Sunday, October 25, 2009


(PHOTO: Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris)

I think it was G.I. Joe who said, "Knowing is half the battle." My epiphany, the connection between failure at the wall and failure in my relationships, that I earned Friday was an important self-discovery. Climbing does keep me anchored to my promises, and in the last month I've learned more about myself through climbing than I have through my usual existential navel-gazing. Rock, even simulated rock, can be a mirror.

As I promised myself, I returned this evening to face down the route that vexed me so on Friday. When I arrived at the Rec, there were other routes added to the comps, another 5.6 and a 5.7 in the corner, that beckoned. Knowing the exact name of my perceived or constructed failure, that fear list, empowered me to approach my work differently. Adam, a wiry writing bloke we've nicknamed Jamochamiah, offered to belay. We talked first about my discovery and the nature of the head game in climbing. I headed up the new 5.6, getting within a foot of the top before my hands and elbows began to shake uncontrollably.

I could have pushed it to the top, but I know that I have to guard my joints. I think it's better to err on the side of caution than to push too hard - I'm new and don't want an injury with a lengthy recovery time to impede Project Up. So I came on down, hands shaking, wrists pulsing, feeling the dull ache in the wrist I broke last year, and grinning like a village idiot.

While I rested my hands, I talked with Jamochamiah about bouldering routes. Before the month is over, I will set one and stamp it with the E.F.R. seal of approval. Thinking about this goal, I worked the bouldering area of the wall, contemplated how I would balance challenge with encouragement. I hope to set a route that tests while it affirms so that at the end, one call feel good about the workout, but also encouraged to keep going.

After a rest and a chat about a possible Dolly Parton Project Part II (I have issues, I know, with letting go), I returned to The Route that I couldn't get on Friday. Let me be clear: It wasn't the route that broke my spirit. I chose to be broken in that moment of challenge. In the aftermath, I learned a great deal about myself. So what seemed like a nemesis on Friday was on Sunday sort of like an old friend. This shift in thinking got me on the route and up. I found the burst I needed to launch. I found the hold exactly where it had always been.

And though I didn't finish the entire route today (it was five minutes before closing time, so out of courtesy I stopped), I know I will before the end of the week. Knowing is half the battle, and I am making my way.

Thinking about the issues of belonging, those insecurities I couldn't shake on Friday, I volunteered to help Galveston and Jamochamiah clean up the wall. I learned how to take down the ropes, anchor in the lines that would be used to raise those ropes tomorrow (and a whole other kind of knot!). I checked a rope and wound it, just as I was shown, around my knees before tying it up. Doing this simple work while making small talk with Jamochamiah about minor mishaps within interpersonal relationships, helped me to reclaim and affirm my sense of belonging to the climbing community.

The eyes see through the lens of the heart. Knowing and naming my real fears changed the lens from a fractured view to a more beautiful vision. As I left the gym and walked into a crisp October night, I was proud of myself. The climbing had gone well, but better still, I had come back to myself.

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