A couple of summers ago, I went to Jiminy Peak’s Aerial Adventure Park to try the High Ropes Course. It’s divided by level, levels that parallel the categorizing of skiing.
Green = Easy.
Black = Difficult.
It was fun, scary, challenging and required complete focus on the task, whether crossing a horizontal rope ladder 40 feet in the air, or flying down a zip line. The first part of the adventure requires trusting the harness, knowing and believing that if you couldn’t quite do something and you let go, the harness would protect you from crashing to the ground.
All fine and good, but I had a really hard time believing this.
This became super apparent when I reached a 15 foot rope ladder that I had to climb. The bottom of the ladder was about four feet off the platform, and the platform was at least 20 feet off the ground. And the ladder? It wasn’t anchored in place and the rungs weren’t easily spaced. The ladder moved around and the reach from rung to rung was a herculean effort, especially since this was one of the later challenges. I tried, got frustrated. Rested on the platform, then tried again. I repeated this loop a number of times, growing more and more frustrated and angry. Angry at my fear, angry at my inability to trust, angry at being weak. So I pouted. And pouted. And then totally spent, gave up and took the zip line down off the platform to the solid ground. Had I been able to trust the harness, I could have leaned into it and made it up the ladder, but I couldn’t. I wanted to do it on my own. (Read the many life analogies and metaphors in this example.)
The subtle pouting remained in ways that I did not even realize until a few months later when looking at some of the artwork created shortly after that.
For example, the semester after that I created this little one page book and the accompanying envelope. The text reads:
My little soul
climbed high and away
where the pauses
hummed in silence
Decide for yourself
This little book was a “simplified version” of another book, a structure I learned during a class with Julie Chen, the magic tablet. The workshop description read like this:
Part book, part optical paper toy, this structure presents the opportunity to create mesmerizing illusions!
This structure presents 12 pages that are cut into horizontal strips and assembled so that each page appears to dissolve into the next when the handles on either side of the mechanism are manipulated. This allows for multiple readings of each page as it slides in ever-changing combinations with both the previous and the following pages.
Using easily accessible mark-making techniques, students will create 12 pages for their tablet. Then, after careful preparation of the pages and all the tablet’s various visible and invisible parts, the secrets of the mechanism’s inner workings will be revealed.
My twelve pages alternated between black and white tree images–some my tree rubbings, some my tree photographs and watercolored images of ladders.
Both books address my literal fear of the ladder and heights, and also get into how facing these fears on the playground help when facing parallel ones in the work place or in personal relationships. This first book has this text, you can see where the second, little one gets its inspiration:
My little soul
climbed high and away,
where the pauses between heartbeats hummed in silence.
Do you see only THAT which concerns you?
There is no right way
It’s so much easier to run far, fast, furiously
than to watch the dark clouds cover your eyes.
Speak your truth.
Reveal, me, you.
Decide for yourself.
Merge and mingle.
Unhinge your habits.
And the next year? I returned to Jiminy Peak and not only made it through the ladder, but through every single one of the challenges from the green to the black levels.