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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Column: Your fail is showing

Sometimes I wish I were a chimpanzee. I’d finally have license to fling poo at people who annoy me. I’d draw fewer weird looks when crouched in the upper branches of a tree, surveying the quad. And best of all, I’d be at least twice as strong as the average human.

This would make Chimp-Beth about four times as ripped as Human-Beth, who is a total weakling. Four-year-olds routinely beat me in arm wrestling matches. Climbing stairs requires frequent time-outs. In the winter, children try to take my arms for snowman limbs.

My lack of muscle makes for a real challenge in rock climbing, an activity rife with challenges, excitement and unfamiliar terminology. Here’s a primer:

Rock climbing can be “indoors” (for example, at the ARC, where millions of attractive, athletic people will see you fall) or “outdoors” (for example, in the wilderness, where no one will see you fall). Indoor climbing uses “routes” (paths) in which you may only use certain “holds” (sticky-outtie things), indicated by different colors of “tape” (self-adhering substance primarily used for wadding up and throwing away).

The beginning rock climbing class made me feel like a stud. I didn’t have to climb routes – I had the option of “rainbow climbing,” which means using any hold my little heart desires. My belayer – the person keeping me from plummeting to the ground – cheered when I made it to the top. If I couldn’t quite make it to the next hold, the instructor would occasionally hoist me upward like a leggy sack of potatoes. It was awesome.

I started thinking I should take it to the next level. Sometimes the third time’s a charm – but other times, it’s the time at which you should stop taking a beginners’ course. So this quarter, I enrolled in the intermediate/advanced course. Easier than filling in a ditch, right?

The first day of class was pretty painful. This was mostly because I spent the morning getting my mouth filled with needles, drills, latexy hands and really stabby suction tubes. While others were hearing an inspiring speech about the challenges of high-level rock climbing, I was chewing on my tongue in the dentist’s office.

The second day of class made my gums bleed less, but it was far scarier. My classmates all looked like serious climbers, what with their stretchy pants, pro shoes and biceps at least seven-tenths as big as a chimp’s. In addition to the pep talk, I seemed to have missed the warning to drop the class if you couldn’t bench like the football team.

Once we started climbing, I felt like even more of a fraud. Up there on the wall, your skill level is exposed for all to see. And when your arms give out on you halfway up, you have to yell down to your belayer that you’re quitting and want to be let down. It’s like shouting, “Check it out, I failed again!” to the whole class.

So my first day at class was a doozy. At the end of it, the coach instructed us to rest up over the weekend so we could grow capillaries, ligaments and the magical ability to levitate. Naturally, I immediately scheduled a Saturday climbing session with my friend Bob in a vain attempt to become a competent climber before Tuesday.

I did not get any better. If anything, the intervening days had given me a magical increased attraction to the Earth. I think I could actually hear the tiny muscles in my arms crying, “Why do you hate us?” as they quivered and collapsed.

Bob and I took turns climbing. Unable to make it up an easy route I had chosen, I yelled, “Don’t judge me!” and proceeded to use a variety of unauthorized holds. Of course, Bob said he wasn’t judging me, but I felt certain he thought I was a wuss. My whole body burned with shame and lactic acid.

A little later, Bob was three-quarters of the way up when the going got tough. Without much hesitation, he threw back a “Don’t judge me!” and helped himself to some extra holds.

Waves of relief washed over me. “No judgment here!” I called. Now, I really believed he didn’t look down on me. Why? Because I saw he recognized our similar failings. (Similar, not identical. I’m pretty sure Bob could take me in a gator-wrestling competition.)

That’s the beauty of being open about our weaknesses and addictions, no matter what they are. It’s risky to bring your past embarrassments and current vices out into the light. You make yourself vulnerable to attack by those who, apparently, have no faults.

But by confessing your faults, you let others know that you’re not alone. You struggle together. You spur each other on to better things. You forgive each other over and over, knowing how desperate for that forgiveness you yourselves are, knowing how many times you’ve been the one falling off the wall.

It’s okay to let someone know you’re not a chimp.

BETH SEKISHIRO wonders why the only verb allowed to connect chimps and poo is “fling.” E-mail suitable alternatives to blseki@ucdavis.edu.

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