Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, August 03, 2007

How Low Do You Have to Go Before You Move a Mountain?

by Kerry Blair

I have shelves lined with tomes of Tolstoy, Faulkner, Ibsen, Hardy, Longfellow and other notable men and women of letters, but sometimes when I need great wisdom in just a few pages I reach a little lower—to my collection of children’s literature on the bottom shelves. Yesterday I re-read Ming Lo Moves the Mountain.

Arnold Lobel, who is probably best remembered for his Caldecott Honor books about Frog and Toad, once retold an ancient Chinese fable about a poor farmer who lived at the foot of a very large mountain. The mountain always cast a dark shadow, so the flowers and vegetables in Ming Lo’s garden were very sparse. Clouds formed at the top of the cliffs and heavy rain fell almost every day. Worst of all, rocks often broke loose and fell on the heads of the hapless Ming Lo and his thoroughly disgruntled wife.

The wife insists that they can never be happy until Ming Lo moves that mountain, so he cuts down the tallest, thickest tree he can find and uses it as a battering ram. The tree splits in half and Ming Lo falls on his head. The mountain does not move. Next he beats pots and pans together, trying to make a noise loud enough to frighten the mountain away. The mountain does not move. He implores the gods to move the mountain for him. Either Ming Lo petitions the wrong gods or he lacks the faith of the Brother of Jared because still nothing happens.

At last the Village Wise Man suggests one last course of action. He instructs Ming Lo and his wife to take their home apart stick by stick and gather together all their possessions. With these bundles on their backs they must then do the “Dance of the Moving Mountain.” It goes like this: Facing the mountain, with your eyes closed, “you will put your left foot in a place that is in back of your right foot. Then you will put your right foot in a place that is in back of your left foot.” This dance, the wise man says, must be done for many hours before success can be hoped for.

Hopeful (or perhaps desperate), Ming Lo and his wife gather up their meager possessions and begin to move their feet to the steps of the dance. After many hours, they open their eyes and can’t believe what they see. They are under an open sky with a warm sun shining above. There are no falling rocks or storm clouds in sight. “Look,” cries Ming Lo, “our dance has done its work! The mountain has moved away!”

Some people might interpret this story as a fable about a feeble-thinker, and indeed many Chinese folk stories share this theme. But I think Lobel meant to retell a powerful tale about perspective. Admittedly, I might think this because I have a lot of feeble-thinking Ming Lo in me. For some months now I’ve lived at the base of the very tall, very dark Mt. Rushtowritenomore. Although I had a book released this year, I wrote it early in 2006. Since then I’ve written nothing at all. In the meantime, possibly everybody I know has rushed past me to conquer that darn mountain. They’ve published a book, sold a book to a publisher (or two), sent a newly-completed book in, or started a tale that is sure to be their opus. While I’m genuinely thrilled for their skill and success as I watch them climb, they do tend to inadvertently knock a lot of rocks down on my head.

All this time I’ve been very proactive. Not. I’ve beat my fists against the mountain. I’ve talked a lot about it -- here and elsewhere. I’ve even prayed for a miracle of the metaphorical geologic variety. Nothing’s changed. (I’m sure I’m asking the right God, I’m just not sure I’m asking for the right thing at the right time, and there’s the rub.) In the end the mountain only seemed larger and darker and rockier than ever. Hopeless, in other words. I was so Ming Low I could barely open a laptop without being reduced to tears. I mean, a writer is a person who writes, right? So, since I can’t (don’t? won’t?) write, I’m not a writer, right? And if I’m not a writer, then what am I doing with my name alongside five others who do and can and will and are? Tired of feeling like a sham, yesterday I told Sariah that I’m leaving the blog. (I didn’t mention that I might also jump off one of those cliffs above, but I had considered it.) Being a wise woman, she said exactly the right thing:

It was time for me to gather up my meager talents and do the Dance of the Moving Mountain.

Truly, discouragement and despair and hopelessness often do come from the way we look at a thing. The more I looked at writing as a way to define myself and measure my worth, the bigger and darker and scarier the mountain became. The more I compared myself with others, the more rocks hit me squarely between the eyes. The more I railed and moped and beat myself up about everything I hadn’t done or couldn’t do, the darker the storm clouds became. But it wasn’t hopeless. It’s never hopeless when we finally remember to close our eyes long enough to take a step back from a difficulty. Any difficulty. If we put our right foot in a place that is behind our left foot and then our left foot in a place that is behind our right we will eventually find that our mountains—while still looming large—will at last begin to come into perspective.

It’s a little sunnier in the place I live today. The storm clouds are thinner here so there are only scattered showers. I can still see my friends climbing the far peaks, of course, but without the rocks raining down on my head, I feel much more inclined to wave enthusiastically as I marvel at their success. Perhaps someday I’ll climb the mountain again myself. Or maybe I won’t. One thing is certain: whether I do or not, I will never again set up camp at the base of it! I will just keep doing the dance as long as it takes to keep that mountain right where it belongs!


