Wednesday, October 29, 2008

One Art

Last week, our writers' group read poems that we liked. This was one we studied for AP English last year; I didn't understand it at first, but after several readings and through writing about it I realized what she was talking about and actually ended up liking it a lot.

One Art
By Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn't hard to master;

so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:

places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or

next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,

some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

— Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture

I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Simplicity Initiative phase two

The second part of the Simplicity Initiative is a consumer fast. Quoting the sheet they handed out, "We want to say to the Lord together, 'Lord, you are more important to me than the things I consume.' We set these things aside in order to worship more fully and think of others before ourselves specifically during the advent season."

We will:
1. Not purchase anything unnecessary, excepting things that are used for spending time with others (going to a concert with a friend, gettting together for coffee)
2. Take time to consider where we should really be directing our resources and pay special attention to giving to others (not just monetarily)
3. Refrain from time spent shopping or looking for items to purchase
4. Think creatively and give meaningfully this Christmas; buying presents is okay, but giving of your time or making something yourself would be better

Already I've struggled with this; I wanted to get something for myself at the coffee shop, but how could I spend 3 dollars on a drink when I could have tea back at the dorm without spending any money? I'm not sure what I'll do about Christmas presents--the only crafty thing I do is hemp necklaces, and not all my friends would wear them, and I've already given them to family members. I still have several months to come up with something, though.

Anyway, I think this is a really good idea, and I'm going to stick with it as much as possible!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

October Break

Over October break (Wednesday-Sunday) I went to Hills Creek State Park with my family and stayed in a yurt, which, according to Wikipedia, is "a portable, felt-covered, wood lattice-framed dwelling structure used by nomads in the steppes of Central Asia." And for some reason, they have two of them at Hills Creek.

They're heated, but since the walls are so thin, they didn't stay very warm. But despite being constantly cold, I loved being there with my family. We canoed, walked, rode bikes, played Scrabble, ate good food, sat around and read . . . ahhh, how relaxing it was not to have to even think about school or homework!

Now I'm back. It felt strange returning to Houghton, I miss my family, and I'm not looking forward to class tomorrow. In a way, though, it is nice to be here. I'm with my friends, I don't have to walk outside to get to a bathroom or sink (the yurts didn't have running water), and it's warm. The latter alone is enough to make me happy to be at Houghton. :)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Another essay--The Milton Rock Gym

This is essay 2 for my advanced comp. class; we had to write about a person or a place, and I chose the rock gym where I used to work. If you take the time to read it, please let me know any ideas you have for revision--my second draft is due on Wednesday. Thanks!

The Milton Rock Gym

When I walked in that first day I had no idea what I was doing. The Milton Rock Gym was under construction at the time, and the noise of an electric saw grated on my ears. High up to my left a man stood on a ladder leaning against the wall. “Hi,” I called, and he looked down at me. “Do you know where Sharon is?”

“She’s in the cave,” he answered, pointing further into the gym, through a small arch. I thanked him and stepped forward, careful to avoid piles of rock holds and tools. There was the cave, a recess in the bottom of the wall to my right. As I approached, Sharon crawled out, holding a wet paintbrush. She was shorter than me and stocky, not what I had expected a professional climber to look like.

“You must be Tabitha,” she said, and I nodded. “I’m Sharon. Nice to meet you.” After setting down the paintbrush she proceeded to show me around the gym. Only a few walls had holds; the rest were covered with small holes where the rocks would be fastened. In the front were the top-roping walls, stretching up thirty-five feet to the ceiling, which contained two skylights. The back half of the gym was for bouldering, climbing on lower walls without ropes. All around was clutter, boxes, boards, and cords. In the back room I met Jac, Sharon’s husband and co-owner of the gym. Their Chihuahua, Louie, sniffed and barked at me, darting away when I bent down to pet him.

I filled out an application and was basically hired that day. In the weeks that followed I came in for training with my fellow employees and learned how to belay, how to tie different kinds of knots, and how to take down and put up holds. A few months later the gym opened to the public. Now styrofoam covered the floor of the climbing area, several inches thick, with a layer of bright blue padding on top. Chalk dust was sprinkled about, in piles in some spots. Rock holds sprouted from every wall, all different sizes and shapes, from bright pink ones with deep pockets to tiny toe holds made from real rocks. In the top-roping area the ropes trailed down from high above, figure eight knots tied and ready.

Sharon stood behind the counter, manning the cash register, inputting customer information into the computer, and handing out harnesses and shoes. She was matter-of-fact, blunt, strict, but never unkind. Jac was easy-going, casual, often smiling. His job was walking the floor, making sure everyone was safe, stopping to give a word of advice when someone was struggling. Sometimes even the starting move of a bouldering route eluded me, but I could always turn to Jac for help. Wearing his sandals, he would show me how it was done, and then stand back and watch me attempt it, giving encouragement when I fell, congratulating me when I made it.

One of the first regular patrons I met was Chloe. At eleven or twelve and just a little over four feet tall, she could climb routes that I couldn’t. I often used “I’m too short” as a reason why I didn’t make it to the top, but I never heard Chloe complain about her height. If she didn’t make it the first time, she tried again, sometimes working on a route for days, weeks, until at last she got it.

Peg was seventy-nine when she first started coming to the gym. Her grandson had gotten her interested in climbing, and she had decided that for her eightieth birthday, which was in a few months, she was going to climb a wall. Several times a week she came in to practice, and soon she was going up the 28-foot with no problem. On her birthday newspaper reporters came in, and her climb made the front page of the local paper.

