When You See Nothing But Taillights
Writing in Medium, where Susan Orlean also publishes regular pieces, is a bit like milling around before a marathon, cheek by jowl with elite runners. You get to be in the same race, even though when the gun goes off, you see nothing but tail lights and figuratively eat their dust. One of my relatives has run Boston a few times and put it like this. He was close to all these great Kenyan runners for while, right beside them, neck and neck, stride for stride.
And then the starter’s gun went off.
But, you still have people cheering you on, just the same, for your own wins in this, even though by the time you finish, the winners will have showered and given their post-race interviews. Hell, maybe even headed home. Even people who don’t know you cheer you on, like you are someone special and doing something extraordinary.
I also experienced that on Denali in 1986. I was nobody’s world-class climber and was never going to pioneer a new route up the mountain or distinguish myself by setting some speed record. I did learn that all climbers wear crampons the same way, carry ice axes, have to deal with the same extreme cold and are just as subject to tumbling into a crevasse. Two expert French climbers had, in fact, been killed by a fall into one, two weeks before our trip up there.
I learned that to my friends and family, I was no less heroic than any of the climbers I admired. All I had to do was pony up some cash, bring the right equipment and be as fit as possible, just like with most marathons, excepting Boston, of course, for which you have to qualify.
That’s the way it is on Medium. For a small fee, you get to play, maybe even make some money. You get to mill around with someone like Susan Orlean. I’ve read her books, I’ve read her in the New Yorker, I am a fan. I read her posts on Medium. She presses “publish” the same way I do and I imagine she wonders who will enjoy her piece, how it will land, just like I do. Maybe she even still has to deal with feeling like she’s only as good as the last essay she wrote.
There the comparison ends. Nothing but taillights after that.
It’s a great opportunity to compare and feel bad, if I choose to. I can bemoan that I started too late, I don’t have the chops to do anything serious as a writer, I don’t have the talent, the drive. Why even bother? You’re never going to win this race.
That is definitely one possibility, one which I have indulged in
It also is a great opportunity to not get lost in pointless speculation, a chance to not have comparison be the thief of joy It’s a chance to be thankful for every one of the readers I do have, the ones who are cheering me on, encouraging me not to quit, assuring me that what I say often has value, appreciating that I am at least wearing the crampons. I am in the race.
I can choose either path. I can choose comparison or I can choose to be right here, in this moment, admiring, and learning from, others. I can choose to be grateful for what I already have, and see where the road leads.