I had the map, I had the motivation, then why was I suddenly scared?
We started out together–David, my daughter Elise, and I–on a gloriously perfect North California day. Docents strategically located, good signage, even a well-marked path. Ano Nuevo, the park off Route 1 on the rocky coast, home to the famous Elephant Seals lazing on the beach at the end of a several mile hike.
Half-way there, the two of them need a pause but I was antsy to move on with the quest. It was one of those winding paths, the ones where you think “just around the next bend!” So, though it was hugely uncharacteristic of me, I set off on my own onto the heavily wooded dune path.
Three minutes later, I was ankle deep in sand, panting, sweating, alone, thinking, “oh, oh.” Behind me, brush. Ahead of me, a bend, more brush. No sound but the wind.
Any woman will immediately have their sixth-sense hackles up when alone on an unknown trail. What if? scenarios run through your mind. I’m without keys (that five-fingered five-keyed classic defense), out of cell range, shoes weighted down by sand. But that’s not all.
A year ago, David and I began our new trip, on separate tracks but within easy sight, waving, conferring, checking-in, “hi, over there!” He on the academic teaching path at Stanford, me on the full-time novel writing/publication commerce highway. Supportive, atta-boys, keep on keeping-ons. Always with options, right? Exit strategies?
Back on the Ano Nuevo trail, I pick up my pace, on the edge of the path where the ground is somewhat firmer. Oh! Voices! A man and woman, single file in the opposite direction, speaking a rapid-fire foreign language, arguing. I muster my “I got this!” smile. They pass without eye contact. Silence. I’m rushing now, rounding the next and next and next bend, deep in it. No end in sight.
Trying to outpace my doubt.
What have I done? Too far in to turn back, realizing I’ve maybe stupidly put myself in a vulnerable spot. But, even more so, a whole certainty that I might not make it. I have no Plan B. And, maybe I don’t want to make it. Maybe I don’t need to see what’s around the bend, or see those stupid Elephant Seals. Maybe I hate hiking in ankle deep sand.
Despair of a very particular kind sets in.
Unable to see ahead or behind. Twilight Zone last-person-on-the-planet Alone. Without motivation (excepting survival) to go on, but unable to turn back. Stuck in the mired middle despair. Suddenly aware of the fallability of me.
So, honestly, some days on the commerce highway it’s precisely, exactly the same. Unable to remember how very far I’ve come from my first haulting fiction piece of writing, utterly unable to see beyond the Agent Query Wait*. Alone at my desk, filled to the tip of my ears with doubt.
And, then, oh thank god thank thank god, an opening in the trail, flat ground, a park sign, the ocean! Not far now, up on the boardwalk! I don’t even care (well, okay, not entirely true) that the rotting kelp smell chokes me, I…am…there! Not alone, not in the middle, no more doubt. I have only to sit and wait for them to catch up with me. And then, not long, they are there, and my tipped world rights itself.
As Joshua Mohr, my mentor says: “Stay persistent. Stay tenacious.”