About alexisv

In transit.

Cruelty and Friendship

I’m on the train to a soccer game in Brazil. The train sways along the track and Corinthian fans fill the car slowly as we get closer to Arena Corinthians, their black and white jerseys marking them easily. I’m with co-workers and it’s my first night in Sãu Paulo. None of us are extreme soccer fans, but some watch enough to have favorites. “Ah Pelé!” says one.

Pelé. Ah Pelé. And I am acutely embarrassed as soon as I hear the name.

In middle school, I didn’t fit in, but no one fits in. Everyone has horrors and embarrassing moments, and everyone tries to forget. I had many, but one was soccer. I was always decent at running.  This meant I tried to play soccer at lunch, with the rest of what felt like everyone. And at some point a blonde boy started to call me Pelé. I thought he was laughing at my sneakers – knock-off Vans from Payless. I thought he was teasing me because I wasn’t wearing something cool—and I could handle that. I could handle it because I was faster, and because I thought I was decent at soccer, even though they never passed to me, even though they didn’t want me around. (I say blonde boy because I can’t remember his name now, just that he had cropped blonde hair. I don’t want to think about who he was too deeply. If I do, he might be one of the shining faces I see now on Facebook, an adult, happy with a family and a life and I am happy for that shining face and his success. I don’t want to remember who he was.)

Of course, children are crueler than they know. And I remember being at a party of some sort with my parents, in the rec room with the kids. The kids were rabid soccer fans and they had huge posters on the walls with names in banners and gushed about their favorites, and king among the favorites was Pelé. I realized, with horror, that the boy was calling me the name of the greatest soccer player of all time. Which meant, of course, that I was nowhere near good. I laughed off what he called me and I convinced myself it was a nickname I could handle. I don’t remember trying to play soccer again.

In college the soccer team practiced in the fields next to where we gathered for cross country. By the end of my four years at Moravian, I counted many of the players as my friends. Nearly a decade later, one of best friends in the whole world is one of those soccer players. After my coworkers and I get to the stadium and walk through the crowds and vendors selling roasted meat and soccer flags, I text my friend “I’m at a soccer game. In Brazil.” I can’t wait to tell him about it when I get home, as if reporting back from some recon mission. I don’t join the chants- I still feel like an imposter. I also don’t know the language and I’m pretty sure the crowd is shouting something awful. I know if my friend were here, he’d laugh at me, he’d shout along, and he’d give me a big hug. And he’d probably start calling me Pelé just to prove that a name isn’t anything to be afraid of.

Coworkers cheer on Corinthians

Flares by… our own fans? Not really sure why but the crowd wasn’t pleased

Waiting for the game to start

The entire outer wall of the stadium is an LED screen 

Me versus weight training

There are so many different ways of thinking about yourself.

This past summer I was injured. Achilles tendinitis, nothing dramatic, but it cut out all hiking, running and climbing. I spent the summer working out in the weight room, listening to everyone’s adventures. It was frustrating but I was getting strong in the gym and slowly learning my way around the weights and machines.

As my Achilles healed, slowly, I stopped working with the online trainer I’d found and started to get back to climbing. Hiking and running still took a backseat—I was nervous about stress and pain and I didn’t want to wind up back in a place where I had to take the summer off.  I slowly started to climb strongly in the gym, but my cardio was untested and I stopped working in the weight room entirely.

Then WAC started back up and I ran in to Peter. Peter led our team up Rainier two years ago and he looked at me and said, “I’m doing the Emmons route again. You have unfinished business there.” As soon as he says it I can feel the fatigue of that climb—how exhausted I was descending back to base camp and how scared I was because of that exhaustion. Sitting on the rocks at Camp Schurman, my neck aching from looking at my feet for so long, having to tell my brain how to take off my crampons. And while we did summit successfully, I do have unfinished business there. I need to do it again, and do it stronger.

So I emailed Audrey Sniezek to see if she could put a plan together for me, and she agreed. So she’s putting it together now but, in the meantime, she sent me a list of exercise. Do these, 2x a week. 3 reps of 15-20. Ok. That shouldn’t be hard. Here we go.

