Climbing and the Art of Living

He threw his body to a pinch and latched on with demonstrable purpose: This is mine. I choose this.

Simple.

It was the most controlled power I’ve seen on a rock wall. Each movement maximized. It was composed, explosive, one touch and go, like how Barry Sanders used to detonate out of cuts, halt, reverse direction, spin and sliver up field with the force of a rocket. It tossed me through a loop. 

I forgot what aggressive climbing looked like, that it could be subsumed into your stylistic pattern. I’ve been modeling myself towards the restrained, emphasizing body position and feet placements, to conserve energy, to focus on form. Often when you see power in action it is jerky and ugly (in the lesser skilled) or it’s a thunderous holy-shit-I-could-never-do-that (Sharma or Ondra). Instead, this was Muhammad Ali butterfly and breakneck in one. And it seemed attainable.


We Choose How We Climb like We Choose How We Live

As I was watching, his climbing style reminded me that people have their own modes and fashion for living as well. Each person has a rhythm, reach, strengths and weaknesses, risk tolerance, and aspirations. Just like we get to choose how we climb we can choose how to live.

Deciding how to live is our greatest responsibility, Camus and the Existentialists argue. They believe the world has no inherent purpose, that it is random chance that we are here at all (stemming in part from Nietzche’s, “God is dead” observation). Yet here we are, and it is from this empty space that we begin. “Existence precedes essence,” as Satre says. 

(Ironically, you get to choose whether you believe these premises or not, which still makes it the most important decision. You decide which foundational belief systems to abide by).

This framework is a blessing and curse. We have the ultimate freedom, but choice and responsibility are one and the same. They are yours alone.

Photo by Igor Oliyarnik on Unsplash


This past Week I Didn’t Know What I Was Living for

It was difficult to sit down and do the work I needed to do. I felt drained of creative energy; tired, lethargic, uninterested. The homunculus was screaming avoidance. The internal compass was out of whack.

What was I working towards? Why was I doing this?

I pushed on, and felt worse. 

For one, I wanted to see if it was just a dip that I should soldier through (inertia can masquerade in many forms, or, the importance of doing the work). There were deliverables and deadlines, after all. But something was off.

I still haven’t quite figured it out. Partly, I lost sight of the big picture, felt stuck, stodgy, twisted. I was disconnected from myself. It was draining, and I had gotten to a point that Hemingway referred to as an emptying of the well, and I wasn’t letting the springs refill it. 

In this condition I find it challenging to make simple decisions about things like, do I want to climb today? 

The negotiation goes: I don’t really want to, but I should (it’s good for you). Where to go then? Framingham is feeling stale. I’ve wanted to try the Boston location. But then I have to drive in and that’s a long commute. What about Waltham? Is there a hang board there?…

I had stopped listening to myself, that deep down part. 


I Wanted More Money and a Title and the Ability to Work from Home…

We were by the pool and the conversation turned to a new job.

Someone was describing the two positions they were offered: one at a different company with a better commute but more responsibility and a smaller pay bump; The other at their current company, but with a new title, more money for less responsibility, and the flexibility to work from home. They expressed it in a way that it seemed like an obvious choice.

Still, they talked of it with unease, like it was between the lesser of two evils. They explained how they had stressed about the selection, “talked with a lot of people” and gave it considerable thought. They ultimately went with the obvious option. It didn’t seem like they were relieved with the decision. 

Perhaps, for them, it’s too early to tell if things will improve because many of the changes won’t occur for a few months. Circumstantially it’s much as it has been. And maybe their temperament is to be dour, pessimistic, with a topping of the droll.

I don’t really know the person so I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but I was surprised by their lack of enthusiasm or relief, or any emotional reaction other than “meh.”

I wondered, why did they seek a change at all? If there was a pressing desire to switch it up, are these factors fulfilled in the new role? What were the deal breakers? What compromises did they make? 

More so, what are they working towards and how does this new role bring them closer towards that? (More money for what? New title for what? Work from home, why?). 

I didn’t ask any of this, of course. The decision had already been made, and they seemed reluctant to disclose what they already had.


The Values We Live By

We make decisions everyday, often according to values we are unaware of, out of habit, or because of impulse. 

Many are unimportant. Some are an existential imperative.

For the important decisions, the key questions center around considerations like: What is important to you? What are you willing to struggle for? How do you want your days to look?

You can take stock of what is important to you, today, by looking at your actions. We all have idealized visions of ourselves, of what we’d like to be, but it is what we actually do that defines us. 

Photo by Kameron Kincade on Unsplash


On my end:

I do value climbing because I go 4-5x per week. I do it because it’s fun, and in the long-term I know being physically healthy now will pay off when I’m older. 

