Monkey Claws

March 10, 2011

Every community has its subcultures. Small groups within the larger local community or even within the larger world as a whole, if you want to go that big.
Portland, Ore., for instance, basks in a substantial microculture of rock climbers. As I hail from a town where, unless you are in the presence of an elite group of fitness enthusiasts, rock climbing is considered only a blithe diversion that simply involves jumping on a wall and reaching for the nearest rock. It can be done in jeans and tennis shoes with seemingly no athleticism required.
However, try that at a gym in Portland and I think the climbing gang would turn from friendly to taking you outside before you could ask what a harness was for.
My friend, Jill, aka the beginner climber, signed up for a climbing class one afternoon. I accompanied her, figuring I would skulk around the gym, looking tough, somehow entertaining myself for about 45 minutes I guesstimated. How long does it take to show someone how to put on a harness and hold a rope?
Apparently, very long.
The class was blocked out for 2 ½ hours.
On top of that, to find this open class in the first place, Jill had to call all of the gyms in Portland. Needless to say, they take their rock climbing very seriously.
And I didn’t see anyone in jeans.

We walked in to a room filled with not average people but stealth, monkey-like, chalk rubbing, forearm-ed, “live to climb” climbers.
Suddenly, my pride in owning a personal pair of climbing shoes no longer seemed any sort of bragging right, considering that everyone in the gym looked as if they’d battled numerous mountains and won; whereas, I won’t even consider stepping onto a real rock unless I see railings.
The climbing experiences I had up to this point added up to approximately four times and spread generously over a five year period, which warranted me about as much street cred as a cigarette to the fitness world.
The gym was complete with gymnastics rings and weight machines. These people weren’t here for the fun of it.
I forced myself to observe, putting aside the obvious creep vibe I felt sure I was giving off, and stood in the corner, watching the humans around me turn from regular, vertical forms into clinging, horizontal, crouching creatures. Hanging from ceilings, grappling with gravity.
I wondered if they were hiding secret monkey claws under their sleeves or gecko-like adhesive pads on their fingertips.
If this talent is for real, it won’t be long before these same people are scaling apartment walls, Spider-Man-esque. Working for good or for evil. The beginnings of a mutant community.
And I’m plannin’ to get on board.


Reasons for Resolution

January 4, 2011

As Kelly Clarkson’s poppy girl-power sass echoes through my bedroom, I curiously ponder what everyone is hoping for in 2011.

It might be hard to admit that life is really a continual cycle of repeated moments, but the truth remains. This fact becomes brashly apparent to me at the beginning of each year, more so than any other time.

The media continues to tout the secrets to reaching new weight loss goals, a new you for the new year, unforgettable celebrity faux-pas of the past, and, of course, the stand-by: trends to toss and forthcoming fads.

We are all forced, or maybe subconsciously persuaded, to evaluate our lives and look to the future. For everyone, this means something slightly different. Finances, no doubt, for many; a career change for others; health improvements; home improvements; world travel.

These are all admirable goals. I, for one, plan to become more organized, grow my writing career, eat better and improve my Spanish.

Goals keep us striving to advance, to improve ourselves. There is something very beautiful and unifying about that.

And, when we finally reach the top of that hill we are climbing, we find that the view is not only breathtaking but also inspiring, and then quickly set our sights on a new challenge. Because that sense of pride and personal achievement is not something that can be bought and shipped to our door. Maybe that’s why it feels so good.

And, admittedly, that’s anything but cookie cutter.

higher highs

September 29, 2010

Adventure seekers are all around us. And they are not easy to classify.

Some would say these people are thrill seekers, adrenaline junkies who will do anything to reach a new height of nirvana.

Those, however, who share a love of adventure, but pull it back before the adrenaline obsession begins, recognize kindred spirits in these searching souls.

I personally have always held a more modest interest in interests, if you will. For me, there was always so many hobbies to attend to, but so little time.

