Thursday, April 8, 2010

On MY Shelf: Volumes and Issues

With my first outdoor climbing experience just hours away, I'm feeling a bit out of sorts. I am now the owner of a 2-3 person tent, a snake bite kit (my dad insisted), a camping cup, technical clothing, loose chalk, and something my son declared essential: a "hobo tool."


This may seem perfectly normal for those classified as "real" or experienced outdoorsy types, but I haven't instigated a camping trip since Def Leppard was topping the charts with songs about pouring sugar and rockets. My last camping trip was with a husband - and that trip was miserable for a variety of reasons far beyond the company, biting overnight lows, and freak snowstorm in July. Now that I think about it, all the photos from that trip were taken with a film SLR - Kodak hadn't yet released its first digital camera to the public yet.

The majority of my current climbing friends were still in diapers, I think. Maybe a few of them were eating solid foods, getting ready for kindergarten, or just discovering their wanks, with a smattering of high achievers accomplishing all three milestones, but that hardly makes me feel better. In fact, I'm feeling rather old at the moment, perhaps too hold to be jumping into a car and embarking on a climbing road trip.

One of the recurring themes to P'UP, an undercurrent I don't always explore, is one of permission. I find myself often pondering if I'm allowed to make these changes, allowed to embark on such a journey, yet unable to name exactly who it is in charge. As a pro-woman writer and sometimes feminist, this just pisses me off. As an academic, I find it interesting that in the absence of authority (like that ex-husband), I create an imaginary gatekeeper.

What the hell is that all about?

Well, as someone who just figured out how to separate her fork and knife, use the corkscrew, and then lock them all together again, I can only assert this fundamental truth: I'm a nattering nabob of negativity. I traffic shame and guilt like a Columbian cartel moves narcotics. As Glenn Frey sings, "it's a losing proposition/but one you can't refuse" - yeah - on occasion I get the Smuggler's Blues, but mostly I just wander about feeling as if I'm knee-deep in nickel bag of self-loathing.

And yeah, it's skunky.

All the same, I feel as though I'm on the cusp of the abyss, something I've avoided most of my life until now.

Though this project has been about learning to climb, it has become so much more. As I've learned the top ropes, I've also learned a lot about living - the living I wasn't doing. I've spent far too much of my life being afraid; afraid to disappoint, afraid to fail, and afraid of the consequences of my own decisions. So I existed on auto-pilot, turning over my right to self-define and make decisions over to others. Climbing has taught me to knock that off, to let that go. You can't climb well without owning up to your physical and mental limitations. You can't climb well if you're not fully present in the task at hands (and feet).

And damnit, P'UP has made me want to climb well. It's not enough to get up. You have to BE up, too. So as I learn about climbing, I also learn about myself. I discover things I didn't know I lost, or things I never realized I already had. Like today, when I showed up at the wall for one last practice session and had to work with a belay I don't know well. I discovered that my lack of knowing promoted an uncertainty - unrecognized consciously at first - that resulted in timid moves and anxiety I haven't felt since my first climb.

Though I completed two routes without incident, I couldn't approach my projects - a 5.8, 5.7+, and a new 5.7 hung earlier this week - with the same degree of reluctant confidence I experience when working with my two favorite belays and friends. What this signified to me was that I have been working on building intimacy and trust within my friendships through climbing - and that realization made me grin like a dope.

I don't think I will ever, in one paragraph or even one post, fully articulate everything my abusive partners stole from me or what I gave away. I can only point to these discoveries day by day, post by post, and write toward some sense of self-actualization and appreciation. Since leaving my marriage and embarking on my new life, I've struggled to trust, to take people as they present themselves, and to allow myself the same opportunity. It's difficult to trust yourself after a decision to love someone turns out to be the worst decision you could make, the most unhealthy thing for you and your children. I know that I lost my sense of self-trust and that climbing is helping me to reclaim it.

I think I may be the quintessential late bloomer, but that's okay. I'd rather re-learn these lessons now, so I can rewrite the scripts that limit both my sense of living and my self-confidence. Though I still feel old, and though I still feel out of place sometimes, I think even this is a process worth exploring. Like a tough climb, life is a project, too. Even in my mom jeans.

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