A Leap of Faith: Part II – The Wave

16 02 2010

Costa Rica was beckoning to me….

Since setting the plan to leave town in motion, it seemed everything in my life was pulling against me simultaneously. By now, work on the film “Hollywood Homicide” was in post-production. In layman’s terms, that meant the filming had been completed, and now we were editing the footage, and trying to get the movie ready for the cineplexes. Everyone on the crew had figured out we were making a bomb, and money was being thrown around every which way to try and staunch the bleeding. Several previews had been cut and sent out to theaters with all the common cliches we’ve come to expect from buddy pictures: “In a world where music and crime collide…”, or “In Hollywood, no one is who they really want to be..” or “On the toughest case of his career Joe Gavelin has been assigned a new partner…” You get the gist. Cheese coming out of every opening. Trailers that were completely misleading about the movie, and could only hope to draw a few unsuspecting cinema goers into it’s web. In short, it was a slowly unravelling disaster.

I was working crazy hours, rushing home, picking up my daughter, feeding her, getting her homework done, getting her to sleep, and collapsing into a heap on the couch with some useless pop-culture show streaming from the TV. And then I would wake up and start it all over again. Each night I would dream fitfully, hoping everything would just change, and I would be magically transported to some paradise in the middle of South America with endless white sand beaches, beautiful women and unparalleled sunsets. And each morning I would awaken in my own house, my own bed, my own life… and I would go through the motions all over again.

As we got closer to my departure date I could feel it in my bones. I needed to get out of here. Nothing could hold me back, not the craziness of booking airline tickets in the post 9/11 world, not making an emergency run to get a valid passport before the trip, not even finding a way to get my daughter cared for while I was gone. Slowly, day after day, I got closer to the end of the tunnel.

Then, suddenly and without warning, I found myself at the airport, tickets and passport in hand. A stuffed backpack and a single carry-on by my side. And what on earth was that? A smile? A real, genuine, no bullshit smile peeking out from behind my lips? It felt like it had been years since I had smiled… and just like that, the journey began. My shoulders relaxed. My bags seemed light compared to the weight I had been carrying. This trip… this moment…. this opportunity was just what I needed… Everything was possible… and everything was about to CHANGE!

I arrived late that evening, and was picked up and whisked away by a friend of my father, who brought me to the gorgeous villa my father was staying in with his girlfriend. I slept hard, and dreamed of escaping… no really… it was one of those being chased dreams. I ran through a strange town, breaking into people’s homes, and attempting to hide out and evade my pursuer… who was none other than Harrison Ford. I had barely escaped him time and again, when he finally caught up and grabbed me by the scruff of my shirt and lifted me off the ground… at which point I gratefully awakened to find myself in a strange new land… completely free.

That morning we left that part of Costa Rica and embarked on a long and winding path through the rain forest in an old beat-up bus. This was the main road that ran through this country, and it seemed there had been a teacher strike, and a necessary bridge had been blocked by the protesters, so we had to take a side road around the blockade. We stopped at a roadside shanty, and grabbed a coke before heading further in. The whole journey was surreal, as if each moment you were going deeper and deeper inside yourself, peeling away layer after layer of societal underpinnings, until we finally arrived at our destination…. and I was figuratively naked… a newborn.

This undiscovered, remote part of Costa Rica was like a film set… unpaved roads… trees everywhere… people selling shells and trinkets from bamboo stands along the street… I wasn’t sure what to make of it. In a land of so many opportunities and experiences, I wasn’t sure where to begin… so I made a list of all the things I wanted to do while I was here and free from the constraints of my normal everyday life. At the top of my list… LEARN TO SURF….

So the first chance I had, I walked into town by myself, and talked to some locals, who put me in touch with Alvaro, a one-time professional surfer who had never made it to the big time, and now took odd jobs teaching locals and tourists the way of the wave.