When I got to the gym, the weight room was mostly empty. I set up for squats and by the time I finished the room had twice as many people in it, all men going through their reps. No one was mean to me, no one looked at me funny, but I felt the anxiety building. Next set- dead lifts. More guys. My boyfriend and his climbing partner walked in and set up by the hangboards. More guys. A girl and a guy—she started to pedal on a bike and he started doing pull ups. Finished with dead lifts, moved on to lunges. I didn’t want to take up the space in the squat area with the bar, but there wasn’t anywhere else to go. The 10 lb weights felt like too much, the 5 lb too light, but I didn’t bring my 8 lb dumb bells and once I picked up the 10, I didn’t want to go back and swap out again and have to find space again. I wanted to cry.

By the time I got to pistol squats I was losing it inside, staring at my reflection in the mirrors, watching myself waveringly lower. My form was terrible but any correction sent me out of balance. There were people everywhere and any movement felt like I was careening in to space that was being used by someone else. I stopped, walked over to my boyfriend, and just started babbling. “I can’t do it, this is awful.” He thought, at first, that there was a machine I couldn’t figure out. I meant this, the gym, the people, the movement. I’m not strong enough physically and I’m not strong enough mentally and I wanted to cry and go home and just forget about it.

But the thing is, I also want to climb Rainier again. And Audrey told me to do this list of exercises and I don’t want to say I stopped because the gym is intimidating. And it won’t get any easier until I get strong and I won’t get stronger if I stop. My boyfriend stood there, looking at me, uncertain how to help. The gym isn’t an uncomfortable place for him and I can’t explain to him just how awful it feels to be there for me. And I wasn’t going to be able to explain it then, and there wasn’t anything he could to fix it anyhow. So I went back to my little area, wobbily did my sets, and kept going.

It’ll get easier, and it’ll suck until it doesn’t. And then I’ll probably add new exercises and it will suck all over again. There will probably be a day that I won’t hate the weight room, but I suspect that’s a long way off. Until then I’ll try to remember that no one is being mean to me—this is all in my own head.

Emotional First Responder with WAC

I spent the weekend of March 11th cozied up from the rain, sitting on a couch at the Washington Alpine Club cabin, talking about grief. We talked about much more than grief, but it was grief, at the community scale, that started the ball rolling on the weekend course: Emotional First Responder. As a community dedicated to learning and improvement, we work each year to refresh our knots skills, throw ourselves down slopes to remember how to arrest, and knock the rust off of our z-pulleys. All of the physical skills are fundamental and required and important. But when Laurel Fan died last summer, doing this dangerous thing that we’re all practicing constantly, I found I was unprepared.

Jodie self-arrest

WAC instructor training – ice axe arrest

Grief is hard, and grieving with a community is hard. She was and is ours to grieve, but she is also more than just a member of WAC, and respecting that while watching a community shocked and saddened was and continues to be a hard thing. This is made even more difficult by the community members on the periphery – the men and women who knew her by name but not closely, yet were watching the men and women they respected and looked to for support be turned upside down.

Grief happens in circles. There is the person who dies and the inner circle of those most intimately touched. Then the circle outside of those people, and the circle outside of them, and the circle outside of them, and so on. Laurel was an incredible instructor and many of the more senior, experienced climbers were close to her. The newest members of the WAC, just knocking the glint off of their crampons, were suddenly the pillars of strength as their leaders sobbed. The structure of support inverted.

Mike Daly lectures

WAC lectures in the field

All this to say—grief is hard, and watching people you care about grieve is hard. And one is not harder than the other; they are different and both very real. If I could say anything, it’s that showing up is important. I didn’t know Laurel very well—but I still hate that I was out of town and unable to be THERE for her memorial, that I was unable to show up for my community. I sent in words and photographs to be included and I cried that night, underneath the sky in Montana, and I grieved for our loss.

