Saturday, March 26, 2011


Something happened in October 2010, something I'm still trying to understand. Work grew more intense. Deadlines loomed on my morning horizons and evening sunsets - I couldn't escape the demands no matter how far I traveled. The enormity of change, the wall I face everyday just seemed too big, and I a small, small, clod of waning courage. Looking back, I can see that I didn't intend to quit climbing, to walk away. Instead, I just let other things not as important as my own health eclipse my vision.

I hung my harness to take care of other things. Now, I can see that was a huge mistake.

In January, I woke after a dream to realize I had been hang-dogging, just sitting on the line as if time were on my side. It's so easy to get wrapped up in the momentum of professional life, of "making progress," and so difficult to see the consequence while working so diligently simple pleasures simply vanish. Work is a great hiding place. If you work hard enough, you can hide from even yourself.

On that January morning, as snow fell, I looked outside my window to see life blowing by, drifting. I had a sweet pile of new poems, a manuscript, the beginning of my dissertation work all mapped out. But, I wasn't happy. I didn't feel my breathing anymore, or the steady beating of my heart. There is a feeling beyond numbness, I decided. Nothingness is much worse. I glanced up at the wall and saw my harness hanging there, lifeless, cold. I knew then I had to go back. I had to recommit to joy as a process, a happening, something that will fade if you neglect it, if you neglect yourself.

A few days later, when school started anew, I headed back to the wall. It was humbling to learn I had lost what my climbing friends call "muscle memory." I struggled to finish the easiest route. I struggled to square my shoulders and try again. I struggled to admit that I had lost something important to me and had no idea how to get it back. Though I left the climbing wall that night feeling a new beginning, I also felt the weight of my own disappointment. I'd be back, I told myself, but first there was something I had to face.

I met a colleague for a drink that night and we, after a few cocktails, committed to run a 10k six months later. I'm not a runner. Over the course of my life, I always thought some were born to run and others were born for other things. There were gazelles and then there were hippos. One rushes the reeds, skirts about prairie grasses. The other stands in the muck, up to its double-chin in water, and wiggles its ears. For years, I thought my job was to stand around and wait for things to arrive, taking solace in the river of life.

I used to joke that I'd never run unless by gunpoint. But since January, I've been really working on running. I train four days a week. I now meet friends to run a four-mile path in preparation for the Lucky Bucket Brewery's Inaugural 7k Run. We call ourselves the "Lucky Bucketeers." We meet twice a week. We keep each other motivated and accountable. I call us a herd because on that path we look like refugees from the ark - all kinds of animals shambling down the road, away from and to ourselves at the same time.

In February, feeling encouraged by my running progress, I returned to the wall with new vigor. A friend of mine and her sister attended the certification class. We started meeting once a week to climb and encourage each other. My friend Kati is a much better climber than I am - a natural. What I lack in natural talent, I make up for with enthusiasm and joy. Yeah, joy. It's back. And it feels good to have so many friends to join me in what has been, until this year, a solitary effort.

I registered, too, for the Bolder-Boulder run Memorial Weekend. The goal is to finish without dying. I'm not kidding myself here. I'm out of water, so to speak. I'm just going to plod about the reeds and rumble through the grasses. Some people are light on their feet. I'm light in my heart. And there's something to be said about the simplicity of running - just you, some shoes, and land. Climbing is getting easier, I think, because I've decided to respect the journey, to make way for the possibility that hearing my own labored breathing and the pulsing of my heart is more important than whether or not I can top-out a 5.9 and transition past that marker in skill level.

There's a lot more to getting up than climbing. Sometimes you have to work the lateral routes, the traverses across that which you never thought you could or would do. Sometimes up is a level, a bubble of happy stability between the polar imbalances. That's where I find myself today, anyway.