“This is what you get”

January 9, 2017

I have read your essay “From one writer to another” now a dozen times, maybe more. It enrages, infuriates
and inspires me more than anything I have read in a while. I want to yell at you, scream at you, curse you out
for so accurately describing how I write, without even knowing who I am. I can’t, because in reality, I don’t
hate you, I hate myself. I hate myself for unknowingly becoming the un-creative, spineless, conformist you
describe. I copy other writers thoughts, feelings, style and claim them to be my own.

So I followed your oddly numbered five-step prescription, took a long harsh looked at myself in the mirror and spewed some words onto a page. I will now hypocritically break from those rules and share what I wrote with you.

I always dreamed I would be dark, brooding, self-absorbed, and climbing hard, or maybe I’ve read Mark Twight’s Kiss or Kill one too many times. I romanticized his pain, I envied his angst, I wanted his dark outlook on life. I thought being bleak, broken and angry would push me to climb harder. So I found my own inner darkness, and instead of running from it, I fed it, I nurture it, I found sadistic joy from it. Soon John Lydon’s piercing, unforgiving, unflinching lyrics became the soundtrack for my life:

This is what you want; this is what you get.

This is what you want; this is what you get.

Is this what I want? I don’t know. I have no answers, so I climbed. I climbed to find answers, I climbed because it felt good, I climbed because I was good at it. Or did I climb because I wasn’t good at anything else?

I knew I would never climb as hard as others, so I looked down on sport climbing and bouldering, with their well-rehearsed, well repeated, well know beta. Climb, fall, sit on the rope, work the moves, learn the sequence, memorize the beta, clip the bolt. Copy, cut, paste, repeat. Repeat for every crux, repeat for every bolt, repeat for every climb. I looked down on skiing, saying it was only useful as a way to get to and from a climb, thinking of it as an enjoyable rest day activity.

I called myself an alpine climber. I looked at alpine climbing as the epitome of climbing, thinking of it as the be-all end. Yet I sport climbed and skied more than I climbed alpine walls. I used alpine climbing as the crutch to support my elitist attitude. But who the fuck am I to be an elitist? What have I done that has not been done a thousand times before?

I thought I could be an elitist because I had read all the right books, I knew the right slogans. I thought that because I had read about other people’s suffering, I knew what it was like and that I too had suffered for my “craft”. Light and fast, single push, alpine style, I continuously threw these words and phrases around, and I tried to embrace their meaning, but then used discomfort as a convenient excuse to turn around. Spouting excuses like: “Our safety margin wasn’t there”, “We didn’t have the gear to protect that pitch”, “It was too cold for what we brought”. When I was safely back down in the bar drinking beer, I would blame my failures on the lack of equipment, when in reality it was a lack of skill.

I would love to tell you that I saw my personal shortcomings and used them as motivation to climb a big, new route, in a ground-up, pure style that simultaneously pushed my own limits. I would love to tell you that I have been to Kierkegaard’s frozen lake. I would love to tell you that I walked out onto the ever-thinning ice, that I reached an indescribable moment of transcendence, and was able to bring back the jewel.

But I can’t. I can’t, because I sit here safely on the shore of the metaphorical lake. I recount the tales of the times I tip-toed out onto the ice to my fellow beachgoers. They affirm my feelings of superiority, and I theirs. We pat each other on the back, we call each other alpinist, we call each other rebels, we call each other punks on ‘pons. But we lie.

A lot of your writing has had a profound impact on me, but none more so than “From one Writer to Another”. I first read it at a pivotal time in my life and felt a strong need to respond, and this is what I came up with. I wrote the first draft of this email months ago, and am just now finally working up the nerve to send it off to you, I needed some time to distance myself from what I wrote.

If you have managed to read through all of this, I greatly appreciate your time. Thank you.

-John Sims

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