The nugget of truth that is the subject of this week’s Revelation may not seem particularly relevant to skiing, but have faith in your Pontiff, it does indeed. The artistry of ballet skiing may have faded from public view, but learning a few maneuvers will make you a more complete skier. Here we see Greg Stump unleashing his signature move, the Stump Pump, at the 1975 U.S. Nationals.
This subject has been percolating in the subterranean strata of my noggin for several months, searching for the connections that will lend it substance. The search for this topic’s handles has a wedding-cake’s worth layers: to depict the wandering mind requires its engagement, a self-cancelling concept that would oblige me to catch and release the idea in a Sisyphean quest to define its merits.
The notion of expounding on this Möbius strip of an idea was, naturally, an example of the wandering mind in action. I might have been noodling on a question several of my Dear Readers have posed, which can be distilled to, how did I ever learn to write in the manner that I do?
To find my answer, I had to relax my grip on the subject. My reasoning self was ready with mechanical answers, such as the discipline of writing every day. Duly noted, but insufficient. Let’s wander a little further.
What about the soil my ideas are grown in? I am the beneficiary of a very fancy education that stocked the halls of memory with all the shelves I’d need to continue it. I read compulsively – I read in the shower, for heaven’s sake – so my reference library isn’t too musty.
But it isn’t enough to fill the mind; one also has to order it, so that its contents can be readily retrieved when summoned. In my experience, the mind’s facility at organizing its contents is developed by math, music and languages other than one’s native tongue. Not that I showed much natural talent for any these pursuits, but I was sufficiently exposed to them to at least lend some order to the whole.
Filling the corridors of consciousness with oodles of references that pop up on command surely helps the word supply, but good writing isn’t about the abundance of words; it’s about getting them all in the right order. After all, everyone has a dictionary at their fingertips these days, yet literacy at large seems to be in decline.
So what guides the wandering mind? If it was being well guided, it wouldn’t be wandering, now, would it? The menace of the wandering mind is that it can latch onto anything. Like ad jingles that suddenly burst into song while you’re trying to balance the books. Or a spike of anger inspired by a dreadful turn of events – we’ve had plenty of those of late – that incites a brief revenge plot that you indulge for far too long, long enough to erase whatever preceded it.
Despite these pitfalls, the wandering mind deserves our praise for it succeeds where reason either cannot or will not. Somehow it forges fragile connections that it can maintain while it continues to scrounge around. A coherent, communicable idea is starting to coalesce.
Carrying the new notion to term can be a fraught exercise of trial and error or it can arrive on the page full-blown. When the latter occurs, one can feel the presence of the actual authors who gently prod fingertips to tap the necessary keys.
The answer the wandering mind finally reveals is that my best writing isn’t mine. I was chosen because I had stocked my shelves with all the ingredients my angels required. But they told me what to write. Every word.
For those of you who were rather hoping this would have something to do with skiing, thanks for your patience. Just as good writing is mightily assisted by a rigorous liberal arts education, beautiful skiing is a by-product of learning how to use a ski in every one of its many incarnations.
If you learn all of the early freestyle disciplines – moguls, aerials and ballet – you will never be in a strange, twisted-up, mid-air position you haven’t been in before. Your feet will become scholars of irregular terrain, able to move with serpentine grace where others look like they’re in a cage match with gravity.
Learn to run gates. No one knows how to use their edges to telling effect more than a racer. You can spot a skier with race training from as far away as you can see them. It’s that obvious. Racing will teach you how to use speed as a plaything, an exhilarating expression of the sheer joy of living. The three foundational disciples of Alpine racing – downhill, giant slalom and slalom – will liberate your skiing.
Stock your skills collection with every move you can contrive. Learn to ski backwards, on one ski, on the uphill edge, without poles and with your eyes closed. (Please no letters – I get it – skiing with your eyes closed is dangerous. Don’t do it for long, duh.) And get off the ground now and then. At a minimum, learn how to change direction in the air.
If all this self-improvement sounds like a hill too steep to climb, just take a smaller dose of this prescription. Start with a lesson, which aren’t just for beginners. Everyone can get better. The best at their craft, whatever it is, all have coaches, sometimes lots of them.
Take note that this season ski school sizes will often be limited to a maximum of six students, a nearly perfect skier-instructor ratio. There may be no better time to let your skiing skills go a-wandering, exposing you to new forms of self-expression on snow.
Be sure to check out Jackson’s latest podcast, On Gratitude & Asking Permission, on Jackson Illuminates Everything About Skiing.
You can’t get good at skiing bumps if you spend your life avoiding them. If you want to learn to embrace your inner mogul meister, you should follow the teachings of John Clendenin, pictured here with a protégé.