We Didn’t Start the Fire

Tomorrow, I’m going to compete in a climbing competition for the first time since middle school. I’ve always been unnecessarily stressed by individual competition, which is why I avoided running track beyond 9th grade and felt genuinely relieved to walk away from climbing competitions when I went to boarding school. There were some climbing comps in college, but I either purposely showed up to them too late (maybe tipsy) or was one of the monitors to set the boulder problems, thus eliminating myself.

I’m fine with team sports, but when it’s solo competition, I always put way too much pressure on myself. I whole-heartedly admit that I’m a competitive person. As a kid, I would be furious when I lost games, and because of that old tendency, I often want to opt out of board games with fellow adults nowadays — I don’t want the demon, psycho-competitive Slaico to rear her ugly head. I do hold it together for the most part, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that during the last game of Settlers of Catan, all that was in my head was “I’m losing I’m losing I’m losing.”

Unlike a board game, this comp will actually be a chance for me to showcase my climbing skill, something that’s grown tremendously since middle school. I just need to get out of my own head. As I left the gym earlier, Ryan’s uncle Craig said, “Good luck tomorrow night. Don’t think.”

The trouble is, I always think. I can barely watch an episode of the Great British Baking Show without thinking: “I should really check the weather for tomorrow. Oh, I forgot to add that song to my color playlist. And also that song to my 17 playlist. Did I text dad about that song I heard the other day? I can’t forget to put the trash out. Man, I want to play drums, but also eat dessert, but I need to shower. I didn’t foam roll my IT band yet today. Damnit, I just missed how Abdul made that mirror glaze!”

Sitting down to write currently, I wondered how I would even start this post, when I have all these piece-meal notes on my phone, some phrases I can’t even recall writing down or why (as an example, I wrote “some things you can’t un-see.” Geez, what sparked that note?), in addition to some longer thoughts that I decided to write out in the moment. I suppose this is why I rarely write a long, coherent post like my last, because most of the time, my ideas are just flitting thoughts that don’t necessarily go together. So here we go.

When it comes down to it, a pillow can act as a very effective blanket. Sometimes it’s a better blanket than an actual blanket.

This morning, Ryan turned to me and asked why it looked like I had grown two inches. And funnily enough, it felt like I had. 

When I was a kid, I would sometimes wake up with this inexplicable sensation that my legs had stretched out. I just felt that they had lengthened, that I could point my toes further than before. I’d run downstairs and ask my mom to check my height, only to be dismayed that no, I had not grown. 

But this morning, I had woken up with that distinct feeling once more. Maybe I really grew this time.

I wrote the above literal months ago. And then on this last Monday, Ryan says to me, “Why do you look 6’4″ right now?” His mom, Doris, concurred, “Yeah, you do look really tall right now.” I swear, I change heights.

It’s that time of year where everyone is posting their Spotify Unwrapped results. I can’t say that it annoys me; I genuinely do like seeing what others listen to. This year, I wasn’t surprised by my results — except that I listened to over 85,000 minutes of music, which was substantially higher than 90% of the posts I saw. I mean, I’m listening to music right now. Basically, if I’m not watching TV or on a call, there is music in the background. I don’t know how to function otherwise.

My dad was texting our family group chat, asking about our results, and it soon devolved into me and him just talking to each other — so he moved us “offline.” The gesture amused me, as it made me consider what people find interesting and what topics make them truly check out.

In the family group chat, I can safely say that depending on the topic presented by either of my parents, only one of the three kids will respond. Sometimes two, but it’s rare for all of us to respond. Maybe it’s “taking turns” in a sense. Similarly, if one of the three of us texts in the chat, maybe one other sibling and one parent will respond. It’s got to be a pretty funny or entertaining or remarkable topic for all of us to actively chat.

Sometimes it depends more on the demographic. Last night, I met a political science professor for the Air Force Academy. She said it’s so clear what topics interest cadets over others. Environmental racism? Only civilians seem to want to talk about it. But bring up nuclear weapons, and cadets are all ears.

Sometimes it’s a lack of listening. My sister and I always laugh at my dad when he’s clearly not heard something, because he just smiles and gives a thumbs-up. You could’ve just said, “Dad, I just got fired from my job,” and he’d grin, nod, and exclaim, “That’s great!”

