle to live with dignity in a city where affordable housing, basic transportation, employment, and authentic connection were in short supply.
Those complaints seem almost trivial after the past year, which finds us starting 2021 in a state of crisis. During yesterday’s inaugural speech, President Joe Biden mentioned his solidarity in grieving for the 400,000 American families who’ve lost a loved one to COVID. He also acknowledged that we may be moving into the most deadly phase of the pandemic.
Longing has become necessity when it comes to identifying techniques to survive this chapter. So I asked Eric some questions and he was kind enough to answer.
Elsie: The first thing that struck me about you was your joy. Believe me, it stood out in sharp contrast to so many of us who were drowning in New York’s non-stop friction. Would you say it’s easy to be happy?
Eric: “Thank you. I appreciate that…
…for me, it’s very easy to stay happy and joyful. I remember a friend of mine once saying to me “whenever you’re down, you always play inspiring music, nothing sad”. I never realized I did that until he pointed it out. Life has so many layers, up, down, even further down, up again and down again. Being aware that not every day, every moment, every hour will always be great is what keeps me together. It reminds me that even if I have a bad week, the next week might be my best. I don’t focus on the negative too much because we are responsible for figuring out life; not external negative forces.
Elsie: What’s it like to have a platform to influence people’s opinions on important matters such as voting and what we need to do to heal as a country? You’ve gone beyond the apolitical realm of fashion and style in the past year or two. What made you take that step?
Eric: “Living in a Donald Trump world was such an eye-opener for me. From the moment he came down that elevator to announce he was running, I knew things were never going to be the same. I was right. There are no sides here. I don’t care about being a republican or a democrat. There was so much hate and division in the world, a lot of it was hidden until Donald Trump gave it a voice.
I never thought I’d become so passionate about it. We are in the world together as humans to share this space on this planet. To think that it became okay to hate because of race or sexual orientation or anything else that was happening under the last president, was a red line for me.
My hope is that we can unite as a people. Love each other more. Stop living in fear. That’s what matters.
Elsie: Fast forward to the present chaos, fear and trauma of America’s political climate, a pandemic that’s claimed so many lives around the globe, and a response that has left many financially insecure. Once again, you strike me as a beacon of light. How do you continue to access hope? I know you exercise a lot. Is that important for you? What else keeps you positive?
Eric: “The pandemic has been hard on a lot of people. I am aware of that. In my case, it was the reset I needed to reconnect with my humanity. I shut down working in the entertainment world, which is a 24/7 job. At times that life isn’t healthy for your spirit. I mentally needed a pause.
I took the downtime to focus on things that make me happy. That singular focus on joy was an important part of coming back to life. I connected with many of my friends and family during all this downtown”.
Elsie: Please leave us with a last word that we can hold in our minds going forward.
Eric: I hope people remember that this won’t be forever, but it will make us stronger. We are living in challenging times. We can look back in a few years and say remember when we had to wear a mask 24/7? Unfortunately, we lost too many lives in the process, but things will get better. We just need to have a little faith. Remember, not every day will be the best day. We went through almost a year of it, but there is a light in the end on the other side of these times. On those days when you’re feeling low, throw on a movie that makes you laugh, listen to a song that makes you dance or a look at a photo that makes me smile about good times. Teach yourself there will be more good days than bad… if you just believe.