HALLIE EPHRON: Last week I was riveted by Diana Nyad's attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. The 61-year-old athlete lasted more than 30 hours, fighting squalls and swells and shoulder pain and asthma, before giving up.
She'd first attempted the swim in 1978 (in a shark cage) but was unable to finish then, too, but she set records for swimming around Manhattan in 1975 in less than eight hours and for swimming more than 100 miles from Bimini in the Bahamas to Florida in 1979.
The photographs of her on the boat in tears after being pulled from the water are heartbreaking, but I completely understood her willingness to put herself out there, to publicly try something so hard and at which she would probably fail.
Afterward, she told a CNN interviewer: "I was the best person I could be ... that's the message. I dug down, I dug deep ... Whatever you're doing, do your job well."
While I know none of us would compete in the same league with them, for all of us there is something really hard we would set as a goal. Maybe it's climbing a mountain,running a marathon, walking the Appalachian Trail, cooking an authentic cassoulet, or sewing a quilt.
Of course for all of us it was writing and getting our first novel published. But what else is there for you, in the past or future, that you are determined that it's better to try and fail than to fail to try?
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Yes, the book thing, of course. It's interesting to think about setting an amazingly tough goal and planning to go for it, as Diana Nyad did--versus setting a goal that seems difficult but doable...then realizing along the way that it's tougher than you predicted.
Then you're faced with the decision--go ahead? Or give up? Gosh, have I done anything that's immeasurably tough? Right now I'm worrying I CANNOT think of a new plot. And right now? That seems as far away as Cuba.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: I'm with Hank. That first novel was a huge goal--the one thing I wanted most and thought I would never accomplish. After that, I thought it would get easier, but it never has. So the goals stay the same--write the best book you can, and write it FASTER. And every one is just as scary.
I would, however, like to make a quilt. That might not compare with swimming without a shark cage, but for someone who can barely sew on a button, it's a challenge. I've even bought all the fabric and my friend who makes wonderful quilts has helped me design it. But I have yet to cut a piece.
HALLIE: Hopefully you'll do better with that quilt than I did. I set out to make one for a double-bed and ended up with a handbag.
LUCY BURDETTE: Yes, yes, write the next great book, and faster! That should be more than enough, shouldn't it?
We've discussed this recently, but I'm not big on physical risk-taking. So Diana's swim felt completely foreign to me. I think she said something along the lines of how it made her feel alive to take on this challenge.
Now I just returned from a bike trip vacation that my husband was very anxious to try. Me, not so much. But I went anyway and found myself cycling through Slovakia in the pouring rain at the very end of the pack of riders even though I was pumping like crazy. Why is this fun? I asked myself, and waved down the support van for a ride for the second half. But I did get stronger over the week. By Wednesday, I rode 29 miles, some of it up a pretty good hill.
I think this experience gave me the sense that I could push myself harder. If I wanted to. But since we already work so hard at writing, maybe the pilates and yoga classes and walking the dog and an occasional bike ride at normal speed are okay too. Don't you think?
ROSEMARY HARRIS: The physical challenges are getting harder and harder for me to say "sure, I'll try that" to. Last year's trek to Everest Base Camp was grueling and I probably wouldn't try Kilimanjaro again since I did it once and would hate to NOT get to the top if I tried it a second time. Two years ago I signed on for a kayak trip that included two long paddles. At one point crossing the Drake Passage (and feeling like a cork bobbing in the wake of giant yachts) I thought - like Lucy - "why did I say I'd do this?" and it was because I knew how great I'd feel afterward - even if I'd had to be rescued, I'd have given it my best shot.
But it's smart to know when to quit. Thinking of the recent deaths in Yosemite this summer, I feel sure all of them could have been prevented with a little more common sense (a la Diana knowing when to get out of the water.) You don't go on the rock (Half Dome) when there's ANY threat of rain.
Now I'm pushing myself harder to finish my WIP. It's a departure from the books I've written before and every once in a while I think I should just write another book Dirty Business mystery, but I want to try something new. Hopefully I can stay in the water until I get there.
HANK: Now that you mention it, ROSEMARY, my new book is completely different from my series. On every level. It was a HUGE leap. And I had NO idea if I could do it. We shall see. Or--you all shall see, when it comes out next year.
DEBS: As for the physical challenges, not so much. I'm in awe of Roberta and Rosemary. I have a thing about Everest--strictly armchair--as I have probably mentioned, so to me the trek to Base Camp sounds wonderful. But my big goal, once the weather cools off, is to ride my bike the mile to my town square and back:-)
JAN BROGAN: My unreachable goals have changed. Now that I know I can write a book, I want to find the perfect story, the story that needs to be told. Fiction or non-fiction doesn't matter. Commercial success has no longer become that important. It's weird, I never thought I'd feel that way. But my objectives have changed and I've become a lot pickier about what I want to write -- which of course, puts a bit of pressure on my next project.
Aside from writing, I really have quite the inventory of unreachable goals. Fluent French (I work at it, pretty hard, but even my friends who have lived there six years and speak to their children in French don't consider themselves fluent.) Way better guitar skills. And making it up to 4.0 in tennis. I will definitely NOT run out of goals that I won't reach, but hey, I do a good job of keeping both my brain and my body active. And that's the point right?
HALLIE: Not surprisingly, my goals have been food. Lobster bisque, starting with live lobsters. A country pate made with layers of duck and veal. Homemade pasta, like you get in Italy, with a bolognese sauce that starts with a whole shoulder of pork and a bottle of red wine (that goes into the sauce, not the cook) and takes a day to prepare.
And the pinnacle, Hungarian dobos torte--a cake with each thin crisp layer made from batter poured on the BACK of a cake pan. Mocha cream filling between the 8 layers and a glass like caramel sugar glaze on top. Last time I tried, I gave up after 5 layers, but I'll do it yet. And one day I'll try making a coffee crunch cake, which if you grew up in LA you might remember from Blums. Making it is like running a chemistry experiment with baking soda and sugar and a very hot oven. If it works: sheer heaven.
So, what are your goals, unreachable and otherwise?