The most amazing thing about working as a journalist is the chance you get to have great, insightful, curiosity-stoking conversations with people – conversations which you document.
(This has turned me into the kind of person who hates to let a funny or insightful comment go unrecorded – I am forever reaching for my notebook through tears of laughter, to capturing a witty quip or hilarious moment. My workmates are so used to it that they have developed this collective Pavlovian twitch. When something comedic is said in the studio, they jerk their heads around to see if I’m getting it down. My husband has become desensitized to my pen-reaching reflex, although every now and then he’ll yell, “No! no! Don’t write that down. You’re just going to use it against me.”)
I write stories about mountain life. And people. In this small way, I’m doing my best to stop time. Or at least, slow it down, just a little. And when people die, as they are sadly all too wont to do, I am so grateful for the chance I had to sit with them, our attention completely focussed on the single conversation at hand. I think of the late Florence Petersen, Doug Deeks, Bruce Edmonds, Wolfgang Klautt, and Sarah Burke – and feel grateful.
The one year anniversary of Sarah’s passing has just passed, and the twittersphere and interwebs are abuzz with remembering and news of the foundation launched in her honour.
I interviewed Sarah back in 2008, as I was starting to do a bunch of pre-Olympic stories. She was 26 and one of the most recognizable skiers in North America, having won every major competition in superpipe and slopestyle in the previous two years, with golds from the X Games, the Nippon Open, the World Skiing Invitational, Japan World Cup and the FIS World Cup. Powder magazine had named her one of the most influential skiers of the past 35 years, FHM magazine named her one of the hottest women alive, and she was the first skier ever to win an ESPY award for Female Action Sports Athlete of the Year 2007, from the American sports cable channel ESPN.
As for me – I was pretty much a nobody, writing for little publications and grassroots magazines and constantly hustling for another story, another byline. Sarah returned every call or email or request I sent her on frantic deadline, from wherever she was on the road, without any suggestion that my bona fides were less than A-list.
She was a star, but her sport wasn’t yet an Olympic discipline. Going into the winter of 2008-2009, the 2010 Games was a year away and buzz was building about lobbying attempts to get halfpipe recognised as an Olympic sport, something that was looking increasingly unlikely for 2010 because of the molasses-clogged machinations of the IOC.
Sarah, a veteran at accomplishing the improbable, (at 18, she had begun a lonely campaign to have women included in the X Games, competing against the men in order to be part of the field, and then saw women’s competitions added to most of the major events), was 100 per cent behind the campaign to take bring ski pipe into the Olympics.
“All of the top pros would be honoured to compete in the Olympics,” she said. “X Games is great, and a lot of fun, but the Olympics has something to it that makes it pretty special. It’s all the best athletes in the world. You can say to someone that you have an X Games medal and they’re like, ‘Oh cool, what’s that?’ People know what an Olympic medal means.”
Sometime in early 2011, my hard-drive was wiped clear and I lost everything. The first decade of my career, vanished into the ether. All I had left was a couple of notebooks and a box of magazine and newspaper clippings. I channelled Annie Dillard: “Process is nothing. Erase your tracks.”
But yesterday, I pulled out my old notebooks to see if I had any transcripts from those interviews with Sarah. I found 2 pages of my hard-to-decode handwriting with Sarah’s name scribbled across the top and re-read a skip-around-conversation that was rooted in a long-gone time and place. It didn’t amount to much, really.
Just one golden pull-quote, and an enduring sense of admiration for a true trailblazer. Hail the Queen.
Two things I know:
1. The secret to an awesome adventure is always an uncomfortably early start. I’ve learned this from ski days, climbing trips, epic mountain bike rides, and road trips.
2. All artists steal. Marketers steal the most. So do it, and do it shamelessly.
These two things came together for me the way water and espresso beans do… to create the copy for this ad for the Mount Currie Coffee Company’s brand new Whistler cafe.
The shout-outs belong to Lisa Ankeny of Sumire Design, who builds beautiful ads and brands, Chris Ankeny, the Coffee Maestro, whose commitment to killer Early Bird Specials, quality coffee, thoughtfully-sourced and crafted foodstuffs, and the Coast Mountains, has turned his cafe into THE pit stop/launching point for slednecks and backcountry adventurers, and finally, to Laura Ogden, a mutual friend of Chris and Lisa’s who I travelled with on a mag assignment to Revelstoke last winter. Laura spent last year working as a nurse in Mt Currie, and squeezing in quick solo laps up the Duffey before work. She called it Dawn Patrol. And like any good writer (magpie/ poet-thief), I wrote it down and vowed to steal it for myself.
