Yesterday, thanks to our friends Javier and his 8 year old son, Adrian, we traveled an hour north of Vancouver to Britannia Beach and the museum which, from 1904 to 1974, was a copper mine.
The drive, as always in most of British Columbia, was spectacular. The road winds along the western wall of the Coast Mountains, hanging above the water and the islands, the boats and the few brave souls who can afford to build houses in all that rock.
The Museum is brilliant, well-planned, well-designed and incredibly informative. I learned a whole lot about mining copper from its early days to the end of its life in this particular mine but even more, I learned a whole lot about the life of the miners. Not a good life, either.
One of the things we do each time we pick up a pen or turn on our computers, is to take our creative life into our hands. Just like the miners, we enter a place that is dark and forbidding, a place that scares us to death and a place that could, if we weren’t careful and lucky, might mean the death of our dreams. We go into a place that most people – people who aren’t writers – would choose to avoid.
It’s pitch dark in that place, we can’t see our hands in front of our faces, and sometimes it’s hard to find our way, but we have tiny lights on our foreheads, lights that allow us to take each careful step into the darkness. Those lights are skill and creativity and desire. Those lights are our friends and fellow writers who encourage us. Those lights are the books we read as a child that inspired us, the courses we take and the workshops and conferences we attend. Each of those things and those people are like a miner’s headlamp. They allow us to keep going. They allow to walk into the dark, sometimes with trepidation, sometimes with excitement at seeing what lies around the next bend.
And then, if we work hard, if we learn our craft and keep on keeping on, just like the miners who descended all those thousands of feet into the rock of the Coast Mountains, just like those miners who had the tiniest of lights to keep them going through their days, just like those miners who believed in the daylight they couldn’t see, we’ll come out at the end. Of the story, of the long dark tunnel that is agent hunting or publisher hunting, that is dealing with cruel rejections and days without inspiration.
We’ll end up in this place – it won’t always be sunny, but there is a light at the end of the writing tunnel, we just have to keep on keeping on, relying on our headlamps, knowing we’ll get out of the cold and the dark. Mostly, though, we’ll learn to live with the fear that threatens to overwhelm us. Writing is a very scary business – starting with a blank page, sending a query out into the world, sending your first published book out into the world.
I’m going to remember the Britannia Beach Mine when I get scared. I’m going to remember those miners who went down into that dark with nothing but a candle (that they had to buy themselves!) and came back out into the sunlight.