Saturday, June 09, 2012

Up Nanga Parbat

Wishing all the best of luck, good weather, and endurance to Cathy O'Dowd and her Nanga Parbat expedition, attempting to climb the Mazeno Ridge.  Expedition blog and news here, let's hope all come back safely.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Things to say

During the last two weeks of my classes i have had an interesting experience - i realized that, for once, i had things to say to my audiences.

The interesting part about being a Professor is that through convention, norms, and rules of the trade, you earn the right to talk by default: the moment you enter that classroom, those people in front of you become students, and you have to play the role of the teacher.  By default, you get that ominous silence, that air heavy with expectations for you to open your mouth, to express THE TRUTH, to teach, to impart the wisdom to the crowds awaiting. It is funny in a perturbing way how by default they assume that you know, that for some reason you hold the keys, the solutions, the answers to all the questions. And then, in the beautiful tradition of paradoxes, what you first learn upon entering grad school is that......
no, we do not know, we cannot know.  Maybe the kitten is dead.  Maybe it is alive.

Throughout those years of training the frontier of knowledge is made palpable, the uncertainty is increased with every day in the program, with every additional reading, with each discussion and attempt at philo-sofia. Again and again, you are confronted with everything that we actually do not know, worse, confronted with the actual impossibility of knowing.  Exposed to the concepts such as causal ambiguity or incommensurability, relativism and subjectivity, the exceptionality of social sciences.  Oh you, beautiful friends, strategic conundrums.

And then you have to somehow figure it out, find your own voice, and say something out loud to the world, write your own thesis, take a position, convincingly argue for it. On one side you are supposed to be objective and critical, but then, the moment the deconstruction is complete, you are immediately thrown into the soup and asked to swim: to contribute, to have an opinion, an idea, a research statement, a position.  Somehow, it is assumed that after all the deconstruction, after swiping the ground from below your feet, after realizing that there is no center, that even gravity is relative, that life is not unique, that all strategies are imitable because designed by human beings just like you, somehow, you are supposed to get right back up on your feet again, and defend the opposite, argue for your own immortality, carve your own niche of infinite glory and pride, say something new, something different, something outstanding, - while at the same time, if not totally blind, you have to acknowledge your similarity, the infinite similarity of human beings, of our brains, of what we do, of what we aspire to, of how we try to survive, of what we all dream about at night.  To be liked, to live a complete, a meaningful life.

How, how on earth is one supposed to reconcile the irreconcilable, to solve dilemmas and annihilate the trade-offs, the same ones that we all know to have no solution? To promise, and to sincerely try to give what does not exist, what is impossible from the start.  That, they do not explain how to do in grad school.  How to deal single-handedly with Sisyphus's paradox, paradox of being, of writing, of living.  To be different while staying the same, to take a position, to argue for it forcibly; to be convinced. While at the same time knowing the impossibility of conviction itself, the futility of arguments, the surrealism of attempts, of achievements, of goals.  Staying sane in the madhouse, staying happy in hell.

All this rambling to say that during these last two weeks I have had a small revelation in my teaching - I realized that while in research I am supposed to say something new, in teaching it is most meaningful to simply explain well both points of view.  While the student prides herself on arguing for something, the teacher has the "permission", no, the obligation, to argue for the opposite.  Dialogue or dialectic, Socrates or Marx, but that is the power of THE teacher - that is the ultimate fun of the profession - you are "allowed", no, you have to, argue the opposite.  That's actually when the students have the "a-ha" moment, that's when they might learn just a little bit more, that's when they can surpass their horizons - because you show them that the world is just a little bit broader, just a little bit larger, just a tiny little slice more infinite then they originally thought.  And in these (rare) cases i enjoy my right to speak, i actually have fun - I do not check my watch every five minutes and try to make the class end with all the power of my intellect.  I enjoy it, like climbing perfectly my favorite line, I argue, I take the opposite position.  Do they get it?  Does it matter?  Useless questions.  But I have fun.  Teaching - another strange profession, another surreal, useless undertaking.  Will i be able to find my place in this little world?  It is as surreal and senseless as others - but if I can carve out a couple of minutes of enjoyment here and there, maybe it could just be worth the effort.  Or maybe it is just for the money, and everything else is rationalizing.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Taking lessons in overhangs

Climbing, always keeping it real.  Although like anything, it is transformed into a habit: go to a crag, find a route, try it out, top rope, commit.  Send.  Will it one day become a boring habit?  But then there is the adrenaline.  There is the challenge.  There is overcoming oneself.  There is always the beauty of the place.  Open your eyes, breathe it in.  You are alive.  That's what climbing brings to the table.  Most other activities make the "alive" feeling so much duller, so much more ambiguous, so much more virtual.  For me, only in climbing time disappears, time accelerates to the speed of light and then stops. King time itself becomes invisible.  There is the route, the moves, the rope.  The fear.  The fall.  There is everything one needs from the moment.  Give it all you have.  Fail, succeed.  Have fun, cry, kick the rock, struggle, smile down at your partner.  Go on.

Up on Nidra, 7c+, Tres Ponts, picture by Elias

And the overhang-times are rolling in - what better to do in the summer than work the muscles, try those dynos, and face the challenge: overhangs versus me.  My scared self contemplating the air bellow.  Facing the challenge, taking it up to the next level.  And enjoying very much these special places, Masriudoms, Tres Ponts, Rodellar, - with an abundance of awesome rock, friends, figuring out the moves, and flowing up the lines that gave me the chills for years in the past.

Sticking my mini-dyno on Nidra, picture by Elias

But Tres Ponts is a give-away, nice version of the Tufa-paradise monster that is Rodellar.  Rodellar is not Catalunya anymore, but nevertheless the village has an awesome atmosphere, a relaxed aura, it is a "total" vacation spot, every time making me wish to stay there for just a little longer, to sip another cafe con leche and have another pastry at the Camping Mascun, or another abundant lasagna at the Kalandraka.

Learning the tufa tricks on l'Any que be Tambe, 7c, picture by Raul

Despite the pictures above, it looks like sending an overhanging 7c is still some time away for me, although I am optimistic for this summer.  I did finally climb my 2nd 7b+ in Rodellar, the nice and joyful, although rather airy Maria Ponte el Arnes (thank you Novato for bolting the line).  It took all I had, in terms of energy, biceps, and screaming.  The painful reality is that sending routes in Rodellar - first pitch of Ironman earlier this spring, and Maria now, costs me more than sending (harder grades) anywhere else.  Good lessons in humility, but also good vibes and motivation to try again and again those 7cs this year.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Desert life

One spring, long time ago, I came to the desert, and it felt home.  Directly, immediately, without any introductions, any flattery, or deception.  Brutally and honestly, it was there, it was it.  Rock, canyons, walls, towers.  I started climbing because I saw people hanging on the walls of Zion.  It was not only about walking and looking.  You could participate, you could hang.  On the wall.  Enlightened, then and there, on Angels' Landing.

If not Montserrat, Utah is another place I could happily call home.  Moab, - although I saw it just in passing, there for a few hours, - but it left its trace of paradise, if there ever was to be one for a climber, - and Steph is its queen.

If one day I leave Spain, I'd like to go back to the desert, that desert, the red rock, the orange air, the painful sun.  Those painfully blooming cacti.  And snow covering the Fisher Towers.  Discovering arches, big and small ones, pioneers once again, the story told all over again.  And none else bothering you, maybe that is freedom.  Maybe that is utopia.  But kudos to you, Steph, go girl!