Ends and Beginnings

When I started writing this blog four years ago, I had few expectations. What I had was a need. A need to explore the ideas knocking around my neural net and to share them with other folks who might derive some value from them.

In my magazine editing days, the constant pressure of immoveable deadlines kept me producing finished pieces, thinking, hopefully evolving. Though oppressive at times, I grew accustomed to the rhythms of the print cycle and the increasingly important micro-rhythms of the web and social media cycles. When I left that world, I felt like I’d lost something. Hence this blog, which satisfied my creative habit and also grew to be something more than I’d expected. And yet things have changed, as they always and incessantly do.

Since starting The Stone Mind, I’ve gotten married, switched jobs, moved to a new state, and now my wife and I are expecting our first child in March. The pace of life has quickened. Days, packed ever fuller, seem to tick by like hours. The projects with which I occupy myself at work and at home seem only to grow larger, more complex and time-consuming. Many a Monday night have I sat with my laptop open, mentally and physically wrung out, wondering if I might not make my self-imposed Tuesday deadline.

In the past year or so I started to feel that this blog was actually standing in the way of other projects. The need I’d created the blog to address had morphed. Once an important motivator, the weekly schedule grew to feel like an imposition, leaving just enough time to crank something out after hours, but not enough step back, dig deeper, build bigger.

And so I’ve decided, at least for now, to take a break. That’s not to say I’ll never post again, just that writing weekly posts for The Stone Mind doesn’t make sense the way it used to. I believe that being responsive to our changing inner landscape is key to living well. As Steve Jobs once said, “I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

The thought of putting The Stone Mind on ice makes me a little sad; the blog has become a part of my identity and has lead to more than a few great conversations. But it also calls to mind the metaphor of the stepladder that Shunryu Suzuki talks about: “Delusion is necessary, but delusion is not something on which you can establish yourself. It is like a stepladder. Without it you cannot climb up, but you don’t stay on the stepladder.” Not to say that this blog has been delusional (though, maybe…)—only that it has served its purpose. In fact it has been, for me, essential.

Now that I’m putting aside this particular stepladder, I’m excited to move on to the next one. It’s there, partially formed in my head and full of promise, as new things often are. I might even be posting about it on this site, which I’ll leave up for folks to explore. In the meantime, I’ll continue to share, albeit in an abbreviated manner, on The Stone Mind Facebook page and Twitter account. Feel free to stop by and say hi

So, if you’ve made it this far with me, thanks for your time and your attention. Here’s to the ends, the beginnings, and everything in-between.

Quiz: What Kind of Climbing is Right For You?

Three climber types - a woman carrying bouldering pads, a man on top of a mountain, and a main with a big trad climbing rack
(See below for image credits)

Tommy Caldwell came out to Ventura the other day to present and screen the movie A Line Across the Sky. If you haven’t seen it, A.L.A.S. is pretty much a home movie shot with a point-and-shoot by two of the world’s most accomplished rock climbers and then professionally edited into a bromance that happens to take place against the backdrop of the world’s most impressive alpine enchainment.

In the movie, Caldwell and his partner Alex Honnold (a master of stone but, we learn, an alpine gumby), traverse the ragged skyline of Cerro Fitz Roy and its satellite peaks in the monumental, weather-wracked wilds of Patagonia. Despite legendary prowess in the vertical realm, the duo is pushed into uncomfortable territory more than once, as when Caldwell must lead the half-frozen upper face of Fitz Roy with one ice tool in the dark, leaving Honnold, who is wearing approach shoes with ill-fitting, borrowed crampons, to follow.

At work the next day, my friend asked me how I liked the movie. I explained that my attention was riveted to the screen throughout, which doesn’t often happen with climbing movies these days. Then he asked me if I’d done much alpine climbing. No, I explained, the suffering and danger quotient had always been too high for my taste. Complex body movement, a peaceful communion with nature, and the social aspects of climbing have long been my prime motivators; as such, I tend to prefer sport to trad and bouldering to big wall.

As we talked, I realized how bright the line has been for me: key elements of alpine climbing like complex logistics, prolonged period of extreme physical discomfort, and numerous objective hazards, hold no appeal. But to my fiends who excel in the mountains these are part of the attraction.

