Imaginary Wisdom

As climbers, we cultivate, in a sense, a sort of twisted strangely subjective yet firm kind of knowledge.  It's called beta.  And what beta really is, is a kind of imaginary wisdom.  As soon as you think you have your beta for a route it can suddenly change color like that fucking horse in the Wizard of Oz.  I call it imaginary wisdom because it's really just something we like to wear in order to ward off our innate fears about trying hard and being defeated by hesitation and physical imperfection.  We also convince ourselves that 'our' way is the 'best' and maybe even the 'only' way to do something and criticize others for doing a sequence or copping a rest somewhere as invalid or wrong.  Again, this is a fallacy, an imaginary premise, a false wisdom.  Just last weekend I saw a new sequence in a section of rock that I had done a certain way for almost the last seven months!  I tried the new sequence I saw and it immediately made that section easier and more straightforward.  Fuck me, right?? 

I guess my point is, that as climbers (sport climbers) we don’t always find the best most efficient beta.  And then we get down on ourselves when something feels hard or even impossible.  We simply don’t spend enough time ‘interrogating’ the route.  “Routes have a lot of secrets to tell us, you kind of have to interrogate them.”(Bill Ramsey).  I feel that an increasing amount of pressure in the climbing community as a trend is to send something as fast as you possibly can, and that’s what people seem to respect in climbing lately.  But this ethic falls short in a lot of areas when it comes to pushing up against your physical limitations, respecting a good sequence of a classic route, or simply enjoying the process of climbing.  And yet I'm about to bust a 180 here and give you an example that doesn't necessarily disprove this theory but refracts it's points through a different angle.

It sounds like I’m about to go off on a tirade against onsight climbing and I’m really not.  In fact, I think onsight climbing is one of the purest styles of climbing ever.  To be able to look up and immediately abstract a workable sequence in a section of rock you’ve never been on is truly a fantastic and admirable skill.  I have to say, even though the hardest onsights of my climbing career so far have been 5.12a/b during those onsights I have never felt more connected to climbing.  Pulling onto the start of a route and knowing that you have ONE chance to get an onsight, it’s exciting, exhilarating even, nerve wracking, intimidating to say the least; it’s almost like a trip on DMT I would imagine.  Where your very soul is put upon by the forces of nature and you either surrender to it and become a part of the world around you in the constant flow of energy and matter ebbing and flowing; or you resend into a neo-natal state giving into your innate fears and repressed emotions of anger and resentment, and the end game is failure and frustration, a dead end.  I think onsight climbing can really tell you a lot about yourself not only as a climber, but as a human being.  It has the ability to evoke inside of you a kind of power and focus you never knew you had, combined with (if you allow yourself to go there) a meditative flow that enables you to (for the duration of the route) become free.  The flipside is as I previously described, falling, into fear, into a vulnerable castration of your resistance against letting go and giving up control.  Really, onsight climbing is like a metaphor for our struggle with life and the way it is classically encountered by the citizens of our society.  The paradox of living in a ‘free’ community that also has to abide by rules in order to sustain peace and commerce.  Giving up control over certain situations, actions, and stochastic events in our life that we simply cannot control and doing it in a way that necessitates understanding and acceptance instead of anger and repression.  This is onsight climbing to a T.  I could go on and on about onsight climbing, but my initial point was about spending more time getting to know a route, a sequence, a section of climbable rock. 

