Wednesday, November 23, 2011
The Night of Writing Dangerously
I love NaNoWriMo. Let's just get that right out on the table. Some kids look forward to Christmas. I look forward to being chained to a desk and forced to hack out 50,000 in 30 days. I expect it is the same sort of high that forces people to run marathons and swim to Alcatraz in their Speedos. Personally, I'm partial to the comforting glow of the computer screen and the gentle tippity tap of the keyboard to pushing my body to the brink of quitting on me, but to each its own. Actually, no, you marathon runners and swimmers are nuts. Now pass me the Halloween candy. You weren't going to eat it, anyways.
So I received an email way back in the middle of October about this event going on in San Francisco in conjunction with NaNoWriMo. It was called "The Night of Writing Dangerously". It was a fundraiser for this charity that gets students fired up about long form, creative writing.
I started really writing in the 4th grade. We had gotten a story starter (it was this picture of a clock). I was so proud. I wrote a whole six pages, front and back, on that thick, large lined, brown newsprint with my fat red pencil.
Turned out a guy in my class really like to write, too. We were stuck on a bus together for 45 minutes each way to school and so he and I would sit there making up stories the whole time. We had a brilliant series we were going to publish. Kind of a Care Bears/Smurfs knock off. Trust me. It was genius. We could have ruled the kid demographic commercially marketed world.
My family moved and writing once again became the tie that bound my new friends and me together. Books were written on school yards. Stories were mailed back and forth for notes. During those horrible middle school years, writing was the one way I could communicate. I would sit for hours at my dad's computer with it's whole 2MB hard drive and type and type and type.
All this is to say, I viscerally know how important creative writing at a young age can be.
So I set about raising some funds to get up to this Night of Writing Dangerously Write-a-Thon. And you guys stepped up to make it happen. Thank you Caitlin Bergendahl, Bridget Franckowiak, Robin McWilliams, Cassie Oates, Joe Purcell, Richard Van Slyke, Mary Stancavage, Ken Steadman, Ray Stilwell, Tammy Turk, and Christine Wilhelm.
Sunday started at the altar of my liquid god at suck o'clock in the morning.
Bleary eyed, I drug myself to the land of the living.
It was a slow dash to pack. I kicked all the laundry under my bed and just shut the door in the hopes that the pet sitter wouldn't peek inside to see what a horrible housekeeper I am.
Laptop and powercord. Check. Novel on the laptop, emailed to myself AND on a flashdrive. Check.
Rainbow unicorn sweatshirt. Check.
It was off to the sweet little Burbank airport that I love so much. I was the only person on the shuttle.
As a last minute afterthought, I threw my collapsible umbrella into my purse, which turned out to be one of the smartest decisions I've ever made, for the weather gods decided we all needed some proper atmospheric conditions for writing dangerously. How else were we supposed to call upon the moody influence of dark and stormy nights? Quite considerate of Mother Nature. Really.
So, blogging about food is pretty stupid, but knock me down a couple IQ points and call me Bubba. There is a GREAT little random food place in the Southwest terminal that makes a killer breakfast burrito. I highly recommend.
Thus fed, caffeinated, and happy, my plane departed.
Now, 30,000 ft and 400 miles is no excuse for not staying on top of things. Muttering to one's self under one's breath is a fantastic way to keep your seatmate from yapping at you, so I pulled out my script since * gulp * we open next week.
Everyone says that Oakland is the easier airport to get in and out of, but the Bay Bridge toll road would make me argue the point.
Even so, I was in San Francisco. And not even traffic can kill that buzz.
I had about a 1/2 hour to kick around before check in, so I toodled down the road to Ghirardelli Square.
The rain had begun in earnest, so I was thinking I'd just pack it in and head off to the dry comforts of my motel, when I turned around and saw the most amazing rainbow I think I've ever seen.
It was double, all the way from one end of the sky to the other. And then I don't know how this worked out, but I could actually see the end of the rainbow. It crashed into Alcatraz. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN!?!?
