A View from Sierra County

Small town life and politics, lots of knitting, and travels with and without my five burros

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Location: In the Sierra Nevadas, United States

I blog about rural living and social issues, and the creativity that comes from knitting, as well as post random pictures of the Sierras and my burros. "In order to be an artist, one must be deeply rooted in the society" - Simone de Beauvoir


Sunday, February 06, 2005

Am I brave enough to learn something new?

I had a terrific day snowboarding today, and spent almost all of my time on the "bunny run", working to learn something I didn't get five years ago when I first started. I also spent a lot of time thinking about why we get to plateaus in life, and what we have to do to get off of them.

In snowboarding, it is quite common to spend your first few days falling on your butt, or flipping upside down. There are lots of bruises and bangs, and you can land quite hard on an icy day...or worse, maybe get a concussion or broken wrist. As a person progresses, it is not unusual to learn to turn in one direction (heel-side or toe-side) much quicker than in the other. Then, the person tends to favor what they are good at, and you have to work to learn the other way. I watched this tendency in action today, observing three of the students we brought; they were at exactly the same point my daughter Nikki and I reached at the end of our first season: content to finally be able to go down a hill upright, and staying with the familiar. Unfortunately, that is exactly where I stayed for the next three seasons.

This is true in lots of areas: people would rather stay with the known, the comfortable. Why? Maybe because it is scary or dangerous to go out on a limb and do something you have never done before. Often, it is more a fear of "looking bad" or disappointing ourselves. Disappointment happens easily enough without seeking it out. Susan Lydon, author of The Knitting Sutra: Craft as a Spiritual Practice, describes how her mother would use the same needles and type of yarn and make endless variations of basically the same sweater, without ever consulting a pattern. She had mastered this one corner of the knitting world and was happy to bask in her successes. I had felt that way about my progress on Mother's Day a year and a half ago, when my oldest son, Cody and my daughter had taken me to Alpine Meadows to celebrate this common bond in the snow we have. Here I was, 48 years old, out on a grand and glorious spring day, when there traditionally isn't any snow left, gliding down the mountain under the capable instruction of these two wonderful persons I had created, given birth to, and raised - what more in life could I ask for?! It is so easy to sit back and bask in one's glory ....

Today, Kayla was with me all day pushing me to step out of my comfort zone. Now, Kayla came with us for her first time snowboarding three years ago. It was cold and icy, and she barely made it down the easy slopes. My youngest son, Jesse, even though an experienced rider, broke his collar bone on that trip, and has seldom ridden since. We rode together several times a season the past few years, and we had gotten much better than her. However, at Christmas, she spent four days riding with her older sister in Colorado. Jennifer is an expert rider, and it appears she is also a very good teacher. She saw where Kayla was lacking in her development as a rider so far, and kept her working in that area only until she got her weak spots caught up with her strengths. Jennifer made Kayla ride down hills on her toes time after time until she gained the same confidence she had acquired on her heels.

Kayla had me going down the hill on my toes "backwards" run after run. I had to confront all the things that had been difficult for me about riding on my toes: I didn't like looking backwards over my shoulders. I didn't like the feeling of being up on my toes, as if I was coming out of my boots. I didn't want to take a hard spill or hurt myself. I didn't want to look like an inept beginner all over again. I wasn't sure I would find the same balance point I was so comfortable with in riding on my heels.

It ended up that I only took one spill all day. Trying to avoid a mom training/towing her tiny tot on skis, I decided to take a fast fall rather than risk getting any closer to them in my less than adequate stop on toes (I wouldn't have even gotten close to them on my heels, I found myself arguing to myself). Mostly, I was sliding a bit here and there and getting right back to my balance point.

I had to remind myself that I am a really brave person. I have worked on ropes courses over a dozen times in the past several years at my summer job in our outdoor program. I have jumped from 40 and 50 foot cliffs while canyoneering, and rappeled over a 100 feet. I have moved out of my comfort zone in other ways as well, teaching myself to knit continental-style after over 20 years of perfectly good English-style knitting, and finishing my BA and MA within the same year in my early 40s.

Did I want to remain complacent, settling for a mediocraty that would eventually lead to diminishing my riding when I hurt one of my knees from the strain of an unbalanced stance? Or did I want to keep trying to reach new heights? I think this is the key question when we decide to take on learning something new: can I stretch myself to include one more thing if it means I have to leave my warm, fuzzy comfort zone. I am really glad that Kayla was there pushing me. The day ended with me seeing a lot of progress, and with a greater awareness of the attitudes that had been impeding me.

Not only am I going to master these turns, but I'm going to break out of my "easy project" rut of this winter and add a few challenging projects to the mix... after all, my longest-lasting piece of knitted clothing is my Tomten Jacket that grew out of an aran poncho I decided I didn't want to finish, and my best-fitting sweaters are the ones I have designed myself! Time to stop being complacent and stretch the brain with a few squares from the Great American Aran Afghan.

[interesting side note: I will be submitting a variation of this post worked up into a longer article to Take Back the Knit magazine for their next issue; you can learn more this magazine and Jae's other zines at her blog.


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