Monday, March 29, 2010


Well, it's happened. I met the second Weight Watchers target loss goal. After climbing at the BRC and hanging out with my friends in Boulder, it seems I've lost 7 percent of my starting body weight. To celebrate, I bought a pair of "boyfriend capri pants" (whose boyfriend, incidentally, wears capri pants?) from American Eagle, just to see my kid's startled expression (file that under, "OMG, My mom's buying pants at MY store? WTF?").

I had a slow day of climbing today - my foot is giving me some trouble. But I finally topped out a route I was projecting, and figured out another segment of a 5.7+ that has been kicking my ass. So technically, it was a good day. I'll be back at it tomorrow, of course, because the trip to Shelf Road looms like a glorious sun about to burst from the morning horizon.

I've lost inches off my upper arms, inches off my thighs, four inches off my waist, and five inches off my bust (a humble beginning if you ask me. I was bestowed with certain mammary gifts that have been a pendulous burden for years). And this month's culinary adventures begin in India, thanks to a cookbook I bought in Colorado. I've been working with foods I used to reserve for the "Eew Gross" category, like plain yogurt and spinach, and learning to work with whole spices. I've even made my own curry paste. It's a whole new world odor, man. Recipes will be posted soon.

I'll be heading back to the wall on Tuesday for a more rigorous session. I've learned that I have to have slow climbing days between the "big" ones to give myself time to recover from whatever advances I make. I'm dropping Old Blue (my trusty bicycle) off for its spring tune up today, climbing, and then going to yoga class. If anyone had told me two years ago that I'd be so active, that I'd be so engaged with both the world and my physical self, I would have laughed before cramming a donut down my gullet. Yet here I am, with a goofy grin on my face, looking forward to the workout.

And because I'm so darn happy, I've been working like a maniac. I finished a cartoon last night and worked on a paper. I met with my online writing group in preparation for the Rhetoric Society of America conference at the end of May in Minneapolis, and started working on yet another journal article. A dear friend hooked me up with some great music by Angus and Julia Stone, so I'll end this post with a video from their first album. It's a great graphic piece, and I love it.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


(PHOTO: Urban Climber Magazine)

My first trip to the BRC was a rough one. That was two years ago, on a trip I had taken to help my daughter after some intense and unjust drama. My second visit to the BRC was on the day I had my first car accident after I learned one of my favorite professors had killed himself. I can't say that trip was a good one. I was in bad shape, mentally and physically. While my friends and daughter climbed, I sat in an alcove, tucked into a hard plastic chair, feeling as if I were out of place, out of sorts, and out of hope.

I remember crying in that chair, just sitting there and watching climbers, feeling as if life had violently passed me by like an 18 wheeler hauling hogs across I-80. I felt small, flattened out by tons of trucking life that had rolled me over and left me for dead among the debris of an unconscious culture. Feeling crucified to a barbwire fence like a paper bag pushed roadside by unrelenting wind, dying among the fast food trash and repulsed by my own malodorous stench of mental decay, I wept.

My tears weren't caused by self-pity or profound sadness. They were simply evidence that I had somehow, in the years between my misspent youth and my present, completely lost sight and sense of who I was, or who I could be. Looking back across my journals, I know that Project Up was born then, in the back room of my cerebral house, as I sat at the BRC.

Watching lithe figures scale the wall, listening to laughter and camaraderie, a tiny voice almost unrecognizable as my inner wisdom, cried out, "I want that."

I looked down at my writing hands and my corpulence, the excess weight I've carried like a cross in supreme maternal martyrdom, and made a promise to myself. "Someday," I whispered. "Someday."

In the year and a half between that moment and the formal beginning of P'UP, I made small steps - literally. I started walking to work, walking from work, walking at the gym, and walking on the weekends. I went through two pairs of sneakers in that year. Then I started riding my bike everywhere - no matter the weather. My car collected dust on its finish. It was as unused as my potential, I think, and became an icon of my success. Looking down at it from the balcony of my apartment, seeing the grit and the neglect, I was deeply satisfied.

