Wednesday, July 1, 2015

learning to ski slow

Once, when I was in the sixth or seventh or perhaps eighth grade, I was skiing on a minor slope with a group of classmates and other members of the public. And as I climbed back up the hill at one point -- yes, Virginia, there are slopes without tows -- a man I didn't know beckoned me to him. I went because that's what kids did when adults beckoned.

"Kid," he said without preamble, "any skier can ski fast. It takes a good skier to ski slow."

I don't remember that there was any further intercourse between us. He just returned to his skiing and I returned to mine. But his words had struck a chord -- or perhaps it was just a challenge -- and for the rest of the afternoon, I practiced skiing slow. Never, before or after, did I ever spend so much time on my ass.

The zoom and zip that I had longed for in the past -- it's kool, professional and adult, right? -- took on a whole new perspective: It was fun, yes, but likewise it was childish and uninformed. If you can't ski slow, you don't know squat.

In the local newspaper here, there is an occasional column in which individuals are asked various questions about themselves -- where do you live, whom do you live with, what's your job, what's your favorite food, etc.? And spliced in is the question, "Best advice you ever got?"

I wonder if there is a difference (this morning I think there is) between best advice anyone ever "got" and best advice they "took." Good advice swirls and eddies like some midwinter snow squall, but how much of it does anyone take. Sure, there's lots of parroting holy scripture or historical accuracy or psychological nostrum, but skiing slow is a different matter and sometimes I think that these days it is harder to slow down: The Internet provides such an avalanche, that sorting out which item is worth skiing slow for takes an inordinate amount of energy. And yet, if there is nothing worth slowing down for, nothing worth falling on your ass for, how flimsy and filled with mimicry does life become?

In schools, of course, there is some emphasis put on "knowing more." And knowing more has the capacity to reduce cruelty, I suppose. Knowing something about the anguished dyslexia of migrating annelids or some other, less fictional, bit of information ... well, it has its Jesuitical uses. Information piles up. Libraries or the Internet bulge at the seams. But information comes and goes in a trice and, though there may be less cruelty, where's the joy or peace or happiness?

What's the best advice you ever took?

Sometimes, in frothy moments, I think everyone -- and I mean everyone -- has all the information s/he needs in order to lead a happy life. Precisely complete. There is no need to learn more. There is only the need to ski slow. I say this with some trepidation since, of course, there are myriad examples of vastly cruel philosophies and religions and persuasions that loll about in their own limited satisfactions. They have no need to ski slow -- they have their version of the Answer or Bible or Quran or playbook and woe betide those who get in their way.

What's the best advice you ever took -- the one that put you on your ass over and over again and yet slowly, bit by bruised bit, became a companion worth having? Right and wrong are not a big deal ... of course you're wrong. Picking one thing in a life full of many things is always wrong. But still.... Agreement and disagreement are not the point: The point is skiing slow... and smiling.


  1. I'm pretty sure i've told this story before, but it seems appropriate to tell it again. I was being a step parent, living with a woman who's issues snuck up on us. She had three kids, an older girl and younger twins. Of the twins the boy was in special ed for a multiple diagnosis, and the other was a girl who was pissed off about him being difficult, and perhaps having difficulty. It's sometimes hard to tell why a kid is deeply angry. I worked, played in a band, made dinner, helped with homework, took the kids to events, playdates, etc. Not that their mother wasn't involved, but i was too, fully.

    I too was a difficult kid, a boomer with lots of options for getting into trouble. And as the sixties rolled up, so did philosophical differences to fight about. So after a difficult day of step parenting, frustrated, i asked my mother during a visit how they had managed to raise me. I'll never forget how she looked at me, as though she hadn't realized i was quite that stupid. And she asked and explained "Why don't you know? You just have to accept that everything you do is wrong and get on with it".

    It struck me like a brick to the side of the head. I was allowed to make mistakes, as long as i didn't quit trying. So now, i'm ok with being an idiot. I still try to listen and see what's going on. And i do my best to help as i can, even if sometimes it means standing back and waiting to help someone else pick up after their mistakes. And sometimes i get stuff really wrong. And sometimes i can't fix it, can't help. And as time rolls on, i find there's less and less i'm able to understand or do. But sometimes i'm ok with that too.

  2. Perhaps my response is obviously dictated by your question, but it WAS advice, and I DID (however slowly, however reluctantly) mostly listen to it. Still do, for that matter. It came from my therapist (hey, when you're paying for it, maybe that makes a difference?).
    He'd say to me, Don't just DO something. Sit there.