As autumn lingers and winter waits in the wings with its icy breath, I find myself pondering time again. The trees in the hardwood forest outside my office window are still leafy, but they are late-fall dun and backdropped by a slate-grey sky. All too soon, the branches will reach up bare and stark.
Here inside, it’s time at last (after three months of preliminaries) to start over again on my first book, Streetsense: Communication, Safety and Control, initially published in 1985. The digital version has arrived from the publisher, research is underway to update the 1996 edition, and my personal life is being reined in to focus on generating the words of a fourth edition.
I wonder how many times I’ll look out my window in coming months. I ponder how the trees outside will be leafing out, green again, when the manuscript deadline of May 15 rolls around.
I have wrestled with my feelings about writing Streetsense yet again. A poll on social media last spring was overwhelmingly supportive of an update—so encouraging! So why the hesitancy? Finally, I realized that it feels a lot like approaching the flanks of a familiar mountain, one I’ve climbed many times before. This is a very different adventure than facing a brand new mountain.
I’ve climbed enough actual mountains to know the gist: A plan is hatched: a peak is chosen, along with the route, the dates, the logistics. Good planning (always worth the time) minimizes surprises and unintended setbacks. Honest assessment of skills, fitness, equipment and mental readiness leads to training, build-up of weak skills, testing mettle in small ways in hopes it will stand up to bigger tests on the mountain. Finally, the climbers set out, head upward.
Once, I was on Mt. Elbert, the tallest of Colorado’s 14,000 foot peaks. I was guiding a novice who had no mountain climbing experience, but she had impressive grit. It was an intensely daunting prospect for her, but she refused to give up. As the climb steepened and the air grew thinner, she focused increasingly only on the next step, nothing more.
And that’s what mountain climbing really is: just the next step. That’s all you have to do. Take one more step. Then another. Another. String enough solitary steps together and you look up and you see the vista changing, the horizon reaching further away, the summit drawing closer. With enough determination (and other factors such as skill and luck, true), summits are achievable. Do-able.
My Streetsense mountain is very familiar because I’ve been on it hundreds of times, writing and lecturing about its concepts. But the terrain has certainly shifted and changed in 20 years. I am aware how every trip up the same mountain is new. To borrow from a different metaphor, you cannot step into the same river twice. I know these things.
The personal journey of writing a book involves all the same idea-hatching, planning, skill-building, mettle-testing as a real mountain—and I love both journeys. Achieving the summit, of course, is deeply satisfying—in this case, finishing the manuscript on time. After production, sometime in 2019, we will all be able to hold and read (or re-read) this reputedly iconic book. My hope is that readers will find value in the words within. If you do, then the sweat and tears and effort will once again prove worthwhile.
Meanwhile, it’s time to start climbing this old friend of a mountain. It’s do-able.
The leaves of spring are coming.
Editor’s note: This article was originally posted at the blog “Generally Write” in November 2017. In celebration of the upcoming re-launch of the well-known book, Streetsense: Communication, Safety and Control by JEMS Books & Video, it’s re-posted here with permission from the author.