symbiotic with the gods: poetry and reflections on social media, climbing, awe, and fear

In today’s world of social media, consumerism, political anxiety, and competition, the quiet rush of awe feels so counterintuitive sometimes. It feels connected, intuitive, and solitary. A paradox. Why not celebrate awe and mountains in a poem, yet again?

I experienced several forms of awe, gratitude, and silence over the weekend. My parents were supposed to come into town, and Nick’s parents and my parents were going to meet for the first time with Nick and I over breakfast. My family got sick with strep. It was a bummer I couldn’t take my little brother climbing, but not going to lie–I felt like I dodged a bullet with the whole parents thing.

And so Nick, some friends, and I went climbing up in Allegheny National Forest at one of our favourite spots.

It’s incredibly peaceful there, incredibly quiet. It’s all big boulders strewn across a hilltop and surrounded by woods. We saw one other person over the course of the day–an old runner dude going through a divorce who rescued my friend’s forgotten dog leash.

After we climbed, we went up to stay at our friend Dalton’s family’s camp. No signal. No television. No Wi-Fi. Just friends sitting around drinking beer, snuggling with dogs, and trying to get warm by a wood stove. As a writer who works online everyday of the week, this was so. fucking. healthy.

Last climbing season, I decked out on a lead climb ground fall. Fortunately, I was not injured, but I did develop a strong fear of falling that stuck with me for the rest of the season. It’s taken me some time to work through it.

In recent weeks, a lot has changed. I’ve felt more at peace with where I am, and after years of mental health struggles, I finally realised that I’m not fatally flawed and I’m doing the best I can and I believe in my ability to succeed, even if I want to succeed in weird ways or along strange paths. I “knew” that, but I felt it and knew it in a completely new way.

In that process, I decided to trust myself. I decided to believe that no other human being was my “main connection port” to God, morality, or the universe. No one was arbitrating what I should or shouldn’t be afraid of, and no one else can arbitrate my worth. No one else can decide what I’m capable of, and I can choose my own fucking path and not apologise for it.

I am not fatally flawed, and I am not broken. I am capable of connection.

This got to the root of some really hard shit.

A lot of fear and anxiety melted away overnight.

It seems almost trite to speak about it in such a cursory way, but that’s what happened.

This past weekend, the fear of falling was still there, under the surface, but I felt way more capable of using awe and a sense of beauty to connect me to the climbs.

I thought about beta–my sequence of moves–and I was able to focus on the rock, the texture, my balance, my feet, the bone-numbing cold of northern Pennsylvania winter rock.

It was joy. It wasn’t a 5.13 lead joy (I still have a long way to go), but it was some real fucking joy nonetheless.

Sitting in that cabin at the end of the day, my beer-buzzed thoughts circled climbing, trust, social media, art, connection, and what I want to write about.

At many times throughout my life, I’ve regarded social media simultaneously as bane of modern existence and a crappy connection crutch: horrible, addictive, occasionally useful, not “real.”

And then I encounter blogs of old school climbers. And then I encounter the art and music of Amanda Palmer. And then I get to watch Lynn Hill boulder. And then I have conversations about swimming with whales with Shetland photographers. And then, and then, and then.

What I feel more and more is that social media and this strange blogging world offers a way of sharing–a modality of connection that is so complex, so political, so integral to our modern markets that awe itself drives me to want to understand more of our weird internet world. However, awe itself also drives me to disconnect and appreciate my little world of Pennsylvania rock and friends. These extremes, these poles of my 21st-century experience, are exhilarating, humbling, and baffling.

Maybe how we engage with social media and sharing our creativity is in and of itself a process that cannot be immediately deemed “good” or “bad.” It’s how we use it. It’s how we connect. It’s that balance. It’s about our own connection to this world we live in.

Maybe it’s about facilitating honesty, grappling with social issues both large and small, and stepping away every once in a while. Maybe it’s about accepting that no one’s process of engaging with the world–whether outside on rock or inside on a computer–is going to look the exact same, and nobody is perfect.

I’m starting with that, and I want to create from there.

How about you? How do awe, fear, and the overcoming of anxiety form and inform your life and your decisions? How does it change what you create? How does it imbue your life with meaning? How does it impact how you engage with the fixings of modern life–social media, news, etc?

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