We want to foster an environment of communication – where anyone in the WAC knows that he or she can say  “this is hard for me, I am scared and sad and broken hearted,” and they know there is someone listening. The course was the first of its kind. We are not claiming to be professionals, but we reminded ourselves how to approach the world with empathy and kindness, and I think that this matters.

The other work of the weekend was equally important—we reviewed active listening and techniques to unfreeze someone in a panic or near panic place. We revised our languages and we reminded ourselves to define those around is in specific terms (she is diagnosed with the state of pregnancy J) rather than general (she’s a mom).  It all sounds silly at first but it is the first step to conveying accurate information without judgement and labeling.

I hope that we don’t have to use any of the skills we learned this past weekend, but the reality is that people will continue to die—it’s sort of what we do. Whether it’s out in the mountains or in hospice care after a long life—death continues. This is one of the things that I found utterly shocking about my father’s death—suddenly I was experiencing something so incredibly unique and, at the same exact time, so completely universally human. I felt part of a larger story and fabric and it was strangely reassuring.

I don’t know that EFR training will grow much beyond our club, but I think it should. At the very outset Danelle, our leader for the weekend, said that around 85% of the adult population have experienced something traumatic. I count myself in that bucket. I know many around me do too. I don’t know what to do with that information except to move forward with an open heart.

Flash Foxy Women’s Climbing Festival recap

I had a very different trip report composed—one that went through the blow by blow of our planning and disaster, that covered our constant revision throughout the weekend and tried to capture our humor and joy—but it meandered several pages and didn’t really get to the heart of the festival. So here’s a second attempt at why the Flash Foxy Women’s Climbing Festival felt so essential to me.

Photo Mar 02, 7 34 30 AM

Bishop or bust!

I went to Bishop with two friends that I haven’t spent much time with over the past year. We loosely planned beforehand and then had to scrap most of our plan and figure out a new approach at the last minute. This last minute shuffle brought me to tears but reminded me of the joy in planning with friends—we rallied so quickly and with such good humor and strength that everything felt ok. We flew in to LA, rented a car, and drove in to Bishop with endless music playing and the California desert unfurling its beauty as the sun set.

Friday morning we wake to snowcapped mountains and a full day to climb.  We decide to head to Alabama Hills, about an hour outside of Bishop. We rack up for an easy route and I take the lead first. I get two bolts up and hesitate– it’s slabbier than I had expected and my brain just freezes. C takes over the lead next and works her way up to the 8th bolt. The route moves left off of the arête and it feels sketchy. She comes down and A gives it a shot but comes back down.

This is the first time I have climbed with a group of women that are so equally matched–there isn’t a rope gun among us and there is a shocking lack of ego. This is the moment the festival clicks in. We are shaking off travel and dust, we are working through injuries, and we are doing it together.

I head back up and the first part feels much easier than it did before. The move goes and I finish the climb and come down happy, though I honestly can’t tell you if it’s because I finished the climb or because we all were part of the process.

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Photo op on our way out of Alabama Hills

Back in Bishop we check in for the festival at The Rambler. There are lights strung up and as we get our name tags and tote bags we watch another beautiful sunset. Shelma Jun, the festival organizer, is standing near the tables and talking to everyone. In the line for beer the women behind us say hello and introduce themselves, and everywhere you can hear the same conversation and introductions. We mingle and talk and meet new friends and see familiar faces. We are a sea of beanies and puffy jackets, our new tote bags over our shoulders, and everyone feels approachable.

Photo Mar 03, 5 55 57 PM

Sunset and check in at The Rambler

The next day the festival starts with breakfast at the fairgrounds. As each woman fills her hands with bagels and coffee we sit, but instead of the usual clusters of two or three friends, we form open circles with strangers joining each other and waving over other new friends. I’ve never seen anything like this.

Shelma leads a panel discussion, broadly about being a woman in a sport that is still dominated by men. The discussion moves in to issues of access and privilege and is over before anyone is able to dig too deeply in to any one topic, but it’s time to meet for our workshops.

