Litquake and Video Takes

IMG_0040San Francisco has long been known for its ability to draw and inspire writers, from Mark Twain and Jack London to the Beats like Ginsberg and Kerouac, to contemporary authors Isabelle Allende and Dave Eggers. I love this city – it’s beauty, its proximity to the ocean, but mostly because it’s effing vibrant, pregnant with possibility, overflowing with the kind of creative energy that always inspires me to write. Every time I come here it’s a shot in the arm with a creative juice potent enough to rival Red Bull. This past weekend was no exception.

It’s only natural that “The Literary City” should give birth to Litquake’s Litcrawl, the literary equivalent bastard spawn of Woodstock and a pub crawl held annually in the city’s Mission district. It’s 82 sessions crammed into three hours in venues as diverse as laundry mats, hair salons, galleries, restaurants, co-op work spaces, cafes, dark alleyways, and bars. It’s anything and everything that you can dream up related to writing.

My buddy and fellow writer Scot Bolsinger and his long time friend Paul, joined me this past Saturday night to check it out. We met at the Mission Laundromat where an older Latina woman struggled to maintain dominion over the counter where she folded clothes while a crowd amassed and women in pretty dresses read poetry, Twitter-based flash fiction, and non-fiction short stories as part of “Dirty Laundry: Loads of Prose presents Sex, Lies, and Lost Socks.” We headed next to a salon where a large crowd had gathered to witness a literary relay race sponsored by the Castro’s Literary Cooperative. What is a literary relay race? I cannot say for sure, but it appeared to involve the cooperative creation of an original story written by ten writers solely for and during the hour-long session. IMG_0028The vibe in Fellow Barber, where the event was held, was upbeat and filled with the buzz of excited chatter. The authors, each wearing a big number taped to the front of their shirts, had gathered at the center of the salon where they slapped one another on the back and bore faces filled with the kind of calm that comes after the storm of a live performance.

We checked in to hear kids reading their stories at 826 Valencia, Dave Egger’s non-profit organization dedicated to helping children and young adults develop writing skills and teachers inspire their students to write. At The Chapel we discovered a contest was about to begin. We high-tailed it outta there fast lest the other, far more qualified and willing participants discover we were literary trivia posers and beat us to death with their notebooks and pens. On our way out we were intrigued by this sign and stopped to check it out.

IMG_0042Turns out the sign advertised the Hook-Up Truck, a “modern dating solution for safe sexual adventuring” that can be dispatched immediately to any location in the city. Private, secure, and temperature controlled, rental of the room includes complimentary birth control and STD preventatives and optional use of the installed camera. Seeing as Scot is a happily married man and Paul’s a gay pastor, our discovery of the Hook-Up Truck signaled it was time for this lady to head on home. Scot and I had to be up early the next morning.IMG_0046

5AM Sunday morning came too soon. By the time I got my shit together and drove to the Embarcadero (getting lost along the way) it was almost 6:30 and the sky was growing bright with the impending dawn. Scot and a production crew of five were gathered on the roof of Scot’s apartment building when I arrived, Scot lit up like a billboard, balanced atop a bar stool with the Bay Bridge for a backdrop. He smiled with relief when I appeared. Focused and with his back to me, Dave Moutray of Crux Jinx Productions directed one of the crew to repoint the lights. I might have felt a wave of nervousness flood through my gut, but I was too damned tired.

Bruno, the sound man, wired me up, instructing me to run the mic wire he connected to my scarf down through my sweater, same as the actors playing anchormen and politicians I’d seen on TV. I took a seat and watched as they shot. Soon the sun rose, prompting the parrots of Telegraph Hill to leave their overnight perches to fly in wide circles chattering and generally making a lot of noise along the way. The parrots overwhelmed the sound every time they flew nearby slowing progress. I noticed Dave getting antsy and before long he announced the sun was too high. The crew relocated to the shaded deck off Scot’s apartment and I continued to wait my turn in the adjacent living room.

