I spent the first 18 years of my life in Shasta County before moving to Westwood to attend college at UCLA. My town of Cottonwood was small in numbers, but wide in space. Many houses came with spacious land and it was nearly impossible to rent. People owned their houses and were there to stay. Nothing new ever seemed to happen.
When I moved to Southern California, I stayed for 30 years. I loved the diversity and culture. Everything was always changing. As a young person, renting was the norm as houses were too pricy to buy in the areas I wanted to live. People were in constant flux and I moved 28 times during those early years. When I married and we bought a house, we stayed there 15 years, cloistered away in a beach city gated community where there was less coming and going. We needed to think about schools and stability of space. Finding a home base was key to surviving the swirl for our kids.
When we moved back to Northern California in 2008, I saw the area through new eyes. Physically, it looked mostly the same. Front Street was still lined with historic buildings that looked like they were about to fall over. The old barn on Gas Point, the town icon, was barely hanging on, tattered by decades of 110 degree summers and stormy winters. It was still hard to drive any place without passing an animal, often lazing near the side of the road. My favorite neighborhood watch alert was, “Hey. Anybody missing two horses? They’re in my yard.”
But at closer look, things had changed. There seemed to be a new appreciation for the arts. Schools had gone up to support the arts. There were art hops in various places through town. There were strong theater programs for kids outside of school. Everybody I talked to was either a writer, a painter, an actor, a performer, a poet–or wanted to be. I wondered if it had been this way before and I just didn’t see it from my young perspective. After all, my mom was quite a painter when I was growing up. It never occurred to me that there were others out there.
But a weird thing happens when you have space around you filled with nature. When we moved to Cottonwood, my writing world opened up. I wrote a second novel and multiple shorter children’s books. I became more interested in painting and philosophy. I felt myself opening to the flow of the Creator creating through me. I could feel the flow more clearly. All art modalities were fair game.
Most recently, that flow has taken me to the world of the performing arts, an area I didn’t have much interest in 5 years ago. I’ve always loved to go to movies, and loved my early job working at the Gateway Cinema in Anderson. Still, I never felt a draw to make a film. But in staying open to the flow, and listening to the call of my intuition, I can say with certainty this is my next playground to creatively express what I believe wants to be created.
In my process of setting up a film company and entering pre-production on a documentary film, I have had the joy of discovering the Shasta County Arts Council and Performing Arts Society. On Friday night, I shadowed kind Mike Flanagan. I wasn’t even sure what we were filming until I showed up. It turned out to be a poetry reading with one of my past writing partners reading. I saw other writers there. Poems were read with passion covering diverse topics.
The Old City Hall, where the event took place, is a historic pleasure. Checkered tile floors and palatial curtains set the tone. Fifty years ago, drunk men were thrown in the black iron jail cells downstairs, one of which still remains as a storage unit. With no air, and 110 degree days, that was punishment at its best.
Setting up to film this event was full of the chaos of production. As people showed up early and milled about, frantic set up ensued. I learned from the film class I taught this seems to be the nature of the beast. We were shooting from two cameras and a gazillion wires weaving in and out of pathways and to a variety of laptops and screens. There’s so many things to consider. There wasn’t much time for tutorial, so I jumped in pushing buttons trying to figure out the camera. (Turns out, I have an uncanny skill for finding menus on the camera nobody has ever seen without leaving any clear breadcrumbs on how to get back.) Mike patiently signaled me (though I was not at all clear on the signals as this was my first day), so he would then need to come over and whisper what the signal meant. He insisted I was helpful, but I’m pretty sure he was just being kind.
Standing for three hours in hypervigilance turns out to be a tough gig. Camera people have a tough job! That was the best lesson for me to learn. There were other takeaways as well. Things I’d learned in my beta film class, like turn the fans off, came up. What wasn’t covered was how you turn the fans off if they’re locked in plastic covers and you don’t have the keys? I learned that filming hazards are more a norm than an exception and how it’s important not to walk in front of your camera when it’s live. Yep. I did that.
As I reimagine my role as filmmaker, I realize it’s so much more collaborative than that of a writer. Writing can be collaborative to an extent as you move back and forth between editor (writing partner, writing group, your mother) incorporating changes. However, it is not the simultaneous collaboration that making a film calls for. Not even close. That dynamic is more like a dance where all parties are moving together simultaneously. There are so many balls to juggle, boxes to check, personalities to play with all in a shared moment.
I looked through the Canon lens and felt I was looking at the place within myself where I was most comfortable. Writing poetry in the quiet of my own space. Maybe stepping out to read it to others. Then, returning to my own quiet space to write more. That is certainly my comfort zone.
But I have never been one to cling to my comfort zone too long, especially if I feel called to stretch. I just think it’s really interesting I had to return home to a place I felt I’d never grow in order to do it.