It started like a brief whisper in the wind, a tingling, imperceptible brush against your cheek, not even enough to make a leaf flutter. Now it’s howling and snapping in every direction, so chaotic and strong it rips you apart, no matter how tightly you try to hold it all at your chest.

My demons emerge and they tell me to be afraid. Be afraid you’re not smart. Be afraid you’re not attractive. Be afraid of your body. Be afraid of being alone. Be afraid of commitment. Be petrified of embodying every kind of flaw there is. Put yourself in the line of fire and don’t you dare move. Good girl.

In my early 20’s, I somehow managed to ignore it. This was a light time- radiant summer days, late nights dancing with boys, afternoons at the library trying to suppress bursts of laughter with genuine friends, early mornings relishing your strong stride on a run. Any decision felt reversible, unimportant.

Now, the fear wants to be indelible, to burrow into your bones and become indestructible. To paralyze you, so you’re always miserable. So you’re always tired. So you never know what is actually important to you. So you’re always on the verge of believing, until you finally lose yourself and give in.

At first it is borne externally, but eventually it is engendered in your own self. You start to believe it. You can’t follow the thread of each thought to its source before you hit a tight mess of knots. You become callous and bitter and cold towards others because you are trained to question everything , especially your own thoughts.

It seems, though, that there is one sacred, pure though that is uncorrupted and unable to be manipulated- my ambition to be the best climber I can be in a way that I have defined. It is the one thing that makes sense. Finding this natural outlet to direct my drive, which has brought fleeting moments of rich and deep satisfaction- moments when the fear is absent- comes hand in hand with drawn out periods of sometimes agonizing despair when I can’t align my life with my goal. It’s during these times that I most easily give into my demons. I cannot decide if it is a gift, or it is a curse. I’m certainly aware that the pressure of climbing well creates its own unique fear.

It’s interesting how a mere circumstance- me walking into the climbing gym at my undergraduate university and wanting to flirt with one of the climbers- eventually connected two disjoint parts of my brain, like lightning striking the earth. I think I’ve been trying to hold onto old priorities, as a means of protecting myself from the strike, but lately I’ve wanted to strip it off, envelop myself in the bright sheet of light, the jagged shards of static, carry the wounds with me.

Understanding the darker sides of my ambition does not remove the numbness. It doesn’t take away the need.

I can either ricochet between what I want to do and what I feel like I should do, be constantly introspective and unsatisfied, or, take a deep breath and a big chance.



Note: I’ve always liked to write, but this blog has more or less been focused on traveling and climbing; I write but do not publish more personal posts. I have decided to start to share at least part of these feelings because writing- and specifically publishing to a likely small and obscure (and accidental) audience- has turned into a sort of therapy for me. It seems to justify my feelings, to transform them from shapeless and theoretical, to real.

When I left Seattle in mid-March, a fear dropped in me, hard, like a round stone in a deep pool. I could taste that feeling when what you wanted so much suddenly becomes real, but seemingly irrevocable.

I was fueled by a fiery drive to climb and to climb hard. My body felt healed from an injury, I had been training, and had begun to transform my life into the dream I had been delicately crafting in my head for years. As I pushed into winter, though, certain life events unleashed a deep fatigue that sank its tendrils into me, tightening every day. It was not one thing, in particular, just a dizzying accumulation, tiny whirls gathering around me to a big focal point, building to a callous storm.

A striking and sudden inability to find meaning in my work, confusion about who cared and who really mattered, financial difficulty, all combined to feel like a ruthless razor situated perfectly next to my ambition- one tiny slip and it’s deadly.

It turned into a terrible rhythm I could feel pulsing in my body, starting in November and strengthening throughout all of January, February and March. I tried to keep myself one step ahead of it, but eventually, it wound me up so tight that my energy crashed, and that delicate filter I have in place in my brain, the one that feeds out the bullshit, snapped. I wanted to fling it off with a violent shove, but I ran out of strength.

When I stumbled out into the desert it felt as refreshing and true as a deep breath of fresh air. I felt the grip loosen, but not entirely release.

The climbing goal was to find something hard to try, potentially a longer-term pursuit. I hadn’t projected for a year, and I missed it deeply. I wanted to get intimate with movement, to feel that miasma of frustration and joy, to slow down and take in the micro-beta that was crucial for my particular body.

My mind was set on 5.13+.  I managed to dispatch a few, and quickly; the long “project” never came. I climbed some really good routes, was challenged, and had fun. But none of them feel particularly meaningful and at that moment, that’s what I craved, something bigger.

When I dig deep- cut to the core root of what I think it is that makes me tick- I find I am wandering, searching for a sense of identity but unable to land my feet on anything stable. This is because I am not very capable, or proficient, at anything. It’s easy to hide behind these walls of seemingly self-deprecating text and be met with the typical eye-roll from the other side. It’s very difficult to express that I’m not trying to debase myself for superficial reasons. I can’t find the words to show the depth of my certitude- that it goes beyond bouts of self-conscious doubt- that it’s true and wretched and that I don’t know what to do about it.

