by Sara Aranda
[If you haven’t, read Part 1]
7:30 a.m. I lift my head to a window of my Jeep. Everything is covered with a thin layer of snow. I lie back down. We’re not meeting Aisha for breakfast until 10am…and it’s so warm and soft in here…
8:50 a.m. Sonya’s engine starts and she drives off down the road. What? She probably texted me something, so I sit up and dig for my phone, turn off airplane mode. Having forgotten my charge cable at home, I’ve been treating battery life like a bucket with a hole.
Good morning! her words light up, Went for a quick walk but going to town before the roads are softer/wetter—my car has no traction. I get my shit together, even take a real shit in a cat-hole by the trees. Even find a note from Sonya tucked into the door handle.
10:00 a.m. The café confuses me at first. I walk in expecting a quaint breakfast place, but I’m immediately confronted by a small coffee bar. I peer through to another room and see open seating, but no sign of Aisha or Sonya. Brendan Leonard from Semi-Rad types away at his laptop by the window.
I text Sonya; she says she is there, so I look again. Against the wall in a baseball cap, she waves. Aisha arrives. We eat eggs and english muffins and burritos, and I down a dirty chai. We discuss self-branding, business, ads, and the art of sponsored social media posts. At noon, we watch a live Enormocast podcast with a panel of filmmakers and other industry folks, Aisha one of them.
There is another panel afterward; they discuss the future of storytelling through film, including virtual reality. Ben Page is a part of the panel. He’s the lone bike rider who has been cycling across the globe. His self-made film highlights his trek through the Canadian Arctic. Currently cycling through Africa, 5Point flew him out here for the festival. Amazing.
“The poeticness [of storytelling] shouldn’t take away from the honesty,” he states. I scribble into my notepad. What are the key components of storytelling? Pre-production, communication, and in-the-moment direction are a few they mention. Distribution is the biggest challenge, they say.
“With adventure, there is inherent risk,” Fitz Cahall from Dirtbag Diaries speaks, touching on how stories inevitably seem so similar. The art is in making content that truly addresses this sameness “in a new way.” Someone from the audience brings up the overflow of content on the internet, and the panelists agree that eventually we’ll reach a crest to this “content pendulum”—how people will eventually demand refinement of what is regurgitated. They hope.
5:30 p.m. I am working the Gear Giveaway table just outside the Recreation Center. I stand and have people fill out raffle tickets, even though it’s not a raffle. One winner takes all! I shout as if I’m selling popcorn at a stadium. Win a YETI cooler and a camp chair, PFD, dry sack and more!
But everyone wants their Sierra Nevada beers. Chatter and chortles, the smell of popcorn and perfume. A young man hassles me for a deal: 4 tickets for 20 bucks, ehhh? Sure, man. Sonya finds me, tells me she traded a bottle of whiskey for a ticket into the show. I’m not even surprised.
The evening film program begins and I toss all the gear into the back office. Suddenly Tracy, the Volunteer Director, is leaning over the front desk telling me about a private party after the films tonight.
“You should totally come and meet people.” It was as if the Universe was channeling her directly; her eyes were staring into me. I haven’t mentioned anything to her about why I’m here, that I’m new to freelancing and trying to network. But the way she says it, the sounds of the Twilight Zone appear in my head. Tracy quickly describes where it’s going to be, but the crowds of people filing into the theater snag me like a twig at the edge of a river.
I manage to find a seat, and another wave of grit, passion, comedy, and art flash across the screen. Wasfia, the first Bangladeshi to scale the Seven Summits, talks about how she goes to the mountains to surrender, not conquer. An armless man and his blind best friend have planted over 10,000 trees in rural China. Burners talk about the Ultra Marathon that takes place in the Black Rock Desert every year. Denali’s Raven, Dodo’s Delight, skateboarders in Africa, and the story of the Men’s USA Rafting Team’s attempt at breaking the speed record on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon—my eyes are wells for the rain.
“Do you just want to go to the bar with these random people I just met?” Sonya asks. Sure. We start following the randoms outside, but Sonya and I get caught up in conversation. They don’t wait for us. We lose them.
“I actually sort of let them go; I wasn’t really feeling them anymore,” Sonya admits. “Do you want to keep looking for Tracy?” Her green eyes reflect with street light in the dark. I shrug my shoulders, dig my hands into my pockets.
“I don’t know. I don’t want to force it. Let’s just go with the flow, you know?” I recall a conversation with Taleen Kennedy a few years prior. Taleen and I were returning from a trek to climb Mt. Conness; we had turned around before reaching the base due to Taleen falling ill and vomiting into the alpine grass. She spoke about her philosophy regarding force to obtain a goal or a response.
“You should never force anything, especially if it just doesn’t feel right,” I paraphrase what I remember her saying—that’s how I felt in that moment, standing on Main Street, watching people flow out and away into the night.
“Let’s go find Aisha,” Sonya pipes up. We go back inside.
Aisha and Steve are by the front desk. They mention going to a bar where Fitz Cahall’s band will be playing. Suddenly Krystle Wright is walking by. She stops to ask Aisha if she’s coming to the “VIP Tequila party.”
“I’m not as cool as you,” Aisha says, playful. Krystle winks and uses hand gestures for us to follow. Sonya and I keep quick tempo behind them. Steve runs off across the street.
“I’m going to spend all my money on tacos!” he hollers. We pass an alleyway.
“Pssst!” Someone hisses from the dark. It’s Erik Wardell, the Festival Director, and he’s guarding the back door to a place called Steve’s Guitars. Krystle leads the way inside.