Scot Effin VideoI drank a couple of lattes, read a few emails in an attempt to distract myself from thinking about what was to come, and then it was my turn.

Dave turned the bright lights, two cameras, and his full attention on me where I sat on the soft black leather couch willing it to swallow me. Tired or not, I felt my head begin to buzz, my stomach clamp down on itself, and my blood pressure rise. In an attempt to channel that awful feeling, I rung my hands until my fingers hurt. I wondered if maybe I shouldn’t have skipped one or both of the lattes.

Dawn Effin VideoAs he had done with Scot before me, Dave began, “So Dawn, why don’t we start with you telling me, what is Effin Artist?”

I did my best to answer the “what” and “why” of Effin Artist so Dave and crew could pull together the necessary sound bites to create a three minute video that will reflect the vision that Scot first shared with me last June. But in describing what is now our shared vision, the challenge we are faced with is that the what of Effin Artist is still a moving target. It’s like trying to determine the sex of a one-month fetus – it’s just too early – the naughty bits have yet to emerge. And we’re a little like expectant parents, reticent to share too much before things have developed sufficiently and the idea demonstrates clearly it’s got ten fingers and ten toes.

I’ve never felt like such a complete and utter amateur. Trying to come up with the right words was intense and the sense that “this really matters so I have to get it right” threatened to overwhelm me. By the time we broke for lunch I felt weak and a little nauseous.

For the last shot, Dave sat Scot and I tight up next to one another on that same mushy couch and prompted us to deliver the our call to action – what people will need to do to help make Effin Artist a reality. Sitting on that couch alone under the bright lights was hot enough, now there was a big burly Italian American sitting and sweating alongside me. I felt my pits and the back of my legs getting damp with sweat and hoped that my deodorant was working.

“Sit up straight,” Dave reminded us every time the couch sucked us back down to slouching.

I was so tired I couldn’t get my lines right. I’d managed to pull off the “why” without too many takes, but this was demanding more from me. Finally I nailed it and sank back into the couch in relief.

Then Bruno the Sound Man, so quiet I’d almost forgotten he was there, spoke up, “Someone was tapping.”

Everyone followed his gaze, which rose from his sound monitor and landed on me, “I think you were tapping the couch or your leg with your hand.”

I felt beads of sweat break out on my forehead as my blood pressure rose to make my cheeks flush and my ears burn. I did not want to have to try to get those same words out again. I think I might have yelled at myself. I felt like an idiot. The crew had been shooting for over eight hours and my nervous tapping meant they had to keep working. Nevertheless their mood was surprisingly upbeat. They joked and encouraged, cajoled and did everything in their power to extract the right words with the right tone and feeling of purpose from our mouths.

I felt a little better when Scot blew his part on our next try.

Take Seven was the charm. It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty effing good. Good enough for horseshoes, hand grenades, and a couple of writers doing their effing best to get their message across. I can’t wait to share the results, the what and the why of Effin Artist and my exciting role within it.

Biting It

If you surf or are a fan of the sport then you’ve undoubtedly seen this:

If you don’t surf then let me explain. That encounter occurred while 3x ASP World Surf League champion Mick Fanning from Australia was waiting for a wave in the final heat of the competition at Jeffreys Bay, South Africa. This is the closest a professional surfer has ever come to being eaten by a shark during a WSL event, in front of hundreds of live spectators and thousands watching televised coverage on TV or online. Fortunately for Mick and the sport of surfing, Mr. Shark was distracted from his mission to see what Auzzie surfer tastes like when he got caught in Mick’s leash (“leg rope” to Auzzies and South Africans). The thrashing you see in the video, including a good whack to Mick’s face, was the shark freaking out because it was trying to free itself from the leash. Mick handled the situation incredibly well and dealt the creature several blows on the back with his fist, leading surf legend Derek Hynd to compare him to the Flintstone’s Bamm Bamm.* It seems that the shark was as panicked as Mick and got the hell out of there. If the tangling and thrashing weren’t enough to scare him off, rescue boats quickly responding to the emergency very likely had him questioning who was in greater peril.

