Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bit Like Hiking

So recently I (or one of me-- see my Facebook pages for the schizophrenic details) was moved to post on the wall of the Mighty Miss DeBow:

"This isn't a sprint, you. It's a long, grueling cross-country race, through forests and mountains and stretches of desert where the sand burns and the harsh winds shred your flesh. Run if you like, crawl if you must. No one cares that you entered until you reach one of the finish lines, but if you stop moving, well, the bones of others before you are piled high on every side..."

This may have been a little bleak, a little harsh. I've bee
n pretty bleak and harsh of late. These things happen.

Thing is, there's some truth in there.

So often, we creative types feel like we're in some kind of race. Like we should be going faster, harder. Like if we haven't made (insert milestone here) yet, we're somehow failing.

Fact is, this crazy life is not a race. It's not even the long-distance race I referred to earlier. It's more like a hike.

I'm a big fan of hiking. Here in NZ we call it tramping. (And yes, I'm also a big fan of
complaining about hiking, but that's human nature, innit?) Thing about hiking is, you know you stand at the bottom of a bloody great hill and say to yourself, yeah I'm walking to the top of that thing.

So you start. One foot, another. A few steps and a few more. You walk until you start to get tired, or the sun starts to beat down on your head, or you decide you really,
really need that drink of water. You look back. Hell, you've barely moved. That damn h
ill is still just as high, and your car is still terribly, terribly close.

So you turn your feet uphill and start walking again. One step after another. One stupid foot at a stupid fucking time.

You come to hate yourself. You wonder what you were thinking when you set out. Your life becomes a tiny, hyperfocused prism of movement. Step by plodding step. Every time you stop to look around, the peak still seems just as high, the car in the parking lot only marginally smaller. You don't even know WHY you keep going, only that you do.

After a time, you no longer look back. You don't look ahead either. You look at your feet, willing left and right and left again to carry you forward, step by step by stupid fucking step.

You curse a lot.

Bugs bite you. You sweat. The sun becomes a hammer against your skin. Sweat prickles and dries and itches. Your water bottle grows lighter, but you are no less thirsty. You forget
about the summit. You quit thinking about walking. Every little piece of you is concentrated on lifting one knee, and then the other, just lifting it high enough to fall that little bit further forward.

You wonder why any sane human would do such a thing. And you suspect the answer is that no sane human would.

This isn't a race. It isn't a competition of any kind. If you were to say fuck it and turn around, no one would know or care. You're doing this for you, for reasons you neither care to name or describe.

And please, never mind those senior citizens who passed you on the way up and are now wishing you a good morning on their way back down. Don't even think about them. Just keep lifting those goddamn knees...

Every novel I've written has been like this. Hell, my whole writing career is like this. And my art career. And more than a few of my longer, cooler paintings and tattoos. The compressed narratives of Hollywood condition us to expect that success comes at the end of a montage full of 80's music. Real life is about bugs, and sweat, and long hard effort.

And yeah, it's effort no one cares about. The world doesn't care if you quit. It doesn't know you're the next Stephen King or Nuryev or Mozart or MC Hammer until you actually ARE. In the meantime, you're just another hiker on the trail. And don't for a moment doubt that they too are just hikers on their own trails. Just trying to lift one foot in front of another....

It's long. It's hard. There's no end in sight and there are probably better things you could be doing. But this is what you do. So do it.

And yeah, there are rewards along the way!


Iain - Weird English guy said...

Not being a writer I am choosing to ignore the simile; but being a fucked up person who loves the pain and associated dopamine rush of the outdoors (having taught mountain leadership to young adults for years) I wanted to say I love this piece.

As a friend of writers and a human I obviously appreciate the constant struggle of the human state.

Great piece of writing! Oh are there rules in this forum regarding the use of 'adult' language? If so I apologise to those who choose to be easily offended.

Angie said...

Great imagery. [nod] That's exactly it. There might be some satisfaction in passing someone else on the same trail, but that's not enough to sustain you -- or at least it isn't me. And another sneaky little bit is that the hill has no summit. It just keeps going up and up and up and you can keep climbing as long as you like, until you keel over dead. That's okay too; there are worst places to be buried, and worse things to be doing when your time comes.


Charles Gramlich said...

Well said. Sometimes it's hard to feel that way when you want something so bad but it's not pleasant, it's just the truth.

Steve Malley said...

Iain, those easily offended by 'adult language' have long since fled the hallowed halls of Full Throttle and F**k It! :)

Angie, ever since I recently re-read Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, I've been seeing my creative life as a bit like the Appalachian Trail: lots of misery and some truly breathtaking rewards, people doing it quicker than me and people doing it slower, and plenty who take a few steps and quit altogether...

Charles, I'd rather have an uncomfortable truth than a warm fuzzy lie. Mostly. ;-p

Lana Gramlich said...

As you know, I totally hear this.

Steve Malley said...

Lana, I think every creative type gets this, whatever outward success they've enjoyed... :)

And your art's awesome, by the way! ;D

Holly said...

Psst: I'll share a little secret with ya. Hiking, *walking*.