IT’S A LONG WAY UP

The Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown.

Nana (my grandmother) lived in Daytona Beach, Florida, so growing up, we visited her frequently. When I was fifteen, Dad took us to the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse.[1] The admission price included a climb to the lighthouse’s beacon, where visitors could behold the view. I had trepidation about climbing—it looked gargantuan.

My sister Missie and brothers Chip and Chuck in front of the entrance to one of the buildings at the Ponce Inlet complex. We toured everything first before tackling the lighthouse.

My first attempt at stalling. I posed with this palm tree on the lighthouse grounds. I had just gotten that new outfit at Beall's, actually, so that might have something to do with it.

My second attempt at stalling the climb. From left, Chuck, Chip, Missie, and Dad. And another really cool palm tree.

“It’s only one hundred feet high,” my Dad—a man who’d once convinced me to jump into his arms off our beach’s dock because he was touching bottom—said. “Because it’s standing up, it’s an illusion. If you laid that down, it’d fit in between our mailbox and the McBrearity’s.”

Of course this wasn’t accurate. But just like at the dock, I bought it.

This is November, 1985. My Aunt Maria in front of the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, which isn't one hundred feet tall, but one hundred and seventy-five. I chose this picture because it best matches my memory of how massive it looked to me--she looks pretty small, doesn't she?

We ascended the endless spirals of metal stairs. When my legs burned, I’d stop and peer out windows through which I could see places from my past: the bright yellow cart where Nana bought five-year-old me my first conch shell. The ribbon of beach where nine-year-old me was stung by a jellyfish. The orange grove where eleven-year-old me picked oranges and made my first fresh juice. The restaurant where twelve-year-old me ate fried shark for the first time. The park where fourteen-year-old me petted a sea turtle. All these places getting smaller and smaller the higher we went; each time I saw a place, I’d look up at how far we still had to go and think, ‘okay, I’ve seen enough, I can stop now.’

But I kept going.

When we reached the top, I couldn’t believe the splendid view: the palm forests, the beaches, the ocean beyond. There was a whole world full of places I’d never been that were mine to explore. Everything was in front of me.

February, 1985. This is the view you first see when you step out on the deck at the top of the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse.

I tried to get a shot of the view through the fencing.

A shot of the inlet from the top of Ponce Lighthouse.

Fast forward twenty-four years, and I’m visiting the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum with fellow writers Marita Golden and Adrienne Wartts. I hadn’t climbed anything since Ponce Inlet, so I was eager. Adrienne wanted to climb, too, but wasn’t as full of gusto.

“It’s not that high,” I said. “It’s just an illusion because it’s standing up.”

She probably didn’t really buy that, but she went with me anyway. Up and up we went.

My friend Adrienne waves as she makes her way up the stairs on the inside of the Pilgrim Monument. We hadn't gone that far up yet.

The Pilgrim Monument is impressive. I love this picture because it illustrates just how massive the interior is--look at how small Adrienne seems, and she's only a level above me.

The fact that it was a combination of stairs and ramps should’ve made it easier, but it didn’t—there were burning legs. There was peering out windows at now-abandoned places from my past (in this case, recent past—winter): my old apartment, the dunes, the cemetery, Napi’s.

Me, taking a break at one of those windows through which I could spot places from the past. Photo by Adrienne Wartts.

And there was assessment of how far we still had to go.

We are about three quarters of the way up. This shot is looking down.

But then we reached the top, and I forgot about it all—once again, all I could see was a new Ptown. What lie ahead.

A view from the top of the Pilgrim Monument, looking East. The main road you see is Bradford Street, and the flat red roof is the Mobil Gas Station, where I've gotten coffee a couple of times.

A view from the top, looking South. This is Provincetown Harbor.

A view from the top, looking West. The road you see is once again Bradford Street.

View from the top, looking North. Below, the cemetery where Norman Mailer is buried. Slightly beyond that is the intersection of Route 6 and Race Point Road -- my summer quarters were right there. Beyond all the green, the Dunes.

