How To Balance While Climbing

Setting: Minneapolis, MN — August 2006


We tidied up after the Guerrilla Art exhibit opening and sat around for awhile talking. Roger Lootine was one of the featured artists, displaying zines and artwork from his cheeky and politically savvy Residue Comics series. Eventually it was me and Roger left, and we decided to continue our conversation about politics and art on the rooftop adjacent to the gallery. We headed to the back storage room, dusted the rust off the handle, opened the window, and climbed out to our roof.

“You get a decent view of the Northrup King Building from here,” I said. “The grain factory too, or whatever that is. All I know is that sometimes in the winter, it totally smells like cereal!”

“Does that go to the other roof?” he asked, pointing up.

“Yeah, but I haven’t been up there. The reliability of that ladder freaks me out a little.”
 “C’mon, let’s go!” he said cheerfully. (My friends are far more fearless than I am.)

And so we climbed, me much more cautiously.

“If you keep three points on at all times you’ll be way more secure as you work your way up,” he advised, quite correctly. And just like that, little by little, I found my way up the ladder all the way to the next rooftop and over once again. A killer view of downtown, a killer view of Northeast, and a kindred spirit to share it with. It doesn’t get much better.

Every so often, less often now than before, I get an email from a stranger asking to meet for coffee. To talk about how to start a nonprofit or how to open a gallery. I’d like to say I’ve always been generous with my time, but there was definitely a period when I shied away from meetings in general. Especially in the early years, there simply wasn’t enough of me to go around. I wanted deep down to be more open with my time, and I’m the kind of person that likes being busy, but the impact of saying yes to everything is not sustainable.


A few years later I took up bouldering and rock climbing, through which I learned even more about balancing. Even when you’re strapped in with a reliable belayer to help secure you, there’s always the hope you don’t fall. So you make sure your footing is steady and your grip is strong before you make the next move up the rock face. And sometimes it isn’t up — it’s sideways or even down and back up another way. Regardless of whether you’re working your way up, down, or over, balance is key if you want to make it out intact.

It has taken me years to learn how to do this with any small semblance of grace. It’s learning to say no politely, while still being as helpful as possible. It’s learning to know myself and keep open windows to fit folks in for meetings since that’s something I value. It’s learning to take time for myself and my family unapologetically, and being supportive when others do the same. It’s making sure my footing is sure and my balance is stable before I take the next step, much less help somebody else with taking theirs.

The best part of the gallery wasn’t always the exhibitions themselves: it was the edges, the after, the in-between spaces where I was able to connect with artists and colleagues like Roger. One of the most important lessons I learned from them was to not only check my footing, but also to trust myself.

Note to self: call Roger, say hi.