My years in gymnastics pretty much lived out that dream. Looking back, I didn’t quite live out my dance and horse riding days. Working with animals in a vet clinic remain unrequited dreams–more on that later. Banging on the drums became an early-20s fixation, with visions of beating out solos in front of adoring audiences haunting my dreams, only after a few months to be met with the many hazards of owning a drum set–and trying to move it more than once. The muscles of rock climbers and the obvious skill of scaling a mountain drew me to buy my first–and only–pair of rock climbing shoes (not cheap, by the way); however, my lack of rock climbing buddies has kept me out of the shoes for a while, but I’m workin’ on it. Snowboarding’s surface similarities to surfing lured me in and led to a trip with well-groomed boarders, and I semi-swiftly made it down the mountain, even if I could never make it off a ski lift.

Which brings me to surfing, an experience I’ve yet to have that remains like a pesky mosquito that, swat as I might, I can never be rid of.

So in my everlasting quest to one day catch a wave, I did some research on the pluses and (in order to appear unbiased) minuses of the sport. And my findings were slightly unsettling.

First, for the good news:
Cardiovascular improvement from all of the energy needed to catch that killer wave.
Strength and muscle building from the paddling and the standing and balancing.
Increased flexibility.
Improved mood and overall mental health from the exhilaration and peace that comes from the ocean.

Now, the bad news:
Living things in the sea—This includes sharks, sting rays, jelly fish: painful and dangerous. The general rule is they won’t bother you if you don’t bother them. Mmmmm–so said the one-handed surfer.
Earth—Rocks and coral, most specifically. Of course, wipeouts happen, so scouting out your surfing turf beforehand will help to pinpoint the danger areas, as well as wearing protective gear.
Drowning—The best thing to do is to cover your face and relax; no panicking or struggling, which will only hinder you from rising to the surface.
And the most eye opening of all is a condition that has hardly caught wind due to the small number of people affected: Surfer’s Myelopathy—This rare injury affected a high school student that I know and has been reported among beginner surfers. It can cause short- and long-term paralysis due to loss of blood flow to the spinal cord, believed to be caused by hyperextension of the back while lying on the surf board for long periods of time.

New surfers are encouraged, if they feel any leg weakness, discomfort or tightening in their back, or hear popping sounds, to seek medical help quickly. Quick detection is believed to be a factor in recovery. More information can be found at

Surfers swear that there’s no rush like the rush of catching that mega wave. And I don’t doubt it.

But I like knowing that I’m going to make it out alive after a knitting session. And with all of the unconquered hobbies still on my horizon, I’m thinking the surfboard may be lower on my list than I expected.

In my continual search for mind-opening experiences to expand my knowledge (solely for writing purposes, of course!), I have turned my attention to horses.

Like most children, I stayed busy with plenty of after-school lessons–jazz and ballet, piano, horseback riding, singing, gymnastics. And also like most youngsters, I didn’t yet understand or appreciate the sacrifices my parents made to allow me those opportunities nor did I realize the ways in which these activities would help to grow my mind and equip me for future challenges.

So, with riding as one of my early exposures, when I recently took a friend up on her offer to help at her boarding stables, I felt like I was somewhat up to the challenge.

I mean, I wasn’t one of those “green” beginners who’d never stepped foot in a barn or seen a saddle before. Now, granted, it has been almost ten years since I’ve sat on a horse and even longer since I’ve been instructed as to proper riding techniques; however, I still felt confident in entering a barn, petting a horse and stepping out into the ring with him.

My outing proved me slightly correct. Fortunately, I didn’t feel the anxiety that many new riders might feel. I didn’t fear the horse’s intimidating strength. I never worried that he was going to suddenly turn on me. Nevertheless, I did maintain my distance from his hind legs, for obvious reasons–probably more than was necessary.

Still, I learned that my knowledge, of course, is abundantly lacking.

In one area is my view of horses as intelligent, emotive beings.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I love dogs. Can’t get enough of them–well, most of them.

But, as I was petting my horse’s nose the other day, I couldn’t help feel like I would never feel the affection for them that I feel for dogs. I’m talking that instant love, that immediate concern for their well being and that strong desire to be near them that I always feel for canines.

