Tuesday, April 19, 2011

On Death.

This is an arm bar:

It's used in rock climbing when you come upon a crack.  And it's exactly how it sounds:  you stick your arm into the crack, lock it in place, and use it as leverage to make your next move.

I am pretty good at this move.

But this weekend, as I was climbing at this wall at Smith Rock State Park, and I fell.  I fall all the time.  But this time, my arm stayed in the crack and, well, I came about *this* close to breaking my arm, or severly hyper-extending my elbow, or just crying.

Whatever.  It was scary and it hurt.

We won't go into the fact that this was a super-easy climb that I, somehow, managed to make difficult.


Anyway, I finished the climb (because I'm the man) and when I got to the bottom, I thought: "Man, that's the closest I've ever come to getting hurt..."  And then a bit of mortality set in, because I was like, "Uh, what if I died?" (this was dramatic thinking; death wasn't a real possibility)  I thought of my family, of course, but the next thing that came to my mind?  The very next thing?

My book.

Because, see, it's finished.  Well, it's not finished, or ready for anybody to read, but I'm done with the first draft.  And because I was editing as I went along, it's actually closer to a second draft.  However, given my history, that still means it's about as good as a first draft.  And anyway, I was sitting there on the side of the cliff thinking, "What if that piece of crap is the only evidence of my writing that gets left behind?"

You understand my fear.

And of course, this sort of irrationality is made perfect by all writers.  The words are important--maybe too much so.  But either way, producing something that is good has the ability to take over your life, to bend your mind in weird directions.  It becomes all-consuming.  It makes you want to cry.  It makes you want to scream.  It makes you want to quit.  And so, there I sat, wondering if I needed to give up rock climbing and writing.  Because life is full of enough stress, enough danger.

Fifteen minutes later, I was climbing again.  Because, despite it all, I love being on the rock.  I love challenging myself.  I love being outside, exposed to all the beauty.  And I guess the same is true about my writing.  Because today, when I print off the first/second draft of my new book, I expect to find some things that are truly scary.  But I also expect to be surprised by sentences and descriptions.  I expect to laugh.  And I expect to have that exciting feeling of, "Okay, this could work..." 

Because, ultimately, without risk there isn't much reward, is there?  And if writing is anything, it is a risk.  We put something out there, something that is as much a part of us as our arm, and we hope other people find it just as special.  So even when it seems hopeless, when it feels like our arm is about to break, we keep moving forward.  Because it's something we love.  It's something we feel like we have to do.  Because life doesn't have enough risk and joy in it.


  1. Wearing my ego on my sleeve, I can't help but think this post was pointed slightly in my direction.

    For me, it's family-book-work, in that order. Survival is a requirement for the first two, and experiencing too many near deaths drains out the fun.

    Great read, BTW.

  2. I need my own not-so-near-death experience, I guess.

  3. If you die, and I sincerely hope you don't for a long time, then there is evidence of your writing right here on this blog.

    And it's good.

  4. I love this post, Bryan! The risk and the joy....

    Also, this -- "What if that piece of crap is the only evidence of my writing that gets left behind?" -- I've totally felt that, lol.

    Thanks for posting. :)