Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I was there for myself


“You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again… so why bother in the first place?  Just this: what is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above.  One climbs, one sees, one descends, one sees no longer but one has seen.  There is an art to conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up.  When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.” -Rene Daumal

There are a few moments in a writer’s life that really ought to be recognized and honored with thoughtful contemplation.  If you are a writer, I imagine you can think of the moments you have celebrated or the ones you look forward to… 
I however, am thinking of the first rejection letter.  I got mine yesterday.  Well, it wasn’t a letter, it was a standard format email. But they did kindly encourage me to try submitting again in the future. It was a short, 1000 word nature essay, in which I wrote about a moment I had walking on the Appalachian Trail many years ago.  It was submitted to a small online outdoorsy journal. Apparently it was not up to snuff.

I was glad that they did not keep me hanging too long.  Three weeks after the end of the submission time, they responded.  And heck, at least they responded at all.  Plenty of places these days don’t even bother to drop a postcard in the mail to tell you you are rejected. But I digress.

My first reaction was the typical trained brain response.  Sadness and disappointment. I admit, even a few tears came out.  It didn’t take long before the self judgment began.  All those thoughts we tell ourselves that say we can’t do it, that we are not good enough, that someone else thinks we suck. Lovely stuff.

So I washed the kitchen floor.

As I went about my day, I kept my new status in the back on my mind, and slowly mulled over the information.  After lunch, I took the dog for a walk.  The sun was out, the air cold and clear. The dog stopped often to sniff out the good smells.  I walked briskly, whistling for her to keep up with me.  We did our standard loop around the tree edged fields. Up the small hill at the far end.  I huffed a little as I pushed myself quickly up that short rise, and stopped when I got to the top to look back out over the stunning view of the valley of Ithaca.  I thought about that essay I wrote, and what it was about.  The Appalachian Trail.
Through six months of walking every day, I wanted to quit my endeavor in every single state I walked through.  And on most of days I was out there.  I climbed so many mountains and felt so much pain, I found myself simply not wanting to do it. I went through all the mental roadblocks one could imagine.  Why am I putting myself through this torture?  This is too painful, my feet and back and legs hurt.  I feel lonely.  I miss my bed and pillow.  This is boring. No one is forcing me to do this, why bother? I don’t like this, it’s too hard. It’s too hard.  It’s too hard.
Every time you climb up one side of a mountain, you have to go down the other.  And when you get to the bottom, there is another mountain sitting there patiently, waiting to be climbed.  It was neverending.
I did not quit, I was a bit too determined at age 23. I wanted something.  I wanted the title of Thru-hiker. I knew if I quit part way through I would not gain the right to call myself that, maybe ever.  So I kept slogging through the hardship, the pain, the tears, the cold, and thoroughly enjoyed the goodness, the friends, the laughter, the joy, the stunning views from those rocky mountain tops.  The mountains did not reject me, but they sure did make it hard for me to continue. I realized they did not need me there traipsing across them, they would have been just fine without me.  I was there for myself.  Noone else.
I have been to the top of mountains.  I can call myself Thru-hiker.  And I remember what I saw there.  I also remember that the title did not come quickly or with speed of any kind.  It did not happen in a vacuum.  And it certainly did not happen of it’s own accord.  I put my heart and soul and body into the work, and that was what took me somewhere worth going.
One rejection letter is nothing.  One hears stories of people being rejected more times than you want to imagine. I am 12 years older than when I Thru-hiked the AT, but it's lessons still keep guiding me.  I want a new title now... Published Author. Writer.  I won't get there by staying in the lower regions.  I want to see what is higher up. The world does not need me to write another book, but I need to.

Like I said, there are some firsts that every writer should acknowledge with care.  Then put away in a box and get on with the business at hand.  Huffing and puffing up that next ascent until she can look back at the scenery below, shimmering with sunlit reflections.  She takes a deep breath, goes down the other side, and gets ready to go up another mountain.

1 comment:

Monica Devine said...

It is not brilliance that sets one apart from the crowd...it's perseverance. I threw out every boiler-plate rejection letter received, except for the ones that had a hand-written note at the bottom of the page saying, "we can't use this piece, but send us more." Any hint of encouragement.

Or not. You just keep going.