Monday, 9 February 2009

Learning To Fly

Yesterday I did something I had never done before: I went skiing. Now this may seem like some mundane activity, and in many ways it is. Surely it's not worth contemplation let alone a blog post. But like a lot of things in life, the real lesson is not the activity. It was almost a Calvin and Hobbes moment where my skis was analogous to his sled, and my awkward attempt at something my 24 years of Australian life had not prepared me for was incidental to the point of the exercise.

I'm in a foreign country in the middle of winter, it seemed only logical to try one of the past-times of said country. Skiing is something I've always wanted to try, but my geographical location had largely made that activity out of reach. So I'm an absolute beginner making the mistakes that a 3 year old would do, there is a certain amount of humiliation that comes with being in that position. Part of it is offset by being in a foreign country, though that was cancelled by doing it in front of my partner and her parents. At least the photos of me don't capture how bad I was at it.

So afterwards I got given a summary of some of the things said about me. How my partner's mother thought I was really courageous for trying despite being really bad at it, that I didn't care what other people thought. That they were all laughing at just how bad I was at it to the point it was surprising when I managed to actually to okay at points, and a comment on how I don't exercise much.

When I gave absolute concentration on skiing, I did alright. I was able to stay up, keep my balance and move along faster than walking pace. But as soon as I found myself wary of those others skiing near me or thinking about my partner watching me on the sidelines, that was when I slipped up. It reminded me of when I was learning to drive, when it was simply a matter of using the tools inside the car I was fine. But driving on the open road where I had to do at times 30km under the speed limit, I was a lot more nervous and I learned some bad habits. The focus and sticking with the basics were what I attribute the limited success I had.

The other option of what would have transpired is unrealistic, that I would be naturally able to pick up the skis and go without any training whatsoever. Unfortunately by the age I am now, that does feel like the expectation that society gives. Childhood is for learning, and an adult needs to be able to display some form of proficiency in any activity. It reminded me of that scene in 40 Year Old Virgin where Steve Carrell's character is speed dating, trying the only technique he knew in talking to women. I'm also experiencing that same feeling of humiliation in trying to learn Finnish. Even when I do know a word, my pronunciation is so terrible that I refuse to talk altogether. The first sentence I've learned how to say is Minä en ymmärrä, minä en puhu suomea. Puhutko englatia? (I don't understand, I don't speak Finnish. Do you speak English?)

So I'm sure there's a lesson in all of this. Barring exceptional circumstances, the likelihood of succeeding on first try at anything is minimal. Instead it takes practice and perseverance in order to become competent. As much as we would like to have humiliating experiences as not more than a distant childhood memory, life is always going to throw something at you where you are going to be compromised. I would have loved if I could ski in private, away from the watching eyes of people who have a level of competency about it and away from the eyes of those who will remember watching me fail. But circumstances don't always enable that. Occasionally there are times where the humiliation is preferable to the option of missing out altogether.
A soul in tension that's learning to fly
Condition grounded but determined to try
Can't keep my eyes from the circling skies
Tongue-tied and twisted just an earth-bound misfit, I - David Gilmour

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