Veni.Vidi.Ascendi. The WWU Rock Climbing Competition

Per my post from Monday, here’s a great video that captures the rock climbing competition at WWU this past weekend, including major props for the Whatcom Family YMCA Youth Rock Climbing Team and my son, Julian, starting at the 4:00 mark:

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By the way, Veni.Vidi.Ascendi is Latin for: I came. I saw. I ascended.

Tempering Fatherly Pride

All you have to do is enter “Julian” in the Search field in the sidebar to see how often, out of fatherly pride, I mention my 13-year old son here at Fish & Bicycles.

Well, an interesting thing happened this weekend. My employer, Western Washington University, hosted the Veni. Vidi. Ascendi. rock climbing competition, part of the Northwest Collegiate Climbing Competition (NC3) series, they were gracious enough to allow kids from the Whatcom Family YMCA Youth Rock Climbing Team, of which Julian is a member, to participate, and…

…Julian came in FIRST out of 43 climbers in the Men’s Intermediate Division, wherein 41 of the 43 climbers were college students!

Here he is on the wall:

So, I’m enormously proud, and rightly so, but the thing about rock climbing, as a competitive sport, is that it is the least competitive sport I know, bragging is highly frowned upon, and so I found I had to temper my pride as I prepared to share the news of his tremendous accomplishment on Facebook.

My initial status entry went right to the point, shouting Julian’s victory from the rooftops, celebrating the 1st-of-43 finish, but before I could post it my wife reminded me that it’s really important to think about the whole team, to not post something that might make the other team members feel disappointed in how they did at the competition.

And, she was right.

Truth is, one of his teammates, close to his age, came in 4th in the Women’s Intermediate Division, and another came in, I think, 6th, in the Men’s Advanced Division. Others placed well in the Beginners and Intermediate Division, especially, again, when you consider that the vast majority of climbers were much older, bigger, and naturally stronger than they are. It was a real testament to how great the youth climbing team program is at the YMCA, and a reminder of how much gratitude we owe the coaches.

Anatomy of a climb

As I mentioned Friday, we were due to drive down to Seattle for the 2010 Seattle Bouldering Challenge (SBC) on Saturday, but I wasn’t really sure if we’d be able to make it given the icy, snowy conditions.

Well, we decided to go for it, about 10 minutes out of town the snow was all gone, and so we were on our way.

This was Julian’s 2nd time participating in the SBC (read about the first here), he climbed really well, and courtesy of a friend who was there with a camera, we have some great photos of the comp. In particular, there are some cool shots of a sequence of moves near the end of one of the routes he completed that made me think it would be interesting to explain what was actually going on.

As I started to write this, I realized just how much climbing jargon I might need to use, and so I put together the brief glossary of terms you see here.

In this first photo, Julian’s about 10-15 feet up on a 60-degree overhang, he’s got two good footholds, his right hand’s on an easy jug, and he’s gripping a decent crimp with his left. For this boulder problem, he can only use holds marked by purple-colored tape, and you can see the finish hold up and to the left in the red circle. He will need to match the finish hold and look down at the judge to make sure her/she can tell that he’s got total control on that last hold.

Next, you can see that Julian had to make a big move with his right hand, up to a deceptive looking hold (the top is actually a sloper, and vertically it’s a difficult pinch), quickly shifting his right foot to the hold that his left foot had been on, all while holding on to that crimp with his left hand and no hold for his left foot before making his next move.

This was a potentially confusing problem, because there was another route on the wall to the left marked by lavendar-colored tape, and Julian could not use those holds.

In this photo, you can see that Julian’s next-to-last move was another big reach, a campus move, wherein he had to remove his left hand from the crimp it had been on and reach up and over to the big finish jug. In order to do that, for a moment, he had to hold all of his weight with his right hand on that one slopey pinch, and as he swung his torso to the left it caused his feet to come off the wall and swing in the opposite direction.

For climbers, it’s incredibly important to control those swinging legs, requiring enormous arm strength and engaging many muscle groups in the torso. If the legs swing for too long, the arms get tired quickly, and it’s hard to regain control and prepare for the next move. For this reason, this would be considered the crux of this problem.

Here you see Julian’s legs coming back to perpendicular…

…and then he reaches the finish hold for a match before jumping down.


On The Go: Oops!

I can’t believe that this slipped through my otherwise reliable fatherly pride radar! My friend Leah posted on Facebook that my son Julian actually appears in the Journey To Action video I posted yesterday, the one about Bellingham’s living local economy. I watched the darned thing several times and totally missed him and his friend Jonah, who appear for a few seconds at the 5:04 mark.