By the time this project began in a formal sense, I had already shed a few pounds (and complexes). So when I returned to the BRC this month, armed with my harness and shoes, I already felt I had accomplished something. As I passed that plastic chair and made my way to my first route I thought about my first and second visits and smiled.

They say, "the third time's a charm." This was certainly true for me. The BRC staff welcomed me, gave me a belay test, and unlike the staff at Boulders Gym in Madison, WI, treated me like a climber. I shambled off, tied in, and did my best. The first day, I didn't complete a route. And I didn't care. When I had finished top-rope experimentation, I headed to the bouldering cave and spent a good hour working out my unease, my fear of re-injuring my foot, and in the process realized that I had reached a someday.

That night, spent and sleeping a contented sleep, every muscle in my arms and chest cramped. I woke face down, clinging to a pillow and sheets as if I were hanging onto a granite face for dear life. Despite the pain, I laughed. I marveled my cramped hands in the blue light, waiting for my muscles to relax, and wondered if climbing would ever stop making me feel as if I were finally living a real life.

Before leaving my dearest friends in Boulder, we returned to climb at the BRC. I topped two 5.7 routes, bailed on two others, and spent the night loving my friends in ways I hadn't before. I was really with them, enjoying their climbing as much as my own, and finding it impossible to separate my love of climbing from my love for them. I wasn't stuck upstairs in the kiddie room. I wasn't sitting in a bucket chair, thinking about someday. I was standing among them, listening and loving, tingling with electric joy.

My foot eventually began to ache, a deep in the bone discomfort that ended my climbing. So I sat, I watched. I thought about our upcoming trip to Shelf Road and wondered what else my friends would teach me about life, climbing, and love. There was a pot of beef stew waiting for us at the house, just another of my love offerings I give them because they have been so good to me. I looked forward to our feast, our laughter, even as I sat in silence.

As they climbed, I eventually returned to that plastic chair. I sat there, thinking of the last two years and all I had managed to accomplish. I sat, wishing my professor had experienced this joy just once before he gave up and exited our life with such startling finality I still haven't caught my breath. I rubbed my foot, smiling. I thought about the future, smiling. I thought about how much I love my Boulder friends, how much they mean to me, smiling.

And at the end of the night, I stood and walked out proudly with the ache of small things in my heart, knowing without the little things, and without my friends, I would never have had the courage or the need to get UP. Without their faith in me, I would never have become a believer. Without their encouragement, I would never have encouraged myself. How can one ever repay such debt? How can one ever express this kind of love, this kind of appreciation? How do you thank someone for giving you a reason to reclaim your life?

I have no idea, but I hope to spend the rest of my life trying.

Monday, March 15, 2010


They say a photo is worth a thousand words, but I think this photo's worth just one.

My presentation in Washington D.C. for the Split This Rock Poetry Festival was a good one with about thirty participants in just our workshop - far more than I would normally meet in a typical conference. We filled the Thurgood Marshall Center, and the poets I met were wonderful people and receptive to the return to poetry as an embodied process instead of a collection of metaphors and fancy language. The Washington Post did a write-up about the festival, and the reporter did a wonderful job capturing the magic the festival represents. There were a lot of famous poets floating about - and I felt honored just to be there.

As I worked on my presentation in the hours before taking the D.C. Metro, I thought about the upcoming trip to Shelf Road. I don't think I would have had the courage to do the work I did in D.C. without all the personal growth that has come from climbing. I certainly wouldn't have shambled about D.C. like a dingledodie in a Vagina USA t-shirt. So that's something, right?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


I finally on-sighted a route - "Pinky Gotta Brain" (figures) - at the UNL Rec wall tonight. I should have been home packing and preparing for my upcoming trip to Washington D.C. - I should have been doing a lot of things. Instead, I was hanging out at the climbing wall, working on my routes, and trying to rebuild my confidence. In just over an hour I'll be on the road to the Omaha airport, and though it's 3:05 a.m., I'm sitting in front of my computer with a dopey grin on my face. God, I love climbing.

