Or, Why Skiing is like Writing
In the morning, I wake with fear in my belly. Through breakfast, the nauseous feeling grows. Then I begin to dress, putting on the ski gear, the layers and layers that will keep me warm and protect me. I go downstairs to the ski room, squeeze my feet into unfamiliar and not entirely comfortable ski boots, grab my skis and poles and those of any child who is accompanying me, and start the descent from the chalet down the icy road to the car park below where I will meet my instructor. Every step is tenuous; there is a chance I will fall. Before I even meet my instructor, I’m already sweating.
I force a smile when I greet him, but I would rather cry. I consign my children to their instructor, kiss them goodbye and pick up my poles and skis. I crunch over the ice behind him to the lifts, where I try to stay as close to him as possible despite the crowds. On the lift, I stare straight ahead at the snow, never up or down, because that signals how high we are. At the top of the mountain, we tighten our boots, slide them into the skis and snap them down. Bending over to do this, I can taste my breakfast. I stand at the top of the slope. Unfortunately, because it is sunny, I can see how far it is to the bottom. And how steep. Voices in my head compete. One says, “You can do this. Just take it one turn at a time.” The other says, “It’s too hard, too steep, too scary.” My instructor says, “Just follow me. You’ll be fine.”
I push off with my poles. I am skiing, making turns. On the axis of each turn, I am looking and then skiing directly downwards and that frightens me, but I shift my balance and ski across the slope. Sometimes I stop to catch my breath. Sometimes I fall and get up again. Sometimes I make it all the way to the bottom of the slope without stopping or falling. Sometimes, just sometimes, I get what skiiing is all about: that amazing flying feeling, as my body controls my skis and my descent and not the other way around. In that moment, it’s just me and the mountain.
I get the bottom of the slope and say, “That was wonderful.” I have fought the fear. I have skiied. Not well, or beautifully, but smoothly, evenly and good enough for me. There were a few moments of flying. I rest on the lift up again, ready to fight the fear at the top of the mountain all over again.
I have been hovering at the start of Chapter Three of my novel for a couple of weeks. I am nauseous, feeling the fear of beginning again. There are competing voices in my head. One says, “What you have written already is good. What you will write will also be good.” The other voice says, “You can’t do it. You can’t think of anything new to say. Your story is no good.” Another voice says, “Just take it step-by-step. Make a start.”
I ready myself, having thought about it enough. I arm myself with pen and notebook, find a cafe where there is no laundry to be done, no meals to be cooked, no kisses to be delivered. I slip off the edge and I write, making turns and edging cautiously downward. The words flow. Sometimes I stumble, but I pick myself up again. Sometimes I rest, have a sip of coffee, and then pick up the pen again. I write evenly, smoothly, not always beautifully, but well enough for me. I make progress. There are even moments when I fly. In that moment, it’s just me and the story, in unison. When it’s time to go, I think, “That was good.” I walk out of the cafe on a high.
Now it’s time for me to strap myself in again, bat away the fear and just slide.
I hope to fly.