Tuesday, October 21, 2014

By trail or cliff, I'm still on a freaking glorious mountain

    I had a grand plan in the works for last Friday night. Mel was getting off work for the season (the best feeling in the world after a trying forest fire season--- I can attest to it) and I was awaiting her arrival in the Dan's parking lot in Millcreek. For days I had been planning an evening ascent of the west slabs of Mt. Olympus; headlamps, cold rock and all. It seemed like a way to bump up the excitement level of 10 pitches of 5.5, to take a simple climb to the next level by ticking it off in the dark. It was going to be noteworthy, for certain. Good blogging material, in the very least. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Every day, every season

 I got out of bed yesterday morning just before the sun had risen, bare feet on the floor, and it was officially cold again. And at 7 o'clock, it was still pitch black outside. I could hear the sounds of cars swishing by the house, city people headed to work on a Monday. All I could hope for at this melancholy dawn hour was for everything to slow the hell down; for autumn to remain forever; for winter to wait another year to arrive; for 3 hours of coffee time instead of 20 minutes, and a whole day of climbing instead of heading to the hospital for work. Upside-down smile. And then I headed to the kitchen to make my coffee, my only beacon of hope.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

What the river will do

"A journey is a person itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policies and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us." John Steinbeck

I think I had been gearing up for change for months without fully realizing it, but the river has a way of expediting things. Maybe it's the speed of the water that gives rise to a sense of urgency. Or divine admonitions of a river god delivered through the current that you just can't ignore. All I know is once you're on the river, especially if you're committed to a stretch of it for six straight days, you start thinking differently. Things start to make more sense.

I was invited to go on a trip down the Main Salmon in Idaho. It was free for me, thanks to my boyfriend and his brother, and I was looking forward to stealing away from the city and my increasingly annoying receptionist job at the clinic. I hurriedly packed a bag of bare minimums the morning of our departure, went to work for a few hours, and we hit the road by early afternoon.

The drive felt long. Southern Idaho has a way of making time slow to a crawl, and cumulative fatigue and bad attitudes from the work week behind me left me feeling the worst kind of groggy. When we pulled into Salmon River Challenge's boat ramp at 11 at night I was silent as a mouse. Matt was already making plans to go to the Seven Devils Bar with his former coworkers and I was annoyed (I hate bars and lately when I'm tired, I simply hate fun).

We were having a beer with Dennis, the owner and a friend of Matt's, when then the rest of the guides including Matt's brother (general manager of Orange Torpedo Trips out of Oregon) rolled in from a completed trip on the Lower stretch of the Salmon River. Energetic, those ones. They got to chatting and I wanted to curl up into a ball and die I was so tired.  I squished myself up against one of the rafts and prayed for a good night's sleep before a week I figured would be hell-bent on heavy drinking, late nights and possibly life-threatening river swims.

If you hadn't guessed yet, I tend to fall in the lowest percentiles for partying aptitude. Right up there with nuns and infants, just so you know. Also, I have a more-than-slight fear of drowning. I was keeping my hopes high that everything would go well, but my mind had already wandered to all the worst-case scenarios.

1. All the guides and guests will figure out I'm lame as I try to keep my 9:00 bedtime on the river.
2. I'll drown.

On the plus side there were only two I could think of.

Not two days later I was on the first day of our six day stretch in my own inflatable kayak barreling down the Salmon river. Our group traveled in a formation similar to a mamma duck with her baby ducklings, with the guides in the blue boats out front, and the guests fumbling awkwardly but earnestly behind in a line.

It would be extremely remiss of me to fail to mention at this point the skill, dedication, and general loveliness of our four river guides.

There was Billy, a middle aged gentleman who'd accumulated decades of experience on the river between boating and fishing guiding. He rowed the gear boat, kept mostly quiet, but when he did talk he was as salty as you'd expect an old fisherman to be. He quipped teasing remarks at everyone in a way that I found strangely endearing, and had an eye for spotting wildlife.

