Pickett was seeking refuge in a cabin her great grandfather built in the mountains of Western North Carolina on the shores of Lake Junaluska. Not only did the move give her the chance to reside amongst forest and mountains instead of apartment buildings and vacant city streets, it also allowed her to be closer to her aging parents.
Pickett is a playwright and a filmmaker. She moved to LA for grad school 15 years ago, and ended up making a home there. She is also a professor of screenwriting and playwriting at two universities there, California Institute of the Arts and Chapman University.
The day-to-day of a filmmaker is very dynamic. Add in teaching at two different universities and it’s easy to understand how varied daily life was for Pickett, pre-pandemic.
That variety of life quickly ground to a halt as quarantine restrictions were instated. One of the universities Pickett teaches at gave faculty and staff two weeks to get classes and material fully online. The other university expected that same transition by the next day.
“I was scrambling,” Pickett said. “Looking up which remote learning situation was going to be the most effective. Eventually everyone landed on Zoom, but I was like ‘oh my gosh, I have to hold a class virtually tomorrow,’ I had never done that.”
Pickett remembers hearing that the universities were going to go online from one of her students. The rush to adapt to the new normal was a frenzy.
“It had a feeling of like being on Apollo 13 or something, I was like with my students and it was this big accomplishment of ‘we did it! And lift off!’ when we all landed,” Pickett said.
The hardest quarantine adjustment for Pickett was not being able to screen her most recent film. This was to be the first screening of the film, and her first ever LA premiere. The outdoor event was cancelled on the first weekend of quarantine.
“I live in a walking neighborhood, I’m in a close knit, artistic community where I’m constantly going to meetings, art openings, teaching in person. I’m very much with other people a lot, collaborating. Filmmaking and making plays is inherently working with a lot of different people. And there’s a lot of moving parts, so it was very shocking,” Pickett said.
She has been coming to her great grandfather’s cabin at Lake Junaluska every summer, and for a week or two each fall, for most of her life.
“This has always been a dear place to me,” Pickett said.
In June, Pickett was going to come to Atlanta for her mother’s 81st birthday. The plan was to go to the cabin, quarantine for the appropriate time, and then go see her folks. While she was at the cabin, the calls came in that fall jobs were going to be remote. Teaching and filmmaking.
“When I realized jobs would be remote, the fact is that this place enabled me to check in on my folks. It seems safer, health wise, not being right in the middle of the big urban area of Los Angeles where I live,” said Pickett.
Quarantining at the cabin also gave Pickett the chance to work on the cabin, a goal she has had for a long time. Her time here has been spent visiting her parents, bringing them groceries, teaching and filmmaking remotely and working on her great grandfather’s cabin.
Pickett is thankful she has been able to be so close to her parents during this time. She has sisters that live in North Carolina that usually make regular visits to see her parents. But they have children and with the dangers of COVID-19, they are avoiding bringing the family together for fear of infecting Pickett’s parents. What’s more, her father got a blood infection while in quarantine and had to be in the hospital for a week. Being so close allowed Pickett to go stay with her mother while her father was in hospital.
“I feel very grateful. My relationship to this place is a very deep one. This is a beloved cabin from when I was a child. It has allowed me to deepen my relationship to this place. My great grandfather built this house next to his brother, that house is still there, so this is an old family cabin. While I haven’t been able to go out and do the cultural things, not being able to connect with people in-person in my community, I’ve had nature and this cabin in which to shift my focus, and work on other things.”
Pickett has been able to take time to do the things people so often put off in life. She has planted a hedge in the front yard so it can be safer for her nieces and nephews to play when they are able to come visit. She has been able to sort through her grandmother’s things that are still in the attic. It’s allowed her to experiment with living in a different place, closer to her parents. It has allowed her, an avid outdoors person, to utilize the outdoor recreation this area has to offer, with much easier access than in the big city.
“Being here means having the comfort of deepening my relationship to my ancestors by being in this interesting old cabin,” Pickett said. “I come from a long line of Methodist preachers. I appreciate and honor that heritage, I come from mindful people, I come from thoughtful people. So as a writer, it makes a lot of sense.”