What The Mountains Shouted Back
“You are not drunk!”
It’s two in the morning and I’m shouting at a mountain – I’m definitely drunk.
A weekend trip that replaced Tokyo’s highrise buildings with grand mountains was a much-needed breath of fresh air. I was in Japan to encourage my identity as a writer and add some fresh work to my portfolio, crammed into a hostel with journalists I’d never met.
When 10 of us agreed to take a break from our laptops, the Japanese Alps were an exciting escape route. But besides skiing, what else could we do in Hakuba?
With all the “yeah-nahs” I heard and the ghastly length of neckbeards I saw, I was yanked 8000km back home to Australia. Hakuba, I came to find out, is Aussie central – a king’s cup of a place brimming with boys on ski trips, techno raves and Strong Zeroes (a fiendish cocktail from 7/11).
Put simply, I drank from that cup. That deadly cocktail was exactly how I wound up shouting at a fucking mountain in the early hours of the morning.
A night out was exactly what we writers needed after bending our backs over skis. Most found themselves exhausted from the slopes and trudged home at a reasonable time. When I ran out of drinks and the rave became headache-inducing, I attempted to walk the 750 metres home through the silent, eerie streets. The time, however, was not reasonable.
During the day, Hakuba is a kingdom imagined from a novel; the lush trees have thick, ancient roots and the air is so fresh you feel like you’re a part of a Skyrim spin-off. But at night? It’s a scene straight out of a horror movie. The darkness was suffocating – Hakuba’s urban planner didn’t account for drunk foreign girls navigating the town in the depths of the night. Suddenly, 750 metres felt like a marathon.
Here’s another deadly cocktail for you:
A drunk poet stumbles through Hakuba and, instead of following the path home, she steers straight into the woods. She sifts through trees and snow with blisters from new Doc Martens she stupidly didn’t break in before her trip, before slipping and falling through the ruckus. She weeps, and then reality (the biting cold?) smacks her upside the chin.
It’s surprising that I can remember this, but sitting in the mountain’s shadow gifted me an odd revelation. It hit me like the gust of a blizzard when I emerged from the forest and collapsed into a spotless patch of snow. The silhouette of the mountains was silencing; they were deep and dark, but tall and strong.
I have an affinity for mountains – they’re an important motif in my life. Literature heralds them as a symbol of growth and inspiration. There was an energy about the mountains that I hadn’t felt for a long time; a joyous sense of awe for the world I live in emanating from the Earth; a surge of ecstatic, ceaseless passion at the realisation of where I was that seeped from the snow-covered soil.
Perhaps the confidence in my writing I was searching for in Tokyo’s maze could instead be found having a breakdown beneath the mountains.
I yearned to push the boundaries of my creativity. I was far from home to solidify my identity as a writer, but before this trip, waitressing back home, I fumbled on my words when customers asked, “What do you do?”
It was a difficult question to answer – was I supposed to say what I was currently doing, or what the idealised version of myself should be doing?
I write, but I struggled to link my craft with myself and call myself a writer. It was difficult to admit because I had zero credentials, professional experience or a degree. There was a panging guilt that if I said this, I’d be lying. If I’d never been paid for my work, never published a book or an article of relevance, how could I truly say I was a writer?
Was I a writer, or just another hopeful that wrote poetry in the small hours of the morning and hoped to become viral like Rupi Kaur come daybreak?
One day, I formed the words.
“I’m a writer.”
“But, what have you published?” an inconsiderate businessman I served asked.
That was the first question that broke the dam, and I couldn’t swim free holding an entire tray of beers for the table. His lawyer friends followed suit very quickly.
“You haven’t written anything I’d know, huh?”
“The pay isn’t very good.”
“Do you mean it’s just for fun?”
“What job do you actually want to do?”
“Shouldn’t you study at university instead?”
“I want to do this for a living,” I admitted.
“Ha! You think you’ll get a job with that?”
Then, a barrage of spit, wine and food from a horrible chorus of men laughing until the buttons on their suits threatened to pop. There was a putrid shame I felt that followed soon after when I served their beers, hurried to the staff toilets, and cried.
I wish I could have told that past me that a couple of months later, I would cry beneath the Japanese Alps in a similar fashion, but reach a wholly different catharsis.
The mountain did not make me feel feeble in my creativity like those men did. It did not laugh or pry with intrusive questions about my income or reputation, it merely stood there in reverent acceptance that I was a writer. My words couldn’t falter beneath its gaze when it was staring at me so amiably. We were one and the same that night– erect in the snow amongst the clearing, devoid of judgement by the logical world and dreaming beneath the stars.
Despite not having written a book (yet), not having made much money from my writing (yet) and nobody knowing about my work (yet), I am a writer. A drunken escapade in Hakuba at 2am in minus 5 degrees was how I realised that.
The battle against the tyranny of a world that wanted me to crumble was won that night.
“You are not drunk!” I screamed to the heavens. My voice echoed between the mountains, through the woods, and across the snow in the silence of Hakuba.
“You are a fucking writer!” the mountains shouted back.
Cover and collage by the author