In the wake of the “attack,” there was a lot of talk about shark attacks and sharks in general in the media and among surfers. Social media was rife with stories of close calls and scary encounters with sharks. And those of us who spend a lot of time in the water felt compelled to share our own experiences concerning “the man in the grey suit.”

The reality is that if you spend time in the water, the likelihood that you’ll encounter one of these apex predators is considerable. And as a surfer originating in a place few surfers hail from, I’m often asked by family, friends, and acquaintances, “What about sharks?”

My reply, “If it is my destiny to be killed by a shark while doing something I love more than anything, then so be it. I would hope that you will be happy I died doing something I loved,” may come off sounding cavalier, but it’s sincere.

In my thirteen plus years of surfing and kitesurfing regularly, to date I’ve had three close encounters with sharks. I described the second one, which occurred while I was kitesurfing right out in front of my house in an earlier blog post. My first encounter was really just a sighting, but there were only two of us out at Nine Palms that evening and when the shark swam through the face of a wave, my buddy Fernando, son of a local rancher, caught the next wave in, leaving me to consider my fate. I was still a beginner and my lack of skills pressed me to praying to whatever deity might be listening that I would catch and ride the next wave in, rather than flail and fail. Plagued by a mental image of being up to my neck in the dark blue surrounding me, I nevertheless did catch a wave and made it to shore without incident. Neither of us saw the shark again after that initial glimpse of him cutting through the wave face.

My most recent encounter affected me a bit more profoundly than the other two. Like my second encounter, this time I was kiting. I’m at the stage in kite surfing where I’m still learning how to maintain control of my kite while I ride a wave. With the energy of the wave pressing you on, it’s easy to outrun the kite, which makes the lines go slack and the kite to fall out of the sky right into the impact zone of breaking waves. It’s tough, but not impossible, to relaunch a kite once it’s been smacked around by the white water on the inside and that’s exactly what happened on this particular day. My kite was lying in the water, the wind gently pulling it and me towards the beach while low tide exposed the sharp lines of rocks along the way.

I’m pretty stubborn. Often to my own detriment. There comes a time when you gotta say enough is enough and give up, but I usually push myself beyond those rational limits. This day was no different. In exchange for my persistence trying to get the kite relaunched, I got dragged across those rocks on the inside. This is when I lamented my choice of bikini over wetsuit. Had I been wearing my spring suit, my thighs would have been protected from the sharp rocks. Thanks to my vanity (I wanted to work on my tan), I instead got a long gash along my left upper thigh. The scar remains an indelible reminder of my bull-headedness and the following incident it likely precipitated.

I got back to the beach and inspected the wound. It was bleeding, but not heavily and the gash was not as deep as I thought it would be. I decided that if it stopped bleeding, I’d relaunch and try my luck at riding waves again. I’d caught that wave without reminding myself of the intricacies of wave-riding with a kite. All my hard-learned lessons came flooding back to me as I watched the kite fall out of the sky. I knew could do this!

I dragged my kite and board back up the beach to the take off spot, rinsed the blood from my wound and patted it dry. I reran the lines to the kite, making sure everything was in order, and reinspected the cut. The bleeding had stopped and I rationalized it was really just a scratch, nothing to worry about. Certainly nothing that would get the attention of a grey suit.

I had a relatively good session from there on out and managed to catch some waves without dropping the kite. An hour or so into the session, I checked in with my thigh muscles. They were fatigued, indicating t was time to start tacking North to the one sandy spot where I could get to the beach without crawling over rocks. It was just as I began to tack upwind when out of my peripheral vision I saw something grey leap partially out of the water. A small black grebe that seconds earlier paddled along the water’s surface had disappeared.

My heart clenched as adrenaline surged through my body and my head spun.

A walrus. It had to be a walrus, I thought fully entering denial.

