Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Fiction / Figure Skating

As writers, we are all too familiar with the wall. The work may be flying along at a healthy clip and then suddenly, one tends to hit a wall. This depressing, all too frequent occurrence has a nasty little friend that comes along side it: fear.

Many articles are written about the wall. How to kick through it and keep going, may be a matter of individual preference, but I can only attest to what seems to work for me, and I have tried everything.
Sometimes it is the association of words that set off the trigger. When spell check came along, I think I found my best friend, not for the obvious reason. The list of words with similar sounds does something to my brain. When searching for names, or seeing names come up in spell check, it never ceases to astound me that a list of verbs, so characteristic to that person, pop up on my screen. In the process of writing a memoir, I changed the surname of my family, but the original, namely Smythe, brings up smother, smite and smote. These words have an eerie similarity with the theme of my early life.
Casting about for a topic sent me searching and brought up the word association of fiction/figure skating. Pop goes the weasel. To understand the labyrinth of my thought process, I will part the mists of time and take you back to the early days of the sport. Long before television executives were astounded by the number of viewers tuned in to the skating portion of the winter Olympics, it was a curious, obscure and often weird pursuit, full of excruciating pain and boundless effort. The yield came to almost nothing, but the title of champion for the best, and an annual show involving copious sequins for the rest. The marks consisted of a compilation of school figures at sixty per cent, and the estimable beauty of the free skate at forty. Learning the school figures began early, at the age of six, with the simple figure eight.
Time spent in this endeavor meant the rink had to be divided into patches, with each student designated to their own square. We had to take to the ice in silence and remain quiet for the hour devoted to practicing our figure eights. Like monks, we dutifully obeyed the rule of silence as the penalty for speaking was severe.
You set out from the center skating on the right foot. The art of tracing a perfect circle in the gleaming and pristeen square meant your blade would carve a tracing on the ice. The task seemed impossible, but lessons taught that you had to concentrate with every fiber of your scatterbrained mind in order to get it just right. At the top of the first circle, you slowly moved your left leg forward while reversing the position of your arms. If you did this too quickly, it would throw you off and the tracing would start to wobble. It was the scale, the perfection and the wavering upon which you would be judged. Severe, much older, sour looking people wearing Russian hats would sometimes get down on their knees with magnifying glasses to score the perfection, or lack thereof for the school figures.
What does this have to do with writing? It was there that I began. In the silence, on the cold ice, with my body taught, my skates locked into the task of drawing with my foot, the tracing of a perfect circle, one on top of another, that my creativity was born. I began to make up stories and long conversations with imaginary friends in order to cope with the torture of remaining silent.
Doris Lessing said that when she wrote, she had to make herself still and then search for that underwater feeling. I go for the early training. Patch. Silence. Contemplating, and concentrating on two perfect circles the top drawn with my right foot, the bottom with my left. Get enough speed to get around, but not too much so that you wobble, control the change from right to left, look to the center at all times and then wait for the judges to come in.

1 comment:

Jennifer Rova said...

What an interesting history you have that bought you to writing. I cannot do two things at once like making circles on the ice with precision and "talking" in my mind. Or even brush my teeth and think of tomorrow's to-do list. You are talented on many levels at many things. I enjoy your posts.