A common trait that unites a lot of people who are really into mountain sports is a sort of inner gyroscope that finds its equilibrium right at the edge of things: the cliff ledge, the fringes of society, the border of sanity or reason, the edge of our understanding of ourselves.
Speaking with skiers, mountaineers and climbers who are at the top of their sport, you feel their drive to find that place that’s just at the brink of what they thought was possible, and when they find it, it’s euphoria. The best high available.
In pursuit of a story that I hope to publish, I had the privilege of speaking with a world-class ski mountaineer today. His motivation to ski places that nobody has skied is that the act helps him to know himself better. He believes that, while skiing is the thing that shows him to himself, that for others it could be just about anything else.
This week, I’ve been pushing myself -an adventure every day, a blog post every day, work every day, all my regular activities, and a pitch with an impossible deadline requiring multiple interviews. I also finished and submitted an article that’s been on the back burner for well on a year. I’ve been pushing through the familiar layers of my capabilities to find to edge of myself. And today, I reached it.
I am exhausted, having missed out on sleep this week to accommodate everything I’ve added to my schedule. I was up early this morning to do one interview, and spent my breaks at work frantically trying to resolve a Skype recording issue before my scheduled lunchtime interview with the previously mentioned famous skier. Right before that interview, I got a rejection for the pitch I had sent (also written that morning, before work) for that very story.
I did the interview, finished up at work, got into my car and had to fight back tears.
Sometimes, I cry, and that’s ok. Many years ago, I climbed an alpine route with my boyfriend at the time. The approach to the climb took several hours, and was described as an “unrelenting hammer” in the guidebook. It was steep and brutal, and over 30 degrees celsius out, and we ran out of water halfway up, and my boyfriend was moving at the end of the summer, and I loved him, and thought I might never see him again after this climb, and everything in me burned. I cried on that approach.
And then the climb itself was fraught with frustrating little setbacks: I left a sling behind, the rope got caught on a rappel, jogged a rock loose which nearly fell on us, and was cut in two.
But to be on the peak, having endured what we did, and having had the opportunity to climb there -that’s a feeling you can’t find anywhere else.
Today, I brushed up against the edge of what I can handle right now, reading the rejection letter as I tried to find an app that could record my Skype interview in the 5 minutes I had left before I had students on my hands, and trying to turn off that inner monologue I have sometimes that tells me all my efforts are for nothing -I’m not the kind of person who pushes through, I’m not cut out for this kind of work, I will never get through this approach, or if I do, it will just be more frustrations than the climb is worth. The summit is far from a guarantee -in fact, it feels like a mirage sometimes. I’m so far away from the reward of all this work and rejection.
But here is what I learned: I did get through it today. I am the kind of person who pushes through, even if I do cry sometimes. I got the interview, I survived the rejection. Hopefully, someone else will publish the story. If not, I’ll survive that too. I learned how much I can take right now and still be just fine at the end of the day. And you know what? I still love this writing thing that I’ve chosen to do. I will put myself through as many of these days as I have to to make it work, and it will be worth it.
I think maybe, when we are at the edge of ourselves grasping desperately for something to hold onto, that what we grab is love. The love that is out there for us (from mom calling to ask how my day was, to a friend posting silly lumberjack articles on my Facebook wall) and the love we still have in us to give, even if we can’t give it at this very moment.