We were on the mountain

If you think it’s weird that my blog jumps from October to December, completely skipping November—you clearly didn’t read my last post.

SEE: I suck at writing sometimes. LOL.

It might also help my cause to say that I finished out November having written 26,000 words for National Novel Writing Month. It’s not the 30,000 words I wrote last year. But it’s also way more than I was actually expecting to write, considering my full-time job and the church retreat that happened in the middle of the month that left me sans technology and energy.

I have always wanted to use this gif.

So. I’m feeling okay.

I mean, not physically. Physically, I feel like I’d have to make like a possum and play dead for the rest of December and well into January in order to be back where I was before November began.

So many things happened in November, some of which I probably shouldn’t share on the interwebs. But I will tell you that practically all of it has somehow shown up in my NaNo novel

A few weeks ago, I was up in the mountains on a church retreat near Lake Arrowhead, and I was walking down a road with a couple other people. It was around 10pm. We were on the way to the car to get our overnight bags, and I was walking like I usually do—like a woman on a mission.

Seriously, since moving to L.A., I don’t walk like a normal person anymore. I walk fast. I walk with purpose. I am usually that girl who will jump down onto the road to get around you if you are blocking more than your permissible half of the sidewalk.

The guy with us was also doing the city-walk, but the other girl… she was strolling. I kept looking back at her like, “I am cold. I am tired. I just want to get to the car and get my bags and go the freak to my cabin. Can you saunter any faster please.

And then she said, “Look up.”

Maybe it was the mountain air, or maybe it was the fact that it was 100% dead silent outside (NATURE) and I’m not used to silence anymore, but when I looked up, that night sky honest-to-God took my breath away.

If you don’t live in L.A. or another city with a crap-load of pollution, you probably don’t understand what it’s like to forget what stars look like. I’ve only been here for 4 years, but I’ve forgotten.

And it’s not like you casually glance up at the sky while you’re sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic and think to yourself, “Well, self, I think I’ll take this time to remember that even though I can’t see them because of the smog that literally blocks the mountains from view, there are actually hundreds of thousands of stars over my head right now.”

You just don’t think about it.

I mean, not until they’re there, over you. And you’re just standing there, gaping and breathing in and out, and there’s something about being bathed in the soft glow of so many tiny universes, and you think, Holy crap, I am unbearably, terrifyingly small.

An excerpt from CURE ME

An excerpt from CURE ME

I wrote that scene a year ago. I wrote it, wondering what it would be like to see beauty in something as ordinary as the sky. I’d forgotten how.

A few weeks ago, I went up that mountain really afraid that Something Big would happen. I hadn’t been on a church retreat in years. I’d avoided them, actually. I was afraid something life-altering would happen, something that would shatter any sense of constance in my life.

I couldn’t handle that. I don’t like life-altering things. I’m bad at change, in case you weren’t here for my mini-breakdowns before I graduated college.

Anyway, when I finally gave in, finally said, “Have it Your way,” to God and just went up the mountain… nothing even remotely close to life-altering happened. It was just that moment. Just those few seconds. Just that stillness.

Just those lights in the sky.

And then, you know, life went on. I came down the mountain. I went back to work. I tried to survive the rest of NaNo. Then I had a experience with a woman on the street that rattled me.

Her name was Millie, and she stumbled up to me and a friend while we were sitting outside a cafe. She was sobbing, alone, cold, and afraid that no one would help her. She reached hesitantly for my hand and cried while talking so fast that I couldn’t understand her, and maybe I should’ve known what to do since I now work in social services, but I didn’t. I didn’t at all. So I just sat with her. And I held her hand.

She was from Boston, and came to Los Angeles with a dream of being a rap artist. Now the world had made her into skin and bones, her hand clutching a couple of quarters like they were the only things keeping her alive. But about half an hour after she first sat down with us, Millie grew quiet, closed her eyes, and said, “I just feel this peace.”

And all at once, it was like those stars were right over our heads, winking down at us through the sirens and the clatter and the white noise that we are all so good at making.

For a second, it was like we were on the mountain.

Days after I met Millie, the Mike Brown verdict was announced, and all of a sudden the world was in chaos again. I was in chaos. All that would come out of me during my writing session that night were riots, street fights, rage, fire. Tonight I still feel that chaos like an open wound, as the hashtag #ICantBreathe trends worldwide and the streets outside flood with storm water.

This is a weird, roundabout way of telling you what my November was like. This is a weird roundabout post in general, I think. All I know is that I find myself craving that mountain moment again. I don’t even need life-altering; I just need the stars. And in the meantime, I’ll sit with strangers and friends, with my Millies and my fragile, disorganized thoughts, and I will hold their hands as the One who brings peace holds mine.

Samantha Chaffin

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8 thoughts on “We were on the mountain

  1. Brie says:

    I was thinking about this in November. I need to make a big decision and was wondering what Jesus would do. I remember how he always went to the wilderness to pray. I learned that the word wilderness means roughly completeness/peace in Hebrew. I am still working on my Hebrew and ability to make decisions but I just remember the part of Hannah’s Prayer, “it is not by strength that one prevails” and it helps. It sounds like you learned a lot this November. God bless!

    • samchaffin says:

      That’s beautiful, thank you for sharing, Bri! November always ends up being a strange month for people, especially us Wrimos. It’s such a time of season change, in every way, and then to try to write a book with all of that happening… it can be so difficult. But also pretty amazing, when I think about it. It’s like we have a record of our life seasons shifting, in the way we write and what comes out of us and lands on paper, you know? 🙂

      • Brie says:

        I never thought of the “life-shift” being represented in NaNoWriMo writing but it is so true. I always run the risk of draining myself when working on completing a first draft (this was my second) because I have to dig so much up. I literally have to “eat” art on a daily basis and take time to enjoy life so I will have fuel for writing. That is a nice bit of insight you came up with! 🙂

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