Today I look back at that poem I posted before and already I’m starting to hate it. All the things that aren’t perfect, the rhythm, the rhyme, word choice. Et cetera et cetera.
It’s a common thing, I know so many of you have the same doubts, maybe not about your writing, but of all the things you wish you were better at.
There is this unhappy thing I wrote, a long time ago when I was incredibly depressed. It is all I can do sometimes- write, when I have these black moods during which there seems no point at all. I can’t help it. It’s just who I am, it’s the only way I know how to fight back. I ask the question: What happens next? And then I answer it.
And I realize that might not make any sense.
You see sometimes there is a mountain in my head. A massive, cold mountain, with blizzards and comfortable caves and a moaning wind that will not cease. Sometimes it is a dragon who I know well, and all I have is a rusty sword and a wooden shield. Sometimes it is a place, sometimes a person. All I know is I am terrified that I might not make it there. Or that when I do I will fail.
I do not usually show people the words I write about that thing. After all the words are so far from perfect, and what if it is embarrassing? But that is not the point. The point is to climb It.
Sometimes It is a mountain.
Sometimes It is A Tower
A man dreams of a tower made of steel and glass, filled with the kind of shiny windows that reflect the world around it like some strange mirror.
A penetrating edifice, warping reality inside of it, till the clouds themselves dance slowly across it’s titan form. The tower is so smooth, the tower is so new, so modern, the tower is human, not natural at all. It stands at the top of an impossibly tall mountain, and wind and blizzard whip at it’s babel-like form for eons and eons, and still it stands, this office building, this monument to human progress. The climber makes it to the peak of the mountain, only to find this smooth, steel tower, revealing his reflection- what a weathered climber he is, how small, how incredibly tiny, in front of this vast challenge.
Impossible to climb.
No handholds. No help. What is at the top?
He did not come so far, leave so much behind, and hold on for so long just to sit in it’s shadow.
So he grabs hold of smooth glass, and presses his legs against the sides of the steel bars, and slowly, so slowly, he pulls himself upwards. It takes him almost an hour to make it a few meters, he keeps sliding down. He continues, waiting for a night that never comes- there is no more sleeping at the top of the mountain. Each time he see’s his own cheeks puff, his own muscles strain, reflected by those glass windows. Each time he falls.
Lying in the snow, he redoubts his efforts. With cunning learnt from years of climbing he finds the tiniest handholds, the secret imperfections, and he makes it higher, and higher, leaving the summit behind. As he climbs he see’s into the windows, now transparent. What he see’s lashes at his heart far more than the blizzards he encountered below. Scenes from his life, friends long gone, now inside and warm, with families, with love, with success and security, these scenes right in front of him remind him of what he cannot have, what he does not have. He screams, pure agony, pure animalistic pain, and collapses back down to the ground. Has it not been enough? Is it not enough to contend with shadows? Is it not enough to have fought his own reflection every day, to strain and rise with no one to watch or care. Now he must also be taunted by the happiness of others, over and over again, he must feel his solitude.
The climber collapses on the ground. Snow begins to fall. Coating his body. He wonders at all the white piles around him. He wonders at all the others that despite it all made it this far, only to be forgotten in death, only to lie buried in snow, white piles for others to stumble over, reminders and warnings for the foolish. Then the climber remembers. He is not foolish. He gets up. He is many things. He thinks himself weak, and he puts one hand on a hold. He thinks himself broken, as he jams one cold foot against a bar. He thinks himself different and cursed and unable to be like all the others, as he lifts himself above the snow. But he is not done. Not yet.
The climber uses his fingers to smash holes in these windows to other people’s dreams and his own bad memories, small fractures to allow for grip, which cut into his palms, till the blood flows like tiny streams down the side of the titanic tower. Upwards he goes, and upwards. Here there are no caves to rest in, no checkpoints to mark his progress. Here he either climbs or falls, and the climb is so far, and so long, and no one else cares.
He peers into a higher window, one he hasn’t seen before, and what he see’s cuts him far deeper than the cold he usually contends with. The climber’s hands fail him, and he plummets again to the ground.
