I laughed out loud. It seemed a ludicrous idea. I had just returned from climbing Mt. Kenya and Kilimanjaro and didn’t think I had anything at all worth saying at that public a level. I found writing a school paper difficult and couldn’t imagine trying to write a book. Over the next five years, however, the idea was presented at least 10 more times, and when Harold Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People, told me that mine was a story that needed to be told, I couldn’t say no” any longer. The Universe pretty much demanded that To the Summit be written. My job was to walk through the doors that appeared, already open, before me and do the footwork one word at a time.
I couldn’t have done it any other way. I knew how to write a master’s thesis but I had no idea how to bring life to my story. My initial thought was to find a successful ghost writer to do the book but when I took the question into my heart, the answer was my best male friend, Ray Bruce, who was just beginning to call himself a writer. There was no logic to that answer – Ray had never written a book either – but I have learned to listen to my heart in the last 11 years, and because I did and asked Ray to write the book with me, it is the book I imagined it could be. The process of writing the book was filled with hard work, joy, tears, hard work, confrontation, love, hard work, qustioning, hope, hard work, doubts and, finally, immense pride and satisfaction. It was a lesson in communication and compromise, an affirmation of how the work of two people together can be much more than the sum of the work of each individul, and a validation of the strength of the friendship between Ray and myself. His skill as a writer blossomed into what we both knew it could be, and I discovered that I could put words together that touched people in a way I could not have imagined. I have not written a book on my own so I cannot compare the two. I am sure that each has its own merits as well as difficulties. I know that I could not have written this book by myself and am enormously grateful that Ray undertook the project with me.
Terrifying and satisfying at the same time. Because the book is so much the story of my heart, the risk of going public at this level is a big one and brings with it the fear inherent in big risks. At the same time, this book was the second biggest dream of my life – the first was to stand on top of Mt. Everest – and to have that dream come to fruition fills my heart more than I can say. It’s like life: filled with seemingly diverse emotions which combine to form a previously unexperienced wholeness. I admit to believing there’s a pretty good size miracle at work here!
In the months between August, 1993 and February, 1994, I transcribed all of my journals and gave them to Ray – a total of nearly 2500 typewritten pages. He read them several times, I reread them and we began the process of creating an outline for the book. Some of the choices were easy: there are pieces of the book that were so important to my life that they could not be ignored. Some stories were eliminated because they involved other people in ways that were not appropriate to disclose. I was not willing to disguise or alter the truth and chose, instead, to exclude certain stories. The major criteria was whether or not a certain story added to the understanding of the heart of a character or a climb or a process. This book is about climbing but also about heart and soul. We didn’t want to simply tell a story, we wanted to communicate the color and feel and sound and feeling of the mountain, the climbers and me. It would have been easy to write a book twice as long as this one, and the editing out of certain pieces was a painful process for me. Occasionally Ray and I had different opinions about what to include and why, and there were not a few heated discussions around what stayed in and what was deleted. On the whole, however, we agreed on what we would include because we had the same vision of what the book was to be. The decisions were made from the heart.
Part of my path since I have been in recovery has been to openly share about my journey. Rather than coming from a place of shame about my history of addiction and self-abuse, I come from a place of pride and gratitude for my recovery. I have watched people be touched by that and find some hope that they, too, could let go of the shame and find their pride. Certainly the scale is much wider here, and includes a majority of people who are not in recovery but I believe that my story can touch people and facilitate their discovery of their own dreams. That belief and the belief in my own recovery take away much of the fear and embarassment that might have been overwhelming in the intimacy of this book.