The Problem With Having a Platform

I had a very odd experience this winter, where a stranger told me one of my own stories. It sourced from this blog; although he did not know that. Briefly:

I was out ice climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park with a new partner. It was our second time out together, and we were still getting a feel for one another, as humans and as climbers. This involves a lot of discussion of life, philosophy, and (mostly) previous climbs. My partner asked if I had climbed the Diamond, perhaps Colorado’s most famous alpine wall, to which I answered: yes, I had.

It’s not too bad but you’ll need to move fast, I said to him. Yeah I’ve heard, he says. My favorite story of the Diamond is some guy is up there, pitching it out, going all slow, when suddenly Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell just simulclimb by! Leaving them in the dust.

That event happened to me and my partner Beth, the first time we climbed the Casual Route. I mentioned it in the trip report I published here on this blog, and on Medium. Thanks to SEO, and because lots of people are interested in climbing the Diamond, those posts see a good amount of traffic (and they will see more this summer, as we enjoy Diamond season). Somewhere along the way, this person had read that post, or discussed it with someone else who had. My own story was getting away from me; taking on a life of its own in my community.

This was a thoughtful a moment for me.

I’ve published all sorts of stuff on this blog. Some of it gets me into trouble, some of it earns me money, some of it succeeds and most of it falls into obscurity. I write when I feel like, trying my best not to be dominated by the desire to drive up stats. But the more content is published, the more visitors come. For the past two years, I’ve been mostly climbing, and thus, mostly writing about climbing. Not all of those climbs have been posted here, but the ones that I have posted, have been finding an audience — mainly through search engines.

A man emailed me last summer asking for his cam back, which I had mentioned recovering from the wall in a trip report from two years prior. A producer for Reel Rock contacted me about my encounter on the Diamond with Honnold and Caldwell (I never saw the film, don’t know if my video made it to the final cut). Canadian radio invited me on to discuss digital nomads. An editor reached out to me with a freelance assignment. On the call, he said: “This is kind of strange, because I feel like I know you much more deeply than you know me.”

A romantic interest, at the end, sadly said to me: “If only you could love me like you loved her.”

A writing teacher in university explained the problem thusly: “When I published my first essay, it was easy to say what I really meant, because I knew it was a small literary journal and no one would ever read it. Then it was picked for Best American Essays, and suddenly everyone I knew was reading about my parent’s failing marriage, my eating disorder, and the fact that I was a lesbian. It made Thanksgiving dinner massively uncomfortable.”

(You can read her essay, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking“, here).

That was 2005. Before the internet became what it is today — almost before the concept of blogging existed. Now, anyone can write their thoughts and push it to an audience much bigger than that of a literary journal — or indeed, bigger than the readership of Best American Essays (which we must imagine to be mostly limited to a small subset of university professors, ambitious young writers conducting research on their competition, and the editors of the aforementioned journals).

It is easy to publish into a void. Being honest when you know no one will see it is simple. Publishing to an audience, particularly an audience which knows you, is quite different.

It demands more courage, a thing I have found lacking lately. Pivoting to writing on climbing was easy, natural way to avoid the expectations and experience of the emotional writing. But the climbing writing, ironically (although perhaps not unexpectedly), has become even more popular than what I was doing before. By publishing trip reports, I am actually contributing to the overcrowding on some of my favorite routes and areas around Colorado.

The best climbs of the past year are not on this blog. The best moments, mostly, I have kept to myself. The worst ones, too.

Lately, I’ve been listening to Florence and the Machine’s new album, Dance Fever, which thoroughly explores the themes of art, creation versus motherhood, and self-identity. The opening words of the whole album, on the track ‘King‘ cut right to the quick:

We argue in the kitchen about whether to have children
About the world ending and the scale of my ambition
And how much is art really worth
The very thing you’re best at is the thing that hurts the most
But you need your rotten heart, your dazzling pain like diamond rings
You need to go to war to find material to sing
I am no mother, I am no bride, I am king

—Florence Welch, ‘King’

The album is great, sonically and thematically. You should give it a listen, if you like indie music, witchy vibes, or rock n’ roll. I am glad Florence is back, doing what she’s best at.

But if she chose to leave the spotlight, have a child, and put aside the dazzling pain… could you blame her?