just go for it: xandra climbs trad

Mysterious knee bruises. Squished blistered feet. Evidence of blood sacrifice on fingers. Hot water like knives at my sunburned back. This all adds up to an epic three days of climbing in the Peak District!

Battle wounds aside, successful seconding and tricky starts aside, the highlight of the trip for me was learning how to lead trad. I’ve been top roping outdoors for about six years now, but didn’t even know trad and sport existed until less than a year ago…So let me enlighten you to the difference here, in case you don’t know, with some lovely diagrams from this page.

This is top-roping:

This is lead climbing:

In trad climbing, the leader places gear like this shiny things into the rock (photo):

Gear placing adds a unique creative aspect to the climbing game, which is already kind of a puzzle. It requires constant attention to the reality of how you could fall by making you responsible for protecting yourself. To be successful you have to be intuitive and deliberate, as there is no “correct” placement for each route just as there is no “correct” way to climb it, although of course some are better than others.

The novelty of this new climbing component made it unappealing to me at first, and for a bit I  seconded other lead climbers happily, retrieving gear rather than placing it. But I decided that I Need To Learn Trad no matter how badly I feel for taking up time from my awesome climbing friends’ valuable climbing time at the crag.

I’ve been shown how to place gear a couple of times. People have explained to me the various purposes of the various pieces of gear. I’ve practiced that stuff. But nothing compares to actually trying it. I was tentative to get off the ground and start climbing, even on routes on which there was no way I would fall and need the gear I would be setting anyway.

As I stood at the bottom of my first trad lead I felt a rush of helplessness, much like performing a song for an audience – even though I’d practiced, there are parts you can’t anticipate on opening night. While explanations of all the gear and the important parts I committed to memory did help, I found that the most effective way to learn and improve is to just go for it.

This is because:

a. Actually trying results in a sense of satisfaction and completion.

b. The knowledge you have acquired through studying is put into context.

And the context is the point here, isn’t it? I’m not learning to place gear to know how to place gear – I’m learning to place gear so that I can be protected when I climb.

This is the same problem I have with preparing for standardized tests or in writing my weekly essays. I feel obliged to be completely finished studying and researching before taking a practice test or diving into an essay. To a certain extent, yes, these early stages are necessary, but they are only valuable in the context of the final product.

So there’s that thing, that you want to do, but can’t quite get started on – there must be, since I encounter this in my daily life to various extents. Study up, pay attention, and just try it out. You’ll probably make a mistake or several, but these mistakes might have happened with or without the preparation.

Most importantly, don’t be afraid to learn something new. It’s tough to be bad at something at first, but it’s that end result that’s satisfying, and, in the case of my trad skillz, opens up a new realm of possibility.

Food Review: Pizza Express Salad & Dessert

Why call such an elegant delicious place Pizza Express, Pizza Express people? It’s one of my favorite chains and pizza places, and to top it off, they generously send out 2 for 1 vouchers and give student discounts. Hoorah!

On my most recent visit to Pizza Express, I tried the new Warm Vegetable and Goats Cheese Salad. Delicious, but deceptively filling for a salad! It’s big enough for two to share.

Then, for dessert, I discovered a new five-star favorite for which I will be returning: The Banoffee Pie. A perfect combination of fruit, toffee, cream, and pie to be succulent, but not too sweet, which is always the danger of banoffee-flavored desserts! Highly recommended.

A very filling and satisfying meal with delightful service and a calm afternoon atmosphere.

Some Cool Links: Beautiful Table Edition

i miss going back to school

As much as I loved spending summers running around the neighborhood, making sidewalk chalk downs, enrolling in various summer programs, and reading lots and lots of Harry Potter, the most exciting part of my summer were the couple of weeks leading up to the start of school.

A pack of pastel printer paper full of calendars, forms, and clip art would arrive in the mail, and I would read through it word for word, in order, to get to the School Supply List. The ultimate summer satisfaction – checking off that list in style. Finding the best supplies and gathering them together, clean, shiny, new, unopened, waiting to be abraded by the hard work to come over the year.

A lot of school is satisfying in that way, even though not all of it is as shiny – daily homework assignments, daily schedules from classroom to classroom – to do well all you need to do is follow directions and try hard.

The younger you are the less painful it is – the teachers draw attention to every holiday, to the changing of the seasons, to the little annual things that you don’t have time for when you’re older. You have craft time to be creative and reading time to sit on a beanbag chair and worry about nothing, immersing yourself in a book.

But each year it gets slightly harder, focusing more on work and less on creativity, and then, you get to high school and they expect you to bring back creativity, incorporating it into work, the way you think, rather than by restricting it to the arrangement of construction paper you choose. The work becomes more ambiguous, more interesting, but the days of instant satisfaction have slipped away…

Every year as you approach university you are expected to enter each class with a stronger base knowledge. Those couple of weeks before school starts carry the weight of uncertainty, and this feeling overtakes the excitement sometimes, when you wonder if you’ve taken enough notes on the summer reading book.