Billy felt like a lifelong friend to me from the start. Usually I avoid approaching people I don't know too well, but I always found a spot near Billy when I could when we were hanging on the beaches. I'd pull my chair up next to his and have him tell me about hunting and fishing. Despite his gruffness, Billy didn't mind speaking candidly about his life. Biggest regret: losing his first wife. Didn't regret: losing his second; she was a bitch. And for the first year in many, a soda replaced a beer. He enjoyed his life by the season; rowing boats in the summer, taking folks out fishing in the fall. He'd hunt early winter, and then take a month off to travel to a tropical place around January. Back to the river when it warmed up. The man seemed to have it all figured out.

Then there was Mike. Dear Mike. On this trip, excluding Billy, Mike was a man among boys (sorry Matt). He had a serious guide persona, one that made you want to follow him everywhere he went (so much so that two guests actually started fighting over who could boat directly behind him in line), and an impressively large repertoire of bad jokes. He made offensively weak coffee, but he's Mormon so you can't exactly blame him. Matt stepped in to help with that.

Matt and Ben were great, too. I will note that Matt did fall in more than I did, which put him at 2 and me at 0. That will go on record, for the record. Ben was loveable. Young and friendly and nicely browned by the sun. I believe one of the 20-year old guests may have fallen in love with him. Maybe it was mutual, I don't know. Just a suspicion, possibly reinforced by close sleeping quarters on small beaches.

With the guidance of the aforementioned gentlemen, we traveled 80 miles down the Main Salmon in 6 days. There was varying weather. There were the most beautiful night skies you could imagine. A feeling of comfort by being boxed in both sides by the deep river canyon. The smell of the forest fire, and scarred hillsides from burns. Numerous sightings of ospreys and bighorn sheep. And the more miles we floated, the more rapids we traveled through, the stronger the tug for change within me became.

Day after day I watched and learned from the guides, I tried to channel the way they seemed to regard life, which is to say, enjoy the one you have. And as cliché as it may sound, the river and that beautiful canyon started to change my heart. Feelings (my goodness, I have so many.) came to the surface. The ones I had been keeping at bay for months. Feelings about my job, admitting to myself that I truly needed to change gears. The desire to write. Focusing on what makes me happy now instead of what I think will make me happy 3 decades from now. Shaking the feeling of being overwhelmed by the unknown and feeling stuck in a rut. Respecting the advent of each day as it comes.

I think back to the day before the river trip when I was in the Seven Devils bar in Riggins with all the guides. Matt's brother, Erik, gave me a piece of advice that I carried with me throughout the trip and still do. He said, you've got to allow yourself to do the exact opposite of picturing worst-case scenarios, Laura. On the river, he said, you've got to be thinking Best Case Scenario every time.

On Monday morning, I went to the job I'd been hating this time feeling fine about it. I'm not gonna be here for much longer, I realized. Best case scenario, I'm still headed in the right direction. This is exactly where I'm suppose to be right now.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Promise of School Room (or why my own ego nearly ruined my love for climbing)

Me, Indian Creek, and the Indian Creek guidebook. Fall 2013.
Three years ago, I was three pitches up a climb called School Room (5.6), in Little Cottonwood Canyon, when I made a decision that would impact me for years. My then boyfriend was belaying me up over a small bulge and I was struggling with the moves. I'd palm the seemingly featureless granite without paying any mind to the position of my feet or the (now obvious) crack, grunt and try and slap my way up, and then fall. This happened about three times until he said in an annoyed tone, "just grab the piece above you and pull up on it." Feeling defeated, I did so. When I made my way over the bulge and saw him at the belay, he looked at me and looked down at his feet. I got quiet for most of the rest of the climb, and so did he. I remember having the thought while we were rapping the route that this would be our last climb together, that he'd dump me, and I weirdly assumed it was because I just wasn't measuring up as a climbing partner.