This is it. This is the end. He lands with enough force to break. And break he does. Shattered on the peak of this mountain he thought would lead him to peace. His body useless. As are his dreams. A thousands jagged pieces, each a reflection of a battle lost- a desperate shard taken as a lesson, heaped on a pile he called hope, telling himself that all the suffering was worth something, anything, that the pile would mean peace, that if he could just put all the pain together it would amount to something beautiful and it would all have been worth it. Now he lies, broken, and slowly bleeds.
A distant cry travels up the mountain.
The climber turns his head. It’s a cry of pain. A cry of anguish. He knows it well. He has emitted the same noise from his own mouth far too often. Someone else is in pain. The body wishes to die. The climber will not allow it. He remembers the jagged lessons, the way he put them together into something resembling a dream. He has trained himself to piece together hope, thus he shall piece together his body. The cry is that of another. He is not alone. Others suffer. He has not met them, but he knows them. He looks at the rope he used on the mountain, and promises himself one last thing. The rope is not useful, not on the tower, not here at the end.
But if he could bring it to the top and throw it down, then his brothers and sisters could use it, to help themselves. The climber slowly, so slowly, gets back up. His arms are not as strong, having been shattered in the fall. He carefully winds the rope around himself, his useless arms flapping in the wind.
He looks up at this vertical behemoth, this shining example of everything good and warm that he cannot be a part of. He considers smashing through the window, but he knows, that was never his way. That was denied to him at the outset. Some are brave, they climb because they dream of peaks, because they are the trailblazers, the pioneers who will not settle. Some climb because they need more, and more, and more, until death they are driven, always to seek more, and they are the ones that drive the race forward, these ambitious leaders. Some set their sights so high, and do not turn away, and work, with others, towards greatness. The climber is none of these people. He is a coward.
Because some are being hunted. They are chased, forever, wherever, by dark demons for reasons unknown. They learn, from an early age, to run. To run, and run, and never look back. Sometimes they are cornered, and forced to fight, sometimes they lose, and always, always they carry the wounds of these battles.
The climber has run all his life. He has trained for this. And right now there is only one thing left inside of him. Something more than hope. Now he knows that there are others like him. That they are crying for help, as he has done before- that they wish they had backup, that they are alone, so terribly alone. He hears them below, shouting “Where are you?” And he has one thing left to say.
He shoulders his rope. He must secure it to something high.
He runs towards that vertical tower. His footsteps stop sinking into the snow. He runs and runs, till he reaches the base of that steel tower.
His feet leave the ground, as he runs up it. One step, two, three, thirty. He does not stop, running against the gravity of his darkstar, defying physics, straight up he runs, his eyes fixed on the top, his arms trailing uselessly. His mortal heart beats, a drum sounding like a call to arms, all he can hear are the drums. Step after step, so fast he doesn’t have time to fall. Past old friends, past old memories, past lost loves, past easier choices, past life, past fear, past it all, upwards and upwards, he is almost three quarters of the way there….when he see’s her.
She’s happy now. She’s married. She has children and they are all smiling. Everyone is smiling.
He falls. Plummets down to earth.
He thinks he hears laughter. It’s the tower. The tower is laughing. It has finally won. Don’t you know? It asks, don’t you know how many of you fools I shake off everyday? Count the deaths. Count the ones that do not make it. You are another mistake, and I am ridding you from my perfect world.
The voice gets quieter, the farther from the top he falls. The ground approaches. The climber tried. He was not strong enough. He was not fast enough. That is the way of the world. We do not all win. As he comes near to the ground he thinks he hears other voices, those from far below.
Help. Please. Help me. Where are you?
The climbers thrusts his broken arms to either side, and learns one last lesson.
His broken arms, shaped by pain- he flaps them, harder, faster, till the ground itself is held at bay. He aims himself at the peak of the tower. He say’s “I’m coming.”
Looking up, at the enemy so far above. “I’m coming for you.”
He’s trained for this his entire life.