I looked down over a cliff and with only a belief, a calling and a trusty pair of flipflops, I started down. This was the beach calling me, not one with tidy boardwalks and crowded with tourists, but shards of sandstone around me and underfoot, and not a soul around.
It is not unlike the writing life, this trail less travelled. Our ability to spot paths few others can see, then craft a map of words to follow draws us into a life much craved by those watching, but lonely in its midst. It requires us to spend vast amounts of time in places no one else sees, imagines, or wants to be. Loneliness is not just a side effect, it is a catalyst to dive in, discover, finish, and connect. In this moment, however, I didn’t recognized any of this. I only knew I felt inside as awash and submerged as the rocks below, a day beautiful above but churning within.
It wasn’t nearly as tough as I thought, the descent. For the first time in hours, I thought of nothing: my fears as a writer, my failures as a friend, my irritation that seemed to rise like the tide to a frenzied pitch then recede leaving me dark, empty, confused. With that energy diverted to muscle and focus, each movement found solid footing, each step inched me closer to my goal. Seated on a throne carved by centuries of the sea, surrounded by surf, warmed by sun, I had arrived. I was whole in that moment: body and spirit. I could do anything I was called to do.
Then I looked up. The path I had seen on my descent was gone. The gravity that was my ally was now my adversary, working against my every step. And who the hell was I kidding? I was a fat old lady in a dress and flipflops, which were now wet in my dance with the sea, not a rock climber. I had followed my impulse without any thought to getting myself out. And my companions were off looking at historical plaques and fishing boats. I wasn’t even missed. Or so I thought. How quickly the powerful woman of moments ago was washed away by that one word: thought. I know I can. I think I can’t. Why does thought win?
Because it’s safer that way. Think it through, we are taught. Don’t act without thinking. There is merit to the advice, but only as a reinforcement, not as a decision. Our bodies know our capacity, which is often far greater than our brains give us credit for. You got yourself down here, you can get yourself back. That wasn’t thought. That was knowledge. A fact. So, I stood, stretched toward the sun, breathed, and found a new path, one foothold at a time. Just like writing, one word at a time. If it’s too dark to see, write another word or another scene. If there is no way out, keep inching forward. Write your name, gibberish, anything to keep the blank screen from having the last laugh. It’s in you. Keep moving.
I did. Rock by rock. Foot by foot. I was at the top. And I was not alone. I never was. Tanya was taking pictures the entire time, a witness then and giving me a continued reminder for shadowy times like today. She asked how I got down there. The path and the call I followed were clear only to me. In those moments of descent, of feeling the spray from untamed waves, of rising again with no skill, training or equipment, I was more myself than I had been all day. No strategies, no calibration, no predicting or judging or worrying: just a belief, an impulse and my trusty wet flipflops. And now, a lesson and reminder I can carry with me when I think I’m incapable, overwhelmed, unworthy. I know now what I can do with my thoughts. Use them to shine, not to hide. And wear sneakers. A little preparation doesn’t hurt.
Photos by Tanya Petraglia. Used here with much love and gratitude.
Jennifer Hatt is author of the Finding Maria series and partner in publisher Marechal Media Inc.