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So the other day I go rock climbing with Dan and Megan.  This is how it came about: I had helped them with their manuscript--they are writing their first novel, a young adult fantasy/adventure about dreams that aren't only dreams but as real as stone--and in return and thanks they offered to take me up the side of a sheer cliff.  Seemed fair enough.  I hadn't climbed in over ten years, but that morning--it was a beautiful, perfect day--I liked the symmetry of what we were about to do: Dan and Megan had felt ungainly writing their book, and needed my help; now it was my turn to be the ungainly one, looking up in awe and watching them climb elegantly, dancers on a vertical stage.

If you've never been climbing, here is what it feels like; if you've ever written, you'll recognize it:

First, you have to grab onto something.  What to grab onto can be quite a puzzle.  There aren't always obvious handholds.  If there are, they don't necessarily lead in the direction you want to go.  But you take a breath, and hop on.  Now you are in mid-air.  The feeling is both exhilarating and pee-inducing.  A rope has you--you are not, after all, really going to kill yourself--but it feels as though you will.  In spite of all evidence to the contrary, you believe you are completely unhinged.  The choice is: up or off.

Now it is time to move.  Balance is important, but more so trust.  You have to believe that, by leaning into a thing that seems virtually unclimbable, you can push yourself up and forward.  You must trust not only yourself, but obvious things, like gravity and pressure; you must trust what is underneath you.  That little knob right there.  If you push on it, can you stand?  Really?  But oh, what a leap to trust a little knob!  Do I do dare?  Do you?  Here we go.  Push.  Stand.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.

Now you come to an impasse.  A big chunk of slick.  You reach and reach, blindly, but can't find anything to curl your fingers into.  You're stuck now, man.  You hang on the wall, splayed like a kite (or coiled into the stony curl of a barnacle).  You have another choice:  You can give up, or, as Dan likes to say, "get scrappy."  Getting scrappy means trying anything you can, experimenting, twisting, straining, groping, ass over edge, not fading.  If scrappiness fails, you can also ask for help from the person who knows and is holding the rope (that day, with Dan and Megan, I did both).

Okay, but when the scrappiness works, you take a deep breath, trust your muscle, your resolve and--ah!  Wow!  Up.  Up.  Up.  Over the obstacle!  What a feeling. Nothing, nothing like it.  Now you're in the groove (or crack).  You're feelin' it, man.  It's like you've done it all your life.  You've got the hang of it now.  Climb climb climb.  Look up.  There is the anchor!  Almost there.  Reach out.  Don't look down.  Reach out, reach out, touch it.  Ring it.  Like a silver bell.

The view.  Look at the view.


It's Monday.

Your chair is harness, support, safety strap.  Your thighs fit neatly into it, note.  Your fingers reach for the little knobs.  Do you trust them?  Your will is the knot.  The adventure is yours.  The screen is sheer and straight and waiting.

Hop on?



Loved this, Mylene. Though it's been more years than I care to recall since I last climbed, I remember that the heights and contemplation of descent was by far the scariest part. When you're hauling yourself higher, it brings a kind of mental focus that blocks all doubt and fear.

Definitely like writing.
Yes. Exactly. Gorgeous post.
Mylène said…
I do love the mental focus--no time to worry about anything but the route. Pure.

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