Sunday, November 28, 2010
How to Jump a Ditch and Write
We had a moat around my house; not a fence, but a moat.
Actually, most of the houses in my neighbourhood had moats; our castles protected by whatever swam within. Mostly ducks and slime.
And the odd muddy kid.
Many neighbourhoods in Richmond, B.C., established around the 50’s and 60’s, have drainage ditches separating the front yard from the road. It was with these ditches we learned courage, strength and agility.
When ditches were in their heyday (newer neighbourhoods don’t have them), the ability to ‘jump the ditch’ without falling in was a kids’ rite of passage. Even the tip of your shoe dipping in the murky water behind you as you attempted to clear the 3 – 4 feet wide span would set off gales of laughter and teasing from other kids. No one dared try the ‘super deep’ ditches, or the ditch of grumpy Mr. Brown-down-the-street-with-the-mean-dog; we weren’t THAT stupid.
Fear of humiliation should I not make it across, never mind the thought of falling in the murky water, sucked the courage right out of me. Building up the nerve to take that first running step was always the worst. A few false starts of running a few steps, stopping, turning around and dragging my embarrassed self back to the starting point was torture – but enough to kick me into action.
Full speed ahead, one foot take off, two feet landing, and dry as a bone on the other side. Victory! Turn around and do it again – just to show off a little. I had already mastered it once; I was a ‘pro’ now. And the occasional wet shoe was nothing – as long as no one was looking. I had surpassed the fear, mastered the move, and was one of the gang. I was invincible.
By the end of autumn we were ditch-jumping pros; spring and summer training had paid off. But then winter would come, shutting us in, preventing us from maintaining our ditch-jumping skills. All the courage, skill and technique acquired during the months previous - gone.
Winter would have barely faded into spring, and we would be back out there. Out of practice and out of courage, we had to start over and reclaim all the physical and mental strength we mastered only a season ago.
As it is with anything, if you haven’t done something for a long time, you lose your touch. Being away from something for too long, you try to come back to it, yet feel ‘rusty’ and lack confidence. As writers, sometimes a project becomes a little unfocused, we get ‘stuck,’ frustrated and find ourselves going nowhere. Courage and momentum you once had, now a distant memory.
But you can get it back. Get into runners stance, ignore those taunting chants from inside your head, ignore your fear, take a deep breath, and start running. As you near the edge, don't come to a screeching halt – just jump. You’ll make it. So what if you get a bit wet that first time - who cares? You’ll dry off, turn around, and do it again.
Don’t jump for anyone else but yourself - and only yourself. You might have supporters cheering you on, suggesting what to do, what not to, and how best to do it. Perfect – that’s what you need. But when you are building up the courage to take that flying leap, remember my neighbourhood friends I was trying so hard to impress. When I made it to the other side, dry and unscathed, thankful I wouldn’t have the burden of those kids laughing and poking fun at me, it was my own sense of accomplishment that made me turn around and do it again...and again...and again.
Keep jumping. Keep writing. Keep submitting. And don’t let a season pass by, interrupting your courage.