Saturday, December 11, 2010

"The only reason for time..."

"...is so that everything doesn't happen at once." --Albert Einstein

On November 26, I turned 48. I feel younger now than I did when I was 24. For me, the fountain of youth is happiness--and it's trying new things, being open, and saying "yes" to life!

My most recent endeavor in this regard is downhill skiing. I just spent two weeks in Tahoe re-learning to ski. Well, actually learning, since what I used to do 20-plus years ago was slipping around down the green runs. Now I've been skiing with my guy, who is an excellent skier, and we also spent some time skiing with three of his friends--all of whom are experts. In fact, one of them was in a famous ski movie..and this guy guided me down a few hills, giving me tips the whole way. Once I decided not to be intimidated, I realized it was an honor to have been given a private ski lesson by a pro. And of course it was an honor to have my guy and my friends slow down their pace to include me, and to guide me with their encouragement and technical tips.

Everything was new and different: donning the equipment that made me feel like an astronaut, riding the funitel that glides up to the middle of the mountain, riding multiple lifts to the top of the mountain, skiing down slopes that would be a challenge to walk down, whizzing downhill without a bike beneath me, and trying out all the suggestions for correct form. Here are the things I had to keep in mind:

* hands in front like you're driving a Ferrari or holding a grocery bag
* punch out an arm to turn but don't pull the other one back
* sit as though you're in a "golden seat"
* keep knees flexible
* move up and down, and side to side
* keep weight on inside edge of downhill ski
* keep the edges engaged and "float" on the turn
* press down with your toes
* use an ice-skater like movement
* focus on a point in the distance
* square your shoulders to the mountain
* the only way to do the correct movement is to go fast
* but it's okay to go slower to practice the correct movement
* relax, smile--enjoy the beautiful environment
* have fun
* and my favorite: move to the rhythm of a song in your head. My choice: "Peaceful Easy Feeling."

Oh yeah: And don't over-think things.

Alrighty.

No, I didn't want to give up. I wanted to get better every minute, every day. I'm not sure I did, but I know the overall effect was improvement. My main evidence of improvement was this: Finally I was able to walk through the lodge without feeling like an alien.

Also, by Day Six I skied down a slope I refused to go near Day One. (Maybe "skied" is a loose approximation of what I did; I think at one point I was almost going backward. Nevertheless, I went down the hill, never removed my skis, and stayed upright.)

Now I'm excited to go back--not only to get back on skis but to experience living the Tahoe life, which is a clean-air snow world completely different from the urban San Jose life. I enjoy the differences between the two worlds. And I enjoy the contrasts of living in a snowy world: Warm under your clothes with a bite of cold on your face; orange fire in the living room while white snow drifts down out the window; breathing hard while moving your body in the high altitude, followed by a warm indoors yoga session, then total relaxation of wine and food and games of backgammon--dogs curled at your feet.

Another new experience for me was snowshoeing. Because it doesn't involve speeding downhill with the possibility that you might collide with an out-of-control boarder or another neophyte skier, there was no nerve-wracking element. It was all pure joy and beauty. One day we snowshoed along Lake Tahoe. The day was white upon blue upon white everywhere you looked: sky, water, land. Another day we snowshoed with friends up hills, through the trees, along a frozen creek bed. We stopped and created an "ice bar" of cheese, apples and white wine. We sledded down a hill on a "ziffy whomper" (French pronunciation: ziffy whom-pear) and laughed and laughed. Our German friend told us that when she was growing up in Germany, sledding at the new year was a tradition that brought good luck (Viel Gluck).

Funny how we mark the beginning of the new year, stepping from one year into the next both literally and symbolically. Or maybe it's all symbolic. Time is a slippery thing. Sometimes a minute can feel like an hour, or vice-versa. Sometimes you can be "middle aged" and feel more youthful than ever. Sometimes it's very clear that Father Time and Baby New Year are two sides of the same coin--a coin you hold in your hand.





* * * * * * * * ** * * * * * * * * *
Another thing I'll be doing by the fire over the next few weeks is reading the zillion books I'm teaching this spring semester. Here's what's up:

English 139: Visting Authors
In this course, I'll be teaching a variety of works
by writers who are coming to our campus to speak. Here's the reading list:
non-fiction writer
Rebecca Solnit: A Field Guide to Getting Lost
memoirist
Jasmin Darznik: The Good Daughter
poet
Tony Barnstone: Sad Jazz, Tongue of War and The Art of Writing
novelist
E.L. Doctorow: Billy Bathgate, Ragtime and Homer and Langley (the latter of which I'm reading right now and enjoying immensely)
fiction writer
Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum: Madeleine is Sleeping and Ms. Hempel Chronicles

English 117: Film, Literature and Culture
In this course, we'll be talking about how films are adapated from books. The books we will be reading (and corresponding films) are:
Persepolis
The Joy Luck Club
Like Water for Chocolate
Push (film version: Precious)
The Motorcycle Diaries
Ragtime

English 71: Introduction to Creative Writing
Good Poems (edited by Garrison Keillor)
Short Takes: Brief Encounters with Nonfiction (edited by Judith Kitchen)
Flash Fiction Forward (edited by Thomas & Shapard)

English 1A: Composition
In this course I'm using a Reader and Rhetoric, and students will be reading memoirs of their choice (from a list I create) in book groups.

Yep, I said "yes" to teaching four different courses. I think the same list of pointers for skiing will in some way apply to my teaching life this spring. Bring it on!
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