projects and process

project and lichen

Today I went out and had a bright and windy session on a new project, out on the north coast; I’d first checked this problem quite a few years ago. My memory though had played some tricks on me because on revisiting it a few months ago, it seemed very different. It was in fact much better than I could have imagined. It’s non-tidal, quick drying and very steep. Initially I’d been drawn to it for the compact rock in the upper wall, overhanging by about 25 degrees, few holds and long powerful moves. Today though, I realised the beauty of the bottom section which is a near horizontal roof. My core has been worked hard and in reality the problem may be far too hard, and I can’t even do a single move. But I did leave with a few ideas as to how to proceed. Also as is often the case with a new problem, half an eye was involved with figuring out where I would fall, if I would land on any of the boulders that surround the base, where the mats should go. All in all, it’s good, no problems with landings at all.

This session made me realise how much I love finding and working new problems. The evolution of what seems possible, revaluation as time passes with new visions and increases albeit small in strength. After a session trying one move and failing I’m happy. This is in stark contrast to my recent failures on the first move of Verdict in Font. I was failing there also on one move, but I was not enjoying it, I did enjoy it sometimes, on some of the sessions, but my last session I felt blocked. There was no joy or psyche, in the back of my mind I knew I was leaving without doing it, I was looking for excuses and in the end the injury list built to a degree that I knew it was over. Relief and a kind of depression filled me as I walked away for the last time and drove straight back to England.

Even though I had done all the other hard moves and worked out good beta for the first move, did it with what Jane described as a very small push from her, ‘one that wouldn’t have broken an egg, well almost’ she said. I could never in reality believe that I could do it; this was the problem, as well as accepting defeat. It made me feel a bit stupid, which further eroded the will and motivation. My desire to tick an 8A in Font was all I had and it wasn’t enough. Contrast this with a very surprising week in Magic Wood, with no real expectation; I was on my last day trying an 8A that I felt I had a really good chance on. I’d done the 7C version pretty quick, so was hyped and keen. I spent a day and night thinking of the problem, I was completely consumed. It didn’t happen of course, but I will be back.

It the consuming nature of a boulder project that interests me, this mainly comes from new problems rather than repeating existing problems. The quietness and back water nature of Cornwall gives me this privilege. It allows me the time to become consumed and absorbed in the process of projecting. The process can often become in itself the consuming characteristic of the activity. This also can only happen down here in Cornwall. Today I climbed alone as I often do. The ego and context generated by others is a far off idea, I’m alone to act and do as I wish, and the process is driven entirely by my relationship with the boulder and rock. There is competiveness within this I guess, the desire to keep these projects secret from the marauding folk from up country, to do it first. However I think that ‘to do it first’ is also the creative act that aligns bouldering with my art, makes it art in fact. I feel ownership of these projects, the project today comes from nowhere but me. Solipsistic I suppose, but the experience I had today feels very different from the experiences I was having in Font, bouldering with lots of people around. It’s got very busy there over the last five years or so. It feels like a climbing wall sometimes, which I don’t like; the bouldering becomes a social experience. This can be good of course, but bad for me in the way that I feel watched, that some kind of performance is taking place; stuff seems to detract from the purity and absorption of the movement and the relationship with boulder and process.

To make some reference to some theory…Maurice Merleau-Ponty writes that, ’we must avoid saying that our body is in space, or in time. It inhabits space and time’.[1] To establish this position ‘Merleau-Ponty relies on the Gestalt[2] discovery that one perceives one’s surroundings as requiring one to perform certain actions or as being appropriate for certain forms of behaviour’.[3] He describes this as the power to reckon with the possible.’[4] This is directly applicable to the scenario of boulderer and boulder in that the boulderer perceives the actual surroundings, the environment they are familiar with and together with learnt, practiced motor skills, acts in an appropriate way. The key element here and one that gives this response its creative potential is that the boulderer is not passively receiving data from the world, rather they invest their environment with a bodily significance.

On another note, my dog hated today. He got freaked by the exposure; he is more cowardly than me. He then spent the next two hours, shaking, nervously. He was so keen to leave he pulled me back to the van.

[1] H Gordon and T Shlomit, Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception: A Basis for Sharing the Earth, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004, p.161.

[2] Gestalt theory focuses on an existential/experiential approach that emphasises the individual’s experience in the present moment. Fritz and Laura Perls and Paul Goodman developed Gestalt therapy between 1940-1950.

[3] Komarine Romdenh-Romluc, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Merleau-Ponty and Phenomenology of perception, 2011, Oxford, Routledge, p.101.

[4] Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception, 3rd edition, Oxford and New York, Routledge Classics, 2009, p. 127.

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