Interestingly, while in Sicily with E over the past week, I began writing something that felt like - and, I suppose, still feels like - the start of a novel. Unfortunately, it came so suddenly, and I had so little time and energy on the trip to work on it, that I don't even know how old my narrator is, where the story is set, let alone where it's going. This definitely isn't the novel that I wanted to write post-PhD; it came out of the blue, felt somewhat authentic, and I think I will try to pursue it, but I don't really know. On the other hand, I have a clear idea of what I want to do with the novel that I want to write. In fact, I've already written two versions of the opening section. Unfortunately, they both suck, so I'm probably going to re-write it again.
Anyway. Writing is exhilarating and scary at the same time, and I am definitely not doing enough of it. I did, however, just submit an essay to the New York Times' Modern Love column; an essay that I wrote four years ago about American Mark. I had completely forgotten about the essay (and American Mark) until I came across it while looking through my 'Prose' folder a few months ago. I was surprised, while reading it, that 1) I didn't completely faint at how badly written it was; and 2) it still felt emotionally true. And so I shortened it to meet the word limit, tightened up the language, and sent it off. I have a 1 in 100 chance of it being published, which basically means I have no chance. Still, it's worth a shot, right?
Sicily was quite lovely, even if it did darken my skin and turned me into a walking feast for mosquitoes. The highlight - in both positive and negative ways - was trekking up to the near-top of Mount Etna. E likes hiking, and I like challenging myself, which apparently includes putting myself through the usually unpleasant experience of being in the outdoors, trying to do something as unnatural and needless as walking up and down (especially down) jagged, uneven surfaces, which are obviously not meant for people to walk on. If they were, they would be smooth and even, right? I think so too.
The truth is, the primary allure of hiking for me right now is that it is a challenge in itself - nothing more. I enjoy it only when I don't have to deal with jagged rocks or dried up lava, as was the case on Mount Etna. I can only enjoy the view when I'm not scared shitless, worried that I would fall and injure myself while trying to make my way down some random crater or whatever. The Etna trek (I would hardly call it a hike; we had to take a cable car up 2000m or something, then a bus up a further x metres) was actually quite nice...until the last bit, when the guide took the group to some crater (I honestly don't know what I was walking up or standing on) and I discovered that I had to somehow walk down this very steep slope - probably the side of the crater.
I was already having difficulties walking up. When I say 'difficulties', I mean that I was unable to keep at bay the panic attack that eventually took over at the sight of the...thing that I had to walk down. I freaked out, E couldn't manage it, I cried - and only made it down because another guide came over and held on to me as I made my way down, in a state of panic, fear and fuming anger.
It wasn't even walking, not really. It was more like sliding and trying not to fall. In retrospect, I probably could have done it without freaking out; but it was literally my third time on a mountain, and this one was a volcano, and my first two flirtations with hiking didn't go particularly well, either. I had no confidence in my abilities because I had little prior experience; above all else, I don't like being pushed too far out of my comfort zone. Or more accurately, the kind of challenge that I was after was my physical ability, my fitness, to sustain a 6-hour hike or whatever. It was not the challenge of trying to 'walk' down the side of a bloody crater.
So I slid and stompd my way down, my form so poor that my right knee, because pushed too far forward, began to hurt. And mercifully, it was over...but my mood had gone downhill along with my reluctant and frightened descent. When I reached the bottom, the main guide came over to me and asked me what the problem was. 'What are you scared of?' he asked. 'It's fine. It's like walking on snow.'
I have never walked on snow. 'I have never walked on snow,' I told him, unable to keep the incredulity out of my voice. He had nothing to say to that.
There was more walking up and down rocky and jagged dried lava after that, and a bit more sliding down some crater, albeit less steep this time. The funny thing was, I was so angry that I was kind of just stomping through everything, wanting only to get the hell off the damn volcano and back to civilisation where I could walk like a normal human being. Perhaps that's the trick, then: not caring. Will there be a next time? Maybe. Probably.
My hiking shoes made a huge difference though. They bore the brunt of my slipping, twisting themselves into all kinds of angles so that my ankles didn't have to. So, yeah, buying them was a good idea.
I don't feel like writing anymore.