A win followed by a much, much bigger loss
On Monday, Nov. 23rd, around 6pm, I got the call I'd been waiting for over the last couple of months - my film Lovers of Hate had been accepted into the Sundance Film Festival. In competition, no less. I was in a state of shock for at least half an hour afterward. I was at work and first got to hop up and down and scream with Sarah Ann, Agnes, Carol and Martin, the few stragglers left at the Austin Film Society the sleepy Monday before Thanksgiving. I hopped in my car and drove around town, trying to find someone to tell in person. First I tried Megan Gilbride, the producer, but she had already taken off for Israel to work on a feature film that will be shot in the West Bank thru December. Then, I drove over to the lead actor, Chris Doubek's house, but of course he wasn't there. So, then I had to drive home to get the address of the lead actress, Heather Kafka, and on my way out the door, I finally got located Doubek at home via text message and rushed over there. He only had to read the expression on my face to know I'd gotten "the call." He screamed "no, no, no" at the top of his lungs, disturbing everyone in his apartment complex, no doubt. We hugged and jumped in the car to surprise Heather at her house. She dropped to the floor and screamed, which her beautiful two-year-old daughter Harper didn't like at all. We tried to explain to Harper that it was good news and that we were all happy, but she pretty much stayed in the corner, wary of these two crazy men who showed up to make her mother cry.
The rest of the night was elated phone calls, back-slapping, hugging, scheming, screaming and drinking. Lots of drinking. The week following was a struggle to keep the good news contained, as the festival asked us to do. And, I finally got to have a relaxed and not gut-twisting Thanksgiving with my mom and stepdad and sister and her husband up in Colorado.
Now, the loss:
We returned from Colorado on Saturday, I ran my prescribed 6 miles on Sunday and Monday was back at work. Then, exactly one week after the call from the festival came, almost to the hour, another phone call came from my sister with news that again threw me into shock that I still haven't emerged from. My father, Kennedy Orville Poyser, had passed away from a sudden heart attack that afternoon in San Miguel de Allende, where he had been living for the past couple of years. He was on his way to the doctor who had urged him to have a stress test just ten days earlier. He collapsed right in front of the doctor's office, actually, and got rushed to the hospital but died soon after.
My sister and I bought plane tickets to come to San Miguel first thing Tuesday morning. Flying into a place we'd never been before, preparing to deal with an unimaginable situation, well, there is no good word for how we felt except terrified. Fortunately, it's proving to be an amazing and revelatory trip, the exact opposite of what we were expecting. I feel like the reporter in Citizen Kane, discovering new facets of his life, meeting all of his "daytime" and "nighttime" friends, discovering just what an amazing, varied and complex life he'd created for himself in this beautiful 400-year-old city. My sister are spending more time laughing than crying here, remembering with his friends his sly humor and unbelievably deep knowledge of just about every fucking thing you could think of - history, art, politics, music, literature, architecture, geology and on and on. He was able to channel all of these passions into articles he wrote and edited for Atencion, the bi-lingual weekly newspaper here and into night-long bar conversations with his many drinking buddies at his favorite hangout JJ's Bar. JJ's was his "living room," mere steps away from his apartment on Cuadrante. The owner JJ, his mother, his brothers and friends were his "nighttime" family here and we feel like they've become our family now. We got totally shit-faced there two nights in a row and we've got some video we'll be putting up on Youtube to prove it.
The Biblioteca Publica here, which publishes Atencion, had a beautiful, moving tribute to him this afternoon and so many people came out to say how he had touched them, thrilled their intellect, and made them laugh with his witty, slow Texas drawl. And kicked their ass at chess more times than they'd like to remember.
For being such a terrible time in our lives, my sister and I have never felt closer to each other and to our wonderful, warm and complicated father. I feel like I'm finally moving past the shock and horror of his death into feeling the simple, sad longing for his presence and his amazing ability to turn an anecdote about going to the grocery store into a wild story of adversity overcome and triumph grasped. More than anything, he inspired me to figure out how to tell stories right. If you were gonna open your mouth and take up someone's time, you better fucking make it entertaining, rich and funny.
His stories made me want to be a good storyteller and that's what I've tried to do with the movies I've made. We'll see how people react to this new one, but the reaction I will always be missing will be his. So, we'll be dedicating the movie to him and hoping he can astrally project himself to the premiere. Not that he believed in any of that shit, but maybe now he's being pleasantly proven wrong.
I did get to tell him about Sundance on Thanksgiving, when my sister called him down in Mexico. Thank God she called him cause I hadn't heard his voice in months, not since he was last here for her wedding in June. So, he was able to share in two significant milestones for both of us before he passed. We will take comfort in that forever.