I’m big on respect.  I don’t always show respect to my projects, friends, or family member’s, but I’m also not perfect.  I make mistakes and I give into my reptilian brain sometimes and react instead of respond.  I’m still learning how to think, but as I do I find it crucial to analyze my behavior under the context of climbing.  I know in the verglas of our commercial existence something as removed from our understanding of extant circumstances such as the seemingly banal activity of climbing (everyday) is predominantly seen as a blatant waste of time.  However, I would argue that climbing is paramount to our organic intuition of how exactly we can evolve.  We are constantly being ushered down a manufactured avenue, influenced by social constructs and ideologies (mostly founded upon the inklings of a bunch of old *white*men) that presuppose how we should interact with each other and live our lives.  The same noxious and infecting paradigms pervade our lifestyle of climbing and usher us yet again down avenues that we may not need to pursue in order to contemplate life and find happiness.  How do we exculpate the idea of respect and what to respect in the shiny insidious faces of our accomplishments?  And by what means do we value or devalue the methods in which we arrive at these ‘victories’?  Cheating, lying, using performance enhancing drugs; if climbing is to be seen through a lens of banality, immutable to the ‘real life’ problems of working class people, these may appear at first innocuous, contrivances that hold no sway in the outcomes of the fates of men (and women).  I highly doubt our actions within climbing can be separated from how our lives play out in the realm of ‘reality’ (again begging a definition, assuming climbing is not part of reality to begin with that it is merely something we do for fun, as opposed to someone who works as a doctor saving lives and treating genetic maladies, or someone who works in government trying to enact passive laws that attempt to redefine how we conserve energy and the environment; assuming these tasks and their outcomes are ‘good’ and shape reality and the actions within climbing are merely figments of an imagination we have spontaneously in our spare time that is derived from reality in which we actually exist and make real choices that have real consequences).
But the two are inextricably linked, no matter whose definition of ‘reality’ you choose to follow or place your belief in. 

If I am a shitty person inside the climbing community I inevitably will be a shitty person in the ‘real time’ community.  If I lie about an onsight of a hard climb what form does this take in the larger community as a whole?  I guess what I’m getting it really has to do with what we value in the community as a whole, how we form our beliefs and ideals of respect, and what kind of weight or gravity do our actions have within and between the communities we create?  I certainly don’t have an answer and have absolutely been guilty of bad ethical practices, the basis of which were always generated out of fear or a longing and desire to be respected and admired, realizing now that it was not a desire circumscribed only to the climbing community but to the larger social community as well.  Climbing is a mirror, whose applications are boundless. 

As for me, what I am up to.  Well, it’s been a mixed bag lately.  I’ve been kind of up and down, sometimes at the same time.  I’ve been really struggling with getting over this nagging injury in my middle finger.  While it doesn’t necessarily limit me inexorably, it’s like a splinter in my mind.  The more I climb on it, and the more time that passes where it doesn’t get better the more neurotic I become when I think about future trips and training in the gym. 

For the past six weeks I feel like I’ve been an extra in the movie Ground Hog Day.  A few days pass, I rehab my finger and train in the gym, it feels better, then I climb on it outside, the weekend passes and I start over on Monday with a sore finger, and so it goes.  I’m admittedly exhausted of this pattern.  With no end in sight.  Literally six weeks of this.  Last weekend I climbed both days on it, I tried some hard stuff as well; I woke up this past Monday, pain.  As the week went by its felt better and better but here I am on Friday, facing the weekend, feeling strong and wanting to go climbing and knowing that I could get away with it, but also knowing that I will probably wake up on Monday with a sore finger and have to start the cycle of healing all over again.   I’m not sad or angry about it, just concerned.  Concerned that I can’t stop.  I am making a concerted effort in the light of this frustration and consternation to not climb this weekend.  My finger is feeling great and I want to solidify the healing process and not have to worry about this again.  I’m sure I sound like a broken record and I can assure I feel like one, but I’ve gotten back into lock down mode especially after purchasing my ticket to the RED RIVER GORGE!!  So psyched to be heading back to this oasis of sport climbing.  And this time I will be there for two whole weeks.  The excitement I feel is almost uncontrollably oozing out of my pores.  I already have a laundry list a mile long and wildly optimistic but hey, you gotta' start somewhere.  I'll probably just end up wanting to spend the entire time in the madness cave pawing at large holds and falling off the same pumpy jugs over and over again; but you don't go to the red to slab climb or pull on tweaky pockets, you go there to play He-man or Conan the Barbarian or the Beastmaster and swing your sword high above you head to disembowel the mega-endurance monster that lurks in the massive darkness of our souls. 



digitalsy said…
Really enjoyable read Micah! I can definitely relate. Hope you have the willpower to heal the finger and RRG! PSYCHED!

Glad you enjoyed it Julian, see you in the gym (or better yet, OUTSIDE)!

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