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Shelma Jun introducing the Women in Climbing panel

Going in to this weekend, I was nervous but excited about the workshop I signed up for—Managing Fear with Nina Williams. Bouldering is not my top choice when it comes to climbing style and falling off of a problem is still a very frightening thing for me. Nina is kind and open and we go around the circle and make introductions and then head to the Buttermilks.

On our hike to our first boulder, Nina points to a large formation and says, “That’s Ambrosia.” A few days before she made the first female ascent and the climb is high, dangerous, and stunning.

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Nina Williams and our Managing Fear workshop (Photo credit: Trish Ang @feesh)

As we climb Nina asks us to pay attention to our fear—she asks us what our physical reaction is and what it feels like in our bodies. She describes her own fear as a ball of light in her chest. She challenges new women to place the pads carefully at each new boulder and she cheers us on as we try and fail or try and succeed on each problem. As we wrap up at each spot she jumps on and moves easily through the sequences and it is beautiful to watch.

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Trying to warm up in the sun. Photo credit: Trish Ang (@feesh)

Throughout the workshop each woman cheers and climbs and spots and laughs. We share snacks and chase each other’s hats when the wind gusts tear them off of our heads. Did we climb? Yes. But I’ve been climbing before. I haven’t felt this kind of complete support where failure was simply part of the process.

Back at the fairgrounds we have dinner and find seats for the film fest. Two thirds of the way through the films we take a break to raffle off prizes and Shelma pauses to talk to the crowd. She starts to try to talk but gets choked up. Pretty soon everyone is on their feet, clapping and cheering, and when I look around everyone looks about ready to cry. This is space is so important. I can’t say it enough—the space to simply be together, without judgement, without ego—it sounds new agey to call it a gift, but that’s what it felt like.

Photo Mar 05, 8 51 09 AM

Group shot!

The last day of the festival starts with breakfast again and a group photo, and then we break in to groups to climb or work on stewardship projects. My friends and I decide to join the crew working at The Pit. When we arrive the clouds are dark and moody and the wind is gusting. We grab bags and shovels and go campsite to campsite cleaning out fire pits, taking care of random garbage. The other half of our group pulls out Russian Thistle. As we finish the rain starts and, for us, the festival is over.

There were other things that happened of course— we encountered more kindness then I can mention here. We made jokes that played across the entire weekend and we all got overwhelmed by socializing constantly. We battled wind and laughed about puppets and soup. We had a very LA day and then we flew home and we tumbled out of our Lyft happy to be back in our own beds. I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

 

