I saw a drop of blood in the snow. And then another. I tried to avoid them, but the snowshoes strapped to my feet made it difficult. Soon the single drops turned to splatters. The blood looked fresh. “It’s the cold. The blood hasn’t oxidized,” reasoned Micah. It’s the sort of thing one says to convince oneself you’re NOT walking toward a gruesome scene. The parking lot had been empty, so the chances of the blood coming from a human were slim. I pictured a predator snacking on its prey.
“Should we turn around?” I asked.
“Possibly,” offered Micah.
How do you know? I remember asking a friend weeks before about how you can tell the difference between irrational fear and intuitive knowing. How do you know whether or not to listen to that nagging voice inside that says your creative ambitions are a dead end? We were at a party and the kitchen was full of men passing around expensive bottles of liquor. “That’s a good question. I’d love to talk about it some time.” It’s the sort of thing one says to avoid having a conversation about existential questions. Why bother with hypotheticals when there’s an open bottle of Four Roses?
But there was nothing hypothetical about the blood splatter underfoot. We continued on for a few hundred feet before I finally said, “Let’s turn around.”
We snowshoed back toward the summit. The trees contorted in the wind and gave off a menacing moan. “That’s what we should be concerned about, one of these trees falling on us,” offered Micah, as though the thought of being crushed by an aspen was a comforting alternative to a blood-thirsty predator. That’s when I saw it, a deer leg hanging from a tree limb. I stopped and stared at it dangling in the wind.
“Could it be a mountain lion?”
“Yes. Keep moving.”
We picked up the pace. It wasn’t long before Micah stopped, opened his backpack, and got out the bag of Good Bites. The smell of chocolate wafted in my direction.
“What are you doing?!” I shrieked. “Are you trying to get us killed?!”
“I’m having a blood sugar crash.”
I’d seen it before, the loss of stamina in the face of fear. A budding artist gets a 9 to 5 job he loathes after a year of trying to make it. In exchange for a steady paycheck and benefits, he no longer has the time or energy to paint. Another takes a job working for an arts organization. Now, instead of fulfilling her creative dreams, she gets paid to help other people fulfill theirs. A writer takes a job that is just creative enough to justify abandoning her writing life. It’s a job she can be proud of, even if she never finishes her book. I flame out for months at a time, tired of rewriting my book submission for the rabbit hole that is the publishing industry. We all falter in the face of fear.
The creative life requires a hell of a lot of stamina. It takes all our energy to keep going when we doubt ourselves. And when it seems the world doubts us, too. All that matters is that we keep going. Every small act we take builds on itself until one day we can look back and say, “I fought the good fight, I finished the race, I kept the faith in myself.”