It’s packed and getting fuller of really tall people. The room is lined with posters, vinyl records, hanging guitars, red lights, blue lights. A man from Suerte Tequila is mixing margaritas on the rocks. Sonya and I indulge, sip sour and shiver at the spine as we scan all the VIP faces. We lose Aisha somehow, so we venture into another room. The wall is lined with movie theater seats and across the room is a miniature stage set in the corner. Two women prepare for a performance, twisting mic stands and tuning banjo. Sonya and I take seats, giggle to ourselves about the seeming absurdity of such an evening. I recognize Ben Page and a few other big names.
Sarah Lee Steele, an adventurer and Google VR Program Manager, sits to my right as she and Krystle and another woman chat like old friends. I hear Krystle’s gentle laugh and I wonder if she remembers me taking a fan photo with her last night. Sarah stands up to get something. Ben is suddenly sitting next to me. We chat about the unusualness of being a part of something “so big.” He seems like such a down-to-earth chap, who is new to creating art through the lens of a camera.
I look over to Sonya and she’s caught up in conversation with a man named Kale. The folk music starts and the hanging guitars reflect blue and auburn lights and the warm aura of the room. Everyone packs in like drunken magnets.
Krystle is somehow sitting next to me now. We connect smiles and eyes and she lends out her hand.
“I’m Krystle,” she says, beaming. I shake her hand.
“I’m Sara.” Spinning off tequila.
“Do you make films?” she asks.
“No, I’m a writer,” I respond. Her eyes light up; she makes a bowing motion with her torso and arms.
“I have great respect for writers. Writing is hard,” she says. She laughs. I laugh. Am I blushing?
“It is, yes…can be—I can’t believe I’m here!” I say to change the subject. We chat about the randomness, too, of going to places and knowing no one, of finding yourself there only because of the flow of things and people around you. I even admit to being a little drunk, having only made a small dent in my margarita.
“Oh, come on. No one will know it’s your first drink. Except me,” she winks, raises her glass. I greet hers with mine. Her energy seems so genuine; how her smile expresses itself through the eyes first.
“How is it for you, knowing so many people here?” I ask her.
“Well when I first came to 5Point, I didn’t know anyone actually. Knowing people is fun now, but exhausting.”
“I wonder if I’ll ever make it…” I say as I stare into the wash of bodies and chatter.
“You’ll make it,” she asserts—the aura of the twilight zone appears again, as if, through her, is my future seen with such doubtless clarity. A wave overcomes me. The moment feels like magic. Her words, the alcohol, the baby carrots I eat to offset the coming drunkenness (thanks Sonya). The wave and the banjos and the reverberations of the universe—this has to be more than a damn drink!
And everyone is yelling to hear themselves speak. Liquor lips and hot breath. The room is small and getting smaller. Sitting, I stare through legs, legs, legs. I share words with idols, but, nevertheless, they’re human, vulnerable, drunk and nervous like me. Krystle leaves for a refill and I pull out my notepad, begin scribbling furiously, riding the heavy flood that is my head, my eyes, my ears, dripping like a nosebleed onto the page, stinging faster than I can pen.
I glance up after a bit and Ben is staring at me. I smile, suddenly self-aware that, yes, I’m writing in the middle of social chaos; but I proceed unaffected. He sits.
“So what is the process for you?” he asks curiously, his British accent heavy and slurred. “There is a lens of duality, isn’t there? How do you balance participating and observing? And when does that moment happen, when you decide to write?”
“When the urge is just too much to deny,” I answer with a chuckle, and he nods thoughtfully. I admit to him that I look up to Krystle, and how one day I hope to be known in a crowd.
“Bah—none of that matters when it really happens, doesn’t it? You write to write, create art for the art, not for people in a room to know your name.”
He’s right. I seem to be chasing so many things, some of them wrong, even. Fame? What would that truly mean to me anyway? Maybe it’s the tequila, the loud, throat-wrenching decibels that make fame seem so seductive.
I write his name down in my notepad, underline it; he laughs, moves on to another bubble in the cosmos of this space. Everyone appears so well-traveled, so zen, so settled into their roles in the industry, in their dreams and established careers. I feel that I don’t belong here, but here I am nonetheless, and life is odd like that.
Sonya and I finally stand. Shoulder to shoulder, we press and slink, bend backs, shrug to pass through the jagged crowd. I find the bathroom lit with a red light. This must be a dream, I think, so I take a photo of myself through the mirror, to prove, tomorrow, that it happened. Then I wiggle my way back to Sonya. It’s past midnight.
“Were you thinking about going back to Prince Creek?” she asks.
“No, I can’t drive like this. I’ll just stay in the parking lot I’m in. Steve said no one cares.” I shrug. She shrugs.
So we leave the churning clouds of artists and dreamers, and we walk down the street, steaming new confidence into the icy mountain air. My words have noticeably changed when I talk to people now. It is no longer a fishing apology for being no one.
I think about how everyone starts, how they all were once strangers in a loud room. This is only the beginning. Excitement beats the heart faster. I owe a lot to Sonya. She is noticeably more forward than I am, yielding a no-shame sense of self-promotion, and in many subtle ways, she is the one who got us into that party.
We are two new writers with very different backgrounds (i.e. she was born in Russia), but we are here, bonding in the uncertainty of the industry, what’s to come, and how we approach life with passion while discovering the finesse in owning it.
I settle into my Jeep and Sonya parks her car next door. I think of Sarah Lee Steele’s remarks on a workshop Google had her take: how inspiration often comes when the two sides of your brain randomly start talking to each other. I think about what habits we create as artists to nurture that connection. If it’s even possible to. Or if we’re forever at the whim of chance. Maybe it’s all of it. It’s both chance and the effects of choice, of self-will, of perseverance despite failure, and the recognition that you just have to let life happen sometimes. To surrender to the night, the mountain, to yourself. How good things do come.
Continue to Part 3