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.” ―
At the end of this year, I revisited the list of “2018 goals” I decided I wanted to pursue.
I crossed out what I believe I achieved:
More 8a/8a+, try 8b, send Baby on Board, Touch (aka try) To Bolt or Not To Be, learn how to bolt and develop new routes I f in Tuolumne Meadows, try Peace
Get certified in Spanish/English translation, Make peace with the Ph.D. or not route, improve plant ID skills
Life: Improve Bosnian,
buy a van
It felt good to take my pen and strike out the tasks I had written down for myself nearly a year ago. I achieved almost all of my climbing goals (with the obvious unachieved one being I have not yet learned how to bolt), career goals, and life goals (my Bosnian still sucks, but I’m working on it.) To focus on climbing, here are two graphs, one from 2017 and one from 2018. In 2017, I did 6 5.13-s, 1 5.13+, and climbed outdoors for 83 days. In 2018, I did 15 5.13- routes, 3 5.13+, and 1 5.14a. I climbed outside for 102 days. Definitely, some progression in terms of pure numbers of 5.13’s done, but nothing earth-shattering. However, if you change the scope of the year from August 2017-August 2018, I can claim I did my first 8a, 8a +, 8b and 8b+ in the same year. Nothing special, but also pretty cool.
However, internally, I have regressed. Certain toxic thoughts have become much more prevalent. While I recognize the problem, I have so far failed to break the pattern. I want to write these thoughts down, solely for myself. By writing and publishing my feelings, I feel as if I can methodically, analyze and recognize the issue, and track at is it either improves or worsens. To those who stay with me over the next few paragraphs- I apologize if this reads as if I am complaining too much, sound very ungrateful, whining, or am fishing for compliments. This isn’t about superficial desires, rather I am concerned and the act of writing has always made me feel good and helped calm my overactive mind down. If I hold anything back, the exercise is ineffective. Here goes…
No matter what I “achieve”, any thoughts of pride and optimism are ephemeral and always break under the weight of insidious beliefs of one of the following flavors – “I’m not smart enough, I’m not fun enough, I’m not attractive enough, I’m not strong enough.” The weight I have been putting in other people’s thoughts of me rivals my low self-esteem phase of high school. I’ve lost sleep repeating these thoughts in my head. The trigger seems to be either comparing myself to others or achieving some goal and questioning whether I’m really ” good enough” to have it. This is dangerous because the foundation of this is a total lack of self-confidence. I believe for whatever reason that I don’t deserve whatever I just achieved, and then rationally conclude that, since I shouldn’t have this new “thing” (a vague stand-in word that can encompass basically anything), it will go away. I have no feelings of self-efficacy or entitlement. I don’t really get jealous all that often of other people, but lately, I’ve been feeling threatened – as if everyone is going to realize that I’m not worth being around and will end up just peacing out. Then, instead of enjoying whatever benefits I should be receiving in my mood, my confidence, my happiness- I fast forward to the grief phase and I get sad- even in the beginning of what should be something great. This really is not a good way to live. I’ve noticed it since last winter- “this person or group of people will get sick of me, I got lucky on that route, I will get weaker, they’ll find out I am not cut out for this.” A lot of the time, I know that what I am telling myself is objectively not true, but still, let it swallow me whole. I simultaneously believe and do not believe the stories I tell myself. I really don’t like the person I am becoming internally and am terrified it will seep out and affect my relationships with others- if it hasn’t already. I place standards on myself that I would never dream of placing on anyone else.
Questions I hope to examine – what triggered this? Why do I think these thoughts? Are any of them based on actual reality- AKA should I listen to some of them to try to improve myself? Is this having a negative impact on how I present and act towards others? Are these thoughts affecting my actions, holding me back from achieving certain tasks?
That is about all I feel comfortable with posting on the world wide web, even though this blog is seldom read. Still, the point of this post was to recap my year. I felt like without mentioning the above problems, I would basically be lying and portraying my life for something it isn’t. I really value reading these posts months or even years later, so it is important for me to talk about the bigger, more complex issues so I have more data to use with which I can reflect and re-assess.
Now onto the climbing!
Winter 2018 (January – March)
Smith. Smith. Smith! I spent 27 days at Smith between January-end of March, 16 of those days was dedicated to trying To Bolt or Not To Be. I wrote an extensive blog about this that you can find here. Despite the insane driving/work routine my principal partner Nic Thune and I subjected ourselves to for half of our days there, (leave at 7 PM day before, get to Smith ~ midnight, climb 2 days, leave again), we both got into a rhythm out there and I view it as some of the best climbing days I’ve ever had. Nic has expressed a similar sentiment which makes me look upon those times with even fonder memories. Hopefully, 2019 is rife with more trips down South.
I had projected before (Fight Club, most notably) – but To Bolt revealed just how deep I was willing to go for a route. Looking back on it now, some of the things I did just to be down in Smith (6 hours from Seattle) enough to work the route were perhaps questionable. I made up excuses not to be at work, lost sleep catching up on the work I missed, bailed on plans with friends- including a party planned for my own birthday, spent a ridiculous amount of money on shoes and gas, and even let a relationship I was developing with someone over the winter end- all for a damn chunk of rock. I gave a lot even when, objectively, my chances of sending honestly did not look so good. I have wondered if I would have been okay with the way I was behaving if I did not send. Would it have been worth it? While the clear message of To Bolt was that I could climb a hard route, it also very quickly brought my priorities into a harsh light for me to examine.
In the short-term To Bolt gave me a ton of confidence, but in the long-term, my accomplishment has actually contributed greatly to the feelings of inadequacy described above. I sent one special route and all of a sudden people began to describe me in some new (good) terms. However, I felt that people were believing I was something I wasn’t- some secret bone-crusher 5.14 climber who came out of nowhere- and I started to subconsciously hold myself to these new standards even though I knew I had no business doing so.