As the light was getting low we exchanged few words, he coiled the rope and organized his gear, and I haphazardly stuffed things into my backpack. I peered over the beautiful cliffs and gullies, the way the pines dotted the perfect white granite, and instead of appreciating the beauty and adventures that lay ahead with my newly-found hobby, I looked him square on and made a silent promise to myself, "One day in the future, when we're broken up, I will be a badass climber and you'll be sorry you abandoned us."

No joking. And I hung on that promise to myself for years, well after we were through.

Not long after the mountain man did, inevitably, dump me, I started pursuing rock climbing in a hard, emotionally-reckless way. I finagled an old, dear friend from high school into a nearly two-month-long climbing trip in the southern California desert. We slept in his van together out in J Tree and woke up to frost covering the car in January. I'd push us out before the sun hit the car, our fingers freezing as we fiddled with the two burner and filling up water bottles for the day. Sam would be moaning about the cold as I created a tick list for the day, but my good-natured friend would eventually put up nearly every route I demanded of him. I didn't bother leading any easy climbs yet myself; I was too caught up in being able to follow higher grades fast, so that when I did start placing gear myself I'd be leading in a grade I found to be acceptable.

If there were days we weren't climbing, I was generally annoyed. I could tell Sam was a little annoyed at times, too. It's hard to appreciate time with another person when someone is so singularly focused on achieving their own objectives. When I got on that plane to go home after our adventure, Sam was gracious and gave me a big bear hug and we made plans to see each other again. How he decided to remain friends with me is still a bit of a mystery.

A few months after the J Tree trip, I began to not care about the mountain man ex-boyfriend. I climbed for the rest of the spring frequently but without such a big ego, as I stopped caring quite as much about being an exceptional climber as much as simply enjoying the sport. I was physically very strong, and my lead head got a lot better. It was just about being outside and enjoying the moves and feeling mentally relaxed while having fun. I accumulated gear, and was happy to go to the mountains whenever I found an opportunity to do so.

But enter in the following climbing season, when I met another mountain man who I admired (and still do), and the ego came back with a vengeance. Though our relationship grew and grew, our climbing relationship began to develop weird neurotic quirks. Matt would enjoy his climbing as he always did, but I began to enjoy it less. I felt this enormous pressure to perform well, to be far better than I was, and I would get angry. Not only did my climbing start to go downhill, my lead head dove to an abysmally low level. I'd stare up at a route and start to get anxious from the get go. I'd start up and feel like a fool, then I'd start to doubt my ability, and then I'd get terrified and ask to be lowered. Matt's mood would then sour, too. On and on this pattern went.

It continued on like this for over a year. It wasn't until one spring day in Indian Creek that I was climbing with friends (Matt was working back in Salt Lake City that weekend) that I remembered how much I love climbing. I found myself two-thirds of the way up a route I was leading on the Second Meats wall, in an offwidth, grunting up inch by inch and camming my body after every half foot of progress for a rest, and loving every second.

Huh, that's weird, this is fun again, I thought. I realized it was because I didn't give a shit about whether my friends thought I climbed hard or not. I was climbing because we were in the desert and it was beautiful and the routes there are compelling. I wasn't distracted by thoughts of not measuring up.

Not two weekends after that, Matt and I were in Indian Creek alone together at Way Rambo wall and I was upset again. He'd offer to put up routes and I'd let him, and I'd feel worse and worse about not feeling confident enough to just believe in myself and go for it. All day I sulked at the wall until I stared up at a route I had asked Matt to lower me off of months prior, and decided I needed to climb it.

Depressed as hell with the memory of blaming myself for a breakup years ago because I wasn't brave enough, strong enough, or good enough, I began to rack up for Blue Sun. Half way up I started to tear up. I'll never be good enough, I thought. I'm a coward, and I'll never be good at anything. How could anyone love such a coward?

