Amanda, a native Californian and former Berkeley Ironworks desk staffer, recently moved to London to pursue a graduate degree at the London School of Economics. She submitted this report to the Touchstone Blog to share a bit about what the transition has been like for her.
Something very alarming happened to me today.
I’ve tried to shake it, tried to get my mind off of it. I’ve buried myself in my reading. I took a bath. Nothing has helped.
At this point I’m at a loss for what to do, and the last thing I can think to do is to write. So here we are.
Someone told me today,
and I quote,
“I don’t believe you’re a rock climber.”
Maybe her first words were, “you don’t look like a rock climber.”
I cannot remember which was said first as my mind was a whirling mess of outrage, confusion, and sadness – this feeling is reminiscent of the time my dad killed a spider and he told me she was just sleeping. I knew down to my core that it wasn’t true and the only words I could come up with at the time were “you killed Charlotte” before I ran to my room. I was six years old. I do not like that feeling now any more than I did then.
At some point she elaborates, telling me that I didn’t look “Tomboyish” enough.
My course mate, who had unsuspectingly walked into the uniform wearing, agro-offensive and hyperactive room in my brain, was going to suffer the consequences. You picked the wrong door, friend.
My first response in a triage of actions that I am consciously and systematically planning is to whip my phone out and bring up my top 100 favorite climbing pictures of 2013. Immediately this makes me think that I might have been better off joining the Army (or at least more successful).
Now let’s stop here for a moment. This seems socially inappropriate, to say the least. There are very few instances in which I would personally be excited to see the top 100 pictures of anyone’s anything, let alone a single year highlighted edition. And god forbid she press the issue further – don’t think I don’t have year by year, location by location chronologies organized by climate, alphabet, and most appropriate type of climbing shoe. (Now these are my top 500 pictures from places where my La Sportiva Solutions were most suitable…).
The reasonable part of my brain, speaking in a very small voice, is attempting to subconsciously tell this friend to smile and placate me. This is going to ensure the fastest and most desirable outcome for her and unless someone came up behind me with a horse tranquilizer, I am not going to stop on my own accord anytime soon.
As I’m typing in the password to my phone very deliberately, my hands moving like they are made solely to navigate the iPhone quickly and effectively, I am saying all sorts of things to the effect of –
I love camping.
I love climbing.
It’s who I am.
This is what matters to me.
It’s not just about climbing, you see, it’s what climbing brings to my life, how it pushes me. It’s about the dew on my tent in the morning and the sound of the zipper as it lets in the first wave of crisp air for the day. It takes you by surprise at first but once you’ve crawled out and started the stove for coffee, it feels like you were born to be here.
It’s about the projects and the failed attempts and the successes and the friendship and camaraderie and the simple things.
It’s really about the simple things.
It’s about the beauty.
It’s about my soul.
….Kind of a heavy monologue for a friendly conversation while waiting for the next available teller in the bank.
All of a sudden I am rudely interrupted by one of the ladies sitting behind the glass wall in front of us.
“NEXT!” she (rudely) says.
This friend gives me the kind of look that says “well, what can you do?” and steps forward.
Now I am alone with my thoughts and with my iPhone in hand with “Bishop 2013” armed and ready on the screen.
I feel alone and sad and I can’t quite figure out why.
It’s on my journey on the tube back to my flat when I have calmed down enough to start to attempt to understand my gross… we’ll call it overcompensation, to be nice.
In reality I know that I am not defined by climbing. I like to do a lot of other things too. In fact I spent much of my time for the past two years defending those other parts of me that did not involve climbing, for fear that I would be perceived as just a climber. (Nobody is just a climber, for the record. Nobody is just anything. This is part of a larger internalized identity struggle with which I’m sure some of you can relate).
So why did I feel the need to not only justify that climbing was incredibly important to me but to perhaps overstate its role in my life? It’s not who I am, like I so assuredly informed this friend who probably could not have cared less.
After some thought and a lot of vanilla rooibos tea, I’ve come to the conclusion that climbing is not who I am but it does represent a large part of what I value. It’s true – the feeling I have waking up to the White Mountains as my backdrop, the crunch of sand and rock beneath my feet on the approach to the Buttermilks, toping out on a three pitch climb at Lover’s Leap and looking over the forested mountains of Lake Tahoe – and everything else that comes with the sport and the relationship with the outdoors, means a great deal to me.
It has, in fact, shaped a lot of who I am.
But I have taken on a different identity here in London. This has been out of both necessity and convenience. I was prepared for that internally, but I was not prepared for how it would make me feel when I was no longer perceived as being something with which I identify so strongly.
I wanted to burst out laughing when this friend told me I don’t look “Tomboyish” enough.
You’re kidding me.
Don’t you understand that I’m more comfortable with sweat on my face than with makeup? Don’t you know that I feel nothing short of an impostor in high heels? I’m pretty sure for the entirety of the two years that I worked at Berkeley Ironworks none of my friends believed I owned anything other than Patagonia outdoor apparel (don’t judge me, we got a discount).
Of course all of this is ridiculous.
We are who we are. This can change with time and with context. Just because I’m not a climber now does not mean I’m not a climber in general or that I won’t be a climber again.
So, I’m lowering my weapon and looking forward to some quality time lapping routes at Berkeley Ironworks this winter when I come home to visit. I’ve got my tent booties ready and waiting for a cold trip to Bishop. I’ll be wearing a down jacket and long underwear and I’ll have a headlamp instead of a calculator.
And no one will think that is strange.
Sometimes we fill certain roles for a while, and in the end those roles provide us with just another way to know ourselves.
I will say, however, that some of the strongest and most talented women climbers I know could fool you into thinking they were modern day Mary Poppins on the cover of Cosmopolitan if they felt like it. Preconceptions never feel good – and that’s something that I have to remember, too.
So a final word to the wise? Don’t push us. We will send your project in a dress.