I do not value many relationships as evident by how I don’t make the effort to keep in touch with a lot of people. I do this because of a built up self-defense mechanism and also because the effort required for maintenance is not often equally shared, which I find incredibly fucking annoying.

I do value exploration and the opportunity to learn about the world because I am pursuing writing as a career. I do this because it will let me work from anywhere and one of my favorite aspects of the vocation is the ability to interview people.

I do not value money hence I manage it poorly and don’t have much of it. This is assuredly a thing I need to take more seriously with the long-term in mind.

I do value curiosity, nature, unrestricted movement, personal expression, introspection and self-understanding, being an attentive listener, thoughtfulness, alternative point of views, independence of mind.

I do not value being liked by everyone, the latest trends, watching Netflix/ HBO/ Amazon, following a standard script, a lot of material goods.

I feel I should value and take action towards more community oriented activities, prioritizing family, making a normal salary, living in a place for a longer period of time, among others.

Such as it is.


Living Is a Choice

There are as many ways to live it as there are people on the planet.

This isn’t about being right or wrong, good or bad, or other misguided dichotomies, it’s about knowing yourself and taking responsibility for how you choose to live.

The alternative is merely existing without vitality; it’s subsisting; it’s not pursuing what interests you; it’s kowtowing to other’s expectations and living outside yourself; it’s marching inevitably towards physical death. And of course, you can metaphorically die much sooner than that.

In the end, this matters to me because I value independence and freedom of choice (sometimes to a fault). You may value other things and will prioritize your life accordingly. I’m not here to judge, but I do encourage you to be considerate about how you live, because it’s the only life you have.


With that, what do you value?
Share in the comments below or message me. I’m curious to hear.


Feature photo by Dylan Siebelink on Unsplash

The Baggage We Carry

I didn’t realize how much baggage you could pack into a carry-on. 

Three pairs of shoes, four pairs of pants, some shorts, enough underwear and shirts for a week. And all that shit about past breakups, of the romantic and business kind. Heavy. I’m glad they didn’t make me weigh it.

That tote, a Patagonia duffel in Skipper Blue. I had brought it while living in Mountain View three years ago, the last time I had been in Silicon Valley. It was an REI clearance find. A good deal. 

Packing for this trip I hadn’t noticed the connection, it was just the best bag for the job. Just like the original intent, seven days of business in Reno. It all fit together nicely.





My clothes were scattered on the bed, it was an odd mix of attire and emotions. The feeling wouldn’t change once I arrived. 

Flying in to San Francisco, we swooped in low above the green hills of Muir Woods headed south. Ahead lay a graph paper peninsula coordinated by buildings and strips of green painted slapdash through like abstract art with a minimalist flair. 

The running commentary in my head was, “all those god damn houses.” I thought back to the excitement I felt the first time I arrived in SF years ago. My stomach tightened.

A few weeks back, in Boston, I got carried away by the idea of a business trip. It was the season that teases after all: Frigid temps that withdraw into snippets of Spring, before the rearguard battles back with the next cold front. Sunny California seemed like a reasonable excuse to escape the maligned battery.

But I didn’t have to come to CA. I suggested it to the company.

Why go? What was I hoping for?

I think, at some level, I was keen on making a return, to see what it would be like years later and without a connection to the area. To experience things as removed from a past life.

What I didn’t expect was all the emotion that was still wrapped up in the place. I thought about stopping by the old apartment. Imagined what it might be like.

Photo by Bambi Corro on Unsplash.

There I am.

The smell of shade.

It’s musty with a breezy fragrance of flowers and pollen that streams in from the screen door. Dry leaves scatter about the patio behind a flimsy fence that offers little resistance to prying eyes.

I see the place empty, ready to be moved in. The opportunity for new memories, perhaps of just starting out: A family, a job. I’d tread through the living room, to the corner where we’d once set up a makeshift shipping station. Maybe peer into the kitchen and sniff the outline of Soylent shakes that sustained us for too many meals.

I’d tiptoe down the hallway. I can’t remember if the floorboards creaked, but going lightly seems important. The first room on the right was alien to me. There was a rug and a closet with board games that we never played.

The bathroom at the end of the hall was tight with a tiny window that looked out onto the trash bins for the compound. Decay and other funny smells would seep in while you showered. All for the low-low price of $3,300 a month. Perched on the shelf were bottles of microbes that allegedly ate the compounds that cause stench on the body. My roommate didn’t use soap to wash, he conscripted miniature beings to do the job for him.

