An expanse of brilliant white is before me. A new adventure and I am ready. I am not talking about the icy crags of the north face of the Eiger in Switzerland. I am not talking about the artic landscape of Svalbard in Norway. I am not talking about the foaming white spumes of the Angel Falls in Venezuela.
But I am every bit as prepared as if I were venturing to one of these places. I have sought advice from others who face the same challenge, and it is good to know I am not alone. Some people suggest exercise before embarking on this type of adventure, others deep yoga breaths, most agree a ready supply of chocolate or trail mix made of dried fruit and nuts are essential.
I am dressed appropriately in my old slippers, cord trousers, purple fleece jumper, and blue scarf. Clothes and footwear chosen partly for warmth, partly for practicality, and partly as a comfort blanket because they make me feel safe and confident.
There is no map for this adventure, no GPS, no stars to navigate by.
This is unexplored territory.
It will be challenging. My heart skips a beat.
I am not talking about riding the white-water rapids of the upper reaches of the Congo river or trekking in the Andes to find a lost Inca city, or sandboarding down the windswept orange dunes in the Atacama Desert. And yet what I am about to do feels as daunting as visiting any one of these places. A gentle spasm of excitement eases across my shoulders, and I sense a small twist in my stomach as if a rare butterfly has landed on the back of my hand.
I have my equipment beside me, a pencil, a rubber, a novelty sharpener and my lucky mascot, a wooden pencil box with a sliding lid that my grandad made for my mother when she was a child.
You see I am talking about the adventure of writing on a blank white page.
The challenge to me is the perfection of a blank page, it’s silence and emptiness, which makes me fearful to mar its surface with words. Even the most seasoned writers can freeze up when faced with this, because the empty page seems to demand precision and excellence. I have faced this situation many times before and call it a "creative whiteout".
A weather-related whiteout occurs in a vast snow-covered landscape, where the horizon, the line that separates the Earth from the sky isn’t visible. A creative whiteout occurs when the blank page seems endless, and open, where the horizon, the line that separates fear from courage isn’t visible. In a natural whiteout, features in the landscape like forests or mountains disappear, leaving no landmarks to navigate by. In a creative whiteout, anxiety and self-doubt cast shadows in the writer’s mind, there are no markers on a blank page, no way to chart a course and steer the writing in the right direction. And yet the blank page awaits a flurry of words, a story, a passion, or a memory and this is part of the problem: the possibilities are boundless.
I take a deep breath. Time to ignore the blizzard of trepidation and excuses. Time to get something down on the page and let go of the worry that it will not be perfect. Time for a white-knuckle ride. I take hold of the pencil, angle it towards the paper, the writing prompt is a true story of adventure, make it happen, just go, write the first memory that comes to mind . . . here goes . . .
It is midnight. We have travelled for thirteen hours by train from Assam to New Jalpaiguri in West Bengal, and another five hours by jeep to reach the city of Darjeeling, perched high on a long, narrow mountain ridge in the Eastern Himalayas. It is May, the night air is cool and humid, the streets are deserted. At the hotel the night manager welcomes us with a knowing smile and says,
‘I am sorry, you can’t stay here tonight, the hotel is full.’
‘But I made a reservation an online with a travel agent,’ I say.
‘Not all agents are reliable, sometimes they confirm bookings even when a hotel is fully booked,’ he says with a slow, soft, wobble of his head, a gesture that speaks of his heartfelt regret that there is nothing he can do to help.
‘That can’t be right, I have a booking reference,’ I say.
‘Easy Mum, come on, let’s go, it’ll be an adventure,’ says my twenty-one-year-old son, and together we walk out into the night . . .