Visiting the monument, which had been built to immortalize the Mayflower Pilgrims’ landing in Provincetown in 1620, had special significance that day—just ten days prior, the town had celebrated the structure’s 100th anniversary. The monument took three years to complete, and along the way, New England towns, cities, and organizations donated interior blocks. It very much gave one the sense that the monument had been built more slowly, maybe, than was necessary; that it had been done painstakingly, stone by stone.

When the monument was built, towns and cities all over New England donated stones for the interior.

And all I could think about was how much the process of building the monument and the experience of climbing it paralleled my writing career.

On the drive to Ptown, I’d listened to an episode of my favorite Disney Park fan podcast, Inside the Magic.[2] The show’s host, Ricky Brigante, was interviewing Peter Cullen (if you don’t know who he is, you might if you were a Transformers fan—he’s the original and current voice of Optimus Prime). Hasbro had just inducted Cullen into the Transformers Hall of Fame, and he shared his thoughts on creative success:

“It takes a long time. Some people are fortunate and they get it very quickly, but they’re gone very quickly…don’t give up. Keep the main ingredients and the main source of your heart and your ambitions together in one place in your mind and do not let defeat ever destroy you, just—always go after it, because you’ll really appreciate yourself later on when you do find some success.

“Some very important people in life have taught me some very important attitudes that I’ve applied. Lucille Ball once said, ‘never refuse a job no matter how small, no matter how big, how miniscule…because every job leads to another job. And don’t be so proud that you expect perhaps fifty lines and you only get half a line. That half line will take you to another line and so on.’ So always have the courage and the love of your craft to keep on going despite the disappointments, because there will be many.”[3]

Those of us in creative careers should keep this in mind—in this world, everyone wants instant success. But that happens to only the few, so it’s good to remember that for most of us, reaching that pinnacle really is a long, slow process. That sometimes it’s really hard work; that sometimes it hurts; that sometimes we have to stop and assess where we’ve been and appreciate those struggles, but not let them keep us from moving forward. And that every small accomplishment is another stone or another step toward our goal. It may take a while—years, perhaps decades. But as long as we keep going, we will, eventually, get to the top.

And the view will definitely be worth it.

A happy girl takes a rest at the top! Photo by Adrienne Wartts.


[1] The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse is located at 4831 South Peninsula Drive in Daytona Beach, Florida, and has great historical significance—for example, Stephen Crane, author of The Red Badge of Courage, based his most famous short story, “The Open Boat,” on his horrifying experience of being lost at sea within eyeshot of the Ponce Inlet Light (then called The Mosquito Light) after the sinking of the S.S. Commodore (the wreck of which was discovered in the 1980s). This one incident is probably why my father decided to bring us there. He taught The Red Badge of Courage in his English classes, but he loved short stories, especially ones of adventure.

The museum complex features extensive exhibits on its role in history as well as the lifestyle of lighthouse keepers. To learn about the lighthouse or plan your visit, click here: http://www.ponceinlet.org/index.html. To read Crane’s “The Open Boat,” click here: http://www.ponceinlet.org/images/openboat.pdf

[2] http://www.insidethemagic.net/

[3] “Episode 278,” Inside the Magic, www.insidethemagic.net (Orlando, FL: http://www.insidethemagic.net/podcasts/278/, August 1, 2010).

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About kristipetersenschoonover

A ghost story writer who still sleeps with the lights on, Kristi Petersen Schoonover’s fiction has appeared in countless magazines and anthologies. She has received three Norman Mailer Writers Colony Residencies, is a co-editor for Read Short Fiction, and co-hosts the Dark Discussions Podcast. Her work Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole is a collection of ghost stories set in Disney Parks; her horror novel, Bad Apple, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She’s also a member of the New England Horror Writers Association. More info: www.kristipetersenschoonover.com

Posted on September 7, 2010, in Deep Thoughts & Fun Stuff and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I loved this–so cool to see young Kristi and all those old photos. Loved the message, too, and God know we creative folk need all the encouragement we can get.

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