by Sara Aranda
[If you haven’t, read Part 1]
730am. I lift my head towards the bright windows of my Jeep. Everything is covered in a thin layer of snow. I lay back down. We’re not meeting Aisha for breakfast until 10am – and it’s so warm and soft in here…
850am. 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. I can’t believe how much I slept. 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. So I get my shit together, even take a real shit by the trees, snap a few pictures of the marbled white and green grass before dusting off my Jeep for the cruise into town. Even find a note from Sonya tucked into the door handle.
10am. The cafe confuses me at first. I walk in expecting a quaint breakfast place, but you’re immediately confronted by a small coffee bar. I peer through to another room and see open seating, no sign of Aisha or Sonya, but I see Brendan Leonard from Semi-Rad typing away at his laptop by the window. I text Sonya and she says she is there so I look again. Against the wall in a baseball cap, she waves at me. Aisha arrives and we eat eggs and english muffins and burritos and I down a dirty chai. We talk about self-branding, business, ads, and the art of sponsored posts. At noon we watch a live Enormocast podcast with a panel of filmmakers and other industry folk, Aisha being one of them.
There is another panel after, and they discuss the future of storytelling, 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 highlighted his trek through the Canadian Arctic. He’s currently cycling through Africa and 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 to 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 on how stories can seem so similar. The art is in making content that truly addresses this sameness in a new way. Someone brings up the overflow of content on the internet and how eventually we’ll reach the crest of this content pendulum – how people will eventually demand refinement of what is regurgitated – we hope.
530pm. I am working the Gear Giveaway table just outside the Recreation Center. I stand there 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 or reading the headline to breaking news. 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 and tells me she traded a bottle of whiskey for a ticket into the show. What a fucking badass. And soon the evening film program is starting and I toss all the gear into the back office.
Suddenly Tracy, the Volunteer Director, is leaning over the counter and 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 said it, it made the sounds of the Twilight Zone appear in my head. She 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 of input.
10pm. I can’t find Tracy. Sonya waits by the exit as I wander around all the rooms in the Recreation Center, ask other volunteers. Nothing. “Do you just want to go to the bar with these random people I just met?” Sonya asks. Sure. We start following the randos 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?” she asks, her green eyes reflecting street lights 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. We were returning from a trek to Mt. Conness, having 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. And that’s how I felt in that moment, standing by Main Street in Carbondale, watching people flow out and away into the night. “Let’s go find Aisha,” Sonya pipes up, so we go back inside.
Aisha and Steve are by the front desk. They talk about potentially going to this bar where Fitz Cahall’s band will be playing. Suddenly Krystle Wright is walking by and she stops to ask Aisha if she’s coming to the VIP Tequila party. “I’m not as cool as you,” Aisha plays. 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 backdoor to Steve’s Guitars. Krystle leads the way.
We all shuffle in – it’s packed and getting fuller of tall-ass people. The room is lined with posters, vinyls, hanging guitars, red lights, blue lights. A man from Suerte Tequila is mixing margaritas on the rocks. Sonya and I indulge, sip sour and let it shiver the spine as we peer around at all the VIP faces. We lose Aisha somewhere so we venture into another room. The back wall is lined with movie theater seats and across the room is a small stage set in the corner. Two women prepare for a performance, twisting mic stands and tuning banjo. Sonya and I take a seat and we giggle to ourselves. I recognize Ben Page and a few other big names.
Sarah Lee Steele, a badass 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 and we’re chatting about the unusual-ness of being a part of something so big. He’s such a down-to-earth chap who is still trying to figure out how to create art through the lens of a camera. I look over to Sonya and she’s caught up in conversation with a man named Kale. Sarah comes back and Ben, being a gentleman, gets up to stand. The folk music starts and the hanging guitars reflect light and the 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 beams. I shake her hand.
“I’m Sara,” spinning off tequila.
“Do you make films?” she asks, her Australian accent so warm.
“No, I’m a writer.” Her eyes light up and she makes a bowing motion with her torso and arms.
“I have great respect for writers. Writing is hard,” she laughs, I laugh. How am I not blushing?
“It is – yes…can be. I can’t believe I’m here!” We chat about the randomness, of knowing no one, of finding yourself in places because of the flow of things and the people around you. I even admit to being a little drunk despite having made a small dent in my cup.
“Oh, come on. No one will know it’s your first drink – except me,” she winks, raises her glass.
“How is it for you, knowing so many people here?” I ask her. Her energy is so genuine, how her smile expresses itself through her eyes first.
“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 stare into the wash of bodies and chatter.
“You’ll make it,” she asserts, as if, again, the Universe stepped in, through her, and spoke of my future so clearly – a wave overcomes me. The moment feels like magic – her words, the alcohol, the baby carrots I eat to offset my coming drunkenness (thanks Sonya). 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 some heavy flood pouring through my head, my eyes, my ears, dripping words onto the page, mind spilling faster than I can pen.
I look up after a bit and Ben is staring at me. I smile, suddenly self-aware that, yes I’m writing in the middle social chaos, but I proceed unaffected. He sits.
“So what is the process for you?” he asks curiously, his British accent heavy, “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 too much to deny,” I answer and he nods thoughtfully. I tell him how 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.”
And I reflect, know he is right. I seem to be chasing so many things, some of them wrong, even. Fame? What would that truly mean to me? Maybe it’s the tequila, the loud, throat-wrenching decibels. I write his name down in my notepad and underline it and he laughs, moves on to another bubble in the cosmos of this space. Everyone seems so well-traveled, so zen, so settled into their roles in the industry, in their dreams and budding careers. I don’t belong here, but here I am nonetheless and life is beautiful like that.
Sonya and I finally stand. Shoulder to shoulder we press and slink, bend backs, shrug to pass through the crowd. I find the bathroom lit with a red light. This must be a dream, I think, so I take a photo of me in the mirror to prove to myself tomorrow that it happened. I wiggle my way back to Sonya and we talk about everything, anything, about words even, words like queer. She informs me on how she defines it for herself. I listen. I embrace her. It’s past midnight. “Were you thinking about going back to Prince Creek?” she asks. “No, I can’t drive. I’ll just crash in the parking lot I’m in. Steve said no one cares,” I shrug.
So we leave the churning cloud of artists and dreamers and we walk down the street, steaming a strange new confidence into the icy mountain air. My words have 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, and I owe a lot to Sonya, and to Emma for introducing us. Sonya is noticeably more forward than I am, yielding a no shame 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, but we are here together, bonding in the uncertainty of the industry, what’s to come, and how we approach life with passion; how we’re discovering the finesse in owning it.
I settle into my Jeep and Sonya parks her car next door. I’m smiling. Carbondale is alright. 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 in those moments when you just have to let life happen. Surrender to the night, the mountain, to yourself. And how good things come.
Continue to Part 3