how to listen to Beyoncé if you’re a white rock climber

I had to leave. I filled my white Subie with climbing gear and kale, and headed straight for the desert. I blasted Lemonade as I left the Bay, and slipped into that nofucksgiven kind of car singing when you don’t stop dancing as you pass other people on the highway. Without even realizing it, I played the album on repeat for almost ten hours until I got tired and pulled to the side of the highway somewhere close to Wendover.

I turned off my car. The silence was so deep and still compared to the emotional and spiritual journey that is Lemonade, compared to those lyrics and that message, compared to Beyoncé.

I thanked B for getting me across Nevada. The entire time her voice felt like it was out in front of me, pulling my car through the desert. She warped time in a gracious kind of way and made the drive feel easy. I fell asleep excited to go rock climbing, singing “I ain’t sorry”, and wondering about this whole being a white girl thing.

Why the hell do I love songs about the struggles, emotions, stories, sexuality, spirituality, and culture of something so far from what I am — a black woman in the South? Why the hell does this album give me power and make me feel healed and held and hopeful?

Maybe because it’s because I can identify with the parts of the album that speak to being a woman. Maybe it’s because I too have been lied to and manipulated by men. Maybe it’s because I used to live in the South. Maybe it’s because I know about anger too. Maybe it’s because B is a business woman and she wanted me to blast that shit across Nevada.

But something about that isn’t right. I am overwhelmed with the fact that my femaleness, my experience with men, with the South, with anger is very, very different than Beyoncé’s, on account of I am white.

I don’t know about her anger, her men, her South, her femaleness. I don’t know shit about that because it’s not mine. I can learn about it, and Lemonade has in fact taught me a lot, but once I start thinking that she’s singing to me, for me, about me…that’s when things get dark. It’s wrong. It’s false. And it’s very white of me.

White people have a history of thinking everything is ours and about us, and when something is not about us we claim that we’re being oppressed. Oh god, I know I know, that’s like, so hard to hear but I started with that because I have something even harder to swallow coming up. I’ll offer it to you in the form of a question:

Can you think of something that is truly white, truly ours? You know, besides racism, besides enslaving people, besides regulating things we feel afraid of because of their wildness — the land, female bodies, queer people?

Holy shit! I know, right? What the actual fuck! Surely there is something that makes us who we are besides that kind of shit, right? What about Sheryl Crow? What about Sperry’s? What about Starbucks?

And what about the outdoors? What about nature? White people go outside! Really, we do! We love that shit! Maybe that’s our thing?

Okay, just to be sure, let’s talk about what we do when we go outside. We rock climb. Okay, let’s talk about how we rock climb. We try to get to the top of things. We view mountains as something to conquer, to stand on top of, to bag, to send. Then, after cutting down any trees and bushes in our way (often on indigenous land!), we cling to small fractures (that sometimes we’ve created on our own!) on rock faces and if we do it without falling, we grade it, call it ours, and name it something we find inspring or witty.

In a nutshell, we conquer and name things. You know, for funsies! This doesn’t make us bad people. It just reveals something—our whiteness, our privilege.

Of course, we don’t all climb with this mindset, but this is the foundation of our sport.

The outdoor community is the most privileged group of humans that I can think of. Yes, there are people of color who rock climb, queer people, women, people with bodies that don’t fit into society’s idea of “able”. But as a whole, we are overwhelmingly white. We are mostly straight. We are mostly male. We are mostly able-bodied. In a word, we are privileged. In fact, some amount of privilege is a requirement to even try our sport. And if you’re any good at rock climbing, if you’ve been able to spend years of your life climbing up rocks, then it’s impossible that you aren’t dripping in privilege.

Do you hate me yet? It’s okay, even I hate me a little right now! Is your brain going OH HELLLLLL NO, I worked for all of this and hey now ANYONE can be a climber if they want to and yeah I’ve led a good life but I’ve also been through some fucked up shit and who is this chick to tell me what I am and am not dripping with?

Stay with me. I know this shit sucks. But we, as a community, HAVE to start checking our privilege. Our privilege exists and it’s not going anywhere, but we have to identify it and think about it. We have to do this mostly because it’s really important, but also because we are making damn fools of ourselves.

First thing — our privilege doesn’t give us immunity to suffering. Our privilege won’t save us from going through things that are unspeakable, that leave us swearing the good days are over, that drains the color from the world for years at a time. Privilege and suffering are separate.

We have all been through really shitty things. Most of us climb because of those things, to heal those things, because we don’t know what else to do with all of this shit besides haul our ass up a cliff.

I think that’s awesome. I love that.

But here’s what I don’t love — when we think that art, songs, writing, and quotes that are about something so incredibly far away from us can somehow explain our struggles as white people who climb up rocks.

Not only does it not apply to us, but it isn’t made for us.

The song Freedom is not about that feeling I get when I watch the city get smaller and smaller in my rearview mirror as I head to the desert. It’s not even close. Formation sure as hell isn’t about me and my girlfriends. And I can’t slap quotes and messages from these songs onto my own experiences — even if I’m inspired by them, even if I swear to God that B is singing right to me — because it’s impossible to lift her words out of the larger story of black feminism. I can still blast her songs as I drive to Indian Creek, but I better be highly aware of the irony and I better laugh at myself. I better take the role as a student learning from a teacher. And I better not think it’s about me.

All of this isn’t to say that climbing is bad. I think that climbing is good! Like so good, so gouda, so fun, the best. Climbing has saved our lives, or at least shaped it in a way that feels like a saving of sorts. Transmuting suffering into physical movement in nature with risk and complex decision-making? Wow, rad, amazing, yes please, I’ll take two, tell me more.