Most of the people my age who climbed there were better than me, the guys by default because they were taller and stronger, and the girls because they came in every day, while I didn’t have the time. Since they were more advanced than I was, I didn’t hang out with them much, but we’d still say hi to each other, and I could always turn to them for help.

There are as many different climbing styles as there are different types of people. Guys new to the sport muscle their way up the wall, relying on the strength of their arms. Taller people take huge steps, skipping half the holds. Experienced climbers move with ease and grace, every turn of their body as natural as if they’re taking a stroll. I loved to just sit and watch them.

On a rainy day the gym is full of people, from beginners just learning to belay to lead-climbers—meaning that their rope isn’t attached at the top of the wall; they have to bring it up with them and clip in to carabiners as they climb. One guy stands on his head in the bouldering area, stretching his feet up to reach the holds on the dome that descends from the ceiling. A group of kids watches in awe as he does a sit-up while hanging upside down, grabbing a hold on the dome with his fingers and let his feet slide out. When he’s done the kids swarm around the dome, stacking mats underneath so they can reach it.

The kids are there for a birthday party, and I’m their belayer. A young boy asks to go up on the ropes, and after I clip him in he flies up the wall as if he’s racing. As soon as I let him down, he asks, “Can I do it again?” But now it’s his sister’s turn, and as I make sure her harness is tight enough, she stares up at the wall with trepidation. “You ready?” I ask, and she nods, just barely. She reaches out a hand, grabs a hold with trembling fingers. Her other hand goes on, then her feet. Turning, she looks at me, her eyes wide. “You’re doing great,” I tell her. “Keep going. I’ve got you.”

Sometimes the scared little girl continues to climb, taking her time but eventually making it to the top, and ends up loving it. Other times she gets two feet off the ground and starts crying. Even then she can occasionally still be convinced to go higher, whether by me, a parent, or Sharon. But sometimes she just has to come down, even when her father is insisting she stay up there. Has he forgotten what it’s like to be in a strange place, doing something new, and feeling afraid?

Even now, when I’ve climbed nearly every wall in the building, I can still get nervous when I’m thirty feet up in the air, trusting my life to the rope and my belayer. Sweat breaks out on my hands continually, and I keep having to stop and smother them in chalk from my chalk bag. In an awkward position, straining my body, my leg begins to shake uncontrollably, but I press on, moving up one hold at a time. The belayer cheers me on, calling, “You’ve got this.” My hand slips off a small hold, and I reach up again, clamping my fingers onto the edge. Above my head I can see the finish, marked by two pieces of tape—all the way to the top tape marks the way, showing me what holds I can use. Each route is labeled with its difficulty level, from 5.6 being the easiest in the gym to 5.12 being for experts only. 5.10 is the highest I’ve ever done, and it wasn’t easy.

I step up one final time, raise my right hand, and grab the last hold. An official finish requires both hands, but if I let go with my left I’ll fall, so I decide I’ve done enough. After I sit back in my harness, my feet against the wall and my full weight on the rope, the belayer lowers me to the floor. I’m exhausted, my arms and fingers aching, but it was worth it. When you make it to the top, or even just make it farther than you did last time, it always is.

When I get home I notice the smell: a mixture of sweat, chalk dust, and grime. I inhale deeply, for with that smell comes memories of triumphs, and the people who helped me achieve them. I now know so much more than I did when I walked into the gym that first day, but there’s always more to learn. Fortunately the Milton Rock Gym is full of good teachers. “Building stronger bodies, minds, and community,” proclaims MRG’s website, and that’s exactly what it does.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


Oh dear, it's been a whole week since I last posted. I have a good excuse though . . . two, actually: I've been busy, and nothing really post-worthy has happened. There are a few small things you might be interested in hearing about, though.

1. I got an A- on my sleep essay. My teacher had a lot of good things to say about it and just a few suggestions for changes. Now I know I can do well in that class.

2. I got 100% on my Bib lit test. Now I know my study methods work well, and that class should be easy.

3. I had an American lit exam on Wednesday. There were some fill-in-the-blank questions, a short-answer question, and a long essay question. I hate having to sit down and write an essay and hand it in with no chance to think over and revise it. But the prof had given us the topics beforehand (we had a choice of 5), so at least I was able to get a good idea of what I wanted to write about before actually writing it. I think it went okay; I haven't gotten that test back yet, so I'll have to see. The essay could have been better, but it wasn't awful.

4. This past weekend was homecoming and Houghton's 125th anniversary celebration. There were no classes on Friday -- it was wonderful. Yesterday there was a parade, then a festival on the quad complete with food, games, and a ferris wheel. The highlight of the weekend was SPOT (don't ask me what it means), a twice-a-year talent show that originated in the 70s. The acts were incredibly funny; they have ones from past years on youtube, and I'm sure this year's will be posted soon if you're interested in watching any. The bad part is, it went till 1:15 -- AM. It was supposed to start at 10 (last night), but they didn't even let us into the chapel, where it was held, till 10:30. And then it still didn't start for a while. Since I got up for church this morning (a special service at the chapel) I'm exhausted now. And Jaela and I are going to hiking soon. Just what I need.

5. Last night was our second writers' group meeting, and although there were only four of us there (because of all the homecoming/anniversary stuff), it was still fun. There are so many brilliant, creative people here.

My mind has gone blank, so I'll end this random, haphazard post. Thanks for reading.