I’ve been thinking about the difference between trying to let go of past identities I’ve held dear, vs somehow integrating them.
An example of a past identity: throughout my high school and college years I obsessed about becoming a climbing bum, and then spent another several years attempting to live out that dream in Yosemite and Joshua Tree amongst the climbers I used to read about in magazines. It never really felt right, and to be fair, I did a lot more hanging out with climbers than I did actual climbing. I hesitate to mention to people that I ever “was” a climber — even though it was very much my thing, for thirteen years! — because I’ve learned that people who are into climbing get very excited to attach all sorts of ideas onto me that didn’t even fit back then.
Still, I cannot deny the Climber in me. Whenever my body touches stone, or uses its fingers and limbs to pull the rest of my body upward, I am overcome with a strong sense of knowing: THIS is what this body was born to do.
One of my Buddhist teachers, Guyhasiddhi, shared this quote in a class a few weeks ago:
Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:
“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”
In tracking down an internet source for the quote (I knew it was from The Scottish Himalayan Expedition by W. H. Murray), I discovered that this character had quite a fascinating life:
He was an influential Scottish mountaineer who was taken prisoner during World War II (but charmed his initial captor, apparently);
While in captivity (for three years!) he drafted an entire book on the topic of mountaineering in Scotland… on toilet paper;
This manuscript was discovered and destroyed by the Gestapo, so he started it all over again… and this version was eventually published;
He was active in protecting wild areas in Scotland, including a successful campaign to prevent construction of a hydroelectric dam.
What an inspiration!
Thanks yet again, Wikipedia, for coming through with the backstory.
I met photographer Dean Fidelman while living in Yosemite National Park in 1999, and for years I invested everything I had—physically, energetically, spiritually, and financially—into his StoneNudes project. This attempt to build a something that would financially support a complete immersion into art, nature, community collaboration, social activism, and a life well-lived sparked a sense of purpose I’ve been both refining and expanding ever since. Though I ultimately chose to distance myself from the always-fraught business side of StoneNudes, Dean and I have remained very close friends and artistic collaborators.
Climbing podcast Enormocast recently published not one but two entire episodes’ worth of an interview with Dean (here’s Part 1 and here’s Part 2), and they’re fantastic. As someone who came of age listening to climbers’ yarns around Yosemite campfires, and who regularly groans at the media’s lazy sensationalization of Dean’s work, I have to say that it is a rare treat to hear the man himself explain, at length and very eloquently, why he does the work he does.
All other accounts leave out what I believe are the most important elements of his story: his deep appreciation for his mentors, his community (including those who have left us), the places that inspire his work, his commitment to giving back, and the reality of what it’s like to walk in his shoes… the mismatched shoes of our deceased friend Sean, as the case happens be.
You’re climbing a gigantic cliff face, it’s 2,300 metres to the summit, and there’s no guarantee you’ll even get to the top… this sounds hard enough as it is, but imagine doing that without the use of your legs… Timmy O’Neill’s outlook in life is shaped by conquering what others would call the impossible. No matter how many times he’s failed, the decision to succeed has always been Timmy’s driving force. “Failure is a way forward,” says the professional rock climber, comedian, and founder of Paradox Sports, a nonprofit that runs adaptive climbing trips for people of all abilities and skill levels. Tune in to learn what it truly means to live life on the edge. Listen along to Timmy’s stories of trial and error, as he opens up about the people in his life who have inspired him to move mountains. He also makes amazing sound effects. Be uplifted with Xero Gravity #77!
Chris van Leuven spent quite a bit of time at our house in high school, so much so that I often thought of him as the third sibling in the family. Things at his house weren’t going that well, we gathered, but neither my brother nor I asked many questions. Instead, we would bring him home after our afternoon sessions at the local boulders or climbing gym. We’d let his endless stream of words, spoken in such animated, rapid succession that anyone else would have struggled to comprehend, melt into our own stories from the day. Often, all three of us would be speaking at the same time, but that didn’t hinder our understanding.
In the Spring of 1996, I was just finishing my first year of college in Montreal while Chris was actually living our high school dream of dirtbagging in Yosemite Valley. Nicknamed Maverick, of course he did it with unconventional flair: in a company tuxedo, serving as host in the Ahwahnee dining room, often running down off a climb to pull the disgustingly-grimy-on-the-inside “white” tuxedo shirt over his still-sweaty torso.
Yesterday Dean let me know that Stanley, a long-ago friend of mine that he was still close to, has passed.
Each time I hear news like this, I remember my other since-departed friends from that era of my life, their number growing with the number of years since I have been in touch with any of them. And so today I think of Jose and Micah in addition to Stanley.