Horses don’t conjure up that feeling in me.


I must admit that I am determined to change that.

First of all, they’re animals. Animals are all beautiful and intelligent. Horses are no different, of course. They are sensitive, tender giants who only aim to please their master.

But this is not all coming from my mouth. This is coming from lifetime horse owners, trainers and riders who have spent their lives around these creatures.

After all, they are the ones who would truly know.

To read articles about how they create deep communicative attachments with their horses; how they read their body language; how the horses respond in an effort to be closer to their human.

It’s beautiful. And I want that.

So it is my quest, my determination to achieve it.

And it will happen. I’m sure of it. 🙂

Breaking News

January 2, 2010

Let’s discuss the marvel that is Facebook.

This is an idea that revolves around two human desires.

One: to be social.

We are social creatures. We need people. No man is an island. We’ve all heard that expression. It’s true.

But when did it become necessary to have another human involved in absolutely every nanosecond of every moment of our lives?

I personally find it very disturbing to have people around me for more than five hours a day.

New technology and lack of self-restraint have turned A.D.D. into the norm. Entitlement has birthed newborns with texting addictions and Facebook profiles updated by the minute. Technological advances have turned our world into a playground of egotistical crybabies.

Two: to be heard.

Thanks to Twitter, people can publish their every thought, uncensored, for the world to see. Because who isn’t interested in the fact that at this very moment, I am standing in my kitchen making macaroni and cheese. Well, actually, I’m not doing it anymore. Now, I’m on my iPhone telling all my friends that I’m doing that. But once I’m done posting, I’ll go back to my mac ‘n cheese. That is, until a friend posts a response and then I’ll have to reply to her reply and then that will go on for a while so that I’ll forget my dinner and it’ll burn on the stovetop. So I’ll just end up chatting all night about Taylor Swift and if she and Taylor Lautner are really broken up.

Really, Facebook and Twitter (‘Tweets,’ seriously? Who is the genius that came up with that intelligent lingo?) can be summed up in one word: distraction.

That’s all it is. Distract us from working. Distract us from learning. Distract us from educating our minds with events happening outside our immediate jurisdiction. Distract us from living.

Or maybe distract us from ourselves.

Individualism or Group-ism

November 21, 2009

Working in a coffee shop has its perks. Free coffee. A high-energy work environment. Free coffee. Merchandise discounts. Free coffee.

Yes, the benefits are what originally drew me to coffee employment.

However, there are many downsides to working with the public. Especially in a place where the masses are reeled in by peer pressure and the desire to be cool. (At least, that’s how my coffee shop became popular.)

Yes, working with the public day after day, I can’t help but become a tad cynical regarding humans in general and how easily influenced we are. The fact that my co-workers and I can 99 percent of the time determine what drinks people will order the second they walk in the door is a small tribute to that.

The businessmen with Blackberrys and newspapers. Those are the black coffee drinkers.

The young giggly teenagers. The caramel, frozen-drink crowd.

The young, YOUNG children trailing behind their parents. Usually hot chocolate or vanilla milk. Or even more disturbingly: mocha lattes with decaf shots.

The most disturbing question I can find is what type of young adults are we creating or, should I say, programming.  

Of course, it can’t be denied that we are all part of a crowd. Whether we aim to buck societal standards or are the first ones in line for the new winter item, we are all in a category. Nothing is quite original anymore. Individualism seems to be a thing of the past.

And yet we can still be individuals. Not letting ourselves be put in a mold. Diversifying our interests.

Stepping into the shoes of another person can be the richest experience.

Learning to cook. Learning the violin. Taking up a new language. Immersing ourselves in a different culture. Wearing a new style of clothing. Tasting a new food.

Or smaller steps like wearing glasses instead of contacts. Embracing our natural hair color. Finding new words for our vocabulary.

The options are endless when we start looking.

It’s exhilarating the new sense of self that can appear in such a small act.

And before we know it, we are no longer following one trend but, instead, mixing and matching to create our own.