“Let’s just do something fun and call it science!” he said. Yes, and let’s also see if existing science supports it, I replied. We both generally believe that any (all?) novel experience can change a person’s brain–the principle of neuroplasticity–but are all changes good? Which changes are best? Which activities are best suited to positive change? Does “positive change” need to be more narrowly defined? Is my positive change the same as your positive change? Can one activity shape and inform different goals? How much of a given activity is “enough” to create permanent change? Is there even such a thing as “permanent change”?
Ah, fuckit. Let’s just go weld some shit and see what happens…
Originally we planned to take a 6-hour MIG class that would render us sufficiently competent to independently enjoy “open studio” time at the community metal shop. Due to scheduling challenges, however, we had to downgrade to the 3-hour MIG/TIG/Oxy “taster” class. After we booked it, I embarked on a bit of research to see what science could tell us about welding’s potential as a driver of neuroplasticity.
Turns out, it’s maybe a good thing that we limited our exposure to this activity to just 3 hours! As much as we loved every minute of our experience, science tells us that it would not be wise to make this a new lifelong habit: Healthy welders may be at increased risk of early brain damage.
Uh, ok then.
Luckily cycling creates a strong dopaminergic reserve, unlikely to be catastrophically disrupted by a 3-hour class. Plus, we get to make a cowbell! Let’s do this thing!
We were joined by 7 other people, only one of whom was male. Roughly 90% of our classmates also ride bikes and/or climb rocks (more on this later) and precisely 100% of them shared our political views. At 1 week post-inauguration, we felt better already. Being in a room of like-minded individuals who were roughly our same age and had no prior welding experience among them felt fantastically empowering: Go old people! Way to be brave and try new things!
Some of the great things about making a cowbell are:
- It’s a friggin COWBELL
- Its 4 walls provide a series of opportunities to refine techniques
- Ditto the 4 edges that comprise the “roof”
- Not only can you weld shit together with increasing accumen, you get to bend steel and generally feel like a superhero
- AND, when you are efficient and determined, you may get a chance to go back to the plasma cutter and get all creative and make yourself a cursive “Z” or a Norse rune “tyr” (should that happen to be your personal symbol) [SIDEBAR: My birthday is next week and I would really like a plasma cutter! It does not create neuro degenerative fumes. It is safe and beyond awesome. Someone start a GoFundme for this…]
And at the end of the night you get these:
I think my favorite part of the night (besides getting to wear 4 different kinds of safety goggles/masks), was getting to do something with one of my best friends and also a room full of strangers–all of us walking in as absolute novices with unique goals/neuroses–and having everyone walk away with smiles that reflected the HUGE sense of accomplishment we all felt.
So: the first #adventure17 experience was a resounding success–so long as you don’t count the possibly permanent burn scars that I earned when I failed to heed the “Wear Gloves At All Time” instruction–ADVENTURE!
*Many thanks to Matt at Molten MetalWorks for making this happen for us.
Today, February 17, 2017, I am able to reveal this month’s adventure, which is already in progress: Rock climbing.
Indeed, #adventure17v2 kicked off promptly on February 1, when I accompanied one of my OT classmates to the climbing gym nearest to our campus. For more than a year I had half-heartedly “enthused” about my desire to check out rock climbing with Ken. Each time that he invited me, however, it was easier to find excuses than motivation. With the #adventure17 challenge in play, however, I had no choice. It was preordained: February = Rock Climbing month.
Ken’s rock-based passion is lead climbing. Top-roping runs second. Bouldering third. My inclinations run in the exact opposite direction. Therefore, we compromised and decided to devote our outing to a top-roping/belay class. As luck would have it, Groupon has a special that week: $26 for two people to take a 3-hour belay class. Ken didn’t “need” the class, obviously, but I definitely needed/wanted him to be my partner, so off we went.
The hardest thing about the class was learning to tie the “figure-8” knot. I still have some depth perception/spatial orientation deficits and using an all-black rope did not help matters.
Using our OT “adapt the environment” skills, however, when we transitioned over to a red rope with blue accents my success rate skyrocketed. 🙌🏼#justrightchallenge
Ken took a more aggressive approach to my first climbing challenge, however: A 5.7.
All the other newbies in the course started at 5.5. Judging me to be a badass, however, Ken placed me on a route that was two orders of magnitude greater. I got it done, but it pretty much ruined me: SO EXHAUSTING! So much forearm action. Who uses their forearms for anything? The last (and only time) I used forearm muscles was when I had to hand-wash and -ring clothing in Ukraine. That sucked and hurt and this, frankly, didn’t feel any better.
The difference with this month’s challenge, however, was/is that it wasn’t a “one-and-done” type of situation as was the case with welding. For the February challenge I committed to climb things at least once per week.
So one week after top-roping with Ken at Stronghold, I joined BB/PP at his climbing gym, Hangar 18. BB added climbing to his fitness regimen a little over a year ago. In so doing he replaced his “scrawny little bicycle arms” (his words) with something that more closely approximates manly muscles (my words). In so doing, he found a new passion and anything that makes this guy so happy is something I figure I ought to explore.
BB’s climbing passion is bouldering. He is not even remotely interested in lead climbing or top roping. That said, he demonstrated (possibly inappropriate) respect for my ability to successfully tackle a 5.7 during my virgin climbing experience. Surely I would have no trouble with a v1 bouldering route.
Joke’s on us.
I got about 1.5 moves in before I lost my balance and/or momentum and/or confidence and/or strength.
Ok, then, let’s try a v0. I “enjoyed” (not at all the right word) a ~70% success rate on these. #fml. This shit is hard.
Let’s build a little confidence on the Bs, shall we? Nailed it. No problem. “B” is for baby. “B” is for boring. “B” is for bullshit.
Back to v0. Ok. It’s coming easier, but still–this is a lot harder than it looks, BB.
“I know. That’s the beauty of it, CZ. No one knows how hard it is until they try.”
Fuckthisshit. Take a selfie with me and get ready for the long haul because I’m not quitting until I conquer a damn v1….
This is the best/worst picture ever!
I guess my forearms are a little bit wasted!
This shit it hard.
I quit for today.
But sign me up for the $5/mo all-you-can-climb teaser special. I’ll be back!
…. and of course I have not yet gone back.
But given the unexpected cost savings for this months’s challenge, I did go and buy myself a pair of legit climbing shoes (no more gross loaners!), a chalk bag, and some “unicorn dust.” 🦄
The original plan was to join BB for his regular Friday climbing session (today) but given that (a) he recently cracked a couple ribs, (b) Los Angeles is presently being pummeled with intense rain and 36mph winds, and (c) that gym is ~15 miles away, I may have to be extra-super brave and go by myself to check out the place that is less than 6 blocks away from me.
Wish me luck.
Tune in next month for more details + the March adventure revelation.