A Moment of Pause
I’d like to take a moment to practice some thinking about my thinking, metacognition, in the context of writing and climbing and sense of place. This is perhaps something that should have been done earlier, this moment of reflection, this breath, but it is nevertheless something that I have toyed with through the endless afternoons and shimmering heatwaves of the last month, in the same way that it is so easy to step back and, with self-directed skepticism, question just what the hell it is that one thinks that one is doing.
When I was approached by Scott Armstrong, the founder of About Boulder, to write a climbing column, I jumped at the opportunity without second thought. The subject matter, or whatever I would be tasked with, I had thought, wouldn’t be important to me at the end of the day – I just wanted to write. And so far I have explored through this opportunity that Scott’s given me the reasons for which I climb, but I haven’t thought much at all regarding why I’d really want to write about it, what writing about it would mean, what it would look like, sound like… and so it feels time to ask some of these questions, in an attempt to figure out exactly where I am.
There was one concern that I addressed immediately, which was my decision and justification to call this series “Climbing and Humanity,” a very specific theme with a very broad qualifier tacked onto it. There are a number of other people at an even larger number of publications, much more qualified and knowledgeable than myself, producing work about every aspect of the sport, from news to politics to reviews and everything between, and my goal was to shoot for something a bit more open-ended, without real boundary, that would allow me to explore much further reaches while using the idea of climbing as a simple vehicle.
Because, as it’s turning out, climbing and writing are serving similar purposes in my life. They are meditative, exercises in centering, methods of, well… not quieting the noise, because the longer I go the less I believe myself actually capable of doing that, but to sort through it, filter it, to harness what it is that urges me and to try to direct it in a positive and productive way.
The plain, impotent truth of the last month is that I have been experiencing intense self-doubt, at first manifesting itself as uncertainty about my ability to write about climbing, given my inexperience and my fish-out-of-water disposition in a new city, not just any city but Boulder, and my reverence and respect for those around me, the people into whose lives I have inserted myself and who have allowed me to nest in their hearts, and who have shared with me already so much more than I could ever have hoped to someday know when I first dried my hands and left the ground. What sort of right do I have, what ambition, that gifts me the gall to endeavor like this? Have I, in accepting Scott’s offer, bitten off more than I can chew?
The answer to this question, resignedly, is a resounding “… maybe.” And the potential to either confirm or deny or to weight the scale in either direction is really my own. I am writing this column, accepted Scott’s offer, because I want to write. It really is that simple. I want to write about anything, be it life-alteringly profound or painfully mundane, and I’ve been given a chance to do so that is actually quite beautiful. To braid together so many unique strands of importance in my life into something gestaltic, a whole that exceeds the sum of its parts. To use this space as a creative playground, in any way that I see fit.
I’ve been granted the autonomy of self-editing, self-publishing, administering my own articles and overseeing their dissemination, and, in the end, answering to no one but myself, really. This is both a gift and a curse, a blade that could just as easily be held against my own throat as used as a tool to dissect something greater within me.
The doubts that I have been feeling are really not about my ability to write about climbing, but about my ability to write at all, about anything, in any capacity. The fear of making myself so completely vulnerable is complex in its simplicity, and the counterintuitive desire of such vulnerability in an effort to be heard, to share something with anyone who might want to listen, is only fuel to a fire of confusion. Again, I ask myself – what gives me the right? This question, asked without rhetoric or response, is perhaps the summary of my humanity, one half of this undertaking vaguely outlined and just barely understandable enough within myself to stave off madness and obsession. And that leaves the other half, climbing, the counterpoint, still obscured, dressed in the fog of my musing. But perhaps they are one in the same.
I am a recreational climber, and I have no ambition or intention of being anything beyond that. While climbing is an effort in transcendence in some way, it’s still something that I do for fun. I have also always been a recreational writer, contained by my own pages and ever-swaddled in the warm covers of books. But the more that I write, the less infantile, comforted, I am able to feel. It becomes less a pastime and more the means to an end, something that serves a greater purpose, communication, both within myself and without. I have witnessed the most intense connections, realizations, understandings between people through the written word, descriptions of the ineffable and pictures vivid with brushstrokes of which no simple human hand could be capable. I have been writing for already for what feels like lifetimes, and have only recently begun to truly excavate from some inner ruin enough courage and the confidence in what I want to say and my competence in saying it, just enough to maybe feel comfortable sharing it with others, to begin to seek through prose anyone who may feel, too, the way that I feel. Overcoming this is a goal, necessary to achieve – and what way to do so other than to simply strive?
As for just what the hell it is that I think I’m doing… I couldn’t tell you. To long for a definitive answer is futile, while this endeavor evolves, refines, as we do, you and I sharing space. As perspectives shift and the question as object dons new shape the way the massifs change costumes and reverse roles along the sides of highways. Thank you, you traveler, for being here with me, for stopping to talk on your way. I am writing because I love to write, and I hope that you are reading because you love to read, and somewhere in the middle may we commune.