He was rough around the edges. Tall. Dark skinned. Dreadlocks. His eyes were perpetually squinched tight, as if he had spent an eternity staring at the sun. His name meant Nobel Guardian. And he spoke with a thick Jamaican accent that was sometimes absolutely impossible to decipher. I was a little intimidated by him to tell the truth, but I had trust that this was where I was meant to be.

We grabbed a surfboard, and walked together out of town, and into a small inlet alongside an old dock. The waves were small here, and the place was practically deserted. He showed me the basics…. how to hold the board… how to stand on it (while on the sand just to get the feel of it)… how to paddle… then he took me out into the water.

This first day was miserable… try as I might, I could not even get close to catching a wave. I could stand for only a second before loosing my balance. Paddling was pure torture, and the board was rubbing my chest and my thighs raw as I swam. I was never going to figure this out… Sensing my discouragement, Alvaro pulled me out of the water. “Dat’s enuff for t’day.” He said, “Tomorrow we figure ‘dis ting out.” And he took me out for a rotisserie chicken at some local joint.

The next day I awoke with my passion and commitment renewed. I met Alvaro and we went out to the same spot. For the first two hours it was just like the day before.. that’s when Alvaro pulled me aside:

“What’s your problem man?” He asked, “This is simple stuff. You a smart guy. Just watch da wave, follow da wave, catch da wave. Dat’s all. Simple. I told him I was doing my best, but he just shrugged… “Theres somet’ing on your mind… somet’ing dat’s distracting you…”

He was right, there was something distracting me… a lot of somethings in fact. I had come to know them collectively as “my reality”. There was the shitty job I would have to return to at some point, the unfaithful fiancee taunting me from Amsterdam, the daughter I was doing my best to raise, the bills I had to pay… you name it, and it was one of my distractions. I told him this, and he laughed… “You still don’t get it man… Surfing is like life… it’s simple… watch da wave…. follow da wave…. catch da wave… everyt’ing else is just distractions…”

Something in his words rang true… so I paddled out, and I cleared my mind. I waited until I was focused, my only thought catching the next wave. Everything else was quiet. No, not this wave… not that one… here it comes… I saw it on the horizon as it closed in on me, and I just watched it. It was beautiful, perfect, majestic. My eyes took it all in, and I followed it as it approached. Then I paddled… and I paddled hard, pulling my arms through the water, forcing the board into motion with each stretch of my arms, and then suddenly the wave was upon me, and as the surfboard got carried by it, I stood up… and I caught the wave… riding it all the way into the shore, never losing my balance or my focus. And when I stepped off the board I understood what Alvaro had truly meant…

It’s simple. Life is a wave. And there’s only two things in life, the wave you want to ride… and everything that keeps you from riding it. I knew what my wave was now. I knew where I wanted to go. And more importantly I knew what the distractions were that were going to try, time and time again, to toss me off that wave.

NEXT: A Leap of Faith: Part III – The Knock


A Leap of Faith: Part I – The Job

6 02 2010

It was 2003, and at the time I was working as an assistant to a manager in the film industry. In his day, he had been one of the big wigs that they wrote novels and fictional stories about. He was the man who made Arnold Schwarzenegger the superstar he would later become, he had managed Gena Rowlands and Christopher Plummer through the bulk of their careers. He had been a top agent at ICM for years… but that was then, and this was a whole different era for the film industry. It was an era where agents were becoming managers, and manager were becoming producers, and here I was as an assistant.

This was the third in a series of frustrating jobs helping someone else build THEIR company. Somewhere along the way of this job, my life had gone through the ringer…. I had broken up with my fiance while she was on a semester abroad in Amsterdam, the World Trade Towers had been attacked, and I was trying my best to maintain my sanity while raising my 8-year-old daughter single-handedly. It was around this time that I got a karmic break. My father’s landlord (who I’ve spoken about in other posts, and will no doubt speak of in many, many more since he was the initial inspiration for this blog) called my father, asking for a recommendation of a computer trainer. Now, I was doing computer tutoring and fixing a few Macs on the side, and I certainly knew what I was doing, but I hardly considered myself a professional computer trainer. That being said, opportunity is where luck meets preparation, and I wasn’t about to pass this chance up, so I took the job.