Then, for me, before entering university I’m given nine thousand of summer reading to do rather than three hundred. I’m given more work, less guidance, and much more responsibility. Although frustrating and directionless at times, it is an exciting challenge – one that teaches me how to learn rather than just teaching me the things themselves, and this is what Ken Robinson says should be happening with education. It seems like something easy to suggest but much harder to implement:

Make the learning process more consistent throughout.

Keep creativity apart of every classroom, not just the art studio, encourage the fun side of education (Jump Start 12th Grade, anyone? And beyond the obvious link of “games” with “fun,” why save the interesting out-of-the-box seminars for college? Wouldn’t it be cool if more subjects were taught than Math, Science, English, and History, all through school? Just a little taste at least!), don’t abandon the annual rituals because no one is too cool for them, and teach us how to learn.

Growing up, I always thought that adulthood was so far away – that high school – was so far away, and I think Hollywood is to blame for that. Perhaps if I dress up and do this dance that back-to-school excitement will never leave?


Don’t Climb Too Slowly

[This post is part of Xandra the Adventuress‘s Thoroughly Adventurous Thursdays, but this post isn’t just about climbing so don’t be scared or anything silly like that :)]

In our fast-paced society, we are tempted, encouraged, instructed, to pick up the pace. We want things instantly. I just read about this today, in Stephanie Perkins‘s Anna and the French Kiss. Super awesome English teacher Professeur Cole says:

“It’s often suggested that as a culture, we’re only interested in immediate gratification. Fast food. Self-checkout. Downloadable music, movies, books. Instant coffee, instant rebates, instant messaging. Instant weight loss! Shall I go on?”

And she is right. One of my goals as a minimalist is to slow down. Well it was. Until this evening’s trip to the climbing gym when I realized that slowing down isn’t quite the solution to the negative effects of speeding up.

I was going up a friendly 5+ on a flat wall with no overhangs – a climb comfortably within my range – so I decided that my goal would be to conserve as much energy as possible by making deliberate choices and executing them with elegance. This strategy prevents me from mindlessly rushing up easy climbs without practicing technique – or worse, struggling on them and wasting loads of energy.

Essentially, I would slow down to avoid the carelessness that often comes with speeding up.

About halfway up the wall, I gazed at the options in front of me and was shocked to realize that I didn’t know what to do next. Brookes routes are straightforward, the challenge being in stamina more than technique, and this was supposed to be an easy climb for me. I was making very conscious decisions and taking care to place my feet and hands in the most effective positions. I was going slowly…

Too slowly. As I paused to look up I noticed that all of the holds were barely beyond my reach, and that the way to get to them was with momentum. The best use of my energy was not in making sure that I was in the most rested positions throughout, but to propel myself to the top, using the energy I gained along the way, to ensure that I wouldn’t need to rest at all. If I stopped at every hold, I would have to build up energy to reach for the next tricky one every time.

“Slowing down” didn’t work. “Moving efficiently” did.

I should have known! This is the same mistake I have discovered in reading – sometimes if I don’t understand something, slowing down leads to more confusion. Instead I force myself to speed up to get my mind to work more quickly at piecing the information together, and usually this works.

Sometimes I use “slowing down” as an excuse to zone out and relax too much, when really a little speeding up will energize me and sharpen my focus, allowing me to power through whatever challenge lies before me.

(The second half of the climb took about a minute to complete. Bam.)

my favorite film genre: the off-beat romance

It’s taken me a while to admit this to myself, let alone the world, but alas: I love romantic comedies and chick flicks. I appreciate that often they aren’t the best films cinematically, but I enjoy them. And yes, I did see I Don’t Know How She Does It on opening weekend.

But my favorite film genre is more specific:

The Off-Beat Romance.

(500) Days of Summer. Stranger Than Fiction. 10 Things I Hate About You. Juno.

I recently saw two films from this category, hence the realization that it is my favorite, because they were freaking fun:

One Day: Covers twenty years of one relationship, showing only the July 15ths. Being the Anne Hathaway fan I am, I had to see this film, and it made me a Jim Sturgess fan as well (previously I had only seen him in Across the Universe – also fabulous – so couldn’t really call myself a Jim Sturgess Fan so much as a Jim Sturgess in Across the Universe Fan). I also wanted to steal her wardrobe for a lot of the film (an excellent element of the Off-Beat Romance genre: fantastic fashion.). Then realized that a lot of it is already in my closet…

You Instead: What’s cool about this film – and also, what’s a bit weird at first – is that it takes place over the course of an entire day at a music festival and feels as if it doesn’t really skip parts. It’s about a cool guy in a band (Luke Treadaway) a cool girl in a band (Natalia Tena) who develop an intuitive bond over their initial mutual hatred (yeah, sometimes any romance is cliché, but sometimes it works!) and their passion for music! Now unfortunately, this film doesn’t have a US release date…yet…but it’s a great excuse to visit the UK I guess :)

Off-Beat Romances are often about characters who think they’re too cool for romance and then they fall for it anyway. Kind of like my relationship with rom-coms. Well consider this my crazy cliché public declaration of love in the end when the guy (usually the guy) is like screw being indie cool, YOU ARE AWESOME.

See what I’ve read, watched, and listened to this week at dodgy’s culture diary :)