Saturday, November 16, 2019

The Mountain

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began

-
Mary Oliver


Here’s how it always seemed to me, ever since I was very young:
There was a mountain in the distance, which we could all see.
And the authors were up there, climbing, climbing.
They wrote books.
I loved books.
So I wanted to be on the mountain, too.

And I'd write stories in pencil
Sometimes I'd staple the pages together
If the stories were two pages long

This was entertaining, but it didn't seem to be the mountain.
I could still see the mountain, and the authors climbing it.
Authors.

Some of them were way up high. Some of them further down.
Sometimes a cloud would break apart and there’d be another one I’d never noticed before.
Authors.
How they got on the mountain I didn’t know.
Except…

…I knew it involved writing a book.
Then something happened.
Then they were on the mountain.
What was this something?

Did they clutch their new pages in their arms,
Take a running start,
Leap, 
Fly through the air, 
Land as high as they could?
If so, I knew I would never make the mountain
Impossible to jump that high.
Impossible.

But, if not jumping, then … what?
I had written stories before, and I wasn’t on the mountain.
What did one do?

Came the day I realized I had a story to tell, based on a story I’d made with my friend Ben
I thought about writing it, but … look how high the mountain is. I can’t jump up there.
I’ll have to walk instead.
Page after page

I started walking toward the mountain.
It wasn’t an easy walk for a while. I stumbled a lot. I got tired quickly.
But other times the walk was pleasant.
I walked on.

Every once in I’d look up and the mountain wouldn’t seem any closer.
Nor did its face seem any more climbable.
But then I’d look back and see how far I’d come.
And I was stumbling less. I was getting tired less.
So, because the walking was pleasant, I walked on.

Came the day the trail ended. That is to say: I’d finished the story. I’d done all the writing I could.
So I read what I’d written.
Ow. Cramps.

Parts were pretty good.
A few parts I liked a lot.
A lot of it was quite bad. It was going to need to be worked on.
There was a thicket between me and the mountain.
I walked into it.

This wasn’t fun at all. It was hot sticky work. There were brambles.
I couldn’t even see the mountain most days.
Some days I was certain I wasn’t even walking toward it anymore.
I learned how to use a hatchet.
I went through the story over and over.
The thicket thinned.

Came the day I finally reached the end of the thicket.  That is to say: I’d made the story as good as I knew how.
I’d arrived at a pile of enormous boulders.
They didn’t seem climbable. But when I tried, I discovered my arms and legs were stronger than I’d imagined.

After a lot of false starts and scrapes and falls, I was atop the boulder.
A realization: I was at the mountain.
I was at the mountain.
I’d made it.
I looked up, and despaired.

Immediately above was an outcropping, jutting out, seamlessly smooth, obscuring my view of the rest of the peak.
There was no way up. It was impossible to climb.
Impossible.

But then I climbed it.
It took a couple years, and a few times I thought I’d fall to my death, but I climbed it.

*How* did I climb it?
With the help of other people.
More people than I could say.
I am very lucky, and very grateful.

Other authors who laid the paths long ago
A friend who helped chart the direction
A publisher who invited to pull me up.
An agent who gave me equipment I never could have gotten on my own.
An editor who led me back into the brambles, handed me a hatchet, showed me a more likely path than straight over

So many of you, letting all of them know I was there in the first place.
And the people around me who saw me start to walk in the first place, and encouraged me.

Turns out if you walk to the mountain, you’ll get to the mountain, and once you're there, you can climb it.

Turns out if you climb it, you’ll be on it

And if you arrive at an unclimbable spot, you can go back into the thicket as long as you want, until you find a more likely spot.

The mountain is patient.

And here’s what happened today:




I’m on the mountain now, thanks to more people than I can say.
Not so high up. That’s fine.
Maybe this is as high up as I ever get. That’s fine.
There’s no bad spot on the mountain, any more than there's a bad path to it.

There are plenty on the mountain who aren’t traditionally published.
And some who really did seem to fly up there.
But nobody got up on the mountain without help.
I sure didn’t.

I believe I'll keep climbing.

I have no idea how far up I can climb, nor does it particularly matter.
But my arms feel rested, and my legs feel strong. And it’s good to climb.
I do believe I’ll try to find out how far I can go.

There’s more people up here with me than I can say. There’s room for billions more.
To be on the mountain you go to the mountain, and you climb.

Turns out going to the mountain was only ever about the walking
Turns out getting on the mountain was only ever about the climbing.
And it turns out being on the mountain isn't about being seen.

It's about the view.



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