I also received the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship in early April, a few weeks before I sent To Bolt. This award came with a lot of stress, but in the end, it has opened up many, many doors and will likely only enrich my life.
Spring was about finishing up work projects and climbing locally. I finally spent some time at Exit 32 (otherwise known as “Little Si”) and ticked off some fun routes. No true projecting, but I was happy to send “Chronic”, probably the most well-known 8a in Washington. Really, I just loved the schedule. Work until 1 PM, meet at Si around 2 PM, climb and socialize until 9 PM, rinse and repeat.
I jetted down to Tuolumne Meadows to work remotely for the summer and try my hand at Peace. It started well, with a much quicker than anticipated send of Peace. See the blog post here.
I went to the Zebra wall near South Lake Tahoe and felt like I wasn’t really good enough to be there, but would love to return someday if I ever feel like I can really try any of those badass lines!
I ended the summer training a little bit in Reno and with a relatively fast send of Baby on Board (8a/8a+ depending on who you ask). However, around this time, I started to feel some finger pain that eventually became my first full-fledged climbing injury. Should have taken more time off here, but I didn’t. Probably my biggest climbing regret of the year.
I spent four weeks climbing in Flatanger, Norway and trying to prepare for my Ph.D. qualifying exams. My finger strain turned into a real injury. I felt a little bit out of tune in Flatanger, surrounded by very elite climbers and struggling up some of the easiest climbs there. I strapped on knee-pads – a mostly foreign concept to me- and climbed some steep stone. But, everyone was very kind, supportive, generous and in general all pretty damn psyched on the place. The rock quality is astounding and I’d love to go back in a few years when I’m a bit more fit. A highlight was watching Edu Marin crush Odin’s Eye Extension (9a/9a+).
Aside from the climbing, the natural scenery is gorgeous. A mix of birch/spruce forests surrounded by inlets. The mushroom hunting during the time of year we went (September) was incredible. This kind of ecosystem, though, is supported by lots of rain- which we experienced towards the end of the trip in literal non-stop sheets.
After Flatanger we spent some time in the Verdon Gorge. My finger got better and then got worse after I decided that it was worth the risk to try some of the more technical, old-school routes. I had dreamed of going to the Verdon for this exact reason for a while, so while I had fun tufa climbing at Ramirole, I knew I’d eventually cave into my irresponsible desire to crimp my way up some of the routes from the 80s and 90s. It was hard to work on a particular route, Graphique, for 2 days, totally destroy my finger on it, and go home empty-handed. I still get a bit sad thinking about that route, because I know if I had approached the route differently, and made better decisions about how I was working it, I could have sent and at least left a 2-month trip having done one route that was meaningful. C’est la vie.
All in all, my travels were very rewarding. However, in terms of “climbs sent” I didn’t do too much.
Fall part 2
November was rough. I was injured, couldn’t climb, was questioning a lot of major decisions I had made, was intensely stressed about my qualifying exam, and was trying to buy a van. I felt alone and cornered whenever I thought about potentially dropping out of my Ph.D. to leave Seattle; it felt hard to find anyone, in particular, to talk to about it. A few friends stand out in this department, though, and I bet the month would have been much harder with them. I did achieve a life dream by buying a 2010 Sprinter which is currently getting converted. One thing I did do was try and quickly send my first 5.12 trad climb out at Index. I also socialized a lot, which is probably what kept me sane and trudging forward.
In December, after passing my qualifying exams, I went out to Utah. I mostly climbed in the Hurricave. After being very overwhelmed and feeling pretty much like I had no business being there or around many of the people who were climbing there, I got my groove back a little bit and by the end of the month, my finger felt 95% healed and I had sent some nice 5.13- in a foreign style. I also spent 2 days at the VRG and I absolutely loved it- returning is on the top of my priority list. It was very frustrating to leave the area to return to Seattle at the very moment when I felt like I finally was at least a little bit back in shape and uninjured- something I did not feel since August. I even wobbled after punting off the end of a 5.13c I was working on my final few days in the Hurricave. It wasn’t your typical scream of a wobble but rather it felt like someone released the dam that was present between the negative thoughts going on in my head and my mouth. I wasn’t really proud of that, but it was revealing.
Mostly, though, I was happy and relieved that my injury seemed to have healed and that I had so much time away from the stress of the city and from work. Behind the scenes of the climbing life, I was very preoccupied with growing thoughts of discontent with my life in Seattle. I was certain that despite the risks, I had to make significant changes.
I already feel as if I’m making serious strides in improving my life. Starting towards the end of March I’ll be living a mostly remote existence in my brand new van, doing work that I find interesting. I am happy that I recognized what I wanted and found a way to make it happen, with the collaboration of some supportive people in my life. Still, I made this happen for myself and I should give myself credit for fighting to achieve a dream.
A few hours after the meeting in which it was decided this life could actually work I felt like I was walking on air.
Two days later and mentally I am struggling to crawl out of the pit of negativity that seems to be my brain.
The goal of breaking this thought process is less tangible, difficult to articulate and nearly impossible to measure. I can’t cross it off my to-do list like I can, say, the goal of “buy a van.” The most important resolution on this year’s list is to begin a life-long process of reigning control of my mind when it is hurting, not helping. To shut out external expectations and what I perceive others are thinking to focus internally on my values, my goals, and living for myself.
I could use some help.
“Attention is like energy in that without it no work can be done, and in doing work is dissipated. We create ourselves by how we use this energy. Memories, thoughts and feelings are all shaped by how use it. And it is an energy under control, to do with as we please; hence attention is our most important tool in the task of improving the quality of experience.”