I can’t go on like this anymore. I’ll come right out with it. I’ve been avoiding this blog like the plague for weeks. New Years Resolutions, breaks from school, and enlightening experiences floated teasingly by fingers that were clawing desperately for the constant employment of knitting needles for fear that they would be vulnerable to the call of the keyboard: that discreetly glowing, percussively enchanting, geometrically situated siren that must single-handedly act as border-patrol between laptop and tablet. (A formidable adversary to say the least.) I knew that the minute I figuratively penned any words to paper I would simultaneously impregnate myself with the unshakeable responsibility of developing all of those tiny, tenuous little vessels of thought into a single fully developed idea that could be trusted to go out independently into the world and disperse an acceptable representation of my personal philosophy.
It was all going well. Over break, I skimmed no other blogs; I watched Sex and the City and pretended that there was no petty animosity between me and Carrie Bradshaw, popular columnist; feigning preparation to be inspired, I even took pen and paper with me while my seasonally employed specter haunted the floors of Macy’s; and one day I did actually jot down some notes that actually seem to have appeared more or less in the above introduction to this post, but the words’ expired coupon habitat, itself, mysteriously disappeared. Once I returned to school, I catapulted myself into the work of a new semester and a new work out regime that left just enough time to sleep, but not enough to court the muses.
Then I fell. Correction. I ate shit.
There is no universe in which the 28 degrees Fahrenheit that my phone boldly advertised this morning feels like campus did Friday on my walk to class. Due to the unknown temperature outside, I was determined to make it back into my dorm room as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, this neural communication seems to have been lost somewhere on its way from my forehead to my knee caps because, as I tore up the last flight of steps to the door, my knees met a salty step as the rest of me continued hurling hurriedly forward. A more-ashamed-than-in-actual-pain knee and a pen-turned-projectile were the only visible casualties of this plunge. Even the frozen yogurt that I had cleverly squeezed into the circumference of my coat’s elastic belt loop in order to protect my un-gloved hands from the biting elements emerged unscathed. But something had changed as I uncrumpled myself off of the jeering less-salty cement staircase that had borne witness to my unsuspected ejection from equilibrium.
Truly, I think the fall really happened the night before when I found myself enchanted by a passage in a biography of Leo Tolstoy about being a writer, and here I was, not even twenty-four hours later, thinking I could run home to catch up on The Bachelor and peruse social networking sites without a care in the world when ice intervened.
There’s something particularly primitive about the way a boringly flat surface like ice completely alienates the instinctual balancing capabilities of humankind. Walk down the streets of Chicago or Indiana University or any pedestrian environment of your choice, and you see thousands of people walking and texting, holding brief cases and weaving expertly around slow groups of tourists, running and adjusting their heart rate monitor, swaying to the rhythm of their own saxophone music or bending down to contribute their monetary praise of someone else’s. They are thinking about a million things more important than a savage preoccupation like balance. But suddenly, whether by a seasonally re-distributed group of expert public works employees turned expert rink-makers or by that malicious old broad Mother Nature herself, ice inevitably makes an appearance, a term which is slipperily applied to ice like the step of a treadless shoe, because as veteran drivers and pedestrians alike will attest, the unique mischief of ice is most newsworthy when it is invisible, but that’s story for another day.
Right now, I’m talking ice that is completely, consciously, conspicuously visible, noticeable not because there is a mound of beetle-juiced salt dumped on top of it and locked cheek-to-cheek with it a cutthroat duel for ownership of the sidewalk but because it is surrounded by Chicago Park District barricades and hordes of people anxiously awaiting the Zamboni announcement that heralded the anxiously anticipated demise of the elastic barrier between them and the glorious smelly wet rental skates. I was one of them.
One abrupt present day interruption of the marathon golden oldies playlist later and the barrier was reluctantly removed by a large man man in a public works coat that must have moonlighted as a bouncer. But after just a few brief moments of holiday, the barrier was employed in its rightful position once again and one group of eager skaters was denied access to the pearly artifice of a floor that glittered unattainably beside them as another happily jammed cold tired feet into just-returned skates, which were still lingering in the warm sweat of their most recent cargo, and clamored quickly to get a taste of the brief glassy tranquility conceived in the Zamboni’s wake.
One hundred over-zealous first steps later and we liberated pedestrians were no where to be found. In the innermost heart of the most thriving metropolitan city of the Midwest, there were no longer any smart phones, deadlines, drama, advertisements, or sales that could possibly draw their attention away from balance. All of the acutely exercised sidewalk etiquette that we had possessed as we made our way through the city and into the skate line and to the lip of the rink has evaporated like January breath at a bus stop in Fargo. The new world is reduced to a single bright white china plate, empty and being attacked by glinting sliver knives revolting against the lack of sustenance with each desperate slice for command of its pristine surface. I evaluate every human-butted knife that passes within a certain radius not by personality, charm, wit, or skill but by threat to balance. I clutch my boyfriend’s hand, clutch walls, only for brief moments of feigned stability as I attempt to forget the sudden intimacy with the ice beneath me, but ultimately fingers separate, partners speed away, walls are blocked, I am alone.
Wobbling nervously, I face a piecemeal scatterplot of former hockey players, toddlers, figure skaters, teenagers, amateurs, and families orbiting erratically around the icy thoroughfare. For awhile I scratch, gasp, hack, trip, slip, scrape my way nervously around the rink, until suddenly, I discover myself gliding easily amongst my bladed counterparts once more. Somewhere between the toddler in a red coat clinging to his father’s Levi-ed leg and the group of figure skaters fresh from rehearsal practicing their leaps, I have transformed beyond the vigilante cutlery that began the hour. My mental capacities has advanced beyond the primal urge to conquer the slippery, unfamiliar landscape and negotiated a comfortable, if not confident equilibrium.
So what if I couldn’t feel my toes and there was an unmistakeable blister forming just above their ankle bone? I had conquered that same treacherous ice that they avoided at all costs on the sidewalk. In a world that is constantly finding more things to worry about, more advanced technology to use, more ways to be connected, I had done it with a measly couple of blades barely sharper than a nail file. No longer scratching feverishly to destroy the glinting ice like the salt that my dad poured out of old paint cans and onto my driveway, I was carving a pattern that only I knew. It was an amateur, inconsistent, unplanned, beautiful pattern that mingled with the patterns of countless other carvers revolving around our shining little earth until one magnificent, slushy, unskateable stew emerged from underneath us.
The intercom suspended the melody of eighties rock once again, dazed skaters dismounted their slushy white stage and found, to our delight, that for a moment, we did not know how to walk on concrete. Reluctantly, I made a languid exit from the park, still teeming with the hunger of another a hurrying line of soon-to-be skaters hastening to pay for their rental skates. I stood for a moment, waiting for my friends to finish lacing their almost-forgotten shoes and relearn how to walk again and watched my former walking community greedily eye the smooth wet trail of the Zamboni.
It occurred to me that I had found new sustenance. I had remembered how to skate, but I had also remembered a far more elusive skill: how to embrace fear.
Of course, I promptly repressed this dangerous new talent for a few weeks. It whirled quietly around my body like skaters on a rink until that fateful fall on the stairs to my dorm room sent it exploding out of me and into the digital stratosphere, immortalized. That’s right. Just like Miley Cyrus tweaking, Emma Watson’s nip slip and inappropriate pictures of Anthony Weiners, it cannot ever be censored away from society. There’s no repressing it anymore. I have to be willing to be afraid.
Looks like there’s going to be a lot more falling in my future.