I told Matt to take up, and I hung on a number 3 blue camalot. I took some deep breaths. I felt the warm sun on my back. I heard the wind brushing the valley below us. Ravens flew overhead. I found a comfortable fist jam, yelled Climbing!, and pushed up with my jammed feet. One blue camalot after the next protected my fall on a sun-cast wall. Beautiful blue sun, I repeated in my head over and over until I made it to the anchor with a smile on my face. I remembered, this is why I climb.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

On following your passion

    Photo credit: Chrystie Greges, my lovely sister @ http://itsmechrystie.blogspot.com/2014/07/going-to-california.html

Follow your passion.

This is a phrase we hear all the time, from the time we're just wee ones, and I resent it more the more I  struggle to adhere to it. I have been reading the Happiness Project lately, and among a lot of low key, less intimidating and more manageable words of wisdom about gaining more happiness in the day-to-day, there is this great and weighty undertone.

You need to figure out what makes you happy, and you absolutely need to do that.

At one point in the book author Gretchen Rubin criticizes a friend for picking a career in dentistry because of the good hours and good pay, rather than following her passion for working with flowers.

As I was reading this last night I began to panic a little bit as I thought about my own career trajectory. When I justify following the path to becoming a physical therapist I list out similar reasons to the those of the dentist lady; decent pay, good hours, less stress than other medical careers, marketable degree, pension, it's something I think I could really enjoy, etc, etc. I tried to ignore the mounting anxiety last night and went to bed.

But, when I woke up this morning the worry was still with me. And I had this big day ahead of me, all having to do with physical therapy, to boot. First, work at the clinic, then class until 8pm. Home for just enough time to make some dinner, then go to bed. Then work again, and volunteering at the hospital until the end of the day. Repeat until the weekend. All throughout my bike ride to work I thought about what I really wished I was doing, writing and traveling.

Enter in extreme thoughts about quitting and moving to Mexico. What am I DOING? I need to flee! I need to make my escape to happiness! I need to follow my passion for writing!

And then enter in the voice of reason. Bills, man. Health insurance, car insurance, a place to live, and groceries, dang it. This is just life. The other thing is, even if I were to "follow my passion" by jumping off into the deep end and dramatically moving towards what I thought could bring me lifelong happiness and a sense of purpose, there is no guarantee I'll make it. I can hear the counter arguments now: But you'll never know until you try! I am my own best devils advocate, so I know.

But the reality is this: at some point, you have to deal with life's annoyances. The ones that require putting your money into things you don't want to. Even if you're in the middle of being a struggling something-or-other in the arts, you're gonna have to find a way to pay your bills. And then, after that, what if you never hit your stride? Of all the brilliant writers and musicians and dancers out there, some simply do not make it. For god's sake, though, do not depress yourself further by watching Inside Llewyn Davis (this kind of story strikes me as an all-too-common reality for those of us who wish to be career artists).

My solution to the problem:

Over the course of the morning, and three cups of coffee (!!!), I've decided there's a satisfying middle ground to be found. Instead of heeding the phrase Follow Your Passion so literally, why not just INDULGE your passion? I mean, like, indulge the shit out of it on a daily basis (or several times a week). If you need to write, WRITE. If you need to bike, head out into the wind. Give yourself time to do these things. On a busy day, put aside 15 minutes in the morning or evening to create a thoughtful micro-work. Indulge yourself with doing what you love.

If you find you can somehow make a career out of it one day, great. If you NEED to quit everything and go, do it (I admire you). If you're debt is stopping you, or you've got other things to worry about (family, spouse, mortgage), you can still find ways to do what you really want to do.

But, for god's sake, stop feeling guilty about not selling your house and ditching your child and running away into the great, sexy unknown.

Thank for reading folks, and good luck. Signing out from the office, while intermittently helping patients sign in to their treatments. Until the next blog post I squeeze in on the clock...

Thursday, July 24, 2014

papa's big band love for life

I have a dream every now and then that shakes me, leaving me thinking about it long into the hours of my morning.

