"I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment... and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance than I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn." -Thoreau

Friday, January 6, 2012

Thoughts on Being a Slow Swan

And so it has begun.
A new year has been born. New classes have commenced. I have embarked on a new voyage bound for wonderful, unexplored lands.

Given the many opportunities waiting to be seized, it seems appropriate to do a bit of reflection and deliberation.

So, about a week ago, a few dear old friends of mine and I decided to go ice skating. Think of this as an analogue to my summer chess adventure, except slightly more terrifying. (Yes, I recognize that this may be a tad bit dramatic.)

Ice skating began a bit roughly for me.
Hmm, no.
 'Roughly' suggests images of jerky motion. Motion was somewhat lacking altogether...

Ice skating was going nowhere for me. Literally.
Hmm, better. Except that a literal reading makes it seem as though ice skating is an independent entity which heartlessly denies performing favors for me. Actually, I don't mind that reading. It is ice skating which is the problem, not me. Of course.

Okay how about...

In the beginning, I did not ice skate. (I like this. Hints of dramatic foreshadowing!)
So maybe I was moving at a rate of about 1 cm/min, but I think we can agree that this does not in fact count as ice skating. Ice skating is gliding smoothly and beautifully across the ice. Creeping along painfully slowly whilst hopelessly trying to shake off terror? No, there was no ice skating going on.

So my somewhat wacky (understatement?) friends and I decided to come up with alliterative, bird-themed nicknames for each one of us brave adventurers. There was Tanner the Jittery Jay, Araceli the Graceful Goose, Denney the Pompous Puffin, and myself- the Slow Swan.

As I slowly made my way around the ice- accelerating ever so slightly (no longer moving at 1 cm/min!) while making sure to keep my momentum at a relative minimum so that when the dreaded fall or collision came about my impulse would also be at a low- I contemplated, among other things, how surprisingly fitting our nicknames were.

Denney was already a beautiful ice skater, gliding swiftly and effortlessly across the ice. But Denney loves slipping on an oversized coat of fine pompousness in daily life... so the name is fitting. In fact, he pompously termed himself the Pompous Puffin. Go figure.

Tanner was hilarious to watch- though I made sure to keep my distance because his unstable, jerky ice skating method promised his downfall... and if he fell in front of me I would be almost certain to go down with him in an effort to not run him over. The flailing arm motions in the event of a fall would also be likely to bring me down. But Tanner's approach to the novel idea of balancing on thin blades and somehow using them to propel yourself across ice was to just go with it- shaky and jerky, awkwardly hunched over, dancing along to the music until having to brace himself from falling- he just kept making his rounds. His facial expressions would vary frequently and vividly- going from sheer hilarity to terror in an instant.

Araceli's technique was wonderful and adorable. She reminded me very much of Dora- except instead of "Just keep swimming," it was "Just keep skating." Araceli would simply briskly walk-skate her way around the rink- there were some falls, yes, and perhaps her technique was not perfectly kosher, but Araceli does not permit trivialities to prevent her from achieving her goals! She can be a goose- but she is a graceful goose. A bit silly and wacky, but determined and poised in accomplishing what she sets out to accomplish.

And then there is the Slow Swan. Alas, alas, it's true- except maybe the swan part... though that would be nice.
I have a marked tendency to be hesitant and to back away from scary situations. My instinct is to pull away, to retreat to a solitary corner, to shrink into my shell. Perhaps I would more aptly be termed Torpid Tortoise- though that does lose the avian theme.
My own skating technique, as aforementioned, is to reduce my velocity such that I diminish both the probability and consequence of failure (This "failure" is rather undefined. Does it refer to the instance of falling/collision in itself, the embarrassment resulting from such an event, or the consequent physical pain? This strikes me as an interesting and important question. What is it, exactly, that I dread and wish to avoid?); the flip-side of this cautionary method is that, relative to others',

(where v is the function of my ice skating velocity)

In other words, this method gets me virtually nowhere in a typical time-frame. 
This can be problematic.

To be fair, my method worked- given that the intent was to prevent "failure," given the non-definition earlier provided. I managed to avoid falling.
Moreover, there was marked improvement throughout the course of the evening. I went from virtually not moving to moving at a satisfactory, if low-momentum, pace.

So do I maintain my low-risk ice skating methodology? 

(Transition into life-talk.)

On one hand, my torpid tortoise method prevents the pain of literal and metaphorical scraped knees. That's nice, right?

Yes... but no. Scraped knees are not, in fact, the end of the world. (Even if I seem to act on the opposite belief.) 
And, more importantly, the torpid tortoise method can decline into a stationary-snail way of life. It's one thing to be slow and steady, and quite another to stop cold.

So for the new year? 
I hope to renounce the Stationary Snail altogether and to become a Slightly Slower Slug. 
Maybe next year I can upgrade to a swan.

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