By Stacey Parshall Jensen
Sunday morning at breakfast I told my visiting in-laws that Peter and I did something we’ve never done before because we have so much. And I started to cry.
Blessings have poured upon us in the last few years. When we both graduated from school in 2010, from graduate writing programs, Peter at CalArts and me from USC School of Cinematic Arts, we embarked on new careers in the film and television industry with nothing but dreams and a shaky determination. Our daughter had just graduated from high school and was on her way to San Francisco Arts Institute in San Francisco and we were in our tiny home in Los Angeles trying to keep moving. Like so many artists we pieced it all together to meet our tiny budget. We had nothing but gratitude for the support from family to stay here. An investment, they said. They were making an investment in our lives, in our dreams because they believed in us.
And to be honest, some days, many days, it was their belief that made me keep going.They could see our potential when I wasn’t able.
Fast forward some years, to now and there we were Saturday night, surrounded by friends and brilliant filmmakers screening Blessed, a 27 minute short action film I wrote about motherhood, miscarriage and fighting for family. And executive produced by Through The Wilderness, our production company. Our team of creatives have worked tirelessly for months to make this film a beautiful, suspenseful drama that has left me in tears. I stood in front of the audience feeling so much love and excitement, I still get rushes and waves remembering the evening. We stood, heads down, humbled by the words of appreciation and love from our cast and crew. We glowed. We ate. We hugged. We laughed. We danced. It was a beautiful touchstone in our careers. It was magic. Something magical was happening.
At the end of the evening, as the DJ shut down and the last few guests gave their final hugs to leave, we loaded them up with extra cupcakes and plates of food because we had so much. What to do with all of it? We didn’t know for sure but we couldn’t leave it. We couldn’t throw it away. So the idea came to my husband while talking with a brilliant writer/director of one of our projects about Spirit. And how much Spirit was with us while filming at Manzanar two weeks ago. And how much Spirit was there with us that evening. I still envision The Great Spirit and all my grandmothers in my spiritual Council of Women, dancing with me at the end of the night. Wow.
So we did what was right when you’re blessed with so much. You give thanks and then you give it away.
We loaded the trays of food and the bags of cupcakes into my and Peter’s cars. We took our in-laws back to the hotel then to our home where we condensed everything to one car and headed downtown Los Angeles. We drove east. People flowed out of the bars. Some headed towards cars to go home while others wandered. Past the bars, past the high end restaurants and nightclubs we found ourselves in the fashion district with closed off warehouses lined like a canyon creating a valley for our city’s homeless. I asked Peter how we were going to do this. Homeless shelters were closed. It was nearly 2 am. He said, we find a corner and give this all away.
We did that. We laid trays on one corner. A man curled in a ratted blanket slept nearby. A cockroach moved at a strolling pace down the sidewalk. We drove on to another corner. Across the street a couple men on bikes lingered, watching us. Peter asked them if they were hungry. They didn’t answer but didn’t go far. Tents lined one side of the street while two people slept on the sidewalk closest to us. We got out, unloaded the trays and stacked them against a building. I said thank you to the Great Spirit and got back in the car. I told Peter I hoped it would be eaten. That as soon as we drove on, those men would come back and eat until they were full. And in the morning, let’s hope a few people had a breakfast of chicken. And Hoppin John. And cupcakes.
The next morning at breakfast we told Peter’s parents what we did. And I remembered a homeless shelter in Minneapolis that I often drove by. It was at the edge of downtown, right off north 35-W. I had an old car then. I was a single mother with a young child. We were poor. We lived on welfare while I went to school. I struggled to make ends meet and to keep moving forward towards a dream but even then, my dreams didn’t include me living a creative life in Los Angeles with my husband. I couldn’t see that. It was too much to ask for. To believe I would deserve. I knew I wanted more and I knew I wanted to be and do better. And I was thankful for what we did have. I’d drive by the shelter and see the families hanging outside. The women staring with vacant eyes to someplace on the horizon. Their children at their feet. And the men wandering away. I would say “there for the grace of God go I” and give thanks. I had family. And I had support. I was not alone. I would never be homeless like that but I lived close to that place. I did.
I am humbled. And in awe with the abundance in my life. And I give so much thanks. I honor The Great Spirit everyday as best as I can. But some nights I’m given the chance to do more.
Stacey Parshall Jensen is a vibrant Mixed Blood screenwriter, storyteller, filmmaker whose stories overflow with dramatic tension of dynamic relationships of the flawed who find their strength, heal their wounds and triumph over their obstacles. She’s co-owner of Through The Wilderness, LLC, a film production company dedicated to untold stories and new takes on old tales. TTW’s debut production she wrote is “Blessed” a Native female action short about miscarriage, motherhood and fighting for family. She plans to make more movies where she can blow shit up