Anyone foolish to be a longtime or repeat visitor to this waste of bandwidth surely knows that I have a certain fondness for the annual screenwriter's conference at the Austin Film Festival. It's strange to try and recall that time before I'd first felt the insane rush of... "finally arriving at a place you were always meant and expected to be...". I'm sure there's some fancy word for that -- very likely something German and complicated. It's not destiny exactly, though that likely comes close to what I am fumbling to describe. It's a palpable feeling I clearly remember washing over me, like deja vu, only far more tangible and enduring and real -- as if I was somehow returning to a place that I'd forgotten due to amnesia, and suddenly a half lifetime of long-buried memory and sensation suddenly snapped back into clear focus.
This year was the same, only more so, and in a new and different and intoxicatingly wondrous way.
There is the moment when you realize what it is that you want to do.
And then there is that moment when you realize that you actually can do that thing you want to do.
And then there's that moment when you realize that the thing you want to do... is now already happening.
That's what Austin felt like this year.
We've been stuck in a totally weird weather pattern here in SE Texas in October this year. Where this month is traditionally among the driest of the year, in 2009 it seems as if we've been stuck under the same stationary puddle of drizzle. Amazingly enough, on Wednesday, aka "departure day," the skies turned a strange color -- "blue" -- and a bright shiny ball appeared in the heavens, and it was a gorgeous drive into Austin.
I swung by the airport to pick up my bestest pal Julie O and then we headed into town, checking into our respective rooms at the Stephen F Austin and then wandering over to pick up registration packages and see what other members of the tribe had already gathered. We grabbed beautiful Shawna, said how-do to a bunch of familiar folks, and then the three of us hopped into the car and rolled down to Threadgill's for dinner (for those scoring along at home: chicken fried steak w/ gravy on the side, mashed potatoes, turnip greens... larrupin')
It's a totally weird and disorienting situation: I love these friends dearly, as much as any friends I have anywhere, yet we get to see each other for only these four or five days annually when we all congregate in Austin. On the one hand you have a near-desparate need to make every single damned moment "count" -- let's do something memorable -- anything -- let's not waste a moment in which we could be celebrating these rapidly dissipating seconds of "us" -- but on the other you understand that there's no real need for such desperation. That just slipping back into a comfortable old friendship is often more than enough. That this... is sufficient.
Given that we were a block away from the Congress Avenue Bridge, home to the huge urban bat colony, we decided to finally make good on a long-standing threat to actually go view the nightly exodus, but as always, "the gods laugh when men make plans," so of course as soon as we got under the bridge, the heavens opened forth and we stood trapped under a highway overpass as rain poured down for an hour, and the bats -- flying rodents with brains the size of a medium cashew -- looked out with amused disdain. "Uh, folks-- it's raining. We're staying home tonight. Go away."
After that moist excitement, we wander back to the Driskill Bar, aka, "the Happiest Place on Earth", plop into a leather sofa and commence the serious business of lounging about, drinks in hand.
I'll not even try to list every single name on the list of folks whose presence brightened the year, as I'll surely forget someone and then catch hell. Suffice to say, it's always a huge thrill to see familiar faces strolling back in, feel a warm handshake, grab a good squeeze of a hug, be surprised by the unexpected but welcome slap on the back from a friend you'd not seen walk in. It's a family reunion, but instead of gathering the family which fate issued you at birth, in this case it's those brothers and sisters you yourself selected from the grand catalog of humanity.
We hook up with some friends -- some old, some new -- and wander off into the Austin night, carousing til long after last call on this last night where there are no officially scheduled events and social imperatives. Silliness abounds, while clear memories become scarcer and harder to grab.
Wednesday night -- first day in. What went down? Nothing much at all, yet it's still one of my favorite moments in the festival experience.
The players are assembled, and the show will now begin.
(to be continued)