Writer, Actress, & Filmmaker Kit Zauhar Watched Caterpillars Turn into Butterflies

Q(uar) & A is a series of interviews with some of our favorite storytellers and creators about how they’re living while in lockdown.

Kit Zauhar is a writer, actress, and filmmaker from Philly whose work ranges from science fiction domestic dramas to non-fiction essays, all with a focus on intimacy, perceived beauty, and loneliness. 

Where are you currently sheltering in place?

I was in NYC for most of it in my apartment in Chinatown and then had the opportunity to go to Tennessee for a few days (after testing negative for COVID, of course) and stayed with my friend Jackson’s parents in Pleasantview. Now back to NYC. 

What does your face mask look like? 

I have this really cool tie-dye one my boyfriend’s old babysitter made. She’s amazing (@merrrrrrrm). She’s actually a full-time nurse but does these amazing tie-dye projects on the side. She’s really so cool. 

Do you follow any kind of routine at this moment? 

Roughly yes. Try to wake up by 9/10 and work out, whether that means running or doing yoga or exercising in my room. Just started doing Chloe Ting‘s workouts and they really kick my ass. I’m sweating profusely and cursing at her the entire time, but that means it’s working. Then I eat a huge breakfast/lunch and then start work (usually script writing or editing). Then I take time to water my plants. I have a fire escape garden that I have become very invested in and I honestly just stare at my plants and hum under my breath like you’d do to a sleeping baby. I go to the farmer’s market a lot. Ever since COVID I’ve made an active effort to avoid buying my groceries and essentials from big businesses, so I go to local delis and markets in my neighborhood a lot. I also clean my room daily because I can’t work in a dirty space. I used to be such a slob, but no more. 

I have phone therapy every week, which is very needed, even if we sort of just talk shit about the people I’m annoyed with right now. I love my therapist. We have so much fun and also get so deep into everything. COVID has actually been an excellent time to focus on therapy, because you can get to the roots quicker, the soil above the trauma is looser, more malleable. So yeah, I do that. Often I video chat with my BFF Cooper, who lives in Berlin and is a fucking amazing artist and one of the funniest people on this Earth, and we sort of shoot the shit for an hour or so and just like…exploit the limits of an inside joke. Sometimes we get drunk together and then…I don’t know, speak nonsense. 

On other days, by like, 7, I open a bottle of wine or something and chill, try to watch a good movie — cinema, if you will — usually fail, putz around the Internet, try not to get too depressed. My boyfriend lives in Flatbush so we’ll switch off going to each other’s place. I bike to Flatbush and have roughly the same routine with different food, and everyone I’m friends with lives in Brooklyn so I can actually meet up with people in Prospect Park or something. 

What are some pieces of entertainment that you have consumed and loved during this time?

I watched all of Curb Your Enthusiasm in quarantine. I absolutely loved it and am working on some spec scripts for the show purely for my own entertainment. I want to do a table read with friends. 

I read Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings, and I highly recommend it to anyone who identifies as Asian-American (I mean, specifically, it’s a good book for anyone though), especially right now it’s important to understand how we as Asian-Americans can support the Black Lives Matter Movement and what our specific involvement is, both contemporary and historically. 

I’ve been reading a lot of Toni Morrison (just finished Sula, and after every one of her books I’m like, “This one is my favorite!” her writing is so lush and addicting). And I’m trying to muster up the brain juice to dive back into Faulkner. I took a Faulkner class with this absolute master Errol McDonald last semester and it really affected me and I want to revisit it with more of a focus on language. Some of the themes of his work also feel pertinent now, even though the content of his work comes across as quite controversial and can be very violent. Morrison and Faulkner are good entry points to one another. 

Movies I loved during quarantine: Yi Yi, The Unspeakable Act, Fourteen, Les Coquillettes, lots of random amazing stuff on MUBI…I watched Shirley by Josephine Decker, really wonderful. Finally watched Leave No Trace, which gutted me. Honestly, it’s very hard for me to focus on, like, cinema. I have to really force myself to. Which isn’t the best when you’re, you know, a filmmaker. But that’s the truth. (It’s much more immediately pleasurable to watch some shitty Netflix reality show, which I do a lot. I loved Too Hot to Handle, Love is Blind, I can’t get enough of that stuff.) I watch and rewatch Gilmore Girls over and over again while I work, cook, clean, etc. It’s kind of like white noise to me. So that’s a big part of what I ingest every day. 

I also bought this book called Cosmigraphics, which is a huge book full of various interpretations and renderings of the universe through history. The illustrations are beautiful, some are really cheeky, like this one of the universe being controlled by this conniving jester, and it’s loaded with tons of interesting reflections on how humans have viewed themselves in various contexts to the known/unknown universe. It’s a weird but satisfying way to get existential without getting too abstract and sad. 

Since school has ended, where I was reading a few novels a week and analyzing them so thoroughly, my brain has experienced some PTSD from so much reading, LOL. So I definitely need to give it a little break.

Are you working on anything during this time? And if you’re having trouble “creating” things at the moment, how are you getting around it?

I go to Columbia for my MFA, so I was doing homework and writing and attending Zoom classes till the beginning of May, which was pretty ridiculous, but overall we all pushed through and got good writing done and read books and had fruitful discussions but the whole experience wiped me out for a bit. I definitely took a few weeks off after that to basically empty my mind completely and do random bullshit. I absolutely hated Zoom school. It gives you this strange and enduring fatigue. I might not go back next year if it stays online, so I’m also doing some research on what shape my life should take if I become a grad school dropout.  