I was in a living room of some unknown large house. My family was there. So was Papa's baritone saxophone. I pulled it out of its case and stuck a reed in my mouth, and set the large, heavy instrument upright. I placed the reed in the mouth piece and tightened it down and I started playing. It was a squeaky start, as it would have been in real life. And then I remembered a tune from my childhood and started to play it. It was imperfect but most of its integrity remained intact. What strange tune is this? I wondered in my dream head. When I woke up, I realized I had been playing Amazing Grace. I never remembered Papa playing that song much, when he'd rattle songs out mostly by piano or by voice (and though he played the clarinet and baritone saxophone well, and played big band music in his younger years, he never played his wind instruments much for us), but it was a tune I heard frequently in his home, mostly because my dad and grandma were always singing it. I loved to hear it when I was a kid because my middle name is Grace, and I thought they were singing it to me, and telling me I was Amazing. They knew this, so they sang it a bunch around me.

But the dream made me ache with remembrance of my grandfather. And I cursed my brain a little bit for not allowing the man to make an appearance into my dream, too. Just his most prized instrument, and a tune that reminded me of being a kid my grandparents' house and feeling like Amazing laura Grace.

I found it both strange and apt that a reminder of my Papa should come to me in a week that I've started focusing so much on learning to love my life. My grandfather died 8 years ago of Parkinson's disease. Before the condition started to take him down, he was a boisterous and inspiring personality and at times a force to be reckoned with. When I think of Papa, I think of him going room to room in his home or ours singing... loudly. He'd sing out accolades to his wife when she wandered too far in the house and wanted her back close again, Juney! Oh my sweet Juney dear! and so on. He sang so much. Or he'd yell once loudly when us kids got too rowdy. We'd stop doing what we were doing immediately and he'd look surprised at his own force, and five seconds later he'd be singing to us again.

And the man would get on the piano and he'd kill it. He could play anything he wished, mostly his old big band songs. We'd watch in awe, or ignore him, depending on how distracted we were. But there was never a doubt that Papa loved his life.

Here's to you and the life you lived, Papa. A life never without fieriness. I hope I can learn to sing out in my own way just like you did.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Five Promises

I was having a moment last week where I felt I was letting my own life get away from me. I jotted down a few things that seemed incredibly important that I shouldn't ignore so often. I came up with 5 promises. 

# 1 Be unapologetic in your authenticity. 

Something happens to me every couple of months that irks me. It happened again last week.
At 6:30 last Thursday morning I am standing at the cash register paying for a bagel. The cashier notices my tattoo as I am handing her my debit card.

"5 circles. Does it have a meaning?" Without pause, I answer with the same answer I always give when someone asks me about what's on my wrist.
"Oh, you know, I got that back when I was in college," pause, "I think I just wanted a tattoo, that's all." She says, "Me too! I did the same thing," and she shows me the small star on her wrist.

Every time I say something along those same lines. And the funny thing is, that's not true at all.

When I got that tattoo I was going through a particularly dark time in my third year of college. I don't want to undermine the weight I was feeling at the time with a long, self-deprecating explanation of my then angst, so I'll just say this honestly and simply: I was struggling just to be myself, and to be okay with that at the same time. So I got a tattoo as a note-to-self; something I could look at every day that would serve as a reminder to love myself. I settled on five circles for the five letters of my first, middle and last name.

And that, Ms. bagel lady, is why I have a tattoo on my wrist. And, apparently I still need the reminder. Love yourself. Love yourself enough to admit to a curious stranger that you have a tattoo to remind you to love yourself. Love yourself enough to admit to the friend of your friend that you do, indeed, like pop country music. Love yourself enough to eat as many vegetables as you can in a day, and a bowl of ice cream at night. It will make you feel bright and warm.

#2 To the best of your ability, one thing at a time, and Slow. It. Down.

One of those most beautiful quotes comes from Ray Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451,

"The zipper displaces the button and a man lacks just that much time to think while dressing at dawn, a philosophical hour, and thus a melancholy hour."

