At the Ice Rink
I came here to fail
And to fall
But not so well
As that man careening over the ice
Sliding into the wall as if into second base
Shambling up, grinning, like a great bear,
And taking off again,
Saying, over his shoulder,
“You’ve got it backwards.
Learn to fall first,
I end up clinging
Barnacle-like to the sides,
Inching around the perimeter like a caterpillar.
Wall-hugger. Nothing has changed since I was eight
And my parents paid for skating lessons
In hopes I would become more balanced.
Now as then I am wobbling, terrified,
Feet frozen like blocks of wood at the ankles.
Not loose-limbed and easy like Hilary
Who rides the ice like a North wind scouring the plains,
Nor deft and graceful like Ruth
Picking up her feet and kick-gliding
In time to the 70’s pop muzak.
But what can we do
When fear throws its rustiest pickaxe
Dead ahead in our path?
Mince. Inch. Stumble. Pray
For the grace to fall
And not be rescued, pray for the scramble-up,
For the liberating laughter that knows
It is not in our control.
There is the center, gleaming like a fish-eye,
Little girls spin on it, twirling their bright skirts.
It shines under its white scars like a destiny.
This poem was used as a prompt in my wild writing class with Laurie Wagner last week. I love the wisdom of it… Learn to fall first, then skate. Isn’t that how it always goes? It’s the prospect of falling that stops us every time. Why even begin? we say. Why endure the humiliation? or just, I could never do that.
The willingness to fall.
This is something I’ve had to learn over and over as a life coach. That first practice client two years ago, who I stumbled and stuttered with, how I felt I said all the wrong things, how I got off the phone with her knowing she was so much smarter than me… And how, even after she asked me for more coaching later, how she wanted to hire me, I couldn’t bear it and ignored her emails. Not willing to fall or fail.
It’s easy to tell others. “You don’t wait until you’re confident enough or qualified enough or good enough to begin! You just begin, and do it badly and that’s how you build confidence. One does not come before the other.”
What happened to that 10-year-old girl who choreographed dance routines to every song on the Flashdance soundtrack? who wrote novels and recorded her voice in song and drew portraits of Ralph Maccio? What happened to the tiny gymnast who was willing to do back handspring after back handspring across the floor until she finally got it – if you bend your arms, your head will hit the ground.
And yet, even as I write this I know that some of it is a lie… I always wanted to be perfect. I never laughed at myself when my head slammed into the gym mat. I was always keenly aware of the watchful eyes of parents, coach, peers.
I don’t know if I’ve ever been willing to fail.
Still, I know it is the key to everything. “Be willing to do it badly,” SARK says in her books. Willing is the key word. Be willing to do it anyway, alongside the imperfection, alongside the fear.
What are you willing to do badly?