Disclaimer: the following is another rambling post of self-analysis. I'll post more pretty climbing pics again soon!
Middle school is rough on everyone, with bodies and emotions rebelling against us, and the social order we knew in elementary school unexpectedly upended. Suddenly it mattered what we wore, who we talked to, what shows we watched, what games we played, and it seemed an absolute certainty that our entire social future depended on doing what everyone else did. I tried for sure, but I was like the world's worst surfer, catching a wave right as it crashed onto shore and then continuing to stand there in the sand wondering where everyone else had gone. Some of my friends gave up entirely, deciding that the cool crowd was irredeemably stupid and a waste of space, but the less connected I became, the more I wanted to fit in.
With high school looming, my future changed when a good family friend took me to my first wrestling match. It took me a year to finally suck it up and try out, but it was one of the best things I ever did for myself, especially with a few gifted upperclassmen there to take me under their wings and unlock the athletic potential that I had buried under fifty pounds of excess teenage boy. Suddenly I was doing something that made sense, that I couldn't stop thinking about, couldn't stop mentally refining the motions and the patterns, and more importantly I connected. I finally had something that I could talk about and people wanted to hear. For a while anyway. It turns out that people don't want to hear about wrestling all the time, but I had some really good five minute conversations.
When I moved on to college, and looked around me at my orientation, I realized that the middle school social order had fallen. In a room full of strangers, I was who I said I was. I was as confident and outgoing as I portrayed myself to be. Was it all an act, a character I was playing, or was it another part of me that was finally allowed to surface? Maybe it was both. As I got the best grades of my life and pushed myself athletically during the day, and my friends threw the best parties on weekends, my nights looked much as they always had... sitting at my desk and looking through yearbooks, field guides, and Nintendo instruction manuals, rolling dice for games I never actually played, just because I liked to see the numbers, and drawing countless pictures just to immediately throw them away, as in their moment of creation they had already served their purpose. The exhilaration of connection and the comfort of isolation, both balanced to create a healthy whole.
Now my life is so amazing that I can't believe it's real, but I don't think much has actually changed. Climbing has replaced wrestling, both in obsession with refining movement and as a means of connection. Better yet, when I'm out there repping products or organizations, I don't even have to worry about whether people want to hear about what I have to say, because that's why they've come over to my table in the first place. Again, a character I play, or just an aspect of myself that I channel for the situation at hand? Does it even matter? I've also made the best friends of my life, most of whom share that love of climbing, but all of whom have other obsessions of their own, things that the rest of us don't understand but support wholeheartedly because of the joy those pursuits bring to the people we care about. And yes, I still spend a lot of time alone, and love every moment of it. While middle school me never would have admitted to doing math for fun, sitting out on my deck under the trees with an old math book is one of my favorite things. As a slab climber, obviously algebra is my favorite... everything in balance, always balance.
I'm lucky to have a talented and beautiful wife as a mostly willing copilot in my ongoing voyage of self awareness, and sharing music with each other has been a big part of our relationship. Often we agree, and every once in a while we don't. Sometimes there's a song that one of us just can't stand, and Ruth B's Lost Boy elicits a loathing from her that I've rarely ever seen. The first time we heard it, we actually thought it was a joke, but then it just kept going and we couldn't bring ourselves to turn it off. Now she can't change the station fast enough when it comes on, but I find myself letting it play out when she's not around, not because I like it any better as a song now, but because of what it represents to me.
Neverland. Where we go to escape, or where we go to find connection? Or both? Balance, always balance. In high school, wrestling was my Neverland. Now it's climbing, and math, and spring flowers, and a run under the trees, and drawing, and watching leaves blow in the autumn wind, and stair sprints with the music pumping. It's where I go to lose myself and find myself. Balance, always balance.
"Neverland is home to lost boys like me, and lost boys like me are free."
To all my freaks and geeks out there, to all my lost boys and girls, especially those of you still struggling to fit into a system that seems like it wants no part of you... hang in there. Find your Neverland. They say to look for it second to the right, but it's probably been in front you the whole time. Find it. Embrace it, and don't look back. Let it build you, and then use it to build others. You're more powerful than you know.