final obligation

well, i’m officially, 100% done with school. last night was the final reading for us creative writing MFA graduates. sixteen of us had our five minutes of glory, reading from our respective theses (be really careful saying this word cause if your not, it could come out sound like ‘feces’). so this is what i read:

Born to Climb

Climbing rocks is like ascending a ladder, just not as obvious. Stop in between every move to look. Look up half of the time. Listen to your boyfriend, who brought you climbing, when he says to look for white chalk marks, that those will be holds for your hands. See a white mark on the rock above you. Decide that that is where to go. Hands up. Look down half of the time. Listen to your boyfriend when he says that foot holds may be smeared with black rubber from other climbers’ shoes. See little edges with black rubber marks around them. Think that there is no way your big toes will stay on those tiny scratches in the rock. Find something bigger. Feet up.

When rock climbing is new to you, you often think, The bigger the holds, the better. This may be true. Some holds are so big that your whole hand can wrap around them. You hear your boyfriend calling them jugs. Jugs don’t face a uniform direction, like the rungs of a ladder would. Wonder to yourself, Jugs? Jugs of what? Jugs of water? Picture yourself pulling on big clay jars. It doesn’t quite make sense to you yet, but nevertheless, you add the word to your new mental climbing dictionary. Some holds you might pull on straight down—hear your boyfriend calling them pockets and ledges—but others face diagonally or straight up and down, and you pull on them from one side or the other—side pulls—or even from underneath—underclings. Realize how obvious these hold names really are, while you had been worried about being able to grasp complex climbing concepts. Feel relief that all the while it had been so simple. Some holds may have two sides and then you can pinch them, fingers on one side, thumb opposing on the other, squeezing. Begin to call them pinches to yourself and notice that this is what your boyfriend calls them too. Feel smart and intuitive. Grope each hold at first, eventually touching the most positive part. Grab the good part of the hold, and then your body responds and automatically adjusts its position so that balance is maintained. Consider that you may have been born to climb.

Don’t forget your feet. When you are a beginner at rock climbing, you think, The bigger the holds, the better. Jugs, pockets, ledges are features that you crave to put your feet on. Hand holds become bomber footholds. You hear other climbers saying this, bomber. Understand that what they mean is something you won’t, or shouldn’t slip from. Think, Bomber means foolproof. Practice this new vocabulary by saying, This foothold is bomber! Feel like a surfer instead of a climber and decide not to say that again.

Hear your boyfriend telling you to trust your feet, that climbing is all in your legs since they are much stronger than your arms. Know this is true. Listen to climbers who tell you that women figure this out faster than men and therefore can be better at climbing. Feel smug for a moment, if you’re a woman. Feel graceful and dancer-like. Find holds to stand on that can take all of your weight so you can look around without your weak arms getting tired. Again, at first, tap your foot here and there on a hold until it eventually feels good and solid. Think, bomber. Think, sweet spot. (Now you’re making up your own terminology.) Be aware as your body adjusts its position to find balance, as if it knew instinctively what to do all along.

Sometimes you aren’t strong enough to hold on even though your legs have most of your weight. Wonder if your legs are weak too. Fall off. Stop feeling smug while you watch your boyfriend pull up higher than you on the rock without falling, and notice that he is rather graceful himself. Tell yourself that it’s just because he’s been climbing for a few years already. Recognize the fact that climbing makes you feel strong and weak at the same time. Feel like screaming and throwing a rock at the rock. Calm down and decide that you would rather feel strong more of the time, that you want be able to hang on as long as your boyfriend. Pull back onto the rock and keep climbing. Get tired. Fall. Repeat.

A year or two go by, and you and your boyfriend climb regularly. In the spring and the fall, you spend many weekends outside climbing. Sometimes you even go climbing outside when it’s raining. Now when you go, you no longer follow your boyfriend up whatever route he is doing. Now you figure out how to climb all by yourself without asking your boyfriend where to go. In fact, you think your way has become the better way.

Look in the guidebook and find a route to do all by yourself. Look for moderate routes that no longer have only jugs for hand holds. Instead, some of these holds may be small, very small—a fold, a ridge or wrinkle, a shallow dish—and there is only enough room for fingertips—a whole pad, a half a pad, a quarter pad. Sometimes less. Crimp your fingers on them and pull. You know that to crimp is something you do to your fingers in order to hold on to a small feature—a fold, a ridge or wrinkle—in the face of the rock. Holds that you typically crimp are called crimpers. Find that you also use holds called slopers, cracks, flakes. Realize how obvious these terms really are, while you had worried about being able to grasp complex climbing concepts. Feel relief that all the while it had been so simple, that you understood what these words meant without having to ask your boyfriend or read a book. It suddenly dawns on you that you know how to grab a hold that you have never touched before just by the look of it, the shadow that it casts. Look less and climb faster. Think, You were born to climb.

i read  without hyperventilating (but only just barely). my hands were shaking out of control. well, i actually think my entire body was on this wierd buzz thing, pre-convulsion, never really making it to that point, thank goodness.

but here’s the real kicker of the evening… i won the “best thesis in creative nonfiction” award. i have to look over at the certificate every once in a while to make sure it’s really real. crazy. good ending to my graduate student career though, eh?