I quoted my price at $75/hour, and was shocked to get no resistance to that price. And so began the job that would change everything. I would work at my day job during the week, and then work with Kurt every weekend. I was not there to teach Kurt computers, nearly as much as I was there to give him new things to think about. We explored all sorts of technology, ways of communication, and electronic solutions to everyday needs. Along the way, I learned as much as he did. Then I would go back to my day job….

My boss was in the process of finalizing a deal to produce a major motion picture, his first. He had secured Harrison Ford as the lead (a big win in anyone’s book), and had an offer out to Josh Hartnett for the other main role. Everyone in the office was excited, myself included… then I read the script, or as much of it as there was. Having been raised by a screenwriter, having been to USC film school to become a screenwriter, having read hundreds of scripts, and worked professionally to analyze scripts for major film studios, I knew what a good script was supposed to look like, and I knew how the process of writing a script was supposed to go… this script was a mess.

Harrison Ford had been sold on the concept of the script by the manager and the film’s fairly well known director. He hadn’t even read a page. This was because there were only 20 pages of the script so far. As the writer would finish pages he would email them to us fresh off his computer, they weren’t proofread, they weren’t edited, and they weren’t very good. We were in a rush to start the filming so that it would work with Harrison’s schedule. He had another film he was supposed to start on shortly, so it was a mad dash to get him in front of the camera. My spider-sense began to tingle… this was a slow-motion train wreck, no doubt about it. I tried to tell my boss the script was off pace, and the structure of the script didn’t work. I offered suggestions, criticisms, warnings, but it all went unheeded. Before we even had a final script, the shoot dates were set, and we were going into production.

I had long enjoyed watching bad movies, just to laugh at them… Ishtar springs to mind (a movie I’ve seen more times than I should ever admit in print) or Howard the Duck, or Waterworld, or Gigli, you get the point… And as I would watch these tragedies of modern filmmaking and egos run amok, I would always ask the same question: “Did they know they were making a movie this BAD?” Now I had a definitive answer… YES!!!! But once a bad movie is in motion it takes on a life all it’s own, and all you can do is hang on for the ride and hope your instincts are all wrong and that the box office will redeem all the time and effort.

This was the moment I realized I was done with this job, and began to think daily about escape. Unfortunately, I couldn’t seem to formulate a good game plan. I needed the money to raise my daughter and pay rent, my computer work wasn’t going to cover my needs, plus I couldn’t desert my boss in the middle of this disaster… after all, during filming I would be running his office’s day to day needs almost single handedly. I was screwed…. Or was I?

BRRIIIIIINNNNNGGGG!!!! BRRRIIINNNGGGGG!!! My phone started to ring. I picked it up, and my Dad was on the other line. My savior. He was going to Costa Rica for a vacation with his girlfriend, and they wanted me to come along. They would even pay my way to get me there. They were hoping I could come for the entire 6 weeks they would be there, but there was just no way I could do that. But an idea began to coalesce. I went into my bosses’ office, and told him I was going to take some vacation time. I would wait until the movie was released (only a few weeks away), and after the initial opening weekend I would take my vacation time of 2 weeks. This way I could be there for the initial weekend, but be gone before the inevitably huge second weekend box-office drop. It was perfect. He didn’t want me to go, but he didn’t really have a choice, after all I had almost never missed a single day of work, and he knew that he owed it to me.

And so the plan was set.. I wasn’t sure how this was going to get me out of this job, and get me back into a place where I was happy in my life, but getting out of the country was a good start. And I needed any help I could get….

NEXT: A Leap of Faith: Part II – The Wave