Part 6: Into the Wild

One major benefit to living in a mobile home is that you can move your “house” to wherever you are.  But this sometimes means that you live where no one else does.  The range of settings which I lived in ran the gamut from  communal settings where there were other people living similar lifestyles, whether in a yurt or a Tipi, or any variety of bus or van or other type of space large enough to sleep in, but with wheels.  Not mobile homes in the sense that most Americans would take on a camping trip or live in inside a mobile home community, but other types of vehicles specifically altered to become a living space.  From those settings, which sometimes had communal gardens, kitchens and/or bathing facilities (and occasionally fresh water sources like a spring or well), to isolated and undeveloped land with no resources at all.  Often my parents acted as caretakers in some capacity, or did other labor for the land owners, in exchange for rent.

Living in the woods or out in the middle of nature is very isolating most of the time, since we were not close to other children our own age in some of these settings, and after we started home schooling, we were even more removed from society and our peers.  Without electricity, there was also no contact with society through television or radio, and no newspapers (except the occasional Sunday paper).  It didn’t start out like this, we went to school and church in the beginning, but as the years went by, we moved deeper and deeper into the wilderness and away from suburbia.

The trips into town once every week or two were our little reminder that there was a whole other world out there, with other people who lived very differently.  But we were obviously the ones who were different, as could be judged by the shocked reactions people gave us with our long hair and hippy clothes.  Many people had a hard time coming to grips with the fact that I was a boy, since my hair was so long, especially with my pretty eyes and long lashes and sensitive mannerisms.  Not growing up around a bunch of competitive boys resulted in me having emotions that are beat or teased out of most boys before they reach manhood.  But I was friendly and intelligent and most people were nice to me (out of sheer curiosity I have to assume).

Fully immersing myself in society as an adult ( I was almost 17) was truly challenging though, as I had a different cultural experience than most people and had a hard time fitting in.  So I wound up meeting some unique folks and we formed our own group and they helped to indoctrinate me into the ordinary world.  Attending college and working as a waiter and a bartender have offered me the rest of the pieces about social mores and etiquette you need to survive.  But I have always felt that I stand apart from everybody else, even though I make friends very easily now, with a unique perspective that few share.  This perspective has the potential to blossom into interesting films like you have never seen before.  I really can’t wait for this last semester at ASU to be completed so I can start working on my next picture!

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Part 5: Born in a bus

One misty day in December, with a multiple rainbow gracing the sky over the fruit orchards, Elysian was born in that bus, among the apple trees.  There were nearly a dozen witnesses, including family, friends, and the local Methodist pastor and another pastor who was a midwife.  The miracle of birth happened without a hospital.  With just boiling water, clean towels and a sterilized pair of scissors to cut the umbilical cord.

It was not my mother’s first birth away from hospitals, since I was born in a house on Ashbury street in San Francisco, the midwife unavailable, with my father, Don, catching me as I entered the world.  Elysian’s father, Kerry, also caught him, the way some fathers have been there to deliver their children down through the ages, pure and natural.

Later, Kerry would help deliver two more children, almost entirely, if not entirely, by himself.  Orion was born on a snow covered mountain in Oregon (Cougar Mountain, to be exact, near Saginaw, just a short drive from Cottage Grove), when the phone lines were down and the roads buried.  Raven was born on another mountain, in a log cabin owned by friends who also lived (FAR) outside of suburbia.

Witnessing this amazing event is an experience that is unparalleled and should the opportunity arise for you to experience the live birth of a human child, even in the sterile surroundings of a hospital – do it!

Remembering the compassion I experienced during the birth of my brothers, I was moved to apply that empathy to everyone I met.  Knowing the origin of all human life, I could not separate myself from any other person, knowing full well that they had come into the world the same way I had and contained all of the same elements of humanity that I possess.

This innate connection that we all share is universal and it is the impetus behind our ability to cry during a movie with fictional characters living out fabricated stories.  But those stories touch us to our soul.  Some movies have probably changed your life!  Changed the way you see the world and think about it.  It is through films that we create a bedrock of shared experiences that truly connect us all.  Even though only a small percentage of the population is naturally empathetic, we all understand what it is to suffer heartache, be scared half to death, tremble with joy, and become blind with fury.  Life seems to have many similar trials for all concerned and films give us the distinct pleasure of re-experiencing those journeys in a variety of settings, from mundanely real to fantastically surrealistic.

