Sunday, January 21, 2007

Pancakes and Cigarettes

Welcome to the next installment of Things I Did Several Weeks Ago (or More). Today we review the 2006 Firebird Festival in Phoenixville , PA. When we first moved into the area nearly eight years ago, Phoenixville was an old steel town just beginning to recover from a 20-year economic and social depression. Apparently, the drug dealers and prostitutes had just been cleared out, but the streets still felt far from safe.

Over the past several years, however, the town began perking up, using state grants to help develop new businesses and improve the physical space: soon a new park sprang up, as well as benches and streetlights lining the main thoroughfare. A group of local cultural creatives initiated the Firebird Festival as a year-end ritual to mark the symbolic death and rebirth of the town named after the mythic creature.

Jenifer and I met our friend Adam at the Steel City Coffeehouse, where local band SpiritGrass was already rocking. We quickly absconded to the Colonial Theatre, a grand old-fashioned movie house, for a marionette show about Santa’s elves called Fumblefingers Wants to Fly. The narrative throughline fell apart somewhere in Act II, and by the end it had become painfully clear that the writers had failed to do the deep character work. What was Fumblefingers’s motivation?

Nevertheless, the children were enthralled, and I was reminded of the scene in Amadeus where the common folk sing along with Mozart’s popular entertainment. Afterwards, we enjoyed an overpriced dinner at Iron Hill Brewery, a local upscale chain, and then made our way to Wolfgang Books. We missed a storytelling session, but were happy to browse through the books and look down on the brightly lit street from the shop’s well-appointed reading room.

Next was the main event. We gathered at the justice building, where we joined a procession led by Mia Bosna and her drum corps. Mia is an amazing artist who conducts workshops in shamanic journeying, and it was quite apparent that her inner 10-year-old was alive and kicking. We marched and hollered and clapped our way down to the parking lot where the huge wooden phoenix awaited us.

A fire twirler held our attention as we waited for the lighting of the huge wooden structure. Finally, the burning began, and soon flames were licking the head and wings until it took on a powerful, almost demonic presence, like the Balrog in Fellowship. I recalled Bhagavan Das’s tongue-in-cheek injunction to “find the flame; and burn, baby, burn.” I’d found it alright, and soon I was reflecting on the past year and the new.

2006 was a banner year for me. I logged enough air miles to circumnavigate the globe, visiting Sweden, Finland, and Denmark, as well as Los Angeles twice; worked out with a two-time World’s Strongest Man; met screenwriters Michael Blake and Shane Black; starred in an exceptional yoga instructional video; meditated with Bhagavan Das; conducted an exhaustive and illuminating ethnographic study of Scandinavian pants, made it to the second round in the Austin Film Festival’s screenplay competition; studied shamanic journeying; renovated my condo; and wrote blog entries of the highest quality. Heck, I even got a promotion at work.

Somewhere in there I did some screenwriting. In the words of Sean Bean, “I’m very pleased.”*

Yes, I am indeed wonderful – and generous enough to record all these wondrous doings for your reading pleasure. In truth, though, the point of this list is not to exercise my ego but to revel in the fact that I did something. Not too long ago I was just another phased-out fanboy trying to run down Wave 9 of Hasbro’s Star Wars action figure collection and come to grips with Episode I and What It Meant for Humanity.

Recently—meaning perhaps a week or two ago—Cecil, veteran checkout guy at Kimberton Whole Foods, asked me how I was doing. Rather than recite the above list, I said that things were going well and that I was working on my stories. (Working on my stories? How lonely high school goth chick is that?) I painted the big picture and he asked, “Do you think you have much chance of success?” I looked him straight in the eye and answered, “I wouldn’t be doing it if I thought I didn’t.”

2006 wasn’t all hearts and flowers. It was the most stressful and challenging year thus far at my day job. And so I shared the Cecil story with a friend of mine I’d met several years ago in a screenwriting class. He now runs a very successful nutritional supplement company, but the early days were trying.

When he started his business, he couldn’t afford to fly, and since he wasn’t married, he’d make three-week road trips, his trusty Volvo loaded with samples. He’d work his way to Fargo, North Dakota, drive down to Colorado, and then work his way home. He’d stay in Red Roof Inns and eat at pancake and waffle houses for $3. He couldn’t afford a typewriter with memory, so on Friday nights he’d find a Sears and buy a $500.00 memory writer, do all of his letters and paperwork, and then return the unit for credit on Sunday night. He was overstressed, smoked like a chimney, logged 300,000 road miles in three years, and amassed $45,000 in credit card debt.

And yet, he knew he would be successful. He knew the power of setting your intention, of creating a world of abundance, of being open to possibility, opportunity, and the allies along the path who will see you through the difficult stretches. He knew that the ashes and crumbs of the present would someday be a fond memory, the beginning of a new and beautiful dream. “Life,” he told me, “was good.”

*10 points for identifying the source of this quote.

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Anonymous Eric said...

It's not really fair of me to identify that quote, since I say it all the time, but I will say that the answer lies somewhere in a flooded, ruined city that is not New Orleans. Or rather a commentary on that city and the exposure of its inhabitants to the public eye, which previously had not been made available to said eyes.

Anyway, Ryan knows what I mean and knows that I know, but the rest of you must keep guessing.

2:37 PM  
Blogger Tony Shoemaker said...


This is our ashes work. This must be done before we reveal our golden mane. Bravo my dear friend. Dig deeper.

1:19 PM  
Anonymous Eric said...

Tony, I didn't realize that you were hip to the Iron John stuff. Rock on!

2:52 PM  

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