I find it fascinating the distance between one type of climber from the next: alpinists and gym climbers, low-angle traddies and red-point obsessed sportos—at times, it can feel like we’re different species. Perhaps that’s why it’s so hard to use the label “climber” to say anything valuable, or to explain what’s so great about climbing. After all, the answer is different from group to group and person to person. Rare is the true “all-arounder” who relishes all types of climbing at once, perhaps because each style has certain core elements that cut across a few sub-disciplines, but rarely all.

As I pondered such frivolities, I drew in my notebook a little matrix of climbing styles and their particular attractions. Then I went ahead and put together a “handy” online quiz to help identify the types of climbing that best suit your particular tastes. I have no idea if it will work for you. Give it a try and let me know…

TAKE THE QUIZ

 

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Image credits (left to right): Kasia Pietras with maximum paddage, photo by Terry Paholek. By Tom Murphy VII (taken by uploader (user:brighterorange)) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons. By Garrett Madison (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

How to Make a Climbing Meme

I'm not saying it was aliens… but it was aliens

In case you haven’t noticed, climbing memes are SHRN. Less than six months ago, an Instagram account called Rawk Tawk started posting climbing memes commenting on and lampooning various goings on in the climbing scene. They have already garnered more than 12,000 followers. Another climbing meme account, Rockclimbingprobs, has cultivated similar visibility. My friend Brendan ocassionally has fun with climbing and outdoor memes on his blog.

Like emoji and animated GIFs, memes have become a staple of internet communication. At their best, they offer biting, hilariously accurate micro-insights into life, luck, and human nature; at their worst, they’re dumb and don’t make any sense. Most fall somewhere in the middle, causing us to LOL due to their purposeful inanity and shallow humor.

Side note: what I’m calling memes here are more accurately referred to as “image macros,” a subset of internet memes comprised of “captioned images that typically consist of a picture and a witty message or a catchphrase.” The images overtop of which people write text often grow to become popular internet memes, such as Good Guy Greg, Bad Luck Brian, and Ermahgerd Girl. But “meme” is far more commonly used and understood than “image macro” and for our purposes here will do just fine.

All that said, here’s how you, too, can create a climbing meme in four easy steps:

1. Find a picture

You can source a climbing-specific picture if you like, but it’s not necessary. Some of the funniest climbing memes use the same stock images as memes of a more general ilk. If you want to use one of the web’s many popular meme characters, you can use the tool on imgflip.com or other meme-generating sites. If you choose to create your own meme, be sure to use the right font: Impact, in white with a black outline. Here’s a tutorial on how to do it right, because Sharma forbid you use Futura or Comic Sans—that would be embarrassing.

ermagherd-boars-hair-brushes

2. Think of something funny that only climbers understand

The thing that makes a good climbing meme is that it speaks in a code that climbers will understand. For example, that guy at the gym (maybe it’s you?!) who just can’t keep his sequence straight, or the fun that isn’t when you’re waiting in isolation at a climbing competition, or the special padding needed for a certain well-known crag. It’s a fine line though. Get too specific or too personal and you’re bound to lose people. But maybe that’s OK—better to slay it with a niche audience than bore the masses.

3. Write funny thing over top of picture

The typical meme uses two lines of text, one at the top and one at the bottom of the image. In this configuration, the top line is the set-up and the bottom line the delivery. Of course, it’s not necessary to structure your memes this way. Some only have one line of text, others multiple, others no text at all. The most important thing is that the image and the words must clearly connect and reinforce each other in some way. A weak or simplistic connection between the image content and the tone of the words will result in a fail.

Goes to new gym … "you'll have to take a belay test"

4. Post to internets

This part is important. Memes are like genes; ones adapted to their environments will replicate and flourish. But to spread they need a medium. Thus, the interweb, with its billions-strong reach. When you make a meme on a site like imgflip, it becomes public (unless you choose to keep it private) at which point users can up or down-vote it, increasing or decreasing visibility. Social sites and forums like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, mountainproject.com further help your meme spread (replication), where others may riff on it (mutation). Or not. It’s important to remember that your meme, while it may seem a precious nugget of genius to your biased eye, is probably not that funny to other people. That’s OK—memes are free and easy to make, and as with anything, practice makes perfect.

As for the why of climbing memes? That’s something you’ll have to answer for yourself. Good luck…