But the hour to depart approached, and I headed off to the little Castle Inn.
Let's flashback for a moment, shall we? When I was on those long bus rides, before the days of writing stories, I would stare at all the hotels in San Francisco and play this game where I would decide which hotel was my favorite that day and cheer on the hotels that had a "No Vacancy" sign, giving them a gold star and a thumbs up.
I was kind of a weird kid.
So, anyways, the Castle Inn was one of those hotels that I would pass and it was kind of a kick to see what it looked like inside almost thirty years since I had first wondered.
I got dressed, primped and polished for the big event that night.
I rode down the ancient lift to my car.
And headed over to the The Julia Morgan Ballroom at the Merchants Exchange Building.
From the moment I entered, I had already made, like, five friends.
It's hard not to notice the cool kids when you're all dressed up in 1940's noir. Everyone was so insanely sweet. There were people from all corners of the globe, all gathered in San Francisco for this Write-a-thon.
There was a candy bar.
And an open bar.
And then the ballroom opened up at at each of our places was a tote bag with swag and a mug and an event poster.
We all found ourselves a seat.
And set up our sea of laptops.
I made a beeline to check out the raffle table where they were giving away baskets full of gift certificates, a wizard robe, and a hand carved Viking doll.
The whole evening was filled with word sprints where you typed as fast as you could. I was proud of hitting 800 wpm. The winners were pulling 2200. The winners had to wear a hat shaped like a flower pot with flowers sprouting off the top. There were competitions between the tables to see which group could churn out the most words. Dinner was all finger foods which could be eaten with one hand while you typed with the other (spring rolls, dim sum, bitty sandwiches).
Anyone who hit the 50,000 word mark got to run to the front of the ballroom and ring this great big handbell. The whole place then erupted into applause and they got their very own gold crown.
About halfway in, we got a visit from Psycho Donuts.
I chose the Mello Submarine, which was a rice crispie cookie on top of an old fashioned donut. And then I saw God.
One of the really special moments of this entire evening, though, was being there as Chris Baty said goodbye.
He's the founder of NaNoWriMo and Script Frenzy. After thirteen years of literary abandon, he has decided to retire from the madness and spend some time getting is own writing whipped into shape and out into the world. His goodbye speech had the whole room in tears. He then came around to each and every table to sit and chat, and thank us, personally, for supporting the NaNoWriMo charity. So, I pass it along to you all by proxy. Thank you.
Around 10PM, the dinner and donuts had been cleared away to make way for a milk and cookies bar. I was pretty hopped up on caffeine, myself. DRINK ALL THE COFFEE!
I took a pause, though, to grab a picture with the Los Angeles contingent. As luck would have it, the head liaison from my friendly neighborhood LA borough happened to be sitting at my very own table.
As the hour approached 11PM, we were fast and furious at the keyboard. When the final duck quacked (it was the signal for "pencils down" all evening), I had hacked out 4,958 words. Not too shabby. The final count for the entire evening (from those who turned in their counts) was 43 people who met the 50k November goal and a group total of over 420,000 words.
As I drove back to my little home away from home...
...and climbed the stairs to tuck in for the night...
...it was just one of those surreal evenings that seemed almost larger than life. Larger than me. Writing as a grown up is such a solitary activity. It was amazing to meet the other people on this planet who are engaged in this goofy art, too.
I rose the next morning at 6:30AM and wandered down to Fishermans Wharf as it was waking up. I got Boudin for breakfast with a hot cup of Pete's coffee.
There wasn't a tourist in site and I sat on the dock, watching the crab boats.
I drove to The Palace of Fine Arts
And watched the swans
I could visit that place a million times and always see something new. There is something about the way the light hits it at different times of the day and during different seasons.
The time to go home was at hand and I started my long drive out to Oakland. It was an utterly amazing 24 hours in the city. Thank you comes woefully short of the gratitude I feel for each of you that made it possible. But for lack of a better phrase in the English language... thank you.