The day I realised I would never climb Mount Everest
A 2023 with less panic and more drawing just for me. And some shop news!
I remember telling Dave early in our relationship about the day I woke up and realised I would never climb Mount Everest. It was a moment that overwhelmed me. I loved mountains, and enjoy climbing them, but had never even had a desire at all to climb that famous peak. What was I even thinking? Why was I so devastated and terrified by this realisation?
I think, perhaps, I was realising the limits to my own one little life, and with this realisation came panic.
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Dave, as usual, thought I was mad. Dave is a scientist and carries in his solid soul a grounding to reality and acceptance of life and the here and now that always blow me away. I am a restless wanderer who wants it all. I do this despite knowing it’s impossible, and that even if I got it, I would probably want more. Or that even when I land in the most beautiful place on earth, I’ll wake up one day and want to leave again. I want everything simultaneously. I want a cottage by the sea and the solitude and wild beauty that comes with that, while also having excellent coffee just around the corner and fabulous happenings filled with people just a walk away (for a most eloquent musing on this topic read this wonderful piece by Kayte Ferris). I want a home and I also want the freedom of being a nomad. Dave is far more content with what we have. He is calm and completely unworried about how quick life goes by. I, on the other hand, am prone to complete panic. I get overwhelmed by the preciousness of this one life - the sense of it being so short and there being so very much to fit in - and an acute awareness that it can end at any time.
The first ‘proper’ mountain I climbed, took me from the tropical heat of the equator up into glaciers. I remember the day we summited - just me and a Kenyan guide. We got up at 2 or 3am (which was fine as I was struggling to sleep due to lack of oxygen at the altitude we had quickly ascended to) in the dark and began to slowly climb. Up scree slopes and over icy rocks with torches on our heads to guide our way. We got to the summit too quickly, and sat there, just the two of us, on top of rocky peaks for way too long waiting for sunrise. The water in my bottle froze as we waited for dawn. Eventually it got lighter, we were freezing. We took the photo (below) at the summit and I felt so completely alive. I decided then that I would dedicate the rest of my life to climbing mountains.
I didn’t. Instead, I spend a lot of my life though worrying about not climbing enough mountains. Panicking that I should be training for an ultra marathon (definitely something I should experience once in my life - or so I feel every time I watch Dave complete one) but then decide to draw the weekends away instead of running for hours. I worry that I’m not learning the violin or how to speak Finnish. And I panic that I should be focusing on settling down in one place, getting a studio (that I would love to have) and filling it with beautiful pictures. I panic that I am millions of miles (or so it feels) away from my beloved family in Australia, yet am here in the UK for Dave, and also for me - for my work and because I hate the heat and love old buildings and rain and the possibility of snow and stonework worn down by footsteps. I panic that being so far from family because of aesthetics is madness. Everyone says they wish they spent more time with family when they die (although they also usually wish they travelled more). I panic because I am not a mother, and never will be. I panic because I will never know what it feels like to be tethered to the future or place through parenthood. I am one for whom FOMO looms large, but not just for things happening that I am missing out on, but for all the things, that I will never do or never be.
Perhaps, my panic is the pinnacle of privilege. Too many choices. Too many possibilities. Too much freedom. It probably is. I think my point here is not to whinge, but more to share how much I am realising how often all the possibilities and all the worry about not fitting all the possibilities in, mean I miss enjoying any of the ones that actually are. And knowing I am missing enjoying these real moment, also makes me panic.
I am just back in Edinburgh after spending Christmas and New Year with wonderful people down by the sea in Cornwall. We ate and talked and played games and walked and swam in the deep and cold turquoise sea.
And I realised, that while I’m floating around in this cold water, looking back at the cliffs and villages from the strange angles that floating in a rocky ocean I don’t panic at all. I just breathe in the air and wonder at the cold and the pins and needs in my hands and feet from their rapid cooling down. I don’t worry about what I don’t have, or all the other things I could be or do, but just soak in the moment. I also realised I have this same fabulous feeling when drawing. And maybe also when I’m running on a windy trail in the rain.
I am not at all one for new year’s resolutions, but this year I think, I accidentally and actually may have one. The sea has taught me that I don’t soak enough - that I don’t wallow enough in the current moment without wondering it the moment would be better spent elsewhere. This year, I want to learn from the sea. I am determined to do much less panicking and far more soaking. Soaking up the moment and making more moments worth soaking up. Sitting and drawing with little purpose, other than to play and explore and pay attention to what I can see. I want to emulate this time in the sea.
