08 November 2010

Sweet Breakdancing Photos

Good B-Boy break dancers will make your jaw drop.

Before last Saturday night, I'd only ever seen breakdancing briefly in movie clips or on YouTube, but after seeing a live competition and observing the B-Boy culture in person, I feel inspired. The way these dancers move to hip-hop rhythms and simultaneously explode with gymnastic, yogic, strong-man feats of athleticism commands respect and awe. What's more, the breakdance scene is infused with B-Boy culture, a stylistic front that translates to poise and presence in the face of competition— heavy attitude on and off the floor. While the attitude isn't something I'd like to infuse with my life, the B-Boys' ability to match music and movement, their meld of strength and toughness with dance, became that night something I wanted more of in my life.

I guessed with my yoga training that some of the moves would be easy; wrong! While I could find my way into many of the "freezes", moving between them with a rhythm was way hard. Like a fool, I fell all over my living room floor with Girl Talk playing loudly as I tried spinning and jumping like the badass B-Boys I'd just seen. I'm going to keep trying breakdance movement, but in the meantime, I'll maintain a massive respect for the few strong that inspired me.

Props to all the dancers at Saturday night's South East B-Boy Championship who inspired and others, and to the organizers for their work in realizing a vision to promote breakdancing and the hip-hop life. For more info read this informative Mountain Express article by Aiyanna Sezak-Blat. See also this follow-up story with video, here

Any B-Boys who find their picture here please holler at me to get your name under the shot and copies of your image.

20 June 2010

just one raspberry
both hollow and not hollow
becomes delicious

10 May 2010

Laurel Knob and NC Climbing

The day starts at 5:30 with Jeff’s alarm— too early, too ambitious. He resets it to 6:00, and we go back to sleep.

The day starts again at 6:00. While water boils for coffee, we sort climbing gear: various carabineers, camming devices, nylon runners— all making clinks and jangles as it’s chosen and set in the pile. I get two sixty meter ropes in my pack; Jeff takes the weighty rack. Along with the usual for a day of climbing, I’ve got my camera with its heavy 24-70mm lens and polarizer. With our packs filled, our breakfasts ingested, and coffee savored, we start the long hike in. This glorious, long day is just beginning.

Laurel Knob is a little known destination in Western North Carolina. Its cousin, White Sides Mountain, gets more recognition and traffic with its easier access and choice of hiking trails. Laurel Knob, on the other hand, hides from visitors on private property owned by the Carolina Climbers Coalition (CCC), and requires a solid hour and a half hike in to reach the cliff bottom. And if you want to see the view from Laurel Knob, there’s no hike to the top; it takes traditional, multi-pitch climbing experience and a little thirst for adventure.

Jeff and I make a two man climbing team, and to ascend the enormous slab of granite that’s Laurel Knob, we follow a climbing route called Groover— first climbed by Jeep Gaskin his wife Julia on their honeymoon in 1980. With about 800 feet of climbing, this is one of the South East’s longest routes on the tallest cliff east of the Mississippi. As we trade pitches— alternating lead climbing and belaying— we are alone on the rock. Because of its difficult access, few climbers come here. The climbing is not difficult, but very enjoyable on wonderfully aesthetic rock. Our route follows a crack up and right, and eventually takes us through some interesting water groove formations, the route’s namesakes, further and further from the ground. Somehow amidst hauling up rope and keeping a safe belay, I manage to take some pictures that I hope will tell the story of a beautiful day out.

There’s another story at Laurel Knob though, besides our own individual ascent, and that’s the story you start to see looking out beyond the cliff. Laurel Knob is surrounded by Cashier’s numerous, private, gated developments, and large, opulent houses pock what might otherwise be a rugged wilderness. The long hike in to Laurel Knob— from the Panthertown Valley trail system onto an easy-to-miss, unmarked climber’s trail— is necessary to avoid trespassing on the private land that surrounds it. Laurel Knob would itself be off limits to everyone if not for the hard work of John Myers to secure a deal for the CCC to purchase the 50 acres of land comprising the cliff. The access granted by this epic purchase— $250,000 that was just recently paid off— is the antecedent of about thirty years of secretive, clandestine climbing while the cliff was still off limits.

