What is an interview? A spread in a magazine, a cover once ordained on supermarket-ed shelves now digital? Does anyone go to stores anymore? Are they even open? Will old man Red be there without a mask spewing nationalism disguised as originalism? What does it mean to be good or not good at introductions? Should someone else tell you who I am? What does it all mean in the end? Is this the end? The apocalypse? Or just the beginning?
As I interview myself – stay with me, I need you – I am Nico Tortorella, at least that is the name gifted. Today is the 4th of December, the year 2020. Already seemingly proverbial at times, she is weighted, this year that is, but aren’t we all? I’m an artist first, imagining and composing a make-believe believed world that I will raise my children in. I play other people on television but always seem to insert parts of myself at the core of fictionalised characters. It seems impossible otherwise, all of it is you.
The Walking Dead: World Beyond is my latest venture, bringing Felix, a gay action star superhero, to life in a way I’ve always dreamt of. A man brought to being to protect his people and kill some zombie, or maybe rather bring some kidnapped human spirits the departed peace we all deserve in the end. I play other people on TV too. Josh is a tattoo artist in the glossy Darren Star New York City soap comedy known as Younger, and in November on Friday the 13th, I stick and poke tattooed my partner and I in our living room upstate.
Josh has rubbed off on me. Woah. People would pay a lot of money to see that. Shit, I would too. Should I start an OnlyFans? Or maybe Josh should. I digress. The tattoos read 2020, proverbial. A 20 on my right thigh and a 20 on their left calf. An almost year spent together in continuity and survival and only complete side by side. Love is love no matter what. (Right?) I think a lot about how we will remember this year flying by, yet at the same time lasting forever. How will the textbooks read? Will they tell our stories? I mean, they’ve never told all of our stories, but more now that we’re demanding intersectional, honest representation? Will they include more voices?
My partner told me a story last night about what they remember reading in middle school about the early 1930’s Dust Bowl. We were both carving away at an apple as they were reminded of a tale. Billie Jo was a little girl who lived on a farm with apple trees somewhere in the southwestern great plains of the United States. Billie Jo didn’t really remember how it was before the dust, when the land was green with grass, and the air was clean and the sky blue. But the apples prompted recollection. When Billie Jo picked a delicious from a tree, properly coated with layers of earth and soot and smog, she knew that what was inside would take her back. As lil Billie’s mouth sunk through the ruby red, her teeth would be brushed and cleaned and reminded by the flesh of the past. It was only then would she remember what it was like before. How they all were before all of that.
It got me thinking about how we were before all of this. Pre-apocalypse. How we are now. And whether or not this year was the dust or in fact the apple? “How are you?” I hate that question on Zoom’s. The mundane introductory discourse before all of this seems comical. “I’m good. I’m fine. How are you? This weather’s amazing…” We are all liars to varying degrees yes, but a simple question in the past shouldn’t have been so difficult. An impossible honesty. No one really wants to know that you feel like shit, that you’re tired, until now.
Ok, I lied before. I don’t hate the “how are you?” question on Zoom’s. I fucking love it. Finally, we can speak truths and feel like just maybe someone, anyone, everyone can relate. Shake the dust off your feet before you walk inside, or just take your shoes off. What is a dust bunny anyway and do they know what it’s like out there? Can they feel us? Does a dust bunny remember? Will any of the aminals remember? Did you read ‘aminals’ or ‘animals’? Do the trees hear our cries and laugh with us? Does our clothing soak our sweat? I’m sweating more than I used to. I should probably wash the sheets today. Does the grass appreciate the masks, does the sea? Does it all go back to sea? In the end we all return to dust, fine. Wait, is that why they call it angel dust? I wish I could smoke some of you. Imagine one hit, one rip and I could know how you feel, felt. I’m high on you even if I’m taught not to like you, even more I guess.
We get high off each other every day online on the internet. We should really defund the internet police. Can we please stop policing each other? We thrive off competition and oppression. I’m telling you it’s our education system. Hate is taught yes, but so is righteousness, redemption, consciousness. We feed off binaries, two sides of fences, but I prefer the fence. The space between. Good and evil, who is who? Only god can judge. Angel dust from heaven’s dust and hell’s ash you ashhole. Dust off. Please don’t leave me out in the dust. I’m clean, I promise. “How am I?” Truths? All things considered, I’m thriving and it feels selfish and privileged and exclusionary and free and complicated and limiting and expansive and disgusting and the best I’ve ever felt all at the same time. Sometimes I do wonder how it’s possible to wake up in the mornings and focus on myself or my marriage or my career or identities and pronouns when a pandemic is eating away at millions of human beings globally. The devastation. The death. The decay. The whole thing is very Walking Dead. A World Beyond beyond. Life imitating art imitating life. I’m tired and I can’t even begin to imagine the worst of it.
