This year, for the first time, I arrived at the Austin Screenwriter's Conference alone. Without my good friend Ryan there I had no one to joke with, to commune with, to be nostalgic with. Instead I was free to think about all the possibilities that would unfurl before me, enriching my life in untold ways.
That lasted a full ten minutes.
OK. It wasn't that bad, but I can't deny that I approached this conference with a mixture of elation and dread. Elation because I knew I would surely have a good time. Dread because I established metrics for success that were outside my comfort zone. It's also a familiar dread that comes from the first lunch period on the first day of school where you fret about whether or not you will eat lunch in solitude for the next year. Will my friends be there, or will I be forced to roam the halls of the Driskill alone cursing myself yet again for not being able to engage my targets?
When I arrived in Austin I was already behind the eight ball after leaving my business cards at home. Then I registered and found out that I couldn't use the pitch I spit-polished on the flight over because the pitch competition was sold out. Then I find out that the conference had meaningful programming right into Sunday evening when I was slated to come home early Sunday morning. Before the conference could even start I already felt like I was starting with a deficit that seemed impossible to overcome.
I wandered through the Driskill Lounge two or three times search for familiar faces, feeling like some desperate schmuck. Finally I sat at the bar, ordered a Shiner, and turned to watch the Phillies contend for spot in the World Series. I knew things would get better, but that provided me with little solace.
In the fifth inning my girlfriend called and I wandered from the bar so I could talk to her. On the way out of the lounge I saw Brett, Julie, and Shawna chatting on a rawhide sofa. Suddenly I felt better, like I had just fallen into a groove. I finished talking to my girlfriend, but before I joined my comrades I went to the bathroom.
As I entered the restroom I saw them. Stones. Then I peed on them. And it was good.
I had forgotten about them. The fancy Driskill peeing stones. Why the rich and privileged at the Driskill pee on stones I will never know, but they do. Perhaps putting stones in a urinal somehow signifies the domestication of the outdoors. For me it was the mechanism that brought me into the moment, made me realize that I've been here before and will be again and that I'm better for the experience.
I went back to my friends and joked and communed and remembered years past. These are good people that I somehow stumbled into four years ago, almost cosmically, just the kind of good people you need if you are to strive against the waves that batter and smash so many aspiring writers. It's the kind of solidarity you need to gain a handhold in this business.
Once again the Austin Screenwriter's Conference (in whatever form) provided me with the strength needed to push on, to give me the optimism that one day I will write something special enough to be beaten back to ordinary by the studio system. A girl can dream.