I’m struggling. I’m really, really struggling. I know I’ve said this many times. I’ve been here, done this, but this time, I’m really really struggling. I do not know if I can write this personal essay. I’m like a dog circling and circling, in perpetuity…
Nothing could be more perfectly set up for this essay to happen. I have time, I have the perfect space, my friends’ empty house in the mountains, I have the perfect dog to walk when I’m about to pull my hair out, I have my almonds and cranberries, I have my coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon, wine in the evening, I have a publisher who wants this essay.
I am attempting to write about my stuckness climbing, (a topic I may have already flogged to death in my memoir) so what I will do, what I always do when I’m stuck, is write about it. I am going to write about feeling stuck writing about feeling stuck climbing.
First of all, I’m trying to find a synonym for stuckness because it isn’t actually a word, and this is what I came up: baffled, stumped, at a complete loss, wedged, obstructed, blocked, fixed, jammed… They all work. Take your pick.
I’m not blocked in the normal sense of writer’s block. I have typed five pages of notes, I have typed or cut and pasted 27 pages of essay (the first 8 being somewhat polished), I have 12 letter-sized pieces of computer paper full of notes (both sides) that I scribble out in the middle of the night, or early morning when my brain is in that wonderful liminal state of consciousness, I have 8 sketch-sized sheets of lists and notes, I have 7 chart sized papers of flow charts and lists and brain storms in every colour of Crayola marker. I’m not blocked, I can’t seem to plug myself up. I can’t stem the flow of ideas, emotions, fears.
Or to be more precise about the problem – I can’t organize it all. Make sense of it. Find the heart of what I want to say. And if I can’t find that key kernel, that definitive, precise problem that is just aching to be expressed before I can explore it, then I will circle and circle into eternity.
So I’ve decided to back up. If I can’t state the problem, I will do more exploration. I went on-line to read a few personal essays for inspiration and found lists and lists of them. I was inspired by a few essays, very inspired, but I was more inspired by the lists of the titles of those essays on LIT HUB. So I started to play a game. I took a title, subtitle, and description and used them to launch into a title of my own, in the hopes that the real theme of this essay would shine through. Sometimes silly, sometimes serious. And to tell you the truth, I’m not sure if I’m any closer, but there’s no hope in hell I’ll waste the past three hours, so this has become my next blog.
Real title: John Berger Contemplates Life and Death at the Graveside of Mahmoud Darwish – A Writer and a Poet in Communion
My title: Jan Redford Contemplates Life and Death and Fear on a Low-Angle, Low-Grade, Short Sport Climb in El Potrero Chico – A Writer and Climber Seeking Some Sort of Communion with Herself
Real title: I Used to Be a Writer – Then I Got Sick – Emma Smith-Stevens on Losing Control of Her Body and Her Identity
My title: I Used to Be a Climber – And Then I Became a Chicken Shit – Jan Redford on Losing Control of her Impulses, Her Body, Her Identity
Real title: When Your Therapist Leaves for Summer Vacation – Cree LeFavour on the Patient’s August Doldrums
My title: When Your Courage Leaves on Mid Climb– Jan Redford on the Climber’s Midlife Doldrums
Real title: How Writing Let Me Take Control of My Own Story – On the Joy and Struggle of Creation (Jennie Melamed)
My title: How Writing Let Me Take Control of My Own Story – On the Joy and Struggle of Climbing
Real title: Sometimes, It’s Okay to Be Mean – Sometimes It Keeps Us Alive (Myriam Gurba)
My title: Sometimes, It’s Okay to Be Scared – Sometimes It Keeps Us Alive
Real title: Spider-man Taught Me How to Live, Comics Taught Me How to Write – Nikesh Shukla on the Dual Life of an Immigrant Son in North West London
My title: Climbing Taught Me How to Live, Writing Taught Me How to Climb – Jan Redford on the Dual Life of a Chicken Shit Rock Warrior
