Sunday, April 29, 2012

Having never lived in a city, I don't have much to compare Oakland to. It's been a huge adjustment for me, learning to preserve my happiness in a place that quietly seethes with as much energy and chaos as this city does. My most reliable method of self-medication, seeking solace and solitude in the mountains, has been basically unavailable to me since moving here, and I'll go weeks without stepping foot on anything more natural than the tiny plot of grass in my front yard.

My friends here all insist that there are spots nearby that would satiate my need for a nature fix, but so far I haven't taken anyone up on the offer to show me these mythical places. I know that there's a bounty of beautiful secluded places within an hour or so of a car ride, but I'm so spoiled from living in Boulder and having the Flatirons minutes from my doorstep that the commute just isn't appealing. I'm still working on finding a way to nurture that part of myself that needs trees and dirt and fresh air to survive, here amidst the concrete. (By the way, what it lacks in terms of nature accessibility, the Bay Area far makes up for with culture, diversity, art, music, and community). 

A spring storm rolls over the Flatirons at the top of the street I grew up on
For my spring break, I returned to Boulder for the first time since having moved last fall, in order to dose myself with as much time in the mountains as possible. The effect was incredible. Upon driving into Boulder Valley, I felt the peaceful quiet of the place surround me like a diver submerging into a placid lake. The mountains, so familiar in their silhouette, stood solid and serene above the small city, and I could feel their protective presence like an embrace. 

After adjusting to the altitude, I spent a sunny afternoon climbing in Clear Creek Canyon, where I tried Ten Digit Dialing, 12c, a great route. 

Clear Creek
 Afterwards, Jonathan Siegrist and I went to Estes Park to spend a few days climbing at even higher altitude. Altitude always makes me have the craziest dreams, and Jonathan had to wake me up one night while I was supposedly laughing in my sleep and exclaiming "Puppies!!" delightedly.

We decided to climb a multi-pitch on the rather stiff and (in my opinion) unforgiving Lumpy Ridge. I believe that the route we did was 11b and called something like Paralandria. Even though I started the day in high spirits, the route still brought me to tears, as it seems almost every multi-pitch does. After getting two pieces of gear stuck and becoming so tired that I was grunting like an enraged safari animal, I reached the final belay stance and had a mini meltdown. Jonathan has seen this little routine of mine so many times that he just waited for it to pass, trying his best not to laugh.

Jonathan leading the first pitch- he's the small blur towards the top under the shadow
...long way down..

this picture doesn't do it justice, but that's what we climbed.
We also went climbing at the undeniably classic crag The Monastery, a place infamous for it's sandbagged routes. I tried Psychatomic for the first time, a pristine 12d that feels much harder than many 13as that I've been on. I can't wait to get back and try it again later this summer.

one of the best 12ds in Colorado, if not the nation

After Estes, I spent the rest of my time hiking in the Flatirons, climbing Bear Peak and other favorite trails of mine that I've wandered since I was a little kid. 

view from the top of Bear Peak
Boulder from the vantage of the summit
When I returned from Boulder back to Oakland, I felt grounded and renewed in a way that  haven't experienced the whole time I've been here. As I get to know the area more thoroughly, I'm sure that I'll find secluded spots with trees and silence that can offer me at least a hint of the respite that I find in the Rocky Mountains. I hope so, at least.

so true.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

I recently had the pleasure of being featured in an article exploring the dynamics of the artist/athlete persona. The author, Aaron Bible, opened the piece by asking:

I've always been fascinated by the duality in the artist-athlete personality. What is it that drives someone to push their physical limits, as well as their creative ones, to the extreme? And how can these two parts of life exist so perfectly in the same people?

Climbing at Mickey's Beach. Anthony Lapomardo photo
He continued to write,

This seeming dichotomy between the athlete and the artist was documented in the 1974 Warner Herzog film, “The Great Ecstasy of the Sculptor Steiner.” When I stumbled across this film on Netflix a number of years ago I was blessed with one of those Ah ha moments where one realizes they are not alone in their emotionally intellectual quandaries.

In this seminal short film, Herzog documents his own lifelong exploration of what he refers to as “ecstatic truth.” The film is about the famed ski jumper Walter Steiner, who shattered ski jumping (or as Steiner calls it, ski flying) records from 1970-1977 and worked during the day as a carpenter and wood carver. The duality of his art forms as a skier and sculptor is artfully deconstructed in what Herzog called one of his most important films.

The name of the film itself speaks volumes, referencing Irving Stone's biography of Michelangelo, “The Agony and Ecstasy,” and the film work is solemn, monotone and filled with contemplative, introspective moments of both wood carving and ski jumping, intermixed with violent crashes and egotistical rants, painting the picture of this potentially conflicted personality. It made me realize I was not the only one consumed.

“These two pursuits that at first glance seem at odds with each other really have quite a lot of similar things fueling them. The willingness to suffer, the ever-compelling jump between juxtaposing emotional states, the introspective knowledge that comes from experiencing them and the sense of accomplishment when the long sought-after route is climbed or the piece that took months to paint is completed,” said Marisa Ware, an athlete and artist who splits her time between San Francisco, Calif., where she is currently pursuing a Master's in illustration at the Academy of Art, and Boulder, and various climbing crags and campgrounds around the West.