If I'm not doing it, I'm thinking about it. If I'm not thinking about it or doing it, I'm writing about it. If I'm not writing about it, doing it, thinking it, then I'm walking the path to and from work counting the hours until I get to climb again. After sitting it out for two and a half months, I'm willing to try damn near anything on the wall - I feel the transition to 5.8 and 5.9 routes is on my horizon.

This thought is enough to make me giddy. I'd sport wood if I could, but that would require a different sort of harness bought at one of those neon-lit stores hocking silicone fantasies of varying girths. Chicka-chicka-bow-wow.

My suitcase is packed. I've got poems locked and loaded. My presentation materials for my panel at Split This Rock are ready, too. I'm sure I'll love D.C., but I'll be counting the days until I'm climbing again. Expect a post from the road ... I'll be on it, wacked like Kerouac ... movin' toward somethin' man, somethin'.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


(PHOTO: E.F.R. tying in B-rad)

Sharing my enthusiasm for climbing is the best part of P’UP, the best part of climbing itself. Today was one of those damn fine climbing days, mostly because I brought Brad, my future son-in-law, to the wall. While we tied in, my daughter Christina snapped off some photos before heading upstairs to run her miles on the treadmill.

She’s not ready, she says, to try climbing again but I think B-rad and I will win her over eventually. That’s our sinister plan, anyway.

B-rad just moved back to Lincoln from Milwaukee, and he’s already caught the climbing bug, that viral infection that makes you want to part with your hard-earned cash to buy equipment, chalk, and the most expensive shoes you’ll ever wear for just one purpose. It’s only a matter of time before he’s hanging out at Moose’s Tooth, or surfing the Web for hot deals on climbing gear, otherwise known as "rock porn."

(PHOTO: B-rad, a.k.a. "Slim," reaching the top of the 5.6)

The best part: B-rad’s a natural climber. He on-sighted all the routes he tried, including the 5.7 on the incline, “Jews for Jesus” (I don't name these routes, by the way) and the 5.6 “11 Year Hiatus” (named after, I'm guessing, the term for a break in geographical strata, usually measured by stratagraphists in hiatus "years"). Both routes challenged me, but B-rad knocked ‘em out and tonight was just his second climbing adventure. His climbing virginity was handed over to the gods in Madison, Wisconsin the night I broke my foot last year. So I’m thinking he’ll be reaching that 5.9 transition in the near future.

(PHOTO: B-rad, clearly enjoying his climbing night)

(PHOTO: E.F.R. working the 5.7 "Jews for Jesus")

I had a few victories tonight, myself. I nearly on-sighted that 5.7 on the incline, and this made me feel really good about both my climbing and my healing foot. I made it up and over the arch without much effort, and felt as if my body was beginning to develop a sense of climbing intuition. My moves didn’t feel forced or negotiated until I hit what I considered the crux of the route – and this nearly brought tears to my googly eyes.

(PHOTO: E.F.R. sweatin' after the "11 Year Hiatus")

I’ve also lost my self-consciousness, thankfully, and no longer feel as if I’m wasting a belay’s time if I have to take a moment to collect my thoughts or rest before pressing on. This might have something to do with the fact I’ve come down two dress sizes since joining Weight Watchers, and have brought my BMI down nearly 3 points in just three weeks.

Or, it could just be that confidence comes with practice. The true origin of this progress matters not to me. It’s the climbing that feeds my soul, so I’m even more excited about the upcoming trip to Shelf Road than I was last week. With just over a month to train, I’m hopeful to be confident in my attempts at more difficult routes before April 10.

(PHOTO: E.F.R. checking to see if her feet were still there)

Considering the week I’ve had, one with all kinds of unexpected difficulties and challenges, tonight felt all the more special. As I sit here, listening to Tom Petty and counting my blessings, I’m thinking climbing might be the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. Whatever wrongs life tosses at me are righted the moment I take hold of the wall, the moment I’m off the ground. As Tom Petty sings, “I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got no wings” and I’m taking life one move at a time.