My job as a Ph.D student, though interesting on many intellectual levels, can be bereft of specific guidelines, very niche, not applied, and lacking in skill-specific tasks common to other Ph.Ds, like hard-core coding. I am neither making an impact nor honing any kind of marketable skill. That’s a toxic realization to come to halfway through a major project. The hobbies and skills I did have when I was younger, that came naturally to me and that I earnestly pursued, have gone away. It’s easy to blame myself for getting here in the first place. To conclude that I was never strong enough to avoid it, never capable of the deep thought process that could have helped me be somewhere else.

Maybe this is party why I want a climbing project. I need boxes to tick, I want a methodological outline of what I need to do to accomplish a goal. I want to prove myself, only to myself. Even if I don’t accomplish anything, I can’t say I didn’t try in a structured way. When you’re projecting the next steps can often be fairly obvious and the process can be quite calculated.

These thoughts struck me one night recently, as clear and as crisp as the cold evening air lingering in my throat- crystal, painful, like a shard of glass reflecting my image back to myself. It was a blunt, precise blow to the chest, so strong I found myself off my feet, sitting down outside on rough gravel. Inherent inability, inherent weakness, inherent ineptitude. That I’ll never be what I want to be. In a way it was somewhat of a relief, to be suddenly so acutely aware of your limits that you can tailor your goals around them. The mystery is stripped away and behind it, I don’t like what I see, but at least I can see it.

The feeling is diffuse and huge, so omnipresent you almost forget about it, like a dull pain you teach yourself to ignore. Other times it is achingly close, so vivid and intense that the clarity makes you catch your breath. You can arrange the thoughts in a neat line, stark and bare for you to examine and categorize, like dark leaves in deep white snow. But when you reach to search for language- to communicate, analyze, question- a sideways shaft of light suddenly obscures your vision, layering a thin light haze over you and what you thought you finally understood; you blink, a slight nod to your head, as the realization vanishes – and you’re lost all over again.

Not long ago you were driving, not paying attention to anything in particular, when a song began to play-  Myth by Beach House.

If you built yourself a myth, You’d know just what to give

Then you felt it again, in intimate, serrated, close detail- a swift and shockingly clear realization. It corners you, that suffocating sensation when you realize you are not extraordinary. And then it leaves. Momentarily you feel blindsided, shook, confused, but aware.

Help me to name it,

Help me to name it

Happiness can often feel so easy to reach. To admire the glossy shine of fresh spring flowers after a light rain, to tuck your head into someone’s neck and relish the warmth of intimacy, to deeply inhale the scent of coffee as you prolong your morning, to feel strong as you instinctively let your body move…

found yourself in a new direction
arrows falling from the sun
canyons calling
would they come to greet you
let you know you’re not the only one

 

 

 

There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self – Aldous Huxley

To overcome the anxieties and depressions of contemporary life, individuals must become independent of the social environment to the degree that they no longer respond exclusively in terms of its rewards and punishments. To achieve such autonomy, a person has to learn to provide rewards to herself. She has to develop the ability to find enjoyment and purpose regardless of external circumstances.” ― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

 

ghjkk.jpg

At the end of this year, I revisited the list of “2018 goals” I decided I wanted to pursue.

Read More

“To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities—I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not—that one endures.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

img_0666

This is a story about two feet, but to truly tell the tale I need to start elsewhere.

Read More

tuolumne_hodzic_096.jpg

Meldicott Dome. “Peace” is visible as the second streak of black granite-to the right of its famous neighbor Bachar-Yerian

Before New Years- frozen in a small cabin in Mexico- I wrote a list of goals for the next year. I split it up into sections  – “climbing” , “professional” and “personal.” Of course, because my priorities can be somewhat perplexing,  the “climbing” section came first. On the very top of the list I wrote “Touch To Bolt, ” vowing that I would at least try my dream route. In April, I surprised myself by not only trying it but, after 16 days of work, joyously clipping its anchors.  Immediately below to bolt, I wrote my second goal-  “Peace.”
Read More

 

IMG-1504

Up high on Kings of Rap at Smith Rock State Park. Photo by Micah Humphrey

 

On my 27th birthday, I woke up buried in my sleeping bag, nestled in my car in the middle of Central Oregon. I poked my head out to see frost building up on every window of my car, yet the sky was clear and the sun was strong. This wasn’t an unfamiliar scene- I had spent many nights this winter and spring in the exact same spot, and I welcomed the cold weather. Cold weather meant more days of climbing. In fact, the forecast for the week looked so good that I organized my work around it at the last minute,  driving down from Seattle by myself to capitalize on what would likely be the last week of crisp conditions that would grace this area for months.

Read More