Check it out!

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A Bar Mitzvah of Sorts

Just about a year ago, I wrote about having watched the Coen Brother’s movie, A Serious Man, and I shared how reminiscent the film was of my own Jewish upbringing in general and of my Bar Mitzvah in particular.

Well, this past weekend we held a Bar Mitzvah of sorts for my son Julian, a Coming of Age ceremony that was about as different from my own experience at age 13 as you can get.

My wife and I had been planning the event for months and months, and my own primary goal was for the event to be meaningful for Julian, something that he participated in willingly, enthusiastically, because he found value in it, rather than something he participated in, as I did, because he was told simply that he had to.

And since, as I’ve written in past, I am not a religious Jew, had we decided to enroll Julian in Hebrew School and have him go through the formal Bar Mitzvah process it would have been an inexcusable repeating of an unfortunate history.

In the end, we designed something that integrated spirituality and community-based rite of passage via what my wife called 30 Days to Bar Mitzvah. For the entire month of October, nearly every day included some kind of planned activity — from readings and educational exercises on the subject of religion and spirituality, to character and strength-building challenges, to the drafting and signing of a contract documenting the ground rules for his first cellphone.

The photo included here captures two elements of the ceremony we held this past weekend.

First, the candles were inspired by a ceremony we have witnessed at the local Unitarian Fellowship. We asked attendees to come to the front of the room, light a candle, and share how they know Julian, along with any other words they wish to share. We’d purposefully invited a wide variety of friends, family, and mentors, including a number of folks who were significant role models for Julian at one time or another, and seeing Julian through their eyes and listening to this outpouring of acknowledgement, honoring, and appreciation was deeply moving.

Second, the silver cup is the kiddish cup that I was given at my Bar Mitzvah, and which Julian used to chant the blessing over the wine in Hebrew. He did beautifully, made a funny face as he drank and realized the cup contained actual red wine, and the crowd responded with a joyful and resounding L’chaim! (to life!).

The central part of the ceremony, however, was what really convinced me that we’d met my goal of having this be an event that Julian cared about and was enthusiastic for.

We asked him to do a kind of brief speech, providing him with some suggested formats, but leaving it up to him as to what he wanted to do and what topics to cover. Julian chose one of our suggestions, which was a variation on the traditional Bar Mitzvah ceremony, wherein the Bar Mitzvah recites a portion of the Torah and then provides an interpretation of the portion.

Julian chose to read three pieces that he selected from the various readings he did during his 30 Days to Bar Mitzvah: a story from Zen Shorts, and two pieces from The Prophet by Khalil Gibran. His reading was confident, expressive, and sensitive, and the thoughts he shared about what the pieces mean and how they are relevant for him were genuine and insightful.

I’d venture to guess that most parents, like my wife and I, who do not raise their children in a particular religious tradition, angry atheists notwithstanding, occasionally wonder if they’d made the right choice, wondering if a child needs a formal religious education as a foundation as they navigate the often murky and stormy waters of life. This coming of age process, however, has been incredibly affirming that it is entirely possible to embrace a wide variety of spiritual traditions and values, to impart them on your children, and to raise children who are every bit as prepared for their journey as any other child.

I’ve written here before of how enormously proud I am of Julian, and this weekend was quite the apotheosis.

Video Fridays: Forever Young

As I mentioned a few days ago, this coming Sunday is not just Halloween, it’s my son Julian’s 13th birthday.

And as we approach the end of his childhood and the beginning of his teenhood, I find myself in a very heightened emotional state, crying at the drop of a hat or upon hearing a beautiful song or when I gaze into Julian’s blue eyes…

In honor of this special birthday, I’d like to dedicate this Video Fridays installment to my precious son. The video quality is poor, but the sound is pretty good and Jerry performs this hauntingly beautiful coming of age song by Bob Dylan with, it seems, every emotion that I’m feeling right now.

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May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young

Bob Dylan

The Continuing Adventures…

…Of A 12-year Old (almost 13!) Rock Climber

There’s my boy again!

I’ve written numerous times about Julian’s passion for rock climbing and his membership on the YMCA Youth Climbing Team, and here he is competing this past Saturday at the Vertical World gym in Tacoma.

Julian had a great day with a spectacular finish. His growing edge as a competitive climber is to not give up on problems he doesn’t solve the first time on a route, and he really pushed through in this area Saturday.

He couldn’t make one move, a sizable dyno, on one of the earliest routes he tried, and so he moved on to other routes so that he wouldn’t expend all his energy too early. And yet, a few hours later, when it looked like he only had time for one more route, he returned to the one with the big dyno.