Real title: Finding Solace in Bookstores, in the Face of Cancer – Mary Ladd on the Pleasure of Being Surrounded By Literature
My title: Finding Solace in the Mountains, in the Face of Fear and Feelings of Being Stuck– Jan Redford on the Pleasure of Having Good Health, the Perfect Career, and Many People Who Love Her
Real Title: The Food Writer Who Lost Her Sense of Smell – Sofia Perez on Losing One of the Things That Mattered Most to Her
My title: The Climber Who Lost Her Sense of Adventure – Jan Redford on Losing One of the Things That Mattered Most to Her
Real title: In Mid-Life, The Wonderful Non-Deliverance of Ayahuasca “I Hurdle Towards Aging and Decrepitude With a Lighter Heart”
My title: In Mid-Life, The Wonderful Freedom from Ego “I Hurtle Towards Death or Paralysis With Less Worry About What Other Climbers Will Think of Me”
Real title: Learning the Hard Way That Writing a Book is Not Like Writing for TV Evany Rosem on Assembling Her Own Personal Writers Room
My title: Learning the Hard Way That Writing a Personal Essay on Being Stuck is Not Like Actually BEING Unstuck – Jan Redford on Polling All Her Friends on Facebook About How to Write Her Personal Essay
Real title: What Does Your Life Teach You About Becoming a Writer? David Biespiel on Love Affairs, Family Memories, and the Body
My title: What Does Your Climbing Teach You About Your Writing? Your Life? Jan Redford on Fear, Avoidance, Commitment, and Learning
Real title: The Last Personal Essay About Race I Will Ever Write – Musa Okwonga on Realizing Racism Doesn’t Need to Be His Problem Anymore
My title: The Last Personal Essay About Being Stuck I Will Ever Write – Jan Redford on Realizing Being Stuck Doesn’t Need to Be Her Problem Anymore
Real title: The Story I Tell Myself About My Father’s Death – “I Was So Convinced My Whole Life That Asking About My Father Might Kill Me” (Sharon Harrigan)
My title: The Story I Tell Myself About How I Climb “I Was So Convinced That Pushing Through the Pain and Fear Might Kill Me”
Real title: How Loving The Princess Bride Led Me to Buddhism – Ethan Nichtern on the Film He’s Seen (At Least) 30 Times
My title: How Loving Climbing Led Me to Pushing Myself Beyond My Fear – Jan Redford on the Process She’s Gone Through on Rock (at least) 300 Times
Real title: A Lost Voice, Writer’s Block, and a New Life – Tova Mirvis Uncovers a Way to Speak the Truth
My title: Lost Nerve, Writer’s Overflow, and a New Way of Avoiding Writing a Personal Essay – Jan Redford Uncovers a Way to Organize Her Thoughts, Stickies, Notes, Lists, Spreadsheets, and Flow Charts.
Real title: How Hard Do You Have to Crash Before You Talk About War? Josephine Rowe on Writing Your Way Through a Montreal Polar Vortex
My title: How Hard Do You Have to Crash Before You Realize You’ve Been Using the Same Worn Out Approach, Over and Over, Your Whole Life? Jan Redford on Climbing and Writing Your Way Through Your Own Personal Vortex
Real title: A Difficult Balance: Am I a Writer or a Teacher? Kyoko Mori Tries to Make Peace with Her Divided Self
My title: A Difficult Balance: Am I a Chicken Shit or a Rock Warrior? Jan Redford Tries to Make Peace with Her Conflicted Self
Real title: How to Write a Book With Traumatic Brain Injury Alice Anderson Wouldn’t Let Aphasia Stop Her From Writing a Memoir
My title: How to Write a Book With Chronic Self Doubt: Jan Redford wouldn’t Let GDD (Generalized Dread Disorder) Stop Her From Writing a Memoir
Real title: How to Find Michel de Montaigne’s Estate (Or Get Hopelessly Lost Trying) When a Pilgrimage Becomes its Own Kind of Essay
My title: How to Climb a Route (or Die Trying) – When Writing a Personal Essay Becomes a Pilgrimage – the Kind Where You Crawl On Your Belly Through Deserts and Mountains For Years on End With No Food or Water or Shoes or Toilet Paper
My own personal Herakles – On Love, Loss, and the Fire at the Center of the Earth (Renée Branum)
My own personal hell: On indecision, angst, madness, and Scorching Fire in the Centre of my Brain
Ta Da! All Done! Now back to my essay. Let’s see, where was I…?