Between a Rock and a New Year

Seba held his phone up to me and pressed record: “I, Elyssa, will write 6 essays, at least, this year, 2018, for a book—for my book—to be completed in 2019.” He sent me the recording.

That’s that, then. As close to a New Year’s resolution as I’m making this year. Plus, to write more here.

Seba is a friend I made during my first stint in Chile almost five years ago, and I’m so happy to have stayed in touch with him. Seba is a musician, a composer. He makes music out of thin air. He’s always working on five projects at once and is never frazzled, always—excuse my pun—composed. One of his goals has always been to compose a film score by the time he turns 30. He’s 29 and finishing up the score for a documentary. His next goal is to earn an Oscar for one of his compositions by the time he’s 35. Maybe he’ll invite me as his +1.

It’s good to have friends like these, who inspire you with their unbothered doing of the things they love, with their uncomplicated pursuit of their goals. I have no doubt that Seba goes through tricky moments—times of block and frustration—as every artist must, but he never waivers. These are the people I admire: The ones who do. The ones with conviction. The ones who completely reject self-doubt, or at least refuse to let it stand in their way. I am generally not like this. At least when it comes to writing. When it comes to writing, I agonize, overthink, and second-guess.

Of course, these people—people in general—are not valuable for what they produce. That’s a dangerous way to measure worth. It’s their attitude, their outlook, their relentless encouragement of me and my own goals, too, that makes them such powerful role models and valuable friends.


For months, I’ve been talking about going rock climbing. There’s a gym I’ve passed by a few times on my way home from a night out and I always make a mental note. I actually emailed, Facebook messaged, and called them. I inquired about classes and was informed that I needed to first take a one-day certification course before I could enroll in a regular class. The certification course was given only on Saturdays and only to a minimum of two people. I am one person.

I asked around to see if a few different friends were interested—only the friends I’d be comfortable looking like a complete ass in front of. I got some vague interest and a few “I would love to, but I’m busy these days. How about in a few months?” or “yes, I’d love to!” followed by that person dropping off the face of the planet and resurfacing with “omg what ever happened with this?!” What happened was we did not climb fake rocks in a gym.

I took to a Facebook group of Santiago expat girls to ask if anyone would be interested in coming with me. I got a few responses and then *I* fell off the face of the earth, distracting myself instead with long walks and evening drinks with friends and things that are fun but not new. But I still wanted to climb fake rocks in a gym!

I told another friend, Antonia, about my new interest and she responded excitedly that her cousin runs a rock climbing gym. Perfect! But it’s outside the city. “Oh, that sounds far.” And there are no harnesses, just a big mat on the floor. “Oh, that sounds dangerous.” So I did not climb fake rocks in a gym.

Weeks passed and one night I came home to find my roommate buzzing with adrenaline, excitement, happiness. “I just did the best thing. Fernanda (our other, new roommate) just took me to a rock climbing gym.” “Casa Boulder?!” “Yes!” “I’ve been wanting to go!” “It was amazing. Everyone was so encouraging and helpful and cheering me on even though I was new.” His enthusiasm mixed with my FOMO—jealousy that he had just spontaneously done something that I’d been pondering for months— plus the fact that I was out of excuses (“there’s a childrens wall!” he retorted when I mentioned my weak upper body) prompted me to ask Seba, with whom I’d made plans to hang out on Saturday, if he might be interested in climbing fake rocks in a gym. He was up for anything.

First, we met for lunch and Seba asked, as he tends to do, how my writing is going: “When’s the last time you’ve written in your blog?” “October 2015.” Suddenly I was looking at Edvard Munch’s The Scream. “Just write, dammit!” he said (sort of. Convos translated from Spanish. “Dammit” added for dramatic effect.), “Write about the things that you do. Write about this lunch. Write about this day.” I couldn’t think of a thing to say that might be interesting. I had the chicken. It was overcooked.

The problem is often not that I don’t have things to write about but that I’m afraid of sharing them in real time–I need distance. The problem is my hesitance to involve other people in my writings, people who may not want to be part of a story. It’s the fear of influencing things with my writing about them. The fear of *not* influencing things with my writing about them. The problem is the very real fear that what I write is not interesting or good or worth reading. This is why I don’t write when I don’t write.

If only the Help button could cure the hangups that cause me to keep 85 unsaved documents open on my computer at a time.


After lunch, Seba and I took a long walk under the beating sun. We were heading in the direction of the rock climbing gym, but it was still up in the air whether or not we were going. I wouldn’t believe we were going ’til we got there.

We got there. It was so easy! As it turns out, no certification classes are necessary if you just want to buy a day pass and climb at your own risk (apparently harnesses are only for children at Boomers or Kabooms–all arcades featuring the word “boom,” generally.). Spontaneity is rewarded. The receptionist explained to us that the different color ribbons on each of the rocks stood for different levels of difficulty and that was that. All that was left to do was climb fake rocks in a gym, so we did.

I have no upper body strength. Like, only the amount necessary to type on a keyboard, open a door and the occasional jar of peanut butter. I started on the easiest (not-designated-especially-for-children) wall, with the easiest level and after a couple of attempts, I reached the top! Easy as pie. That’s done. Nothin’ to see here. Moving on. I tried the next level on the same wall and couldn’t quite make it to the top, so I moved on to the next, more difficult wall and tried the first level there. Yep, no. Not going to happen. That one involved getting to the top of the wall and then pulling yourself over an angled ledge and climbing more. Once I made it to the top of the wall, I was not only incapable of pulling myself up over the ledge, but also panicked that I wouldn’t have the strength to climb down, so I aborted mission. I went back and did the green route on the first wall a couple more times, picking up speed each time. I eventually completed the second level on that same wall.

My neck hurt and my arms were weak and I took a seat to take it all in. People around me whizzed along the walls like sweaty, chalk-covered monkeys, traversing enormous protruding boulders, their backs nearly parallel to the ground. Their strength amazed me. It looked so easy for them. After I watched one guy climb effortlessly across every single wall in the gym, I asked him, “Out of curiosity, how long have you been doing this?” “Five years. And you?” I checked the non-existent watch on my wrist, “About an hour. I’ve only done the green route on the first wall.” “We all start out the same.”

Let’s not overcomplicate things. January is generally considered by upholders of the Gregorian calendar to be the start of a new year. So I’m going to take this opportunity—this moment in time in which so many of us arbitrarily decide we have a clean slate and renewed motivation and clarified goals—to start doing some more writing. Publicly and officially. Of course I write for work (yay! My job now is to write! How neat is that!) and I write daily for myself, typically in amorphous, unfinished notes on my phone, but I keep postponing this endeavor, saving my stories, almost as if I’m afraid I won’t live others. And, so far, luckily, I’ve always lived others.

Later, as Seba and I strained our arms against pints of beer rather than fake rocks in a gym, he made me record my commitment to writing more this year. I realized most people will not make your project their project. That’s okay. It’s hard enough to do your own thing without holding your friends accountable for theirs. So when you do find those people who constantly “bother” you by checking in, appreciate them, and try to do the same for them.

So, here’s to a new year, a you who is the same but different. Here’s to surrounding yourself with people who inspire you. Here’s to thinking and worrying and scheming a bit less. Here’s to doing the things we’ve been putting off—be it because we weren’t ready, or because we weren’t sure, or because we were busy doing other things. This may hurt. It may start out slow or rough. You will probably be bad at it, at least at the beginning. But if you put as much time and effort into doing those new things as you typically reserve for avoiding them, you will eventually succeed. Excuses are so last year.

Graceful as Ever

One Response
  1. January 14, 2018

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