The longest post about the longest year: 2020 and why we're hitting pause on custom orders
I think I can safely say 2020 was a year the likes of which no one wants to repeat anytime soon.
I certainly don't.
What comes next is a level of sharing I'm not accustomed to - I try to keep my personal life and business separate. 2020 has made me painstakingly aware that that's almost impossible to do. So please be gentle with me. Ahead of you lies a slew of run-on sentences and, quite frankly, a reckless minefield of punctuation.
It started off so well. Like the "let's get away to a ridiculously lavish cottage and shower in champagne to celebrate" kind of well that only comes along with the unshakeable certainty that this is going to be YOUR year. If I could go back to January 2020 Marika and warn her about things to come, I don't think I would. Such was her joy and certainty that 2020 was going to be HER year.
See, December 2019 Marika was coming down from the high of having a costume featured in a museum exhibit, of learning how to make molds (which would lead directly into my budding new fursuit business), of an amazing trip to New Orleans for DomCon, of having a US product rep design and teach classes around our products, and of finally taking the plunge into replacing our old laser cutter with something six times larger. The champagne shower at our friend's cottage was to celebrate the funding coming through on our laser lease.
~ This is the part where we cut to October Marika at the same friend's cottage, this time alone with her dog. She's taking a week away from everything to stave off a nervous breakdown ~
January Marika was so full of hope. 2019 was our best year to date. I had just secured a new laser cutter. We had hired new staff to help with all our holiday sales orders. I met so many amazing people - including a spitfire of a dynamic woman (who I had lovingly dubbed "Romper Mom" because she convinced me that I could, in fact, pull off a romper). We had made plans with her to go to Detroit for Theater Bizarre - a long-time goal of mine. Film work was so plentiful that it seemed there was no way it would ever end. Douglas, my husband and cheerleader, and I had plans to take the Texas Latex Party by storm in early March and I FINALLY had my own personal studio space. We even had a new line of hoods to launch! (They've yet to launch... suck it 2020)
On the home-front (Kink Manor, as all previous KE iterations, is a live/work space) things were finally settling; When we moved into my childhood home back in 2017 I bit off far more than I could chew. Douglas' teenage kids moved in with us and the house came with my grandmother in her basement apartment. Gran had retired and moved in with my parents around the time I was born, so she was my nanny and primary caregiver growing up. Moving back to my childhood home meant spending more time with her - in that same basement apartment where we shared every meal until my teenage years saw me venture upstairs to hang out with my parents. Not much had changed in that apartment in the 20+ years since my foray upstairs... except that my ageing grandmother now needed me to cook and care for her.
January 2020 Marika had sort-of figured her shit out. The kids were done high school. My stepson followed his dad into the trades (shout out to him for being a journeyman carpenter at twenty years old!) and my stepdaughter was off to university. Time finally seemed to have settled the trials and tribulations of teenagers, especially ones that aren't yours, and Douglas and I were in a groove with gran stuff. Time - for once - was finally on my side.
... y'all see where this is going, right?
February 2020 had lulled me into a false sense of security. Sure, the laser cutter arrived a month earlier than expected. Of course it was too big to get through the front door (a feature I still refuse to take into account when purchasing anything). Naturally Douglas had to completely remove the front windows off our house, the banister off our porch and erect a scaffold landing strip just so we could get it inside. Challenges - I scoff at thee! Logistics - you're Douglas' concern!
I had spent a good chunk of time working with Ess - a Toronto-based contortionist and all-around cool person - on an act they were developing where they did contortion inside a vacuum tower. A lot of thought, effort and coffee went into the logistics of the act. Problems like "how many vacuum cleaners will it take to suction all of the air out and keep the audience's attention span?" [answer: two] and "how does one safely breathe in said tower?" [answer: a series of tubes] were the challenges 2020 put forth.
Side note: the act was amazing, the video Ess released has currently surpassed 1.7 MILLION views and the project was ultimately funded by the Canada Council for the Arts... heck yeah Canada!
I've managed to get this far without mentioning the C-word. SPOILER ALERT: it all goes to shit from here.
