I say this to myself as I collapse into bed after a day of dissertation writing and plotting plays. Weaving through Atlanta traffic and applying to jobs. Interviewing and receiving rejection letters from poetry journals. Talking to my family on the phone and trying to devise a plan.
I say this a lot lately. And it’s true: I’m tired of the grad school struggle, of not having [this much] money, of wanting the mental space to work on my art and combat racism at the coffee shop. Life is difficult.
I didn’t think about these things as I climbed Stone Mountain last week. My mind was at work on a poem I have yet to write.**
The last time I had been to Stone Mountain must have been about 15 years ago on a middle school field trip. I don’t really recall much about that visit, but I remember walking down a grassy, maintained path after having walked up the mountain, accompanied by one or two friends. There were shops and all sorts of fun things waiting for us at the end. I thought about these things when I accepted my friend’s invitation to hike the mountain. But that’s not the Stone Mountain I found this time.
I found the path was a stretch of stone that wove all the way up the mountain. The name suddenly made sense. In the five years I spent in Atlanta years ago finishing college and my first graduate degree, I had not made it to this area. Perhaps I was too in the college bubble to explore the rest of the city, and I’m sure not having a car to make the 30 minute drive also had something to do with it. It comes as no surprise that only five months into again being an Atlanta resident with time on my hands and lots of stress to relieve, that the mountain and I finally meet again.
I don’t really think about heights much and hadn’t accounted for how high I’d walk. It was only as I was walking up the mountain that I realized that it was indeed a mountain—I was walking upwards above my usual playing field. The higher we walked, the more I slowed down. I walked close to the trees or rocks, whatever was closest so that I would have some reminder that I was close to the earth, could reach out for it if I needed to due to dizziness or a sudden gust of wind that I was sure could uproot me and send me flying into the air.
I thought: so this is what the saying means that we shouldn’t make mountains out of molehills.
When we were all but a couple hundred feet from the top, I stopped. This mountain seemed so naked; at this point there were no trees to hide behind or hold on to. I sat near a group of rocks, desperately hoping that they wouldn’t suddenly decide to slip away.
Looking around I saw how relatively distant I was from the world below. From the city. From my life. All the other things that were waiting for me. I marveled at the view of downtown. My friend pointed out where midtown started and Kennesaw Mountain.
It grew cold. We descended, me trying my best not to think about how I could go tumbling down the whole way.
A few days later, I presented at a conference in downtown Atlanta. It just so happens that it was taking place on the twenty-third floor of a university building. Because I don’t really think of heights, I somehow forgot that I would be looking out at the city until I turned around and was hit with a sprawling view. Looking at the city on a Saturday morning when the roads didn’t hold as much traffic as usual was amazing. I saw the highways running on all sides, marking boundaries and giving shape to the metropolis that I now call home.
And I saw the mountain. All the way in the distance, it stood as a little thing above the other little things called buildings and houses. Earlier in the week I stood on one end of the city looking down at it and later in the week I stood at the other end doing the same.
Was it now a mountain or molehill?
I think about the stretch between those two high places. How they both looked minuscule from a distance but so tall from up close. And in and through all the things in between there is a way to and from them, a difficult maze.
Life is difficult. But still within the maze, I have a car to take me from mountain to molehill. I have a house, a little thing between the two. I have family and friends. I have money, though not much, that allows me to dwell on the maze itself every now and then. Some people do not.
Generally, I’m not a pessimistic person. My sheer will and self-belief is partly what has also led me to navigate the maze, to imagine that on the way from molehill to mountain that what I set out to achieve will be waiting on me somewhere on the stone path that could also hurt me on the way up. That’s all a part of it.
Trying to reach milestones with my art has been trying. Obtaining a PhD is difficult. Navigating society is stressful. All relationships require patience and produce anxiety. Money makes things easier but is always hiding.
I’m tired. But for this, I am grateful.
**I later found that I had actually scribbled the poem on a napkin during a late night trip to a bar.