But let’s not forget that while the emotions that come along with rock climbing can seem similar to a quote from MLK, to Lemonade — ohmygodholyshit — they are not the same. I want to know about the emotions involved with your projects, because they are super interesting and complicated and so human. But let us know about it without claiming the art about the suffering of someone else, someone not talking about anything close to rock climbing, as your own.

I love rock climbing and I love Lemonade. But I love both of these things and all things from where I’m standing, from what I am, from being white.

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the last few months.

 

I haven’t done a lifey-update-style blog post in a long time, so I thought I’d write a bit about what I’ve been up to the past few months. I hope you all are enjoying the spring and feeling good. All my love, G.

***

I came into 2016 with both middle fingers extended towards the sky.

I wasn’t saying eff you to anyone or anything in particular. In fact, I was more in love with people than ever before.

I was just done abandoning myself.

I was in Bishop, big surprise. I had been there for three months, climbing and being cold and letting a past relationship dissolve into the Eastern Sierra. You know, as one does.

My physical body was so tired it hardly felt like my own, but my heart was all mine, polished and sparkling like granite.

I woke up early one morning in late January, and I knew it was time.

“I’m going home today,” I told my friends.

There was no thinking about it, talking about it, weighing of pros and cons. I just knew, and I knew with such a confidence and clarity that there wasn’t even a choice to be made. Heavy, inked storm clouds swarmed the peaks as I drove up 395. I rolled down my window, screamed THANK YOU into the wind and blew a kiss to the place that held me all winter.

***

“You were so sure of yourself in the beginning,” he said, almost mocking me.

We were in a coffee shop, I was barely awake. It took me a second to realize that he was implying that being sure of myself was a bad thing. I looked at him, feeling all of these gears fitting into each other, keys sliding into locks, puzzle pieces snapping together in my brain. With one sentence he had described perfectly why things didn’t work out.

***

I came back to the Bay Area with a powerful combination of a hugely open heart and a whole bunch of IDGAF. I wrote a lot. I wrote an eBook, heaps of poetry, and a few pieces about the climbing community/industry that got a bunch of reads. My voice sounded different though, like I was telling stories around a campfire after having two beers on an empty stomach.

There were some people who loved my writing, and some people who hated it. There were people who said terrible things behind my back and people who said wonderful things behind my back. In the past, this was how I defined myself. When someone liked me, I would like me, when someone hated me, I would hate me. Allowing my self-worth to be jerked around like that became exhausting.

The winter had done something to me though, something valuable, and even with the mass amounts of messages and comments I was getting on my writing (and who I was as a person), I didn’t feel built up or knocked down by anything anyone was saying.

Nothing could move me. I had already decided things for myself. I knew who I was, and I trusted that knowing, so when people said that I was a whiney negative crazy man-hating whore bitch, it didn’t touch me.

Well, sometimes it did. But with a few exhales, whether their words were of praise or disgust, I could come back to the center, to that knowing.

People sensed that about me, and a few of them didn’t like it. When I would stick up for myself or simply not respond to personal attacks and lies, something interesting happened. It made people mad. They would try to knock me down, fail, and then try in a different way, from a different angle, with a different weapon. But it hardly ever worked, and if it did, it only worked for a moment before I remembered that I knew.

I have learned how a person who “knows” is treated as a threat. And they are. They threaten the very ground we stand upon, the way society works. They don’t buy into the attempts at control, shaming, manipulation, cellulite creams. They have already made up their mind for themselves, and that’s enough. That’s more than enough. They are unable to be fucked with.

This makes them very dangerous. They threaten everything.

All of this talk about “knowing” doesn’t mean that I’m never wrong or that I’m not flawed. I am often wrong. And of course I have flaws, but being a man-hating whore bitch just isn’t one of them.

It doesn’t mean that I don’t listen when someone is like, uh, Georgie, you’re doing this thing that’s hurtful and annoying and I wish you would stop. Or when someone says, hey your writing kinda sucked here, here’s how to make it better. We can’t ever stop listening to that kind of stuff. The trick is to know how to decipher what’s real and what’s bullshit.

Our bodies already know how to do this. They always have.

So after a few weeks of writing and yoga teaching in the Bay Area, I left again. I went to the desert, to Joshua Tree and then Indian Creek, and it was one of the most nurturing, deep, glittery climbing trips I’ve ever been on. I laughed a lot. My brain felt light, my heart felt carbonated.

I came back home again and published my eBook. A week after that, I submitted a proposal to a major publishing company for my second book. I am working on that book now and waiting for them to review my pitch. In my free time, I write poetry and what I think is probably going to be a memoir, but one can never be too sure about that. I also teach yoga and go climbing when I can.

I can feel myself ready to settle down somewhere, somewhere not in the back of my Subaru, somewhere close to rocks and friends.

I’m not sure where that is yet, but I trust that I’ll know soon.

“What keeps you going isn’t some fine destination but just the road you’re on, and the fact that you know how to drive. You keep your eyes open, you see this damned-to-hell world you got born into, and you ask yourself, ‘What life can I live that will let me breathe in & out and love somebody or something and not run off screaming into the woods?” -Barbara Kingsolver

This is crazy for me to write, but it’s true–I finally feel like I have become who I was supposed to become. It’s not because things are all perfectly set, it’s because I trust myself, my life, and that the things I’ve lost weren’t meant for me.

We have been told a lie. You become who you are not by gaining things, but by losing, losing everything, people and relationships and moments and car keys. The things we’ve lost, the things we swore we would die without, are what make up our skeletons. They are our framework. When we trust that, we can lose with wild abandon, we can let go easily and joyfully, because we know that this is how we go about becoming ourselves and becoming rich.

 

 

 

To make a donation to Georgie’s writing, click here. Donations of any amount are greatly appreciated.