See, Canada was fashionably late to the COVID party. Our first lockdown didn't happen until mid-March with the peak of that wave happening in May. Back then everyone was freaking out when Toronto hit 250 new cases in a day. Earlier this month we hit 1300+ new cases in a day. It's been a year.
Side note: remember movie theaters? I can't remember the last movie I saw in theaters. Yikes - it might have been Cats. That's bleak.
Needless to say, we didn't make it to the Texas Latex Party.
Instead my now-university-aged stepdaughter couldn't leave the house to attend classes. My mom got stuck here for over a month. We had to drive her to the Quebec border where Douglas handed her off to my dad at a truck stop like some illicit human trafficking operation. Everyone drank too much. I drank way too much.
My staff couldn't come in to work anymore - I had to layoff our most recent hire. drink. Order turnaround time time became infinitely long. drink. Our customers started losing faith in us. drink. Gran's health started declining rapidly after a series of falls. drink. No one could go to the hospital with her because COVID. drink.
I'm not particularly proud of how far down that boozy rabbit hole I fell. We all drank away a lot of demons during that first lockdown. But the last time I fell that far was when Matty - KE's co-founder and my ex - died in 2012. (quick reminder kids: solo bondage kills)
Income was sporadic. Film and TV productions had closed down. Most of us were living off of CERB - a government allowance that had been introduced to keep people at home. Had it not been for a generous rent-relief in the form of a cash infusion from my parents, KE may well have gone under.
It felt like there was very little "good" to cling to. I started this blog, then promptly forgot about it as the weather started to warm up. Orders started getting out again. Gran's health got worse.
Things came in waves, and hope started to return in May. My stepdaughter was able to move out to her summer job placement. Don't get me wrong, I love that kid... but she and I are two big personalities that would often clash. In a live/work/parenting situation one less big personality goes a long way.
Summer came and went too quickly. It always does - but this was different. COVID faded away for me because gran's mobility got worse and worse. I moved myself down to part time. By the fall I couldn't work at all. Gran's apartment was in our basement, with a flight of terrifying stairs separating gran and the outside world and she's just so stubborn. We couldn't keep her still. We all wondered how long it would be before she fell and died on those stairs. Watching her try to climb them was watching a toddler on a high-wire. This woman - who escaped a Nazi work camp and rode out the end of the war hiding in a basement - was, once again, stuck in a basement. She'd try to escape and fall, or forget her walker and fall. I kid you not, she would set off her fall-detector by getting up too fast and launching herself forward onto her walker. Once again she was trapped by her situation.
After exhausting every option I could think of, August Marika had to set a 30-minute timer on her phone to go and check on her. Twice an hour I would run from my personal studio space across the street to check on her in the basement. Sometimes she would be sleeping, often she would be anxiously roaming around her apartment, a fall looming with every next step. Those steps being gran's personal Mount Everest.
January Marika had been so full of hope. Even July Marika was an unrelenting optimist - I opened up my custom order queue again, hoping to make more fursuits. I talked to people about launching a line of catsuits. Our catsuit designer did an internship at Fantastic Rubber and with our new laser we just had to digitize the patters and would be able to automate the cutting. I was going to be glorious.
In September I had to stop working altogether. I think it was sometime around then that I started sleeping in the spare bed in the basement. It's funny in a way... I wouldn't go back to warn January Marika of the things to come. I wish, I wish, I wish I could have gone back to September Marika to tell her to be stronger, to dig deeper into that well of compassion and not to worry so much about work. Work would still be there when this was over. I would tell her the next few months were going to be the hardest of her life and that she should spend every waking moment with gran. I would tell her not to drink so much - it's only going to make the exhaustion so much worse.
I would tell September Marika that things are going to get real bad real fast. And I would tell her the trick that October Marika found out - keep an ample supply of that chocolate mousse cake you made her for her birthday on hand. She'll always take her medication if you bribe her with chocolate mousse cake. And spend more time doing your hair for her birthday lunch. It looks stupid in those photos and they're the last ones you have of everyone having a really good day.
But that's the thing about the past - there aren't any do-overs. And so September Marika did the best she could.