I’m working on two features, one with my friends Gabby and Raveena, and the other by myself that I’m shooting this August with my boyfriend/creative partner using some of my unemployment money. It’s kind of a strange time because obviously the easy thing to do is lounge at home and eat, but the very type-A part of my brain keeps telling me to churn more and more writing out and that part usually wins. I wrote a feature that was originally an idea for a play in a few days that had been fermenting in my head for years and it felt so, so good. 

So I guess I’ve been really productive! But I’m always productive because there’s no one to hold me accountable but myself. I freelance, write, working from home always, so I always need to stay on top of things and that’s just become part of who I am. I also have terrible insomnia so if I don’t finish something I won’t sleep. I’ll mull on it till the sun rises and then feel awful for a week. 

Staying fit also has to be kind of a part of my creative process, because ultimately I’m on camera a lot, and I want to feel as comfortable as possible in my body, which means liking my body, feeling like my body is powerful and capable. So I don’t discount “aesthetic” practices as part of my creative endeavors. Like skincare. If I think my skin looks like shit on camera and I’m very aware of it I’m not going to act as well as possible. 

Have you taken up any new hobbies? 

Gardening has kept me sane. I never really invested in it till this year, but now I am obsessed. I love buying new plants and repotting and watering and just watching them grow. It’s also an amazing experience to make a salad with just stuff you cut off from your garden. My friend who is also on a similar journey and I joke that we’ve become “nature hoes.” 

I also was raising Painted Lady caterpillars for a bit, and then they became butterflies and I had to let them fly away, which was a beautiful and peaceful experience. That kept me entertained and more importantly: emotionally invested in something tangible. Right now so much of our emotion is (rightfully so) directed towards these large forces and powers that we want to shift, change, and sometimes dismantle, and that can become exhausting because one person in my position can only do so much. So it’s such a beautiful experience to be able to raise this tiny, vulnerable thing into a powerful, flying creature that will do its own good. 

What’s the best meal you’ve eaten so far during quar? What’s the worst?

For my birthday (which was during quarantine) my boyfriend got us this amazing spread of sashimi and sushi from a Japanese restaurant doing takeout… Hokkaido scallops, fatty tuna, yellowtail, with some great natural wine, it was really decadent and amazing. 

Worst meal I’ve had probably was from the night that I ordered a burrito from Seamless and it never came and I ate, like, ramen, which is fine, I’m Asian so it’s a staple, but it was more that my body was prepared for this giant delicious amazing burrito and not being able to taste it was very disappointing. I don’t think food is ever that terrible, but when it’s something you simply don’t want you’re not going to enjoy it. But I love Stouffer’s meals… so what do I know. 

What’s the best quar purchase you’ve made so far? 

I bought an e-bike! It hasn’t come yet because I guess now everyone is buying e-bikes and they’re backordered but I think it’s going to change my life. I started obsessively riding the Citi Bike electric ones and I loved how fucking fast I went. I know bike purists are going to hate this statement but I don’t give a shit about like, the gears and accoutrements, gears, etc. I just want to go fast, get from point A to point B in a way that is eco-friendly, so a little e-bike it is. I can’t wait to high-five all the delivery men as we zoom past all the suckers on their Citi Bikes. Buy it at your own risk. 

A photo from Kit’s quarantine shoot for designer Tyler McGillivary.

Who are the writers, storytellers, or makers who are bringing you great joy right now?

My boyfriend Owen Smith-Clark, who is a cinematographer, keeps me inspired in so many ways, from taking a miraculous photo on his iPhone to helping me build a mood board. He’s also so funny and caring and a really good cook. We eat a lot together. So he nourishes every aspect of my personality. 

My friend Audrey (of the band Lightning Bug) is such a joy to be around, and we’re working on a music video for a song off her new album that we’re going to shoot in fall, and it’s absolutely amazing to hear her demos. I don’t really have any music ability, so musicians really astound me, especially someone like Audrey, who seems to have music come so organically from her being. Basically all of my friends are artists, so it’s a constant stream of seeing their finished works as well as their works-in-progress. 

My friend Tyler McGillivary is a designer and I love everything she posts and makes, so being able to see her process has been wonderful. I did a quarantine shoot for a few of her pieces and that was a really fun experience because I wanted to do both of us proud, you know? Honestly, just about everyone I follow on Instagram makes art (and does it so well) so it’s hard to be specific, when in reality I am so lucky to have so many gifted, innovative, expressive friends. Every time I go on Instagram it’s like the best talent show.

Any unexpectedly memorable moments so far?

Going to Tennessee definitely. It was like, this thing Jackson was going to do anyway because his parents throw this really cool solstice party, and then I drunkenly agreed to go, and then again I was like, yes, let’s do it, and then Owen, me, my friends Derek, Wen, and Jackson drove the 14 hours down. And it was so fun. I fished, swam, shot guns (safely of course), shot arrows, threw axes (LOL, also safely!) ate so much amazing food, got incredibly sunburnt, saw flowers I’ve never seen before, and really experienced this sort of Midsommar bonfire party without any of the dying. 

I wish life could always have that meandering quality, but now that I’m back in my NYC apartment I also feel so blissful. The consistency of change I guess, even in minute details, has been so memorable… seeing a friend on the street, watching a sunset that is even more beautiful than usual, a meal that goes even more right because of an extra pinch of salt. It’s all wonderful. It’s all memorable. At least for now. 

Follow Kit on Instagram @kitakemushrooms.