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Monday, October 20, 2008

Lost in the Fog


So last weekend, the Wave-inatrix did the unthinkable. I went camping with my son. Yes, there is another spawn of the W; a strapping high school senior. We packed up and went camping in West Marin County - Point Reyes to be exact. Those of you who have been there know how stunning Tomales Bay is, dotted with oyster farms, cattle ranches and estuaries peppered with blue heron. I am a big fan of oysters on the half shell and there's nothing like fresh oysters served simply, on a paper plate with a knife, a wedge of lemon and a beer, at a picnic bench overlooking the bay that Sir Frances Drake sailed his ship, the Golden Hind into in 1579. West Marin is a far cry from the tony parts of Marin that people usually think of - Larkspur, Ross, San Anselmo and Fairfax. In fact, it's another world.

A Northern Californian, born and bred, I have traveled the Northern California coast many, many times and now living in Southern California, I was reminded how majestic, windswept and dramatic the Northern California coast is. Elephant seals, abalone, light houses and great white sharks are plentiful; from the tip of Point Reyes, gray whales can be spotted migrating and the Farrallon Islands can be seen clearly. If there's no fog.

As we drove away from Olema, Inverness, Tomales Bay and the oyster farms and headed into the stark, windswept interior of Point Reyes toward the lighthouse, a thick fog descended. Creepily thick; ropey and silent, the fog gave us only occasional glimpses of wild coyotes, grazing cattle and a stag perched on a cliff. He watched us pass by calmly before melting back into the mist. It was Stephen King, MacBeth and Hitchcock fog all rolled into one. It was blowing in hard from the ocean obscuring everything in its path. Faintly, as we grew closer, we could hear the mournful sound of the foghorn, broadcasting a warning to the open ocean.

We parked the car, wrapped ourselves tightly in our hats and jackets, stood in the white-out and stared at a dismaying sign: Lighthouse: .04 miles. Walk? We had to walk in the freezing fog?? A path wound perilously atop sheer cliffs. The roar of the ocean below was the only clue it was there so profound was the freezing mist. Rocks dripped with algae, seagulls swooped into and out of sight in seconds and we passed others, returning in the other direction, hurrying back to their warm cars looking grim and cold. I have been to the light house before, years ago on a much sunnier day. My son was hesitant. Is it worth it? It's COLD! There's nothing to see! It's just an old lighthouse! Led by the sound of the foghorn, we continued on the path for what seemed like forever.

Finally, we arrived at the lighthouse, which has been perched on a rocky outcropping for over 138 years. I had been before and knew well the toll the stairs down to the lighthouse take; a straight shot down but the equivalent of climbing a 30-story building on the way up which leaves most visitors clinging to the rail, gasping for breath, pretending to be looking for whales. There may have been whales out there but there was no chance they would be seen that day. Of course, my son had to race down the stairs for the sheer glee of it but on the way back, pretended to look for whales as he gasped for breath. One father, about 1/3 of the way up the stairs, perched his young son on his shoulders and carried him the rest of the way. When he reached the top of the stairs, red cheeked and out of breath, he took his son off his shoulders. The boy promptly said - oh my LEGS! The few of us there laughed seconds before the wind whipped the sound against the rocks, muffling it and leaving only smiles.

What's all this got to do with screenwriting? Not much. Except that to say that sometimes screenwriting - or any slightly dicey endeavor - feels like walking on a winding path obscured by fog. Are we there yet? We hear the siren call of the foghorn, images appear and melt away again, the journey feels long and sometimes it's tempting to just turn around and go back to the warm car. And yet we can't - we've come all this way and the trip cannot have been wasted. Oh to see a map or a sign with a big You Are Here symbol. Then we'd know - are we getting closer? How much longer? Will it be worth it? My trip got me to thinking all of those melancholic things. Most days, I feel really great about my writing and about my company. Other days, I feel lost in the fog and ready to just turn around and head back toward certainty and safety. I crave markers and milestones - something to tell me that it's all worthwhile. I think this is something every writer can relate to. You can only get so many rejections and so many sets of notes saying a page one rewrite is needed before you begin to waver. What is this journey all about?

The only reassuring thing I can say - because guys, I go through it too - is that if the sound of that foghorn is somehow thrilling, if being on a mysterious path, while lonely and unsure is also strangely exhilarating, just keep putting one foot in front of the other and watch for those opportunities and people that suddenly appear out of the fog. Sometimes it is during your darkest hour that you turn the corner and arrive at Valhalla. Or a station on the way to Valhalla where you can find some reassurance, respite and motivation. I hope that the Rouge Wave provides a way station for you weary travelers. When I receive emails from Rouge Wavers telling me that, it is a way station for me too.

Cupcakes for everybody today. Now get back to work.



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5 comments:

Christina said...

Especially lately, I feel totally lost in the fog and am toying with the idea of spending the second half of my life as the wife of a rich attorney.

Yoda said...

Yes.

Beautiful, Julie.

Exactly.

E.C. Henry said...

I think you're a good mother, Julie.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

Judith said...

Hi Julie,
I just loved this post.Reminds me of a scene from one of my favorite films,"The Secret of Roan Inish"By John Sayles. The young girl in is a boat out at sea in the mist,she has no idea where she is going,just being drifted by the current.She says,"Hello is anybody there?" no answer. The seals bob their heads up from the water.She thinks she is lost but she is actually being guided to her destiny.That's how I feel about screenwriting.Sometimes I feel lost and alone,othertimes it's like I'm heading in the right direction even if I have no idea where that is.
Cheers,
Judith

hoeft13 said...

Nice.