Monday, December 8, 2014

Roadtrips and Rainbows...

In literature I would likely be pegged as an "unreliable narrator" for my tendency to remember ONLY the curious side of things, often overlooking the drearier, duller bits. Take this header, for instance. No, on our recent road-trip, Troy and I did see a rainbow--a shy, frail smirk of a rainbow, to be exact. We also saw rockslides, mudslides, fog, hail, sludgy, slurry-like mud, and ungoodly amount of rain. But who wants to hear about the drab and the damp. Much less relive it. (Though, I will talk about the wild turkeys, California Condors, and the mice in the walls.)

The reason we've taken the trip in the first place was to attend Andrea Brown writing workshop at Big Sur. Hosted by one of the country's most prominent literary agencies, it is a three-day live-in, work-in retreat focused on polishing your work-in-progress while networking with your peers and industry professionals. How could I miss such a chance? Besides, we badly needed a getaway, and the fates graciously aligned their whims to our needs. Or so I like to think. The workshop ended up being a great learning experience. But then, so did the trip.

For one, we've gotten a year's worth of sightseeing in six hours, mostly in the form of various wildlife picturesquely lounging, soaring, or scavenging en plain air. The nature started us up on the hawks, moved us up to the vultures, and then swiftly progressed us to seals, deer, foxes, raccoons and finally, its glorious piece de resistance--California Condors. I had never seen one up close and--HOLY WOW!--the sheer size of it made my jaw drop as I stared at the creature in awe and trepidation. Those things are ENORMOUS! To call them birds is a sacrilege. Bears of the skies is a more fitting name!! Honestly, after seeing the condors, I would've been perfectly content to go back to LA and write them into my latest fantasy, but there was still more to experience--the writing and the revising and the networking, not to mention the driving.

Now, I'm more than ever convinced that the main purpose of road trips is brainstorming. While sampling new tunes and snacking on the gas station-bought treats that for some reason don't seem nearly as objectionable if consumed in a car. Treats, such as pork rinds and vinegar-soaked jerky and squishy egg salad sandwiches cut into perfect triangles. I should probably be ashamed for admitting this, but...these sandwiches are a long-standing staple, second only to 7-Eleven hotdogs as my favorite guilty road trip pleasure.

Big Sur is a quiet, wooded place hugged by the mountains, which are in turn embraced by the ocean. Its cool, damp scent reaches you at the same time you feel a peculiar unmoored sensation of submerging underwater. One minute you are hugging the barren hills, another you are engulfed by the trees. Giant pines, whose leafy branches clung to one another, blocking out the warmth and the sun. For such a solemn landscape, all aspects of it twine together into a kind of low-strung harmony. Moody and subdued, but also lyrically lovely. Celebrated for once being the home to the formidable Henry Miller and for lying close to the picture-perfect Carmel by the Sea, Big Sur is a solitary paradise, ideal for confiding your inner world to paper. The retreat nestled in the woods, taking up the entire Big Sur Lodge, with its rows of quaint, wooden cabins and hills overrun with wild turkeys and inquisitive deer. Shockingly spacious for two people, our cabin was smoky and cranky, rustic and inexplicably charming. It rained through the night, and we could hear mice scratching beyond the walls, the soft sighing of damp wood, and branches slapping the wet palms of their leaves against the glass.

The workshop itself was lovely. The ideal hub for brainstorming, revising, and hanging out with your fellow authors. My only issue was its length. Like most things we come to appreciate and enjoy, it was all too brief. Which in no way detracted from its awesomeness, the thoroughness of its instructors, or the quality of their feedback. If any of you has an opportunity to attend this retreat, my advice is: seize it. The classes were small and intimate, and each of us got the chance to dig deep into our stories' innards, to test our plots for weaknesses, and brainstorm solutions that would deliver on storytelling potential. Three days may not seem like nearly enough time, but by the end I had rewritten my opening, bonded with a group of amazing writers, and gained a deeper understanding of my characters and plot. Also, explored Big Sur's dreamy beaches and meandering forests trails.

After Big Sur, we headed to San Francisco by way of Carmel. The town by the sea is what a fairy-tale would most likely look like if it somehow manages to translate itself into reality. Full of ivy-corseted, moss-strewn cottages with shingled roofs and neat lawns; of tiny, multi-storied art galleries with warm, glowing windows and cozy garret quarters; of brass and iron clocks that tracked the passage of time in far off places; of carved window shutters and whimsical staircases disappearing into mysterious basements; the town is a dream. And like any fairy-place worth its salt, it has a profusion of restaurants and bakeries, delicatessen and candy shops. And dogs. Carmel is delightfully dog-friendly, and if you enjoy the company of furry, shaggy canines of all sizes and shapes, it is definitely the place for you.

This friendly critter at our hotel.

An art installation on the Bay Bridge

To our delight, the animal friendly theme continued into San Francisco. Our trip to Union Square was especially heartwarming, because all the dogs and cats you see in these windows were being placed up for adoption by the SF SPCA, the no-kill San Francisco shelter. While we stood admiring this pretty girl and talking to one of the SPCA volunteers, two sister puppies got adopted into their new forever family. Talk about positive energy. The best part about the SPCA is their commitment to placing terminally ill pets into new homes; and only a very small percentage of these animals is ever returned. As an owner of an epileptic dog, I'm a big believer in no-kill shelters and encourage everyone to support the amazing work they do to ensure all animals find their HEA.

Gorgeous Holiday windows around Union Square.

An unexpected sledding raccoons diorama in an otherwise proper office building.

We returned to LA, grateful to be back home, though reluctant to give up the joy of roaming the roads, bone-weary from lack of sleep and antsy with the travel-borne ideas and the urge to clothe them in words. Full of those peculiar but welcome incongruities, when your body is at odds with your mind, and the friction fills you with restless electric sparks. But ultimately, we were ready to turn the page and see where the new story may take us. 

Well, hello there, rainbow!

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