Bag That Route

On my birthday in January, I met my very awesome twenty-something nephew at Go Vertical, an indoor rock gym in Philadelphia. As I said in my first post, I believe that good fiction writing comes from being open to new experiences and climbing was one that I’d wanted to try for a long time. My birthday seemed as good an excuse to try something new as any, so I made a commitment and Greg offered to meet me there. (Did I mention that he's awesome?) Before I went, I was consumed with worry ranging from whether I’d be strong enough to whether I was too old to try this sport to what I’d wear. (Seriously? Yeah, seriously.) I recognized those worries as my way of trying to instill some control over something that I knew nothing about. Like an old friend with an annoying behavior, I dismissed many of these worries as inconsequential — thoughts that I knew would fly away as soon as I was there.

Sure enough, I found everyone at the gym welcoming and encouraging, not the least of which was one of my nephew's co-workers (who looked to be close to my age even!) After Greg gave me a lesson in belaying and guided me through a practice climb, I quickly forgot my concerns about the right clothes or the right age for climbing. All of that fell away as I faced the rock wall and it’s many grips and toeholds. Climbing a route is liking working out a puzzle, figuring out which toehold will help lead to the next grip. Each decision I made led naturally to the next. Greg called up encouragements, reminding me to breathe and to use my legs. He told me where to look for grips when I thought I’d hit the end of the road. And when I made it to the top, he snapped a photo as proof.

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I am a person who can easily give over to what Natalie Goldberg calls 'monkey mind.' I waste mental energy obsessing on things over which I have no control. I sometimes procrastinate and fritter away precious time clicking mindlessly through other people's accomplishments on the internet. What I loved most about climbing is how it forced me to be completely present in the moment. There’s no place or time for obsessive thoughts when you’re hanging by your fingertips forty feet above the ground. (I was utterly and completely safe in my harness with my nephew belaying me, but still!)

Recently, when I hit a tough spot in the revisions of my current work-in-progress (see previous post for details on that book), a writing friend and fellow VCFA grad brought to mind my climbing experience. She reminded me that the same focus and intensity that I brought to that experience climbing can be transferred to my novel. And it’s true, sometimes with this book I feel like I’m pressed against the ledge, clinging for my life. Again, I remember my nephew telling me to breathe, to straighten out my arms, to see the next move and pay attention to the route.

That’s what I intend to do with this book. Stop clinging for dear life and instead, straighten those arms, see the next move, know the end of the route is near and, in the meantime, enjoy the view. (Not to mention that I plan to get back to that rock gym soon!) How about you? What are you doing to bag your route?