The second bedroom was shared. It’s where I slept on the floor, on a mattress. It sat in the corner, and when I’d lay against the wall, reading perhaps, my feet would point to the floor-to-ceiling mirrors on the closet doors. I came to resent the reflection forced upon me each morning. Steve Jobs’ words, “Is this what I want to be doing today?” would cross the mind with increasing frequency.

Some days, when no one else was home, I would lie in bed staring at the ceiling fan lights, the blades circled like a drunk crow tied to a leash, round and round. I found that if I stared long enough at the argon-infused bulb the colors would melt out in thick strands of amoeba squiggles, rotating and twisting. The goal was to keep staring to see how far the mirage could go and to find that line where I was just on the edge of falling into some unknown. There was real fear of losing my grip.

Something beyond told me it was wise to avoid the depths.

In this imaginary vision, I’d lie there again to see if I could reproduce the effect. Maybe go over the edge, if I had the time. 




The hope in this exercise?

Perhaps to exorcise ghosts, of her lying in the bed crying, disappointed in my not renting a car, of my selfishness. She’d have to lug bags to see her friend at Stanford. I was supposed to drive. We’d break up a few weeks later.

Perhaps I’d cry in that room in that spot, to feel the pain of let down.

Photo by the author.


I won’t make it to Mountain View.

But I’m just a few miles away on the other side of Palo Alto. It feels the same, a proxy but with better vibes.

The weather is cooler than when I arrived years ago, the cherry blossoms are in bloom. So much of what I tried to slice out of my life creeps back in.

I walk around to soak in ambiance, and listen to Frightened Rabbit’s The Midnight Organ Fight, the album with The Modern Leper, The Twist, and Poke. I try to disentangle my own braided memories: A breakup, a dissolution of a dream, the splitting of a company.

The other day I sat staring at the comforter on my bed, crossing my eyes so the beaded leaves blended together. They mixed into a stereoscopic image of porous bone like you’d see under a microscope. There was depth to the chambers, I almost reached out to feel the calcified crust.

I thought to myself, “What would it be like if I could just let this all float away?” I sat with the idea and let myself smile.

The sailor’s knot began to come undone, and I think I’ll be able to leave here with a little less baggage.




Feature photo by Erol Ahmed on Unsplash

Enter the Void

I met a guy. He climbs for his daughter. 

He’s an immigrant and has to leave the country in a month. His two years are up but his daughter will stay. A home divided.

For years he scrapped to come to America from the place where Europe and Asia meet–or separate, depending on your perspective. He felt it might provide a better opportunity for his kin. He’s still not sure.

His wife had studied in the U.S., even earned a green card at one point, and then relinquished it years ago. Circumstances. Something about not being able to afford to come back for the legal work. They tried to make it this time around, but the two years wasn’t enough.

I met a guy. He climbs for his daughter, and to grapple with the upcoming calculus: The subtraction of 3-1.




Haruki Murakami was asked about why he runs, because as a prolific writer he also has an avidity for marathons. Both are grueling endurance activities, it makes sense. Anywho, over the past few decades, on average, he has runs 6-miles-a-day-6-days-a-week. He turned his response into a book, but that’s not important. 

This is: He says he runs to create a void. He runs to not think. 

I can relate. These days, climbing is the only activity that cores out quietude in a muddled mental world. Running used to. Hiking has, on occasion. But climbing is the only tranquil place for me.

So what goes on when I climb? Nothing much beyond what’s in front of me. It is silence, deeply satisfying and desperately needed sometimes.




Photo source: UKC

If life is like a narrative, sadness is a theme in mine.

Perhaps I’m prone to be low, to live with a mild depression. I don’t find it difficult to get out of bed or question my existence, but often my experience is tinged with the dour. The sadness is like a cat in a city alley, always sneaking around in the background. 

I’m sure this is part of the human condition. I know from talking with people and seeing it in others. But so consistently? I’m not certain.

Climbing happens to bring joy, but at minimum it creates a space for the heart to catch its breath for a bit. Like the cool down after Murakami’s latest 6 miler.




The guy at the gym is quite a skilled climber. It’s like art, he dances

We recognize beauty, probably evolved an eye for it. Its hard to explain but you know it when you see it—a symmetrical face, a flower backed by gilded rays—what I’m trying to say is, his climbing is beautiful. Fluid movements flow into each other like a waterfall in reverse. Struggle is non-existent, his toes float by without a sound. It’s like he bends space so that every motion lands exactly where it needs to be on a wall that comes to him. No wasted breath. No extra effort. The flight of a bird.

I call him The Dancer.

