On Jan. 5th, 2020 I published an article about how 2019 was my year of dreaming more with Dolly Parton. It was a year full of traveling to places like Dollywood and the Grand Ol’ Opry, and culminated in a dream realized when I saw the legend herself perform on the Opry stage for her 50th Anniversary. The year charged and inspired me. With immense hope, I was ready to take on 2020 with whatever it threw my way! RECORD SCRATCH.
Before the pandemic started, 2020 wasn’t off to a great start, personally. Things fell apart and I had to make some tough but important decisions, which in the grand scheme of the year, seem extremely small in comparison. Still, I tried to see the light of a clear blue morning. I’ve always been a little too optimistic for my own good. I was that emotional, naïve, and weird kid everyone had in class. The one who took on people’s pain, tried to see the best, and offer help when I can. Those parts come from my parents and I wouldn’t trade them for the world, but I realized those parts were allowing me to make excuses for others when I wasn’t someone who made excuses for myself. I desperately wanted everything to be alright that had been all wrong, and I realized that would be up to me.
Like Dolly in Two Doors Down, I dried my useless tears and got myself together. Instead of joining the party down the hall, I moved for the 5th time in 6 years on March 1st, 2020. I don’t know how many other people are in the exclusive club of moving almost every year, but 1/10, do not recommend. A few weeks before the move, I got bronchitis so bad I was prescribed an inhaler and knocked out until moving day. Going into a looming pandemic alone with lungs at less than full capacity couldn’t be a good start. I got some rest, hired movers for the first time in my adult life, and dipped into that Dolly reserve HARD.
2020 was moving along, and I realized I better get to livin.’ On Feb. 25th, after a few weeks in pre-Covid confinement, I met up with a childhood friend for a non-Dolly concert and dinner. I’ve known Lyss since the fifth grade. We’ve been on a billion adventures together, and a good 50% were concerts. We joked about how this may be our last one for a while, but I could tell our usual carefree concert disposition was hindered by the truth around the corner. The second weekend of March, I went to a small gathering with friends and it really hit me. The things that bring me the most joy in life were all about to stop, and the big dreams we had for the year were all going to be challenged. Once again, I asked What Would Dolly Do? Truth is, I didn’t know what any of us would do in this situation. No one did.
Dolly told me don’t sweat the small stuff, keep your chin up, and just hang tough. She was my spirit-guide, pandemic or not. Before the world shut down, I signed up for an axe-throwing league and a puppeteering class. What better way to start a year than by developing new and very specific skills that I could apply to daily life if I were in a lumberjack competition or actually owned a puppet? Inspired by Dolly to be unapologetically myself, I consider myself an open-book filled with lots of bizarre yet genuine stories and details. The axe-throwing remained in-person because throwing axes at a computer would be bad, and the puppeteering class moved to Zoom. I opted for the zoom. For the first time in my life I had to confront what I was comfortable with in social situations constantly, and the fact that it was a privilege was not lost on me.
In times before “the sickness,” as my niece and nephew were calling it, I would heal my wounds by spending as much time as humanly possible with my family. Like Dolly, family is the most important thing to me. Ours is no Tennessee Mountain Home, but we do sit out back in Delco and leave crackers on the fence-posts for the birds. It was too cold to do that last winter, plus, we were all too scared of hurting each other to hang inside without anxiety. I tried to navigate relatives through Zoom installations, but it wasn’t the same as hugs. The distractions of daily life as we knew it before weren’t there, and it was at this moment I realized we were all under a giant magnifying glass. Again, what would I do? Are you there, Dolly? It’s me, Aubrie.
In April, I saw Dolly donate $1 million to help Vanderbilt fund a vaccine, which is now Moderna. I will always refer to it as the Dolly vaccine, TBH. Shortly after, she released a song called “When Life Is Good Again” where she vowed to be a better friend and a bigger person when the world opened back up. Dolly has a way of encouraging those around her to be more open and accepting through actions and lyrics, but doesn’t always shout it from the rooftops. This year, Dolly went on the record saying “of course Black Lives Matter! Do you think our little white asses are the only ones that matter?” Dolly shied away from getting too political before this, most likely because she’s from the Smoky Mountains and her opinions were more progressive for their time and location. Dolly is a woman who built an empire in her own way when it was nearly impossible for women to do so, and who consistently refused to conform other people’s standards and ideas. In this, the year 2020, I was glad to see Dolly be unapologetically vocal.
