Climbing the Cape May Lighthouse: Feeling the Fear and Doing It Anyway

A few years ago my significant other and I took a vacation to Cape May, where there’s a gorgeous lighthouse open to the public. It’s a tall, slim building, and to get to the top means climbing 199 steps on a narrow spiral staircase. The stairs aren’t solid, either. They’re made of an open-work metal. Essentially, at any point in the climb, you can look straight down, pretty much to the bottom.

Though you’ll rarely catch me talking about it, I have a vestibular disorder, which makes a climb like this—going around and around and around—daunting at best…and kind of a carnival-funhouse-gone-wrong at worst. It was also, I’ll confess, all the more reason I wanted to do it.
So we paid our admission fee and we climbed.

Stepping out onto the platform at the top was a whole different kind of scary. So high up, the shore winds are strong, and the metal no longer feels like metal, solid, but thin, and amazingly fluid. And if you step to the railing, which seems unbelievably flimsy, you can lean over. You can look straight down.

I was surprised at how few people stepped out of the lighthouse and onto the platform that day. Most people hovered inside, listening to a staff member talk about the history of the building. A few folks ventured a step or two outside before hurrying back in. A very few of us ventured to the edge. Only one or two of us leaned over and looked down.

With my significant other hovering inside asking me to please, please don’t do that, I leaned over and looked down. I could feel the drop way down in my stomach, as if I was already falling.

I remember being afraid, in some undefinable, visceral, primal way. I also remember being afraid in small, silly ways, that I would drop my camera, that my glasses would fall off. And yet below all that, there was something else, something that I could identify immediately. Exhilaration.

The last few months I feel like I’ve been climbing that lighthouse all over again—around and around, up and up—in a more metaphorical way. If you follow me on any sort of social media, you probably know that I sold my book. And though the official announcement only came at the end of January, it’s something I’ve been sitting on for the better part of a year, so it isn’t new to me.

But things have started ramping up recently. My book has showed up on Goodreads (people have even added it to their want-to-read lists). I’ve been invited to attend BEA (Book Expo America), to do an in-booth signing. I’ve worked on developmental edits and thought up alternate titles and filled out cheat-sheets with characters’ eye and hair color and all sorts of information for the cover design people.

And as exciting as it’s been, it’s also been a little bit dizzying. So much is coming up, so many beautiful, amazing, wonderful things—things that are way outside of my comfort zone—and I know I’m about to step out onto the platform outside the top of the lighthouse all over again. I’m guessing it will be as scary as it was the first time…and hopefully as exhilarating.

I think it’s good sometimes to do things we’re afraid of, especially as creative people. It challenges us to go farther. It stretches us. It pushes our boundaries. It’s how we grow.

But there’s another reason, too. An even better one. Because from the rickety, windy, scary-as-hell platform, there’s also the most amazing view.


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