Balancing the hustle of freelance and the need to soak
I think my inbuilt tendency to panic is enhanced by the requirements of succeeding as an illustrator and freelancer. Success in this field and way of working requires almost constant hustle. Constant sharing of work, constant self promotion, constant pushing oneself to do more and be better. It’s a world of self-barraging. It’s hard to make it all happen without being quite a nasty boss to myself. There’s always more to do, and frankly, to make a living that allows me to live, I always need to be doing this endless more. I don’t think I could have got this far in this competitive world without panicking and pushing, striving and trying so very hard. All of this is quite and odds with soaking.
So, I am going to listen to the sea. Here are some things I think the sea can teach me about life, and also drawing.
Persist, but also relax and enjoy (the requirements for cold water swimming). Dave is in a running club. And over the new year their newsletters discussed Type 2 fun. The kind of fun that actually feels ridiculously hard in anticipation, amazing afterwards, and a combination of both while actually doing it. It is usually uncomfortable and requires some kind of mental discipline to make it begin. Whenever I go to swim in the cold sea this is so very true. Walking down to the water with an icy wind, makes the activity feel like insanity. Every step forward, I fight myself and shut up the voice that tries to talk myself out of it. But the more I do it, the more addictive it is for the ability to pull me into the moment - to help me soak in my life - and also for the post-swim warmth and high.
I think this all holds true for drawing. Drawing is also definitely Type 2 fun (or at least I think so). It is so easy not to do it because, it is hard. It is also scary. I find it easy to be overwhelmed with what the picture will be when it’s finished, and am terrified it will be awful. When I’m tired, I can easily make excuses - I can excuse it out of my life. This is especially true when I am drawing a lot for work - as i’ve been flexing the same muscles anyway. But I need to treat it like the cold swimming. IT is so wonderful once in as it demands me to be only in that moment. It is also amazing afterwards (even when the drawing does turn out badly). I actually think for me, I start to sink into some kind of depression when my life doesn’t have enough Type 2 fun. So, this year, I want to use this idea to soak more in the moment - and also draw more, just for me.
Let the world influence my work and relinquish control more.
The first time I drew a picture of the sea that I actually liked, was in the middle of winter during our first christmas down in Cornwall before we moved down to live. It was freezing, and I wasn’t going to draw. I told myself it was way too cold. But I was in Mevagissey, and the colourful houses were calling, and I had a little bit of time so I sat by harbour and started to draw. It began to rain and I almost put by book away, ready to hide it and not let my drawing or book get wet. But I wasn’t liking what I was drawing anyway, and I had Helen Stephen’s voice in my head (she writes the wonderful newsletter Pencil Pals here on substack) who has a badge with the words “drawing in the rain” on it and celebrates this activity. I always find it amazing how much coining a term can change the world. I think because I thought of “drawing in the rain” as a thing, I decided to let the rain be and continued on with my drawing. I got wet and so did my paper, but in front of me was a far more interesting ‘sea’ and waterscape than I had made before. I really loved it.
It’s not the best drawing I have made, but it was a revelation in process and play and joy and letting the world in. In not controlling everything, some magic was made. Later, rain also helped me make my favourite drawing of the sea to date (the one above).
Relinquishing control, is key, I think, to using ink most effectively. It works a bit like rain when I let it be free. My best drawings of water have always occurred when I’ve let the ink free. When I’ve picked colours and laid them out with big brushes and tried not to worry about what will be. I think drawing well requires some kind of faith in the future. That even if what’s happening right at that moment isn’t great yet, that with work and more ink, maybe it can be! This is also what makes drawing so addictive - there is adrenaline in relinquishing control and trusting the future.
I was pleased with the inky sea in the picture below - which happens also to be for sale at the moment as prints at the most fabulous Old School Gallery in Alnmouth. I drew this one Saturday morning sitting on the rocks, again in Mevagissey and I remember being horrified when the ink came out far more prolific then I imagined and way darker. But I worked over it and into it and then I was quite happy with the life it gave the sea.
So, this year, in 2023, I am going to try not to worry that I will never climb Mount Everest. Or worry about being so crazy to even actually have unconsciously imagined I would. Instead I am going to go to the sea. I am going to draw upon the deep cold beautiful water, and use it to panic less and soak in the moment far more deeply and more often. I am going to try to control less, and let more ink and also more of my life be free…
On another note, thank you to so many of you who so patiently ask so often when I’ll open my print store again! I am going to try and do this sometime in early February! It will probably only be open for a short window - but fingers crossed all goes to plan, and I will soon be sending you a message letting you know the shop is open! If there are any particular images you would love as prints, please do let me know! Otherwise I will choose what I think may be favourites.
Wishing you all a rich and beautiful 2023!
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I really enjoyed reading this Anna. I’ve never heard of it being called type 2 fun but definitely know the experience and feeling you describe. Too long between type 2 fun drawing makes it feel impossible for me to get started! Really like the idea of soaking in the moment more in 2023.
I know this feeling so well! Thanks for expressing it so beautifully.