Having just spent a week in the Swiss Alps, I’m home again with a clear head. There’s something very special about being so high, the air just that bit thinner, so that to walk up a big hill takes a little bit more effort than you might think. But, of course, more often it’s going down a hill that takes up your energy.
I am not a natural skier. One look, by those in the know, and this is immediately obvious. It’s in the angle of my skis, the tilt of my head, the way my arms hold the stocks and in the look on my face. Nevertheless, I hurl myself down slopes that, when I look back up, seem very steep indeed. I watch my now nine-year old daughter, skiing since she was four, and wonder at how she can just point her skis downhill and go, no thought to what might happen, instead only intent on getting down to the bottom of the slope as quickly as possible.
Despite my wonder at her fearlessness, I still find myself travelling down these slopes at quite a speed, no time to think of anything else except what might be coming up next. I turn, as best I can, and then turn again, no time to relax in-between, the whole thing an exhilarating experience unlike anything else. I try not to think what it would be like to crash, but sometimes I still do think about it, willing myself not to, too conscious that the more I think about it the more likely it is that I will! And when I get to the bottom I draw a quick breath and then get ready to do it all over again.
I say that it’s not like anything else, but I’m about to compare it to writing.
Skiing is all about taking risks, about letting yourself pick up speed while wearing long planks strapped to your feet; how crazy is that? Yet writing is not that dissimilar. To take a risk when writing requires letting go, allowing a vulnerability to surface, so that each new word takes you just that little bit further into territory you have not previously contemplated. You have to trust that you know at least something about it all, that you know the ins and outs of the language and that you’ll make it down the hill, one way or the other.
Sometimes you crash in a tangle of arms and legs and words and sentences, part of you wondering how you could have let yourself put a foot wrong and part of you wondering why it hasn’t happened more often. Luckily, there will be no chance of a broken leg, only a momentary lapse while you think of what to write next, while you read through what you’ve just written, your finger hovering over the delete button, ready to make the page white again (just like the snow), hoping you don’t lack the courage to keep the words on the page just a little longer, just in case there’s something worth salvaging.
And then you find yourself down the bottom of the hill, safe once more, and contemplating going up again.
Just for the thrill.