I’ve never really understood the appeal to mountaineering. I’m afraid of heights to begin with, and then throughout my adulthood there seems to have been a Grave Disaster reported out of the Himalayas every 7 years or so. (I didn’t even realise until Sunday that there had been another horrific catastrophe on Everest earlier this year. That’s how commonplace news of these have gotten. They aren’t even NEWS anymore.) In the past I’ve had thoughts along the lines of “what an irresponsible waste of money and effort and lives, not in that order.”
As I grow older, though, I realise more and more that if I can’t see any sense at all in something I don’t understand then perhaps I truly DON’T understand it and it’s time to take a closer look. So I did what I always do in this circumstance. I asked people who did it–none of whom answered because why would you bother, really, with someone who seems hostile–and then I checked book after book out of the library. I’m now on my third book and while I still am at a loss to understand how a man could leave his pregnant wife or young children to do it, I do understand the appeal overall. There’s a mindset of detail and determination and a will to overcome that drives people to conquer difficulty.
Eerily, though, as I read I began to notice something. Climbers–hailed on every inhabited continent as heroes and humans of exceptional character and fortitude–had something in common with me. With me and many of the people I’ve come to know in the last ten years.
Read a climber discussing the problems of living at high altitude and you’ll see painful joints, wracking cough, insomnia, loss of appetite, lack of coordination, severe body aches. Read a climber talking about the dangers of the Death Zone–where oxygen is so limited above 26,000 feet that your brain turns stupid and your blood to sludge–and you see the exact description of someone suffering from anemia.
People who climb mountains are heroes. They are hailed for accomplishment and given corporate endorsements. Yet there are roughly 10 million people in America alone who live with chronic pain from various disorders. We are labeled “Hypochondriacs”, “Narcissists”, “drama queens”, “Malingerers”. One doctor friend always wonders why people show up in his office and are disappointed when they have no serious diagnosis. How do I explain that when you’re climbing a mountain no one else sees you’d at least like someone to admit that you are scaling something other than air.
It’s been interesting to me to see myself through the lens of the climber. They do what they do for a few months and go home. I do this until I die. I probably won’t get on a Wheaties box in this lifetime. But I’m going to give both the climbers AND my fellow sufferers of chronic pain a bit of a pass. We keep climbing. Because it’s there.
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Yesterday I listened to a little bit over an hour of a notable personality whom I’ve always liked speaking on a podcast. It was not fun; in between long and pompous announcements about how he was an “open-handed moderate” unlike “right-wing” “fascists” I got to hear about how he was so much smarter than religious people. This fact–the stupidity of religious people–was a frequent spice to the conversation, adding a little-needed extra dose of pomposity. About 45 minutes into this we were told that he does what he does because he “just enjoys people.” At that point my main thought was “do you LISTEN to yourself? You enjoy half the people, at most.”
A bit later on I was looking something up–truth be told I was looking up opinions on this person–and ended up at a website I rarely visit. This collective blog aimed at conservatives is a popular place for sharp-tongued articles that repeatedly use “liberal” and “leftist” and “Hollywood” as demeaning and dismissive adjectives. I realised it was a nice picture of two sides of the same coin.
I’m not sure when it started, but I know during the last 24 years of my lifetime it has been de rigeur to mock and belittle the people you disagree with–not only the points on which you disagree, but also everything else about the person. I’m fairly sure we didn’t invent this method of discourse but I’m also pretty sure it’s gained an obscene amount of traction via the things we did invent–Twitter, FaceBook, blogs.
If you page back through this blog a few years you will likely find things I wrote that have that same sort of equally-disdainful acid dripping from them. I’m not proud of that but I’m glad they’re here because it’s proof that people can grow out of that, can grow in Christ and learn to practice faith proactively.
There’s a very popular Christian blogger whose blog I do not give attention or press, so I’m not going to link it here. But he’s popular largely because he takes this same tactic. If someone does something he doesn’t like or agree with he not only has to tell you what he disagrees with he has to call names, say inconsiderate things and generally practice cruelty. This happens a lot because people tell themselves “anybody who does this stupid thing doesn’t deserve respect.” But I’ll say right now that if we are practicing Christianity we need to take First Corinthians 13 very seriously. If we don’t speak with love we are only putting more discordant noise into the air. Snark is funny. Snark gets hits. Snark goes viral. But like real virii, it infects the cell it attaches to, turns that cell into a septic destroyer of the body and then rages from cell to cell, growing in poison.
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Well, first and foremost I’m working on blogging again. Quinn’s last six months of life were a sort of tour de force. When we got back from Florida at the end of September, 2013, I had all these grand plans for beta reading, handcrafting and novel-writing. Then the longer we were back the more it sank in that a large portion of my good hours were going to be spent taking care of him. I think back on it and I wonder if it was stupid to spend so much energy caring for a dog at the end of his life and then I realise that love and commitment are love and commitment. You don’t kill ones you love simply because it would make your life easier. He wasn’t suffering and we had a good long last year together. Thing was, I didn’t realise until he was gone just how much of my time (and more critically, energy) was spent on him. I feel like my days have doubled in length as I come out of the more intense grieving and I look around to see all the stuff I left behind. Like blogging. And so I’m back to blogging tentatively but eagerly nonetheless. And a good start to it is to answer this four-question writers’ survey put to Jay DiNitto by Jill Domschot.
1.WHAT NOVEL AM I WORKING ON?
My current work today is a fake celebrity biography. (A book about a famous person who doesn’t really exist.) I’m always tinkering with my Big book too…the one about the Welsh and the history of medicine. But that one continually morphs. It’s sort of like my Pillars Of The Earth; I’m not ready to tell it yet, but it’s there in my head. In between I work on these “little” books. General women’s fiction type things that are about the various kinds of love that women have in their lives.
2. HOW DOES MY WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS IN ITS GENRE?
I’m writing it. Really, there’s so much out there in the women’s fiction/aga saga/bonkbuster category that the only difference is that this one is told with my voice, with my humour, with my worldview. It’s a story that I mean to make others happy.
3. WHY DO I WRITE WHAT I DO?
I agree with Jay that this is poorly-worded. I am assuming they mean “why do I choose to write this type of work as opposed to the many other types of work out there?” The answer to that is that these are the stories that bring me comfort. I write to connect with others and I’d like for my books to bring them a comfortable escape that also gives them little nuggets to think about. (My heroes in this type of writing are Lois McMaster Bujold and Maeve Binchy.) People have hard lives. Everyone. I want to write books that make people feel like they’ve given over however many hours of their life in exchange for a bit of happiness.
4. HOW DOES MY WRITING PROCESS WORK?
The characters are in my head already. I take them through dialogues while I exercise and do housework. The process of inventing dialogue (talking to myself, but not really–it’s the characters talking to each other) moves the story in the directions it needs to go, usually. Then I sit down and write when I am able. The rest of the time I make notes and sketches in my iphone or ipad if something strikes me while I’m about something else.
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During this week I’ve watched a lot of conversations about Robin Williams’ death. Many of them have been unfortunate.
That got me to thinking of how long I’ve been blogging (9 or 10 years) and how I was when I started versus how I am now.
And I have readers to thank for that. Readers who have become friends or enemies, readers who have yelled at me or gently corrected me or argued with me or laughed with me or all of the above. I’ve grown over the years and I’m still growing. But the whole reason I wanted to write, to be A Writer, was to connect with other humans. Those who have connected with me through my non-fiction (this blog, facebook, countless emails) have taught me how to be a better person.
I’m crazy thankful for that, and frankly I’m awed at your patience.
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