I could see the burnout coming as if I were running at a brick wall. Between myself and my aunt - who's been an unsung hero for this whole time - and the 14+ hours a week of various personal service workers, it was still too much. Putting gran into hospice wasn't an option - COVID (still a thing that I had just forgotten about?!) was running rampant in elderly care facilities. Plus when I was four years old I promised gran I would take care of her when she was old. Life had put me in a position to keep that promise. Like fuck I was going to break it now. Wisely, we called in reinforcements - my mom came here mid-October.
~ Cut back to October Marika, at that same cottage where January Marika had so nakedly and covered in champagne declared that 2020 was going to be HER year. This time she's there for a week, with Beyla - her unwaveringly cuddly 7-year old rottweiler. The two of them are trying to climb the insurmountable wall of burnout. I take solace in a book Ess recommended. The book was Amanda Palmer's "The Art of Asking" and the bookmark is in the same place I left it when I left that cottage. I tried to stick to the wellness routine my new counsellor had made for me. That's so much easier to do without outside distractions.~
October Marika comes home more sober than she's been all year - which still isn't saying much but it's a step in the right direction. I almost think I can see over that wall of burnout. Maybe things are gonna be OK.
November Marika didn't get much time. You never really do though. At the end of October, shortly after I got back, my aunt and I pushed gran up those terrifying stairs. We didn't have to worry about her climbing them on her own - she had lost the ability to walk earlier that month. She wanted to ask the doctor something, but wouldn't tell us what.
We thought it was weird at the time, but looking back it made perfect sense... the three of us sat in the doctor's office - my aunt and I fighting back tears, gran stoic as ever. She told me once that she had shed all the tears she could in her lifetime, and just simply had no tears left. My 94 year old grandmother asks the doctor if "this was it?" He said it was. And with a level of dignity and grace I'll never forget she thanked him for everything and told us we could go home now. She had climbed those stairs for the last time.
The following week happened at gran's usual break-neck speed. With the same speed and impatience she used to display while tearing down the aisles with a grocery cart or setting off her fall detector launching onto her walker, gran let herself slip away.
It was a blur of doctors, nurses and paperwork which apparently is usual for an in-home death. Then one Friday morning - after two or three nights of sleeping in her bedroom, half snuggled on her bed, half snuggled on her hospital bed - she just slipped on out. Ever so quietly with family and dogs by her side, she just stopped being alive.
I couldn't tell you why, but I felt like she would have appreciated me trimming her eyebrow and upper lip hair before they took her body away for cremation. Even in her last months, she had kept her hair short and face well groomed. The moustache was a sign of her losing herself, I guess.
We let the dogs sit with what used to be my grandmother. Hayden (the boxer and Beyla's "brother") spent most of his days keeping her company while she was alive. Maybe I thought that by lying with her one last time it would help him understand she was gone. He didn't know what to do with his grief, either.
Honestly, the last two months have been a blur. It seems like everyone has been on a rotating cycle of personal crisis. But it's been kind of beautiful at the same time. My family and staff have all taken turns leaning on each other.
It's currently my turn again. At the behest of my counsellor I'm taking a 10-day journey with myself. Mostly alone, in quiet introspection, in the room where she passed. (This blog entry was written by hand before all 14 pages were painstakingly transcribed and edited during my allotted "work/digital" time)
We're currently turning the basement into an amalgamated studio space. It means one last move for KE. Gran made me promise I would take the basement when she passed and do something for me. And so here I am, in my new workshop. Her bedroom - the room where she would bring me Eggo waffle ice cream sandwiches while I watched Power Rangers before being bussed off to school - is now my personal studio space. I think she'd like that. I certainly do.
January 2021 Marika is so full of hope. But she's approaching it cautiously, having been burnt before. I think I'll dip my toes in to test the water's of hope's eternal spring before fully jumping in.
I don't know where 2021 will take me, but I feel strong going in.
I do know that KE will continue to grow and do more awesome stuff. Not necessarily the same path that I envisioned a year ago. I'd rather not jump in head first again, naked and covered in champagne. I'll keep back a bit and try to prepare a bit more for the road ahead.
And although this might be tempting fate to say, but I'll say it anyhow...
Your move, 2021.