Mountains always look larger in the distance.
I grew up under the shadow of Dug Gap Mountain in Dalton, Georgia. These days, the ever-present geological feature in my day-to-day life is Kennesaw Mountain in the northern burbs of Atlanta.
These mountains, at the Southern point of the Appalachians, are mere molehills compared with the Rockies, Alps and other cloud-piercing ranges in the world. But they are ancient. And, for those of us who hike them, they are deceiving in their challenge.
Once I get to the base of a mountain in my neck of the woods, they don’t look big any more. They seem rather ordinary. Unintimidating.
People can be like these mountains—larger than life, at a distance. A bit of a let down, up close.
But the good stuff, to me, exists in neither the distant admiration nor the first encounter. The good stuff is the ongoing inside experience.
Once I enter a mountain trail, once the voices in my head silence, once my gait, breath and heart rate synch, I enter an experience that will hurt and frustrate me near my limits while simultaneously bringing me joy and awe beyond the ability of words to capture.
The same can be said of a marriage, parenting and creative work. My writing, like my wife and kids, challenges me. It reveals textures within me I didn’t even know existed. It serves as a connective agent. A change agent. A community agent. And a communion agent.
I have a strong desire to stay in the distance. That way I can appear large and mysterious. I think this is because, down deep, I fear I will disappoint those that get close. Like the Wizard behind the curtain in Oz.
But what I’ve come to realize, especially as a writer/backpacker, is that life is not a path. It’s an experience. And my job is not to loom in the distance. Or try to be something I’m not up close.
My job is to challenge the few who enter.
Am I writing words to be consumed by many? Or am I offering words that give a few people life?
Am I writing for the momentary admiration of strangers? Or am I writing something that has a chance of connecting with my great-grandchildren?
Am I chasing trophies? Or am I gardening fruit?
Time will tell, I suppose.
What about you? How are you vulnerable through your creative work?
From May 2012 to July 2013, I wrote a weekly series of intimate essays for writers and artists seeking a deeper connection with their identity and place as modern creatives. I called this series Root Notes. This was an essay in that series. It was originally published on January 27, 2013.