Transition periods: they’re a real bitch.  There’s nothing like uncertainty about both now and the future to make your mind feel like it’s just come ashore on some wobbly sea legs.  The key qualities of a transition period are vague direction, multiple possibilities or options, groundlessness, and uprootedness.  Namely, you’ve leapt from one island of safety but have yet to land on the other and meanwhile hang suspended with your gut rising into your chest like Wile E. Coyote.  My gut instinct when in a period of transition is to get out of it as soon as possible: make landfall, find safety, place pro, whatever I’ve got to do to reduce the uncertainty.  But this approach doesn’t recognize the benefits of this state, and as one is often in a state of transition without a controllable end, it’s pointless to lament, and it’s productive to capitalize on what is ultimately a useful state of being.

Security is an illusion. Always.  There is nothing that can’t change and nothing that won’t eventually do so.  To be in a state of transition makes this truth startlingly clear, as the ideas that we normally use to shield ourselves from this fact have been taken away.  This is such an uncomfortable state of being that most people, by my read at least, spend a significant, if not dominant, portion of their time and effort and energy avoiding it like the plague.

Recently I’ve found myself approaching a transition: in a month, the grant that funds my research will have paid me all that it can, and beyond that date I’m unsure of where or how I’ll be employed.  My search for work, especially in this job market, has highlighted for me that mobility is one of my greatest assets in finding a job.  Thus, I’m looking at jobs in Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, and elsewhere.  The thing is, I don’t know where I’ll end up, or if I’ll even want to leave Portland.  There’s more for me here than my heart cares to admit.

As this transition approaches and I try to find a direction, I’ve asked myself what I believe to by my purpose in life.  Yawn, you say, give me a good YouTube link and I’m out of here.  But I’m not about to offer any conclusions, just an idea about how to get to them, which will perhaps be useful to you.

I often find myself trying to reverse-engineer this problem by asking what it is that I want, and then figuring out how to get it.  Without committing my thoughts to paper, I was vaguely answering that question with ‘free time’, ‘mobility’, and ‘money’.  But I recently attempted an exercise that suggested spending 30-60 minutes writing down every idea that popped into my head about what my life’s purpose might be, no matter how absurd or immoral it might sound.  45 minutes later and with 134 answers, I’d made a bit of headway.

But more than making headway, I made a small but important realization.  It’s not rationally founded, but I think that self-examination on your part might confirm that what I’ve found is true.  What I found is that ultimately my sense of fulfillment comes from releasing the energy that I have inside of me towards a focused end.  No, not the hyper energy, or the sort that comes from coffee, but the driving energy that is the basis of yearning, determination, and willpower.  The object of this energy, i.e. that towards which is flows, changes pretty much seasonally, but my sense of fulfillment and my happiness are greatest when it is flowing.

So, to maximize these states (fulfillment, happiness), there are two paths to follow.  The first is to amplify the energy itself, so that it carries more weight and is less-easily stymied.  The second, and likely more useful in the short-term, is to identify the hindrances to its flowing-forth, and to remove each blockage by whatever means are proper.  The greatest block is fear, but there are others: distraction, poor health, inertia– no doubt you can produce your own list.

What my babbling boils down to is a different idea about how to find direction: rather than picking external aims and working towards them, more returns in happiness and fulfillment will come from eliminating the blocks that hinder expression of your internal energy.  During this process, it may be necessary to support yourself by non-inspiring means, but ultimately, you will have freed yourself to be a creative and effective force at whatever it is that you choose to do.  We can think of the energy that leads to fulfillment like money: to produce wealth in the long-term, it’s much more effective to reinvest in the capital that produces wealth than it is to work at managing the bit of money that you already make.


Recently, I’ve been getting some flak that I’d like to respond to.  I won’t say where from, but let’s just say that some people have seen fit to criticize me for the ideas that I espouse and for the lifestyle that I am creating for myself.  I am indulging myself as much as I am indulging you by responding, and I don’t think that I’ll do it again, but I feel a need to clarify a few points so that in the future I can leave you alone to criticize and not care.

The first point is that I am by no means perfect, or even close to it.  Often, when I am inspired to write and to represent myself and my ideas through writing, I write from the voice of who I wish to be or what I want to become.  I’m not there yet.  I may never arrive.  I don’t live up to my manifesto.  But unlike many of you from whom I’ve received criticism, I’m trying to.