And then another voice spoke up, an annoyingly intelligent voice. Walrus don’t eat grebes, Dawn. And there are no walruses here.

My mind buzzed like a pinball machine on full tilt and I drew a blank despite attempts to rationalize what I’d just seen as something else, anything but a shark. It turned next to the cut on my leg. I had to accept that it was possible that the small amount of blood I was likely leaving in the water had brought one in.

Just get in. Just focus on what you’re doing and get in. Don’t fall.

But of course I fell.

“Fuck fuck fuck fuck!” I hurled the epithets as I grabbed my board and hurried to get back up and moving after blowing the turn back towards shore.

“Fuck!” I swore again when I got closer to shore and realized that it would take at least three tacks to get up wind enough to where the beach was sandy.

I gritted my teeth and managed to turn and head back out to deeper water without falling. I focused everything on the task at hand, working my way upwind and eventually making it back to shore. I breathed a sigh of relief as I prepared to step off my board onto sand and brought the kite high overhead to the neutral position. That’s when I discovered that the wind had turned offshore near the beach and by bringing the kite overhead it was met with the force of a wind that pushed it back out to sea. It arced and plummeted into the sea behind me where the opposing onshore wind pushed it gently back towards shore. The lines went slack and I was powerless to do anything as it slowly floated into an area full of rocks just South of where I stood. The next thing I heard was a loud “pop!” followed by the hiss of air escaping. The kite had run into the sharp edge of a rock, much like my leg had earlier, which cut through the leading edge, an air-filled tube-like bladder that gives it structure.

Maybe it was the stress of seeing a shark consume a helpless little bird right in front of me, the prospect of similar treatment or maybe it was just frustration with the vagaries of kiting, but I lost it at that point. I totally lost my shit and screamed (to no one in particular as there was no one there to hear me anyway), “I hate this fucking sport! This is the dumbest fucking sport ever!!! I’m over it!!”

And in that moment, I felt alone…terribly fucking alone and I came close to crying. I felt the tears knocking at the door and I very nearly let them come. I came damned close to walking away from that kite bobbing gently among the jagged rocks with it’s fucked up lines and torn leading edge too. Very very nearly.

But I took a deep breath.

Considered the options.

Then put my head down and carefully picked my way over those goddamned motherfucking rocks and pulled my kite off them without doing further damage to me or the kite. The lines were caught in the rocks and it was all I could do to keep from having a total melt down every time I pulled on one of them and realized I had to disconnect it from the kite before I could extricate the mess from the grip of those tenacious rugged rocks.

It was almost dark when I finally had the whole maddening mess packed up and was driving along the beach towards home on my ATV, jaw clenched in anger.

That was six months ago and I haven’t kited since. The kite is still in its bag, torn, sandy, and neglected. And after watching Mick’s experience with the shark, I asked myself whether that was a function of the hassle that is learning to kite surf or if it is more about the shark.

Compared to surfing, kiting is definitely a higher risk activity where sharks are concerned. You go into deeper waters where sharks like to travel and you have the considerable potential of breaking down out there. Even experienced kiters have kitemares and end up losing entire kites or boards out at sea. The boards are too small to paddle back in on and the kites are a serious liability once they are disabled. Once when my kite failed I had to swim a good half mile to get back into shore, dragging the kite as the leading edge took on water. Getting to shore was a Herculean effort accompanied by nerve-wracking thoughts of what could be lurking deep below me.

Despite these experiences my passion for surfing keeps me returning to the water. I wonder though, if I had a serious close encounter with a shark the likes of Mick Fanning’s, how soon would I get back in the water? Would I even be able to?

It’s a crossroads I hope never to confront.

******

*After Fanning’s run in, Hynd was the first person to paddle out to the empty line up to catch a few overhead waves, further proving accurate my assessment that he is the Nutty Professor of Surfing. When I questioned his sanity by internet chat, he suggested, knowing we share a similar level of passion for the pursuit, that I would have done the same. “No one out…swell was building.” ‘Nuf said.