Another climber and I were talking about him, The Dancer. “I asked him, how long have you been here today?,” he tells me.

The Dancer replied, “4-5 hours.”

“Whoa, man, how many days a week do you climb?,” the man followed up.

“4-5 days,” The Dancer said.

The guy’s eyes are bright, and he speaks to me as if we’re sharing a secret, “Well I guess we know why he’s so good!” He’s practically winking at me.

I’m not sure the guy thought to ask, “Why do you climb so much?” Maybe he knows and didn’t know that I know, so we talked about facts and not whys. 

I had spoken to The Dancer before and I did ask why. I learned of his need to create a void. But I touched on a sharp edge that left tender fingers.

“I need to go climb now, I’m starting to think about my daughter,” he said. His eyes were dim, glassy, with salted water damming at the edges.

“I’m sorry, man,” was all I could muster.




Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

It’s not about avoiding the pain in your life, per se, to seek these spaces of solace. But I can understand the need to go there to give your damned mind and heart a break.

The Dancer seems very much in touch with the realities of his situation. And he knows he uses climbing to grapple with the pain.

After carrying around that weight all day, to be able to unshackle at the gym must feel like an Atlassian weight off the back. I imagine that’s why it looks like he floats right along.




Some days are dark and heavy, others we buoy like a butterfly.

Whether we move through the world in flight or on all fours, we do so with what we have, where we are, and with our own ways of coping.

For what it’s worth, I hope we are all so lucky to find a place of peace, if just for a few hours. 




Feature photo by Dorothy Lin on Unsplash

31 for 31: The Grateful List

You’d think there would be big epiphanies after 31 years of existence. But that’s not the case. At least for me anyway.

On one hand growing older feels like a discerning scribe capturing acute particulars of a scene. They are bringing the details into ever increasing sharpness. On the other hand it’s like taking a step back from a picture you’ve been staring intently at, only to realize the painting is much larger in scope and complexity than you realized from your first, narrow vantage point. And you appreciate that the things you look at change in composition depending on just how close you are to it.

Thus the boundary between 30 and 31 came to pass, and nothing perceptible really happened. I was flooded with a sense of sadness upon waking, got caught up in comparisons to a vague sense of where I thought I ought to be, rollicked in joy at all the years I (hopefully) have in front of me, and grappled with day-to-day existence type shit, like where to go for lunch and “I should really respond to that email.”

In the end, I got to climb and play with a dog so it was a good day (as are all days where I get to climb and play with dogs).

As part and parcel of aging, I like to reflect on the past year. Rather than share lessons learned (which tend to be overly generalized in order to be relatable), here is a list of 31 things I’m grateful for (which make me feel good to think about, and might add some brightness to your day too):

  1. Supportive and loving family. Those that put up with your shit when you are younger, who encourage you as you grow, which are are there for you through good and bad… No idea where I’d be without them
  2. Healthy body that let’s me move in the world on my own volition, that let’s me express myself through motion
  3. The open, random, dance of the world; That you never really know where a day may lead
  4. Good coffee and a good book
  5. Moments of silence and stillness. Of feeling light, like you might float away; When weight becomes discarded and you are left simply buoyant, unburdened
  6. The sense of no separation that arises in rare moments, typically in nature; An electric expansiveness you don’t know whether it will ever stop, is beyond your conception of space, and which is unimportant in the moment, because. Everything.
  7. Lounging (and otherwise) in bed until the afternoon with someone you love. No cares but to be close, as close as you can
  8. Running light and free through forests, fields, city streets, across hills, along trails, in puddles, up stairs, weaving between crowds
  9. A big meal after a long run (usually pizza)
  10. Wandering, openly, absentmindedly in nature. And, walking around cities without a direction other than to follow the initial twitch of interest toward a certain place
  11. The way you feel engaged and tuned in to each movement on a rock face
  12. Poetry and art that shakes you
  13. Laughing so hard it hurts
  14. That once-in-a-while orange that is otherworldly sweet. Fresh apples off the tree, sliced. Ripe peaches that unleash torrents of nectar down your chin and hand when you bite into it. Frozen grapes that crunch and cool. Blueberries off the bush in the mountains. Has citrus ever been so tangy?
  15. For ocean spray spritzing away and the sound of rolling waves, especially over a pebble beach; A vacuuming crash then rainstick needles falling and spreading, all the small bits, rolling along, rocking back and forth, click click click, silence and air drawn in. Repeat
  16. For sun rises over water or mountain, and sunsets from a hill
  17. Watching dumb movies with friends and genuinely enjoying it
  18. Of learning self-love and compassion. I’m pretty alright after all
  19. Oh hands in dirt and watching plants grow. That smell of richly alive soil, fuming with a sense of time immemorial, which also happens to smell like minerals, decaying leaves, and belonging
  20. For animals, so many animals: Puppies (they are all puppies), kitties (same story), sheep, chickens, goofy ducks, cows, etc.
  21. The smell of fresh snow in a pine forest. The sound of it crunching underfoot. Similarly, the shuffling, swishing, crackling of leaves as you walk about in Autumn 
  22. The smell of a light rain on a warm summer day, all metallic and crisp
  23. That look you get when you know she loves you
  24. Laying in piles of powder and watching the whirling flakes dance across your vision. The feeling of snow sprinkles melting on your face. For that matter, drifting away in open fields on a pillow of grass and letting the sky fill up your visual field
  25. The way Ollie still tinkles himself when he’s excited. The way Brin still runs away
  26. Giving a small gift, or thoughtful compliment, or cracking a joke just to see her smile
  27. Pocket-sized notebooks and a pen with ink that flows just right
  28. The shedding that comes with a good laugh and a good cry
  29. Getting up extra early for no damn reason, having the city to yourself and watching it wake up
  30. People, books, and music that seem to come into your life just when you need them
  31. That first step into a new land after a long, long ride