But it’s not just Ms. Rona. It’s the revolution (Black lives fucking matter), it’s the election, it’s the international existential crisis. Is this the apocalypse? “How are you?” Honestly? I’m relieved. The dust has been contrastingly freeing. The seclusion, the isolation, demands self-intimate expansion. Maybe, just maybe, I am, we, you are the apple. All of it is you. All of it is still. The dust seems to be settling, at least energetically, and we can see for miles in every direction no longer fogged by disillusion and supposed freedom. We can see the flaws in ourselves, societal defects, the faults of our machines and administrations in power.
We’re not really great at simultaneous conversation at a public level. In the same ways I like to read more than one book at a time, watch multiple series, I’m interested in having more than one discussion. “How are you?” Yes, and… The repetitive news cycles are drowning even with the reality stars as leading players. We’re tired of hearing the same old shit without much change. Yes, over here we may have a new president in January, but how different can it possibly be? They were always here, they still are, and they forever will be. How different am I from them? Are you from me? Are we from each other? If all of it is you, am I them too? All of it is still you in my eyes, and them too. Joy dust. There isn’t a spot left uncovered. The ashes tornado spun and is continuing in its residual effect. What are you afraid of anymore? What are you really afraid of? To be frank, only myself. Myself in all of you, all of you in me. With the dust comes depression, at least economically (well even that only for some, most).
I’m afraid of not who I’ve become rather who I have the potential of becoming. On both ends of the spectrum. In all ends of the multiverse. The army of me. I mean 2020 is redemption – IF 2020 is redemption – and the apple (and my god is he a beaut), is it safe to trust someone who shows themselves to you exactly when you needed them the most? Are we even safe here? Should I be afraid? I’m curious how you have been. What your days look like. Out loud, I would like you to please answer the questions.
Friend, how are you?
(Your response, loud enough so I can hear it.)
Have your days treated you fairly?
Do you trust yourself?
Do you trust them?
(Was that answer the same?)
Are you being honest with the people close?
(You get how this is going.)
What are you most afraid of? What are you afraid of the most?
Whatever your last answer was, I want you to imagine for a second tasting it. Yes, take a bite. Go on. Let the poison kiss your lips ever so briefly. Bite it. Swallow it. Give birth to it. Take it where you prefer taking it. Eat dust. Is 2020 the dust, the poison, the apple or is it the antibody? Do we have a vaccine yet? Are we taking it? And are you 2020? Am I? Short answer is: yes. All of it is still you. All of it is still, still moving, still orbiting at ridiculous speeds, it’s already December, all of it is still you.
Do any of us really know who we are anymore? I think I believe in reincarnation. We put so much pressure on our ancestors and where our people come from but maybe we didn’t come from our people. Maybe we come from all people or maybe we don’t come from people at all. I mean our bodies could be people’s but do our spirits match our shells? Are we all transient? Are we all trans? 2020 is queer, trans, non-binary, there I said it. These really are the gay times, some gay times, such gay times. God, this year is gay. Cancel me. I dare you.
Can we be allowed to please have more than one conversation at a time? For now as the dust wanes and waxes in its infinites, I will continue to write my thoughts down and play make believe and love and question myself and my art and wonder if I said too much or if I took it too far or if I could have done more. Does any of this even make sense? This piece is chaotic because I miss the chaos, even though this year has been utterly anarchic. I miss mundane chaos. And I know the way this reads, the way I read, can be at times unapproachable or – dare I say – condescending. But I stand by it, as I am a reflection of the world around me. I am influencing you know, your know’s, your yes’s and your no’s. I am influencing myself and that’s the magic. And in return, you influence me and I am forever grateful whoever you are, wherever you are. And really, I love you. No matter what.
Is this the end or just the beginning? It all returns to dust. Who will be left to clean you up? For now, all of it is still. All of it is you.
The entire first season of The Walking Dead: Beyond is now available to stream on Amazon Prime.