And last of all — maybe particular to me — the topic may be simply too niche for it even to be possible to discuss. Ryan and I were once at a concert where one of our favorite bands, almost monday, performed as the opener. They played a new song, and it had this guitar riff that reminded me so much of the Arctic Monkeys. In the car ride home (and later when the song was released on Spotify), I was like “See, Ryan, listen to that! Listen to that riff! That is like spot-on, early Arctic Monkeys. Like, you could so find that riff on their second album, Favourite Worst Nightmare.” In both instances, I’m pretty sure all Ryan could muster was an “Uh-huh.”

In the same vein of Spotify Unwrapped, I couldn’t help but chuckle to see my dad’s number two top artist was Billy Joel. I laughed because I came to the realization recently that whenever I’m upset, my dad’s advice usually involves referencing Billy Joel lyrics.

“You just have to do what you want to do, you know? Like Billy Joel said, ‘It’s my life.’ It’s your life.”

“You can’t get too preoccupied about climate change and the war in Ukraine and inflation. This shit is always happening. I mean, listen to Billy Joel’s, ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire.'”

Next thing I know, if I get too big for my britches, he’s going to say, “You had to be a big shot, did ya?”

I hope he’s laughing at this right now.

Last thing on Spotify and I’ll stop. Some months ago, Spotify told me that the first song that I played in 2022 was “Firelight” by Young the Giant. It’s a slower, poignant song and I now wonder if I should read more into this fact than I should. Like, can the first song of the year set the tone for the next 365 days? (Answer: probably not, but wouldn’t that be kind of magical?)

Things that bother me lately:

  1. Every time I pass the elementary school near me, I cringe at the sign that says, “Kiss and Go Lane Only.” I don’t know why, but it grosses me out.
  2. I track a lot of online reviews for Clif Bar as part of my job, and I’m so sick of reading reviews that start out with, “I buy these bars for my husband…” or “my boyfriend loves to eat these when…” Like, ENOUGH. Why doesn’t your husband buy his own damn Clif Bars? Why doesn’t your boyfriend leave his own damn review?
  3. I saw a high school student working on his Common App essay in the airport. You could not pay me to go back to that time of my life.

Things that have amused me lately:

  1. It’s always funny when an entire state has a commercial, trying to advertise itself as a ~destination~ — like, “Visit Michigan.” A friend of mine told me that he once saw an ad that said, “Nebraska: it’s not for everyone.
  2. I was on a call with some of my Clif co-workers who work on our Canadian market, and they were delighted to inform us that there were lots of new lifestyle images of Canadians enjoying bars while birding, portaging, and “cottaging” — “very Canadian activities.”
  3. I’ve been learning a lot of distances that seem to only occur in Lord of the Rings. A fathom is 6 feet. A furlong is an 8th of a mile, or 220 yards. A league is 3 miles. An ell is 6 hand breadths, approximately 45 inches. “How far did you run today?” “Oh, just a couple leagues.”

Why don’t they make light-up sneakers for adults? Just wondering.

Circling back to the climbing competition so that this post has an ounce of structure.

A couple months ago, I was climbing at a gym in Charleston. I wasn’t being ambitious (I never am in new gyms — the setting always feels weird as a newbie), but I was at least attempting some of the harder boulder problems. There was a girl there probably a few years younger than I am, and she was getting on a lot of those same problems.

I could tell she was a regular there. Just the comfort she had in the space, and it seemed she had climbed or attempted some of these problems before. I could also tell she was threatened by me. I reckon she’s one of the strongest — if not the strongest — girls at this gym, and I was on her turf. I understood the reaction, because it’s exactly how I feel whenever there’s a particularly strong girl at my own gym.

On the one hand, it’s so encouraging to see a strong female climber. It’s inspiring, mostly — it galvanizes me to try some routes I think are above my pay grade, to not sell myself short. But it also ruffles my feathers when I typically sit comfortably towards the top at my gym.

Admittedly, part of my worry about competing tomorrow is having to accept that there are women who are ostensibly stronger climbers than I am — and of course, these women exist. I just don’t see them often. The key is living with their existence, rather than getting overly competitive with them.

“Good luck tomorrow night. Don’t think.”

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