The Sound of Waking up Before Your Alarm Clock

I awoke at 5:56, been beating the clock for weeks. Why?

One. It’s probably because the bed is uncomfortable, a couch conversion that dips in the middle and barely fits my anything but tall frame. I go to sleep laying lengthwise and wake up diagonally, splayed.

Two. Maybe it’s the light flickering on from across the street, the automatic front entrance luminescence–that alien spaceship open-hatch beaming out into the night. 

Three. It’s a bad dream. Eventually, I’ll lay my head back on the damp salty pillow. 

I’m envious of the people who can remember theirs. The good ones. They talk of outlandish tales and I sit gripped pondering the Jungian symbolism.

I do my dreaming in the day. They consist of places to see, mountains to climb, of the woman I’d like to do it all with. 

I try not to wake up early from these. Sometimes life beeps and bleeps and reality catches up with you.




Next week is February 14th. 

That’s seven days.

You know how many girlfriends I’ve had, to bring chocolate and flowers to on this day of sugar hearts and Hershey kisses? 

Zero. 

Cupid’s slacking. 

Or maybe slow. Though, I met my last two girlfriends in the week between Valentine’s Day and my birthday. Will this year make it three in a row?

Periods also come in threes. Ellipses twinkling the continuation of, a break in the story so… to be continued, Beau.




“Do you like spending time alone?,” she asked.

“I do. I have a lot of practice with it.” I said.

I’ve spent 9.5 of my 12 adult years single. But who’s counting.

In two weeks I’ll be 31.

I’ve got an average of 48 years left to live.

Numbers. 

Numbers, numbers, numbers. 

I wonder if maybe I look hard enough I can find a pattern in them all. There is one common denominator. 




Math used to be fun.

Then life made it into a practical matter of quarterly reviews, your income statement, and if you really can afford that vacation you’ve always wanted to take.

I had to learn to like math again. To understand it means you can play the odds.

I figure life is a lottery, except we don’t really know the rules, and the house didn’t stack the game in their favor. Well they did, sorta.

Anyway, you take your chances in a 79 year average lifespan–look for the opportunities with upside, minimize your exposure, bet big on the things you believe in–and bask in the favor of Fortune once or twice.

In the end, math tells you things like we all approach zero over time. History is a fine complementary subject, if you’re curious.

An any rate, while you’re marked 1 and not 0, the key is to keep playing the game. Or something like that.




Illustration by Pete Lloyd


I don’t know much. But I’m good at parroting other people’s words.

A wise man once said that the life you live is a combination of the here and now and a fantasy for how you thought it all would be. 

Analyze any of your disappointments and you’ll see it’s the discrepancy between what you’d hoped for and what is.

A scientist enumerated that love comes in all forms, and that’s the beauty and difficulty of it.

A drunk said you should find what you love and let it kill you.

A preacher said to do great things. And if you can’t do that to do little things in a great way.

A climber said the real problem is that you think you have all this time. When you don’t.

A psychologist said that the health of our world is dependent on the integrity of the individual.

Well hoot, Japhy, what’s it all mean?

Maybe it’s that your life matters and you get too few spins of the roulette wheel. Maybe it’s that you should roll that damn ball for as long as ya can. Because you want to play, and not be a spectator, aye?




“Beep-beep!”

That your alarm clock going off?



Feature photo source: A Reciprocating Saw