Reaction essay: Everything Is Teeth

I sat down to write a response to Evie Wild’s book Everything Is Teeth and the book barely surfaces. This became an essay about other things, but in a way, that’s my favorite kind of reaction essay. Something that becomes a seed for a different plant. I think this means that I liked the book. 
Everything Is Teeth.
I can’t remember anything from when I was six. I don’t know what books I loved, what I was obsessed with. Time when I was young is one big chunk. I was young, then I wasn’t. I know that my mother created worlds for us– she read The Boxcar Children and Roald Dahl and enough sailing adventures of Arthur Ransome that I thought, years later, that I knew the feeling of a boat beneath my feet and it was only when a friend asked “when?” that I questioned my memory.
Memory is a faulty machine. I remember rain and green vines and my aunt from my vantage point at her knees, holding an umbrella above us. Stomping on mushrooms that puffed spores in to the forest. I don’t know if there was really an umbrella. I don’t remember anything before or after. Just rain, mushrooms, spores and my aunt. 
With an adults perspective and a map, I can gather that we were on the Olympic peninsula. I can ask my aunt about the specifics, because I live here now, this place of first memory, a few miles from the very aunt that I can remember in laughter and shoes. 
My brother swears he remembers the trip to Seattle. That he remembers sitting in a truck, pushing all the buttons. He was younger than me, still in diapers, barely a toddler, and he remembers this. Or he’s heard the story so many times and seen the photographs he has created this memory. The mind is powerful, we can create and destroy and convince ourselves our version is the right version. If only this were limited to sitting in a truck, pushing buttons. 
How strange, when my mom and dad were separating, that he came back from seeing his brother with gifts for all of us. He rode horses and picked out earrings and left them on the ironing board. Why didn’t he hand them to her, why did he leave them on a place tied to chores and domesticity? I still love the earrings he gave me, even though one has broken. I treasure everything my father gave me. It doesn’t matter why. But the child never asks why something is the way it is. Shifts happen and there is a powerlessness to it. So you adapt. 
What happens to the brother? Why is he bleeding and what happens to the family because of it? To a child, it is just the new reality. She questions briefly and then brings another shark story as a gift. 
Maybe I just wasn’t as precocious as a child. A little shark wielding tooth wielding child. I was half of a unit, I had my twin sister by my side. What world did we create without even knowing? We never created our own language, we were never inseparable like some twins, going mute in public, becoming two parts of a whole that could not stand on her own. The older I get the more I realize how present a twin is. How there is never a question of thereness. And this terrifies me. I read stories of twinless twins, I burst in to tears when asked : Is your twin a) living b) deceased c) unknown. To be that far apart, to be uncertain whether or not she lived. Move on, do not investigate this any deeper. 
There is a new moon tonight– a gaping sky. In class our yoga teacher tells us– there is a shift, have you felt it? The sky agape. A word that means mouth open, also selfless love. As we sit, teeth swim through me. Sutures tearing slightly open. Hands in fire mudras, burning creation. Memory is fallible, memory can be recreated. What I once looked at with tinges of heartbreak I can see with a different clarity. Cauterize and move on. Some people are not capable of understanding words have duplicity, meaning floats on the surface. The mouth hingeing open, the sky empty. 

 

An attack becomes about sustenance, about self preservation. A shark moving in for fish at a weight belt, not for the man. He is a bystander, he got in the way. This doesn’t undo the damage. Intentions are irrelevant, but you can learn to be in a different place. To be cautious with movement. 
In a memoir, there is no clean conclusion. It reminds me of the short stories from the magazine Story. All slice of life. As a reader they left me feeling raw, uncertain. Now I gravitate to this style. A death in the periphery, something that changes the story but is never in focus. The car driving away and the dishwasher that continues to churn while she sits at window, watching the mailman. No answers, nothing concluded. A slightly polished mirror held up– this is us, our world, and not everything will be explained. Take it. 

Print: Laos

Tonight was supposed to be an evening of catching up with friends and meeting new instructors with WAC. For reasons too much to get in to here, I had to skip the meet and greet. Not thrilled.

Rather than just stew at home angry, I took the time to work on my ever growing print project.  Here are the results from a bit of wine and some sharp blades. 


I knew this image was going to be too large for my format, but here is the starting point. I upped the contrast (hiding Dave completely) and reversed it for reference. This image is the reverse of the original. 


Next I traced the block and sketched out the image in sharpie. I used to use a finer point, but the blunt tip of sharpies mimics the finest point of the blade I use better than a fine tip pen. Using the sketch, I redraw the image on the block. At this point I mostly avoid looking back at the source image.  While it is useful, I will never get the fine detail in the photograph and referring back to it at this point is just frusrating. 


Time to cut! I use linozip blades rather than the traditional ones that gouge out. I find I have more control with the j hook.


The final block- pre printing. Typically I test print with stamp ink first and make adjustments, but this block had enough relief that I felt pretty good about it and went right for the ink.


The final image.  I will print it on better paper, but this is what I had on hand, and you can see the weave coming through. 

Eventually I will print all the blocks on nice paper and bind them in to a book– that’s the long term goal at least. For now, this will do.

Kitchen scene.

How fine the line between ownership and forceful takeover. This is my story but not mine alone. So where are the lines between mine and yours? This mug is mine. This bowl was yours but you gave it to me, so it is mine now. This stainless steel measuring cup was never mine but yours and I have taken it. These kitchen things. I stop buying things that are hand wash only so I can rein my anger at the dishwasher. On inanimate fight.