We were all under the magnifying glass, individually and as a whole. Since I was going to work physically, I set a boundary to not do anything that involved crowds, and that included the Black Lives Matter protests. In any other situation, I’d be there, and I felt extremely guilty because I was raised Catholic and it’s our thing. I took my guilt and channeled it into something productive. Since I was lucky to be working, I put as much money as I could towards relief funds for the marches. I donated more than I had in my life in a single year to organizations like NAACP, The Okra Project, Black Lives Matter, and more. Money felt pointless to me unless it could help enact change. I donated and linked to the organizations in comments every time I saw a hateful post online, and matched $500 in donations to multiple organizations that protect Black Trans lives like The Griffin-Gracy Educational Retreat and Historical Center and Marsha P. Johnson Institute. I tried to educate myself more, and then blindly followed an Internet challenge without looking into it further. I am human, and also very aware that mistakes, or even just being, can cost some more than others.
It was hard to stay on track and not look back, even when Dolly seemed to sing those words right to me. All of the living, learning, failures and successes were done alone, and in a new environment. I craved community and joined in on book clubs and discussions on zooms. My dear and very talented friend Shannon and I started King Friday Productions in January of 2020. We shot one sketch before the world shut down, submitted it to festivals, and had to put all of our other plans on hold. We could stop, or we could keep going. We entered writing contests, and eventually opened an ActBlue to start Quiplash To Save America, raising money for Democratic candidates who could flip the Senate. We were joined by celebrities and friends, and raised over $2K in 5 one-hour shows which all had ASL Interpreters graciously donated by Hands UP Productions (Philadelphia). Sure, it may seem small, but we were proud of it and thankful for all involved. Shan and I have been writing and performing together in rooms for over a decade, and this partnership was single-handedly the thing that kept me most hopeful and sane amidst this year.
Dolly released a book, a Christmas album, and a Time Life Collection. I purchased them all with a portion of my stimulus check. I was connected with wonderful people in Canada who created a comedy and country music blog called Parton & Pearl, and they graciously gave me the opportunity to write some Dolly content. It’s always been more gratifying for me to say yes to things than no, and saying yes is literally the only reason I am where I am today, with the people I love, doing what I do. Saying yes to things that interest you open up a world of possibilities and growth. I’ve definitely said yes to one too many things before, but then you prioritize those things and adjust accordingly. This year, I honestly wasn’t sure if yes’ would be possible with a world on pandemic lockdown, but they were.
Throughout the year, I saw both myself, friends and family, and a world pivot when met with chaos, heartbreak, a harsh reality and uncertainty. I was inspired, and heartbroken, inspired and heartbroken almost daily. This year was kind of like the time I rode the Wild Eagle at Dollywood. One minute I’d have an eagle-eye view of majestic beauty in the form of the Smokies, and then my stomach would be consumed by a pit of fear. 2020 truly was a roller-coaster of emotions. The fact that the election was that close showed the stark reality of how broken this country is. My hope was temporarily restored when Kamala Harris, a woman of Black and Indian heritage, was voted our 1st female Vice President. I watched it with tears in my eyes, and it was nice to see that all of the action that took place amidst a global pandemic was producing necessary results for the future of our country and all people in it.
I’m wrote this as my own little reflection, an homage to both Dolly and immense hope in the people around me. Looking back after my initial year of dreaming more with Dolly, I saw a lot of action and growth in new and important ways in 2020, action that feels like it was helped by the fact that we were front and center with our thoughts and the truth of reality. Dreams are great, but as Dolly says “they’re of no value if they’re not equipped with wings!” In 2021 and beyond, I hope we all continue to dream more, learn more, care more, be more, and most importantly, do more. Action and accountability are key, now more than ever.