Our climb was stellar. When we reached the top of our last pitch, looking out and down from high on the cliff, we showed our appreciation and respect for the beauty of this rock with some awe and silence— as well as high fives and smiles. The challenge provided by Laurel Knob was an exceptionally rewarding experience.

For me, climbing is a fantastic way to enter nature. It’s an activity that requires close attention to the moment and provides direct experience with the world around. Personally, I feel fortunate to live in North Carolina, a state where there is an abundance of high quality rock in breathtaking wilderness settings. I am grateful for the likes of the CCC for preserving this particular, unique area for rock climbers to explore, and owe my respect to the climbers who were establishing routes here before I was even born.

It’s my hope that climbing in North Carolina continues to thrive. For this to happen, our growing climbing community must take care of the land we do have access to— minimizing our impact in use areas as if we were still climbing in secret. Sometimes it takes sweat and cooperation, such as the large trail cleanup at Rumbling Bald last fall. And of course, the CCC appreciates financial support via donations and membership dues to help pay off the acquisition of climb sites it protects for local climbers, such as the very popular West Side Boulders of the Rumbling Bald, and to support its cooperative efforts with the Access Fund and government agencies like the Park Service. Go to www.carolinaclimbers.org for more information about this beneficial organization.

To all you non-climber readers who want to test your meddle on North Carolina’s many challenging rock faces, there are a lot of ways to learn. Try your hand at Asheville’s rock gym, Climbmax, with a supportive staff to teach you some skills. Western NC offers some fine guiding services, such as the Appalachian Mountain Institute, that offer a safe, fun, and qualified introduction to the world of outdoor climbing. Selected Climbs in North Carolina, by Yon Lambert and Harrison Shull, is a comprehensive guidebook to most of North Carolina’s best climbing areas, and essential reading for all Carolina climbers.

Jeff and I had a long hike out after our climb, reflectively trudging our three miles back to the car. But pink lady slippers and beautiful trilliums lined the trail, and a memory card full of color photographs waited development— these good things are best appreciated with hard work. At the end of a long day, how fantastic to be completely satisfied.

Jeff hits a steep section following the fifth pitch and trusts his shoes sticky rubber to make the move.

Far bigger than it looks in pictures, Laurel Knob is the tallest cliff east of the Mississippi.

Jeff checks a photocopied route description before embarking on the next pitch.

Blue skies brighten the view as Jeff makes his way with little protection and terrific exposure.

Double rope rappels down Laurel Knob's distinctive water grooves take us back to the ground and finish the climb. Fantastic!

09 March 2010

The Cultural Reflection in a Local Toy Store

SPED 620, a class called Education in a Diverse Society, asks teachers to consider the impact of cultural biases in our classrooms. As a part of this discussion, we’re asked to look at possible sources of and reasons for racial and gender inequality. How, in spite of our nation’s growing diversity, do white middle class values achieve dominance in our society? One assignment, which I’ve chosen to present online via my personal blog, asked me to go to a toy store and consider what cultural perspective is dominant.

Toy Box is located on Merrimon Avenue, prime business real estate for North Asheville’s community. The high price of real estate and the overflowing parking lot of the organic Greenlife grocery store both point to a simultaneously wealthy and eco-conscious community. Social conscientiousness is a kind of currency in this neighborhood, and the streets are getting crowded with Toyota Priuses with reusable grocery bags in the passenger seat. I was interested in finding out what the neighborhood toy store could say about this progressive and affluent crowd.

In a toy store, certain cultural values seem to stand out more than others, and most notably we see how the toys reflect gender roles and represent racial diversity. I also wondered if socioeconomic status might be discernable, and I predicted at Toy Box I would see a selection of toys catered towards Asheville’s upper class. All these things became pretty obvious the moment I walked in the door.

Gendered pink and blue sections are obvious when you walk in the door.