Once again, he attempted the leap up to a hold that didn’t appear to have much to hold on to and he slipped off. However, uncharacteristically, even though he appeared to be spent and done for the day, he immediately returned to the starting hold and began the route again.

This time he nailed it!

It was a thing of beauty, his hanging there by one hand, making a slight, jerky adjustment to make sure that he had a firm enough grip before establishing another handhold and a foothold. I could see the strength in his forearm, the product of hours and hours of training over the last two years on the team, and though I didn’t think he had any fuel left in the tank he was able to proceed with the 3-4 remaining moves in the route, finishing stronger than I’ve ever seen him, pausing at the last hold to take in his accomplishment before jumping down to the matt.

Fatherly pride is a powerful, powerful thing.

The terror of being a parent

Last week I mentioned the much publicized (locally, at least) missing Western Washington University student, Dwight Clark, and as of this morning Dwight is still missing and the police are baffled.

I have to say that I’m haunted by this incident. I can’t stop thinking about it. I check the Bellingham Herald website several times a day, even though I know that they don’t update it very often.

I’m haunted because I have a son, and while it may be that I feel this more acutely because my son is about to become a teenager, with all the gains in independence and risky behavior that accompany this coming of age, the truth is that scenarios like missing children, or children getting hit by cars…um, not scenarios…nightmares like this are always hiding out in some dark, scary corner of a parent’s consciousness.

It’s been enough, over the years, to make me occasionally wonder, semi-seriously, why the HELL we ever decide to bring children into the world. I know that’s terribly nihilistic, but I assure you that it’s not a common thought, that the thought never lingers long, and that I have no regrets whatsoever about having become a father. Yet the thought does come from time to time.

And yet nothing, it seems to me, comes close to the limbo state that Dwight’s parents, family, and friends find themselves in. They know something has happened, but they don’t know which of the many horrible possibilities has come to pass.

This is the dichotomy of parenthood — unrivaled joy at the miracle of birth on one hand, the terror of harm coming to your child on the other.

Since we humans make the decision to become parents with overwhelmingly more frequency than the alternative, I suppose that unrivaled joy married with our drive as a species to reproduce easily trumps terror.

My thoughts remain with Dwight’s family and friends.

Cool Crossover Collaborations

In just two days I’ve come across two collaborations that have been unexpected and pleasantly surprising.

Ben Folds & Nick Hornby
I mentioned back in July that I love Nick Hornby’s book High Fidelity and the Stephen Frears film by the same name. Well, I’ve also read and loved two other Hornby novels, About A Boy and How To Be Good.

Meanwhile, I’ve been a Ben Folds fan since the Ben Folds Five days, and, as a father, I have to mention that his song, Still Fighting It, has moved me and captured my feelings as a parent better than almost any song I’ve ever heard. (Seriously, if you’re a dad, particularly a dad with a son, and you don’t choke up when you watch that video, you might want to check your pulse.)

How wonderful, then, that a year ago Hornby started emailing lyrics to Folds, Folds started writing music for them, and now their collaborative album, Lonely Avenue is due to be released on September 28th.

Here’s the first video from the project:

Eddie Vedder & Johnny Depp
While Depp famously modeled his Captain Jack Sparrow character from Pirates of the Caribbean after the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, I really wasn’t aware of his considerable experience in the music industry as a guitar player.

So, imagine my surprise when I came across a video of Depp and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder (thanks to my friend Leah!) performing a song together.

Here’s Depp with his clearly Richards-esque stage swagger, but he’s also got chops on the guitar, layering some nice arpeggio work over Vedder’s strumming, and picking out a very tasteful solo. Enjoy!

Plinky: Swear words, pro or con?

( sends me an email everyday with a question meant to inspire a blog post. Occasionally I take the bait.)

Swear words, pro or con?

Well…shit…I don’t know. Depends. Are we talking about when I’m blogging or in my everyday life?

Everyday Life
I’m from New Jersey. I use profanity. While I use discretion most of the time, my 12-year old son has heard me. I’m neither proud nor ashamed of that fact.

I remember wrestling with whether or not to use profanity when I started my first blog with a couple of friends back in 2004. I never decided to be anti-profanity, but I did find myself either avoiding it or using thinly-veiled substitutes like frickin’.

And, while I’m staunchly free speech and believe strongly that self-censorship can be stifling to the creative process, I do use profanity sparingly, confident that it’s hardly ever the only way to express any given thing.

That said, every once in a while it just feels right and comes naturally and who the fuck am I to mess with nature?!