At 8/03/2007 12:17 PM, Anonymous Jennie Hansen said...

Kerry, your wisdom impresses me. I had to learn to back up and look at the mountain from a wider perspective at one time too. I was a journalist. Newspapering was in my blood. But I reached a point where my career wasn't compatible with raising my family, I felt burned out, dried up, and unable to write another story. Then something happened and I discovered I wasn't through writing, I only needed to switch to another kind of writing. It's been fourteen years and twenty books since I switched to fiction, and I've discovered I enjoy it more than journalism, but I'm grateful for the newspaper background that broadened my ability to write fiction. It may be that you only need to change your focus. Your talent is there and you have an incredible way of expressing those things that touch the heart, but you may need a break. Please don't stop writing, but perhaps it's time to do a compilation of your blogs and essays or write a non-fiction book on dealing with difficult times, or write magazine articles. I agree you need to reduce the pressure in your life, but please leave a little room to share your wisdom and insights with us.

At 8/03/2007 12:26 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

Jennie is exactly right. And just so you know Kerry, those of us trying to climb the mountain are grateful for the paths you have blazed and the pitons you set. So when you are rady to start climbing again, just say the word and we'll drop you a rope. The mountain is a lonilier place without you on it.

At 8/03/2007 1:31 PM, Blogger Jon said...

Maybe you just need to do the Dance of the Moving Mountain until you get to Utah? It IS the place, you know?

At 8/03/2007 1:51 PM, Blogger Karen Hoover said...

Wow, Kerry, if you're at the base of the mountain, I must have fallen down the well. Thank you for sharing the story of Ming Lo and giving me hope that someday I may too climb the mountain. You are an amazing inspiration to us all, whether you realize it or not. I, for one, would LOVE to read a collection of your essays and blogs. They not only touch my heart, but they make me think - the kind of thinking that changes people. I may not be able to throw you a rope, but if you need a shoulder to the rear when I get out of this well, I'm your woman. Love you!

At 8/03/2007 2:21 PM, Blogger Melanie Goldmund said...

Kerry, I feel so bad for you, but all I can do is give you a virtual hug. I guess my advice is the same as everybody else's: put the mountain into its proper perspective. Take a little break, consider the saying that a change is as good as a rest, and try writing something new.

At 8/03/2007 4:58 PM, Anonymous marlene said...

Or try not writing at all! Go for...whatever, anything-- Everything! And you'll be surprised at what awaits you. When someday you see that shape you have devoted so much time and love to on the horizon again you'll know whether its shade is cooling and refreshing or if it is chilling and depressing, and you'll know what your heart needs. And we will be with you all the way, cheering you on, knowing you are still leading us with an amazing example of how to follow life's changes and challenges. But please drop in once in a while and keep us informed. You don't have to be conquering the world or even the stack of dishes on the drain board; we just want you to be contented.

At 8/03/2007 5:29 PM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

Kerry, are you really leaving or did you change your mind? I love reading your blogs.

At 8/03/2007 8:18 PM, Blogger Josi said...

I loved this story, I NEEDED this story. You are wise beyond your years. Ignore the cliche, but the Lord has a plan for you, and for me, and for everyone else. Writing is only part of it.

Cyber hugs and silent prayers--thanks for this. You have no idea how badly I needed Mo Ling and you today.

At 8/04/2007 7:21 PM, Blogger Keith Fisher said...

Thank you Kerry,
I needed this. You are a writer! I read your blogs and I am inspired. If you can do that in others (Inspire them to action) then you have succeeed. That is the major reason I want to be published. You accomplish it with every blog you write. Good work, and thank you for the story. like the others I needed it today.

At 8/05/2007 4:11 PM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

Josi & Keith -- thank you so much! I needed your posts today! It's so much more fun to do the Dance of the Moving Mountain when you know there are others you love and admire moving their feet right along with you.

At 8/06/2007 11:15 AM, Blogger Candace Salima (LDS Nora Roberts) said...


Mt. Rushtowritenomore is a place I have been stuck on for a year. I understand exactly what you have written and you have put it more aptly then I have. I've struggled over the last year to get back on board, but it just "ain't" happenin'

Don't leave the blog, I visit often just to read what you've written. You've had a very rough time over the last year and you need to cut yourself some slack. Personal traumas take a lot out of the creative process, believe me, I know what I'm talking about.

If Jeff is going to throw that rope down to you, please ask him to lengthen it a little and toss it down to me as well.

It can be very discouraging when you the thing you love the most becomes the thing you dread the most. Hang in there, my friend. You are a marvelous writer and I breathlessly await every new book of yours that hits the shelves. You can do this . . . because you already have.

Fill the well within, and you'll find that stories start to flow as well.


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