First, gender issues: two colors stood out distinctly directly upon entering. Blue and pink; pink and then blue— these colors are still obviously associated with their respective genders and demarcate girls’ and boys’ toys. In the pink sections there were dolls, and in the blue sections action figures and models. This general perspective shows that there are still different kinds of toys for boys and girls, but it doesn’t show that this toy store is reinforcing negative gender roles like Barbie or G.I. Joe. Toy Box is doing much better; there are no Barbies or Bratz Dolls that make women into sex objects, and there aren’t any war toys in the entire store. The dolls, packaged in pink, were Go Go Girls— “healthy lifestyle dolls” dressed in athletic wear— an example of dolls attempting to break down old gender stereotypes. Also in the pink section were dress up outfits: fairy wings, wands, and tutus. Boys, it seems, don’t do dress up.

Taking education classes, one of the more harmful gender stereotypes we’re made aware of is the notion that boys are better at math and science, and girls are more gifted in arts and English. Toy Box had a good supply of educational toys— a commendable effort— but unfortunately the gender roles were represented, and thus reinforced, by many of these educational products. Most notably “The Dangerous Book for Boys” chemistry set, as well as the other science kits, were pretty clearly directed at boys, but the doll making kit, weaving starter set, and coloring books were all clearly directed at girls. It seems rather unfair to fault the toy store for reinforcing this stereotype, but its presence at even a progressive toy store is troubling.

Once again, I wouldn’t like to fault a small local business making efforts to be socially conscious, but, if product packaging is to suggest anything, toys at this store were all for white kids. A significant portion of wall space was devoted to Playmobil toys, and according to the store’s owner this is because Playmobil toys are consistently best sellers. It is certainly noteworthy, therefore, that not a single black or Asian child is on any Playmobil box, and perhaps less than 5% of the figurines available from Playmobil are something other than white. Playmobil sets, if you’re unfamiliar with them, are little models of society— hospitals, fire stations, houses— as well as imaginative fantasy worlds of pirates and pyramids. It seems the real and fantasy worlds of Playmobil, a German company, are not racially diverse, even if the real world is.

A hundred figurines and all the same color: Playmobil fails to represent diversity.

I predicted based on the location of Toy Box that its toys would reflect certain features of the North Asheville demography. Indeed, I found a good bit in the store that affirmed my predictions. Cool toys in the Toy Box weren’t cheap. “Inexpensive” items hovered around ten dollars each, and on the other end of the spectrum were dozens of Playmobil sets from eighty to two-hundred dollars. There was a significant collection of “green” toys also, like “Eco Kids” stainless steal water bottles, “Hand Made and Fair Trade” knitted flying discs, and tea and dinner play sets made from “100% Recycled Plastic.” The store had a wide selection of Plan Toys, a company that promotes itself for its sustainable practices. Wooden parts of their toys come from recycled rubber trees, they use special eco-friendly glue, water soluble dyes, and even have special recycled packaging printed with a soy based dye: all of which, the owner says, allows customers, “to feel better about buying a doll house.” Feeling better about buying a doll house will, however, cost a bit more; unfortunately, like organic groceries, sustainable products are still the privilege of those that can afford it.

I talked to the owner of Toy Box for a bit for a little more information. They have been in business along Merrimon for 22 years. I asked about their efforts to be a socially responsible toy store, and he explained to me in honesty that it was just a better business decision. Toy Box can’t go up against the likes of a Wal-Mart, so they don’t offer the same products: “We give people a choice of what to buy rather than where to buy, and consciously give them a better product.” Indeed, the toy choices Toy Box offers reflect its customers and their values.

To be the reflection
of an image
consumer demand
is also to be
its re-creation.

A young man looks
into his mirror
and allows what peers back
to change him—
he grooms,
or despises,
himself by what he sees.

The toy shop
what sells;
what's manufactured by companies
with more research than development who
analyze markets to market—
the toy shop is its market's mirror,
not as it reflects each buyer
but as it reflects to each buyer—
each subtle re-creation

the danger
of ignorant manipulation
within the system
of mirror and mirrored.
the cycle of a reflection
to change one,
be aware
for good
in you.

—EB, 3/9/10