Concise Prose. Enough Said.
purple feathers backround pattern


By Joel Van Noord

This may all be because I took a nasty whipper and was almost dropped the other day, shredding off a jug of sandstone as I reeled on it, hurtling it down the 50 feet below, nearly smashing like a pumpkin the head of a petite girlfriend-of-a-co-worker that held onto my lifeline. I was near clipping, so I had a large lead of rope out, below the next bolt and a good five feet above the last, meaning my fall was a decent 10 feet with a 6 percent stretch.

I fell the ten feet, scrapped my knee on the vertical earth, and pulled her off her feet and slammed her into the wall. I had a whip and then a moment, as I envisioned a naked fall as she released the rope, each with their accompanying psychological dilemmas. The first peel, common, where you’re over-extended or over-committed and the rock drops you and you bounce on your anchor. This is usual, exhilarating but safe. Next, after I dropped the 10 or so feet, I looked down at the near disaster belaying and thought, oh shit, why am I doing this, is this it, that I’d be willing to give it up for?

Instinct commands me to grab the rope I’m attached to, but if she’s not there, anchoring, that’s a loose noodle. Luckily I reached for the rock in front of me and held on like Spiderman when I bounced on my rope as she hit the wall. I looked down as she grabbed back onto the belay line. I could have fallen, smashing and tearing, thudding dully, to the earth. She lowered me then and I went home and bandaged my knee and ego.


As a way to deal with things I say they’re funny. Likely it’s to cover up a confusion or sense of pointlessness in life; but, instead of pursuing that line of thought, I shrug and think things that aren’t funny are. For example, I’m cruising this boulevard with my newly initiated girlfriend, passing streets and infuriating lines of gas stations and malls and other Everywheres and it’s funny. We’re just sitting here, though, changing the radio station every now and then, swiveling our heads from the view to each other. And it’s funny. Plain as can be.

I don’t know if I like her. I don’t have a feel about her. She’s cool and good-looking, fun to be naked with. But if she’s about what I am, I don’t know. If I want her excess personality to rub off on me, I don’t know. I don’t know that I want we to become the average of us.

Most of this probably comes from my own confusion. Recently I’ve conceded a mourning period in my life. Youth is slowly dying and I see this. Everything good from youth is disappearing and adulthood is strangling (merely defining and framing these feelings makes them less real, but they’re there). I’m more free, I suppose, in some sense; but more dramatic right now is the dread of bills, and the heavy burden to work a mind-numbing life, and the boring idea that there’s nothing really resting on the horizon. No big secret of life to discover; just simpler and simpler realizations to resign to.

We’ve got sports. That’s the thing that brought us together. On our pagan day we were out playing while the rest of the Utah religious town was inside waiting for it not to be the Lord’s day any longer. We met on the rock and sort of gravitated toward each other and easily accepted that. I was (still am, this was only a few months ago) young and had a long-distance girlfriend back east. But loneliness nudged, and I kept her image in the back of my brain as my body did what it needs to continue.

This is a period where I’m deciding who I want to be. That should be exciting, but the problem is, I’ve become (somehow, I don’t know) one of the most appallingly apathetic people I know. I really have no goals any longer.

Travel used to be a banner of mine. I made it a priority, at the expense of many things, to go almost everywhere in the states and many jumps into Europe and Mexico. In the desert southwest I’ve been to a half-dozen national parks in less than that many months, and now it feels like there’s nothing to do. One place is different from the next, but not different enough. The urge to see has retreated. On top of this, there’s never been so much vertical rock within such a close proximity to climb, and that’s usurped much time and demand.

But what’s it for, what’s it worth, I question. Seeing more and more that others haven’t? Leading higher and higher grades on the vertical? So what? So that I can now top-rope an 11.c and one or two 12’s, and lead 10’s consistently. It doesn’t mean anything.

Travel was about experience: a way to alter the flow of the mind, to think differently, more mature. Climbing’s the opposite. It’s about pushing thought out and having nothing but the rock and your fight with gravity. My desire—it’s not the ability—to travel has been obliterated. By work, I feel, and by life, and of this I’m in mourning. It’s immature but it’s where I’m at.

I’m in mourning because there is no secret in life. There is no judgment, and it’s only us humans down here with made up Super Heroes, fighting and building, raping, and polluting. It’s just all of us with our hands up and our brains off, shitting and pissing in random circles, arms flailing like those sadists in the mosh pits at Metal concerts.

I don’t talk to her about this. This is my own ridiculous spin on things and I don’t have to subject her to it. We can all be happy, if we can.

There used to be purpose in things from art to sport. I’m saying I used to find purpose with a thoughtless ease. In retrospect that all seems to come from a strange desire to compete, to annihilate, to prove better than, and to receive worthless accolades. I don’t know how that’s disappeared.

The new partner’s all about climbing though and it’s odd. She waits tables. There was a bad conversation where I tried to pull from her some great dream she had in life, as if to take some of that energy for myself. Some ultimate goal… but there was nothing and the conversation, to her, didn’t even seem to make sense. And perhaps that was the most sense of anything… I don’t know.

Really. What am I to make of all this? All these things added together on top of each other. Me, this car, her driving these cluttered streets, my history, her history, and our history; the fact that we’re both just waiting around and looking at each other, making dinner and having sex. It’s funny. Watching TV. Looking at each other more. Talking. Going to work and pretending to think about big decisions. Trying to pretend there are big decisions to think about. Really.


Joel Van Noord lives in Montana and brews beer.

Photo adapted from "Light Effect Photos 2" courtesy of Brad Mering, Baltimore, MD.

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