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Part 4: Organic Toys

This is no vacation I’m describing.  This wasn’t a camping trip.  We weren’t pretending to live like people did during the great depression or the colonization of the America’s.  We were some sort of modern American settlers, homesteading on the open land.  Planting, pruning, transplanting, harvesting and cultivating our way across the west coast, following the farmer’s almanac and mother earth news of course.

There were amazing gardens, because two of my parents possess the four greenest thumbs that this earth has ever known.  There is nothing sweeter than tasting a fresh tomato, or carrot, or beet.  I enjoyed apples off the tree, peaches off the bush and berries off the vine.

 

We played with wooden blocks or bric blocs (an early, cheaper version of Legos), erector sets and lincoln logs.  We had ample pencils and paper.  I enjoyed Rubick’s Cubes and other puzzle games.  We didn’t, however, get to play with guns.  Even our Star Wars action figures lost the privilege of their weapons (which their little plastic hands were made a perfect match for).  So we went ahead and lost their names as well, and made up our own names and our own space fleet and little sets of ships and cities where they staged their secret battles.

I still played with marbles, years later.  After finishing junior college and working on another independent feature film (“The Party”), I filmed a feature length movie in Seattle, Washington.  It was called “Satchel of Broken Toys”, based on a play that had gotten into a local festival and had a trial run with a 16mm short.  ‘Satchel’ used the marble as one of its visual motifs.  We took 3 1/2 months to shoot ‘Satchel’, with 18 actors and 8 musical artists and 4 graphic artists.  It was a great exercise, teaching me the fundamental elements of movie production.  A very ambitious project, to be sure!

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Part 3: Powerless

So, how does one survive without electricity anyway?  It always seems that when there are power outages people have a lot of trouble functioning.  I can understand if it’s in the middle of the winter and you have no fireplace, or the middle of the summer and it’s 120 in the shade.  But somehow we managed to survive without electricity in the California summers and even in 20 degrees below zero up in the Cascade mountain range in Oregon.

We used kerosene lanterns to light the bus, wood stoves to cook and heat it (and to heat water to bathe, wash dishes and clothes with) and stocked bulk foods like dried beans and rice (although you would be surprised how long butter and cheese last without refrigeration).  Finally, we had books instead of television, radio or computers.

                                                                 

With those books, I got to travel to exotic places, like Middle Earth or deep into outer space.  They became the stimulus for my overactive imagination.  I was inspired to write stories and draw scenes of fierce medieval battles.  I dabbled in a comic strip for about a year too, integrating characters that my brother and I thought up.  We built entire stories around those characters, making our own imaginary TV shows and movies with sets and character histories that eventually morphed into an entire alien race (who was at war with a different alien race).  It wasn’t until many years later that I discovered these activities were the foundation for a career in film making.

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Part 2: How to convert a school bus into a home

There is a lot of space in a bus, if you take all of the seats out.  You can build a loft to sleep on and store winter clothes and other supplies under it.  A few book shelves can provide space for kitchen supplies and a library.  Curtains on the windows ensure a little privacy…  I wish my parents had thought a little harder about insulation though, that thing got HOT in the summer and COLD in the winter!  Heating a metal home wasn’t so bad, just needed two wood stoves that vented out windows.  But when it was hot, there was no way to fix it.

I had a lot of time to dream.  We lived so far outside of society that I spent a considerable amount of time in the wilderness, imagining a different life; one that other kids had, with houses and routine.  That imagination has never diminished.  In fact, it has grown into something I can’t ignore, outside the bounds of my head.  Theater was not a big enough space to hold such an imagination, so I turned to film.

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Part 1: Introductions

Our home was not an ordinary home.  Not a house with wooden doors and a brick chimney.  We had no tile roof over our heads.  We didn’t even have running water or electricity..

It’s a story that would probably make an interesting film or documentary.  It’s hard to see the same movies being made over and over again.  All of these stories, pressed from the same mold: One that (hopefully) promises a golden return.  But what about the other stories?  What about the other myths and legends that have been overlooked?  What impact could they have on our culture, our world, today?

My name is Conan Crawford and I’ve had a unique experience that falls outside of most of the American culture.  I belonged to a subculture of individuals choosing to blaze their own trail; pioneers of the modern West.  I got to live outside of suburbia, out in the wild parts of this country – in a 64 foot snub nosed Gillig School bus.

This blog will chronicle that journey and how it has culminated in my artistic journey as a film maker.

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