Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Climbing the Mountain with NorthWord

When people ask me about the first time I was published – really published, not online – I refer back to days long ago in Toronto when I briefly wrote for a pet-focused newspaper aimed at the urban core of that city. It was a natural fit, as I was managing a veterinary clinic at the time and I was immersed in the world of pets and creatures large and small. When I stopped writing for that paper, though, there was a long hiatus, and the next time I was officially published was in the local literary magazine NorthWord.

I remember submitting to NorthWord, almost breathless as I did not anticipate my efforts would be successful. After all, it was the first piece I had submitted for publication in decades, and while I had found some degree of both success and satisfaction in blogging submitting to NorthWord was different. It was, after all, a blind submission, with my name stripped from the document and the guest editor only seeing the words I had written and not the name attached to it. I will always recall receiving the email advising me that my piece had been selected for publication, and I will never forget holding that issue in my hand, seeing my name in print and savouring it like a small morsel of sweet victory, as it felt like I had truly achieved a goal.
Since that time I have been published dozens of times, some in NorthWord and now in other publications, but nothing will ever replace those initial feelings of seeing my words in a magazine that showcases the work of some of the finest and most accomplished writers in our region. It is with great pleasure and anticipation then that I move on to another phase of my career as a writer, as now I will serve as the Guest Editor for the next edition of NorthWord.

One of the great joys of Guest Editing, other than the primary joy of having the opportunity to read the work of other fine writers, is the ability to choose a theme for the edition I will edit. I spent a great deal of time considering the theme, as many sprang to mind – but in the end only one theme would do, because it is perhaps the theme that intrigues me the most.
“Climbing the mountain”

What does this mean, you might wonder? And where does such a theme come from, given that I am someone who grew up in the midst of what is arguably the flattest landscape on the planet (Saskatchewan)? It comes from a life-long fascination with mountain climbers.
Ever since I was a very young child and just starting to read independently I was fascinated with those who climbed to the tallest peaks in our world. As I grew older my interest in them grew, too. I have most likely read every book ever written by extreme mountain climbers, about expeditions gone right and those gone wrong, watched every documentary…and yet with no intention of ever climbing a single one of those mountains.

Over time I came to recognize it wasn’t actually the mountains themselves that fascinated me, but the nature of those who chose to climb them. Mountains such as K2, while not the tallest but perhaps technically the most difficult, claim the lives of approximately ¼ of those who attempt to conquer it – so who would choose to climb such a mountain, when 25% of those who try to tackle it die?
I read the books, scouring them for some sort of clarity on the character of those who climb mountains. I read of their exploits, lost fingers and toes and lives. And as I read I too was growing older, and while I was not climbing Everest I began to discover that mountains can be powerful metaphors, as my life began to lift and heave just as the continents did when they gave rise to the mountain ranges on our planet.

The death of my father, followed by the death of my mother just three years later. A 24 year marriage that ended not in the world of “happy ever after” but divorce. An eye disease that instead of lessening over time simply grew into a cavalcade of new problems, each one worse than the last.
The true moment of clarity for me was when my corneal specialist, desperate to control the ever-increasing pressure in my diseased eye, wrote a prescription for an oral medication designed to control pressure in the body. I remember walking to the pharmacy, looking down at the prescription and deciphering his physician’s scrawl and laughing when I realized the irony.

Diamox, the medication used to treat glaucoma for decades - and the drug of choice to prevent altitude sickness, used by extreme mountain climbers all over the world.
I had met my mountain, and I had the prescription to prove it.

The pharmacist and I laughed together when I came to pick up the filled prescription, as he was expecting an extreme alpinist, someone with tales of Everest and Annapurna. Instead he was the recipient of tales of viruses that attack the cornea, glaucoma surgeries and medical grade crazy glue plugging a hole in a cornea – not quite the tale he expected, to be certain.
The truth is that my interest in mountain climbers was in their journey, not their destination. It was about how they got to the top – or failed to do so, and what they learned along the way. And what I began to understand is that sometimes we choose the mountain, as extreme mountain climbers do, but sometimes the mountain chooses us when life throws an obstacle (or two, or a few dozen) in our path. Each and every one of us must find the courage to climb our individual mountain, whether it is a literal or figurative one, and each and every one of us has a mountain climbing tale.

The resiliency and resourcefulness I have always admired in extreme mountain climbers exists inside each of us, sometimes dormant and only tapped into under the most dire of circumstances. We are all mountain climbers.
It was with this in mind that the theme “Climbing the Mountain” began to take shape. It was the desire to see others share their stories of their mountain climbing adventures, no matter how large or how small, no matter where they found the mountain or where the mountain found them. It was the hope to give the opportunity to writers in our community – long-time writers, new writers, published writers, unpublished writers, confident writers and quivering-in-their-boots writers – to pen tales about the mountains that surround each of us every single day.

The deadline for submission is March 30. Just as with my submission long ago, all I will see as the Guest Editor is the words, and not the name of the author. I cannot begin to express how excited I am to serve at the Guest Editor for the 15th edition of NorthWord and to read the tales I hope you – yes, YOU! – will share with me and with the world. Tell me about your mountain, or about a mountain you would like to climb – or one you hope to never have to attempt. Send me your poems, your short stories, your non-fiction tales. And then, when it is published, come climb the mountain with me as we explore all the mountains, the ones in our heads and the ones under our feet. Let's climb the mountains together.

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