The second point is that if anything I want to inspire you to do things by writing here, not thump my chest and say how great I am.  What I include here is a cross-section of my most amazing experiences, not my average day.  It’s an evolving publication that started in a more wayward fashion and becomes more specific with time.  I hope that my photos and writing make you want to get up off the sofa and get after whatever it is that you know lights your fire.

The third and last point is that I have little choice but to be extreme, both for myself and in opposition to the status quo.  To quote Station 515:

“We work hard because we know we don’t have to. We are angry because we know we could roll over with a whimper and people would tell us that its ok. We work hard as an act of revenge upon the pieces of ourselves that want to be average. We work to become more than what we are.”

We’re all in the same boat:  If we allow ourselves, we’ll look for comfort because part of us is weak and scared and afraid to fail.  I don’t resent the world for being scared and weak, I just resent these qualities in myself.  What I do resent is those who would impose their fears and weakness on me; they hate to see action because it takes away the comfortable excuses that they have for not leaving their shell.  This is why I won’t respond to their scorn again, because cowardliness doesn’t deserve that kind of validation.

In summary, I’m imperfect. But unlike my critics, that’s the burning fire that makes me want to be better.  Forgive me for my grandiosity, my ego, and my insecurity, and then join me.

Fuel for the Fire:

Gym Jones

Project Deliverance

Simple Iron Truth

Station 515

K2 August 2006
K2, Image via Wikipedia

“Why climb mountains? The answer cannot be simple. It is compounded of such elements as the great beauty of clear, cold air, of colors beyond the ordinary, of the lure of unknown regions beyond the rim of experience. The pleasure of physical fitness, the pride of conquering a steep and difficult rock, the thrill of danger controlled by skill…How can I phrase what seems to me the most important reason of all? It is the chance to be briefly free of the small concerns of our common lives, to strip off non-essentials, to come down to the core of life itself. On great mountains, all purpose is concentrated on the single job at hand. Yet the summit is but a token of success. And the attempt is worthy in itself. It is for these reasons that we climb. And in climbing, we find something greater than accomplishment.”

Jake Norton, on the falsification of this year’s only “ascent” of K2.

Moon Above the Ice Field, originally uploaded by raventrickster.

“It’s hard to describe to somebody why you do it, but the important thing, and the lesson almost is THAT you do it.

Simply that you do IT.


You try it. You go for it.”

-Timmy O’neill

Descending Sacagawea, originally uploaded by raventrickster.

On day one of climbing during NOLS‘s Mountain Training Trip 2010, three of us made an attempt on Sacagawea, a sub-peak of the Fremont Peak group in Titcomb basin. The day prior, it had rained, but during the night the weather turned *splitter* and brutally cold. We woke in our camp in Indian Basin at 2 am (too early) to begin our approach into Titcomb Basin.

The approach took two and a half hours by moonlight, and we arrived at the base around 4 am. It was too dark to see the route, and our four-sentence topo gave us little information, so we decided to sit and shiver at the base until there was more light. The three of us spooned in a little hole behind a small rock and shivered under a cold wind until around 6 am. Miserable, we decided that even though the weather looked iffy, we might as well approach the base and take the gear for a walk. “In alpine climbing, you can always take the gear for a walk and see what happens” -Evan Horn, NOLS Training Manager.

Sun Rising Over Sacagawea

The base seemed not too far away, but it was two and a half hours later that we had managed to negotiate the “endless gravel escalator” through three 3rd-4th class rock bands glazed here and there by startlingly dangerous verglass.

When we finally reached the base of the climb, the weather had improved, but much to our dismay, we found that the previous day’s rain had glazed Sacagawea’s crack systems with smooth, impossible ice. Our single 7oz CAMP Corsa ice axe with its aluminum pick wasn’t going to cut it. Back down we go.

The descent took almost as long as the ascent, as the ice made some probable routes unexpectedly hazardous. By the time we reached our little shiver-bivy at the base, the knees were crying and the body tired of moving, though it was only 8:30 am. A nap followed.

It was a good warm-up to the alpine start, to the persistent optimism needed to get on some climbs, and to the need to stay comfortable on exposed and icy terrain.  Though it was not a successful climb in the traditional sense, taking the gear for a walk always seems to beat sitting in camp, even if it really throws off one’s body clock and sleep schedule.  It’s a funny feeling to have been up and moving about for eight hours when some in camp are just waking.  For you, a whole day has passed, and a second is ahead of you.  For them, the day’s consciousness is just beginning, and without the early-morning anxieties afforded by the alpine start.

(More entries come, with successes no less.)

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