Writing as a ‘peak’ experience

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Vasquez Rocks is Hollywood’s playground. Countless television shows and movies have been taped or filmed in this rugged landscape, especially science fiction and westerns. Captain Kirk was there. Little Joe was there. 

And so was I. Many times. But until last week, never at the top. That’s me, in the red shirt, to the right of my son.

The highway between the San Fernando and Antelope valleys leads to this tantalizing rock outcropping. As a child, I had many opportunities to visit, but was never, ever allowed to climb “The Rock”. My mother (of saintly memory and eagle eye) would catch me scrambling around the base, sagely read my intentions, and let out a resounding “NO! You could fall. You are not a hero. Stay in the parking lot and just look.”

But the anticipation of a challenge, a thrilling accomplishment, the prospect of going where not quite so many had gone before never waned.

This was one peak experience that was not to be denied.

And so, last week, when I took my family to California to celebrate my sister’s 50th wedding anniversary in Lancaster, CA, I returned to Vasquez Rocks. My adult son, no doubt responding to my own eager, inner child, suggested we climb that formidable formation. My wife and daughter shrugged. No one was telling me I couldn’t.

So I did. At less than half my age and twice my agility, my son scrambled right up, stopping occasionally to let me reclaim my breath, mop my brow and catch up, and we reached the tippy top together.

What a glorious view! Funny thing, though. Looking down was not nearly as impressive as looking up. Once achieved, the challenge, while fulfilling, lost its mystery. It was deeply satisfying to accomplish my childhood dream, and a restless part of me found peace at last.

As I gear up for my current challenge, to fulfill the dream of writing a novel, it occurred to me that the two events might have much in common.

When I graduated high school 40 years ago, I seriously considered becoming a creative writing major instead of going into theater. But in my first semester at college, the professor, a bitter, frustrated, hateful man, crippled that dream. 

“LPS” actually threw our work back at us and said “This isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.” 

Ouch. 

Now, part of me looks at writing my first novel and says “NO! You can’t. You could fall. Don’t go there. You can be a consumer, but not a creator. Stay on the ground where it’s safe.”

But the dream won’t go away. I’m scrambling around the base of my first novel, looking at research, and character sheets, and plot notes, energized yet terrified at the prospect of writing the actual book, step by step, word by word, chapter by chapter, mopping my brow and catching my breath, and typing until it’s finished.

Yet I know I can do it. My wife and daughter shrug, my son (also a writer) gives patient and enthusiastic encouragement. And when I’m sitting on top of my finished, first, first draft, I know I will look down with a sense of fulfillment and peace.

I know this can happen. It WILL happen.

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