“All this said, I do feel constantly torn between these two obsessions of mine. When I'm on a climbing trip surrounded by other climbers, I feel that one side of me is being wholly satisfied. I love sleeping in the back of a truck, waking in the cold morning, eating breakfast cooked on a camp stove, spending the day totally exerting myself and watching my friends do the same, all of us witnessing each other's triumphs and defeats, then returning to camp exhausted to sit around a fire and fall asleep under the stars,” Ware said.

“Yet within this partial version of my own paradise, I feel the absence of the other half,” she continued. “I don't feel my artistic side being stimulated or nourished, so I return to the city, immerse myself in my classes, spend hours upon hours holed up in a dark room, inspired, solitary, engrossed in the workings of my own creativity,” she said. “Eventually, I start to ache for the feel of rock on my fingertips and the sharp air of the desert.”

“It's all about exploration,” said John Gorman, a Portland, Ore., based product designer, sculptor, painter and cyclist. “I ride and race my bike to get a different perspective on life. Art and design thoughts run rampant after depleting the more visceral emotions.”

After years of exploration and the depleting of emotions on so many levels, I know it has something to do with the need to push oneself, emotionally, physically, creatively. That truly exhaustive feeling that can only be achieved by six hours of going hard in the saddle, battling raging rapids or clinging to exposed sandstone, and also by expelling the emotions of a brutal childhood onto paper, attempting to quell an insatiable urge to tell a visual or musical story, or by photographing and printing something that speaks to who we are as human beings.

“Both pursuits require suffering,” said Ware. “All of my teachers keep reiterating that point, as does my experience. There is joy, relaxation, and meditative states involved with creating art, but those enjoyable states are balanced by frustration, vexation, and dissatisfaction. The level of determination and concentration that it takes to sit through a six-hour figure drawing class is the same that a climber needs to train for hours at the gym in preparation for whatever route they're trying to climb.”

The life of the artist, however, doesn't always lend itself well to the life of the athlete. Artists like to stay up late, dark emotions often lead to the best work, and this leads to the same feelings of ecstasy and depravation we get from extreme sports. So how do we find a balance?

“I think the essential conflict here is the one we all face — striving for balance in all facets of life. The work/life dichotomy is a major struggle when you are an independent creative running your own shop,” said Tampa, Fla., based freelance photographer and adventure motorcyclist Joseph Gamble. “Riding a motorcycle forces you to attend to the present moment. Trips can require great care and planning, maintenance of the bike, reservations and permits for campsites, but when you are on the bike, pulling back the throttle, there is a real symmetry between man and machine. More importantly, you are forced to reckon with the present moment, whether you are managing rush hour traffic or bombing through a sandy trail. There is no past and no present in these moments. For me, adventure motorcycling then becomes a system reboot, a defragging of the mind.”

“There's a need for aesthetic in the person that's not dissimilar to the need for aesthetic in art. Practically speaking, I cannot do my art without being somewhat athletic…I have backpacked and hiked thousands of miles in my life to make my living from photography,” Colorado landscape photographer John Fielder explained to me. “Mind and body are symbiotic: a fit body begets a fitter mind, and a fit mind underlies the discipline needed to care about one's body. I could not have made one tenth of the photographs I've made in 40 years without having remained reasonably fit and aware of my physicality and the part it plays in my life.” Some are seemingly able to find a balance better than others.

“I think that on some level, the motivation must be coming from the same fervent source, but honestly, most of the time those two aspects of myself seem pretty divided,” said Ware.

“I would say it's in the desire to achieve perfection of form in both,” said Aspen-based cyclist, massage therapist and designer Shawn Hadley. “In athletics, as in art, that level of perfection is affected by so many different aspects, making it almost impossible without a little luck and tremendous dedication.”

“I think that being physically active in a sport is very energizing for one's creative endeavors,” said artist-athlete Jessica Conlan-Glover, a long time mountain girl, runner, and painter. “I feel I am happier and way more positive when I am healthy in all aspects…my body, my mind, my spirit. It gives me energy to be creative and actually more productive when I sit down to a canvas to paint.”

Glover continued: “I think anyone that makes a point to replace something non-beneficial in their lives with an activity that gives them more strength and energy makes them happier and more productive in every part of their daily lives, including being a parent, spouse, employee, or even a customer. If you can take literally 20 minutes, working up to half hour, and then an hour (which is not that much out of your waking 16 to 18 hour day), one can make a notable difference in their energy level and consequently be more productive and happier. This has become a great balance in my life. I love to sit down and paint with that clear mind and motivation.”

“I experienced a pretty radical paradigm shift a few years ago, realizing (among many other things) that I needed to change my approach and focus my efforts,” Ware continued. “It seemed clear that if I didn't simplify my pursuits, that I would never achieve any sort of greatness -- and that motivation, perhaps, is for me the common thread between climbing and art -- a desire to excel, to push myself to my own limits and witness the results. To chase genius.”

Whether it the pursuit of genius, or a glimpse of Herzog's ecstatic truth, clearly there is something deep running through us all. Hopefully, in each person's individual way, they are able to find the balance, to create, to be outdoors, be happy, and to take the risks necessary to get there. 

See the article and the rest of the accompanying photos here.