Oh, Ray. Raayy. How would you feel about my morning routine if I told you it involved making coffee, immediately checking social media, putting on Pandora, brushing my teeth while getting dressed, hopping into my car to listen to NPR for 15 minutes, and then using the second half of my car ride to continuously change the radio station searching for the perfect song (but never finding it) until I pull into the parking lot for work? Ray. I'm not even of my cognizant of my ability to be a contemplative, thoughtful human being until roughly 6 in the evening, and by then I'm often too exhausted to do anything else but dive into a world of mindless distractions because, let's face it, that's the easy thing to do (thanks Netflix!).

Ray. Not that I need anymore melancholy in my life, but I do hear you. We are living in a world that is Too. Damn. Fast. And we are losing ourselves in it, too.

On a rare day, I find myself eating breakfast and sipping my coffee on my front porch at 6 in the morning. I stare out at the valley and the mountains to east. It happens every couple of weeks, when I've exhausted myself completely of checking things on the internet and too many neurotic moments. Staring out at the dawn with only one thing going on is utter peace. As is a walk in the park beside my house without my phone. Or a hike up in the mountains. Or biking around town.To break up the day into singular activities, one after the other, each one involving your full attention and alertness, is to feel peace. And take your time where you can with each thing you do.

#3 Don't be afraid of social functions. Be yourself and get to know others on an individual basis. Human connection is freeing.

A personal hell for me might include the following scenario: Attending a function or party where I don't know a single person very well. Or I do know one person well, and they're busy talking to other people. HELL.

I spent the first 23 years of my life avoiding situations like that, because I'm painfully shy and introverted and it's the easier thing to do. I've learned over the years though, that kind of behavior makes me feel isolated and lonely. No real surprise there. But I can only help me feel better; I can't rely on strangers at social gatherings to come to my rescue by including me all the time. So, now at 27, I'm still working on talking to strangers. It's still hard. But it's slowly, ever so slowly, curing my loneliness.

 #4 Find your healthy personal catharsis, and give yourself that several times a week (if not every day)

What have I realized works for me? Writing. Whether it be journaling, emailing a friend or family member, or sending blog entries out into the great abyss of the internet, writing in almost any form makes me feel calm and fulfilled. So do walks without my cell phone, runs, cooking recipes and watering my plants. Doing one of these things always seems to set me right, so why don't I make time for these things?

Good question. I can't come up with an answer that actually makes sense.

Don't forget, you've got one life, and you might as well feel calm and well in it as often as you can.

 #5 This is where you are right now. It may not be a paradise, but find a way to be happy with  it where you're at, even if it's not perfect.

If you would have asked me a few years ago when I graduated college where I thought I'd be at 27 I would have said something dreamy like, "I'll have my own 5-acre certified organic farm and 75 member CSA in Alaska. Or Hawaii. Or I'll be living in Mexico as a writer. Or I'll be a baker in a little mountain town and climbing in my off time."

So where am I? I'm floundering trying to figure out what to go to grad school for, thinking I'd like to be a physical therapist and working in the field but anxious about the debt I'll incur in PT school and then being stuck in a profession I only half-like to pay off said debt. And I live in a city with a serious smog problem I never thought I'd stay in because of a relationship with no obvious or clear tragectory.


Dear Diary I may have said too much.

But here's the thing. That's one side of the coin. The other side of the coin is this: I got a job in a PT clinic and it's building my resume well and helping me see physical therapy from multiple different angles every day I stay with this job. I work with incredibly intelligent people with whom I can bounce ideas off of. I am thinking hard about whether or not I want to go in a certain direction, and that kind of analysis is, I've decided, a very good thing.

I live in a smoggy city that is surrounded by incredible MOUNTAINS. I go alpine climbing every weekend. I'm about to move to a house that is within biking distance to my work and my closest friends' houses and my boyfriend's place.

And as for my relationship, who knows? Am I really supposed to? Isn't that one of the greatest
things about life? You can't always plan everything out. You simply must live it.

And you must be as happy as you can with uncertainty and messiness. Because it's either that or be sad and moody as all hell. And trust me, I've tried that plenty and it kind of sucks. I'd rather be happy. I'm making my way... even if I can't see it all the time.

What are your promises?