Freaking Awesome Writing


Man, there is a lot of badass writing out there right now.

Over the past week or two, I received four different items in the mail: one, a book from Brendan Leonard called Make It Till You Make It; two, a copy of the latest Climbing Zine; three, a copy of Issue 03 of Adventure Journal’s quarterly print publication; and four, Alpinist 56. Tonight, I perused all of these things, and though I haven’t fully consumed any of them, I was instantly struck by how much work went into each… but what’s more important, how much bravery and boldness. It takes pure guts to go out into the world, make art, and share it with the masses, not ever knowing if the masses will share or appreciate your vision.

All four of these magazines and books exist not because they have to, but because the entrepreneurs behind the scenes NEED them to. They are all passion projects, and they are all done with aesthetics as the primary consideration. I’m sure there are things that each could do to increase their profit margin, make more money, etc. But that’s not, remotely, what any of them are about. They are, as Seth Godin calls all art, gifts. And they are all badass.

What I love about Brendan’s new book is that I can just imagine a million different publishers all turning their nose up at it. It’s too short, too unscientific, been done too many times, it’s too … I don’t know… different. And yet, Brendan had the vision to make it himself, to self-publish, not to jump through a single goddamned hoop and make exactly what he wanted, how he wanted to. And, of course, it’s fucking perfect. It’s made for literally flipping to any single page in the book, and getting some small (but significant), beautiful nugget of wisdom that is meant to encourage you to stop making excuses, and start doing the things you say you want to do. It’s real, it’s heartfelt, and it’s awesome. From “You Don’t Need Anyone’s Permission, Or Money To Do It”, to “You Are Going to Get Rejected”, the book is filled with quick, concise, powerful little punches of truth. Open to a random page (Page 41, for example), and you’ll find a title along the lines of: “You will Probably Suck At First”, expounded upon by advice such as:

“Do This: Try. Suck. Try again. Suck again.” 

For those of you left in the lurch about what comes next, here’s a hint: the answer’s probably going to be ‘try again.’

What I love about The Climbing Zine is that although the quality of the layout, the paper, the print, the graphics, and the writing has all improved since the first go round years ago, the core remains the same. The Climbing Zine is raw, unpolished, unmeddled with, and beautiful in a way that feels very unique to me. It also features great stories that are utterly unconventional. Georgie Abel has a fantastic short piece in there, and Chris Schulte’s article shows that TCZ has the chops to get top tier athletes to speak in a way that we don’t often see in the mainstream media. Luke Mehall (Ed in Chief) even took a story from me that I think most other publications would not have considered. It’s a letter to Sally Jewel about why I think it is worth protecting The Bears Ears, and it’s full of purple prose, shitty cliche rhymes, disjointed rhythm, and this thing which often gets polished out during the editing process: passion. I think the Climbing Zine routinely chooses to place passion over polish, and that is a conscious and bold decision to make in today’s world of climbing media.

What I love about Adventure Journal’s print publication is that it LITERALLY smells incredible the minute you open it. It comes sealed in a plastic wrap, and when you open it up, it lets out the magazine version of new car smell, which is awesome. It’s way fancier than it needs to be, unabashedly high-brow, and full of world class photography and writing that really goes above and beyond the call of duty. You get the feeling that AJ’s ed in chief, Steve Casimiro, looked at where the bar was set, and then decided to raise it five notches, just to see if he could still leap clean over it. Honestly, I think he has. I haven’t read every article in the first three issues, but every article I have read has been on point. The photography is breathtaking, and this issue’s stories by Steve about the etymology of the Norwegian concept of Friluftsliv (connecting with nature), and Jonathan Waterman’s Secret Climb of Bob Jones — which regales what is likely the actual first ascent of Denali’s most popular route, three years before what has for more than half a century been believed to be the first ascent — are both awesome, incredible stories.

What I love about Alpinist is how boldly intelligent, exacting, and intellectually stimulating it is. The Editor in Chief, Katie Ives, is a freaking powerhouse of an editor. I have talked to some of the best climbing writers in the business, and that opinion is unanimous among any that have worked with her. Personally, Katie believed in me as a writer before I believed in myself. I recently received a copy of Issue 56 because I have a one paragraph blurb in it in this incredible article – if you can call it that – about Yosemite. It is more like a massive artistic collaboration between writers, photographers, and other visual artists to try and pin down some of the more nuanced and subtle visions and notions of what Yosemite is, what it has been, what it one day may be. Alpinist’s new(ish) Associate Editor (Paula Wright) helped me condense my lump of coal of a thought into the form of a diamond, and Katie swooped in at the end when I was being unfairly closed-minded to some of poor Paula’s suggestions, convinced me Paula was right, and helped polish the paragraph until it shined brightly.

I feel like I talk shit about writing, readers, and the world, all the freaking time. But man, it’s incredible how much wonderful work is being done out there. And although I often complain that “nobody reads any more”, the fact is, people do. You do. You are reading right now. And I am grateful for you. Because people like you are the ones who allow people like me to exist. And I am proud to exist the way I do, as a writer, as a curmudgeon who once in a blue moon has a blip of optimism, as someone who works hard (often failing) to try and create something good, that helps all of us remember what a gift it is to be alive.

We are all fortunate and blessed.

As a non sequitur, High Fucking Five to Standing Rock, and to everybody who stood on the front lines, signed a petition, or simply shared on Facebook their outrage and frustration about the NODAPL fiasco. All I can say is, fuck yeah. Change is possible.

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