Confession made. Conscience clear. Coffee, anyone?
I am having a baby.
It was a slip-up. Seriously. In 17 years, my husband and I, who like each other a lot, and have been officially ambivalent about having a kid that entire time, had unprotected sex, once. It came after a lot of cocktails. Bam. A little stowaway snuck past the Gates of Vigilance.
We figured it was meant to be. If it chose us, then we would step up. And be the best parents we could. Which means, we’ll probably be pretty mediocre. In fact, I fully expect to suck at this. But, I’m good at sucking. I’ve been rock-climbing for 17 years and I still flail around if I have to lead a 5.9 or 10, but I’m kind of proud of my own tenacity at sticking with a sport that I am so profoundly mediocre at. The thing is, what I get out of climbing, I would need to do 6 or 7 other sports and practices to replace it. So even though I’m not naturally gifted at it, and will never be featured in a magazine or represent as the poster-girl for womens’ climbing, I still do it. And enjoy it. When I’m not thinking I’m going to die.
I kind of think parenting might be a bit like this.
My girlfriends, none of whom expressed much ambivalence about parenthood, and who all leapt into in over the last decade, are all smart, strong, talented, brilliant women. They’re physiotherapists, veterinarians, lawyers, film producers, journalists, potters, teachers, guides, skiers, doctors, and they went into parenthood planning to be as good at parenting as they are at everything else they do.
Problem was, they weren’t. They couldn’t always get that baby to cooperate. Sometimes it just cried all night and they couldn’t quiet it down. Sometimes, it would turn into a little ratbag and bite the other kids at daycare. Sometimes, it would become the kid who always wanted to go hide in a dark room with the other kids and look at each other’s penises.
My mom friends, I think, feel frustrated that they aren’t doing the things they were brilliant at, and are spending all their time parenting and not feeling particularly brilliant. They’re not getting any recognition for what they’re doing, even though I personally think that the very nature of their love and service is fucking mindblowingly brilliant, their patience is fucking brilliant, their tenderness, their ingenuity, their ability to wing it, their ability to dig deep and find a bit more extra give when they feel like they’re completely empty – all brilliant.
And when I say to them, “Wow, you’re so patient…,” they say, “Oh, you should have seen me lose it last week. I actually spanked him.” And there’s a shadow of guilt that drops over their faces like a cloud when you’re at the beach desperately trying to get an all-over even tan, and I think – 895 days you have logged, in this tour of duty, averaging 4 hours of sleep a night, and you lost your temper once and you feel bad about that? Girlfriend, you deserve a medal. You deserve to be inducted into the Heroes Hall of Fame.
The problem as I see it, is, we don’t value that kind of “power” – the quiet enduring yin power that motherhood demands. Our culture celebrates the yang, the loud clanging stand up in front of the room and own the microphone and the spotlight and give a rousing speech and be as inspiring based on your outfit and your tone as by the substance of anything you say kind of power. We are a culture that celebrates the gong and the glory and the clanging bell and the here today and gone tomorrow and the goal-scoring record that lets you coast on that career peak for your entire life, and the ability to make tough decisions like laying off 600 people and outsourcing manufacturing to China. We are a culture that celebrates the “sacrifices” a fanatical workaholic career-achiever makes – look at what he/she gave up, all that time with their family, to become the coverguy/girl of TIME/BC Business/a supreme court judge etc. What dedication.
We don’t live in a culture that celebrates the person who actually gets the work of tending human beings done.
So there are two things working against women today.
One, our own expectations of brilliance and perfection, which, in a world of moving parts and random variables like parenthood, is impossible, and not something I’m even going to aim for.
And two, the culture of the world that places no value in unpaid work, in love, in service.
Oh sure, we all say Mother Teresa was amazing. But truthfully, we’re more inspired by Madonna and Sheryl Sandberg and Adele and Jacqueline Novogratz, because who really wants to die owning only a bucket and two saris? We crave the spotlight and the recognition and the glamour, and how could we not? We’re creatures of our own culture and we’ve been absorbing those messages all our lives.
I don’t want to be a servant. I don’t want drudgery. I want to be a self-actualised fulfilled interesting human being. Kid or no kid. But, I’m okay with mediocrity and failure being part of that. And I’m actually okay with no spotlight, because there are a few people who watch me like I’m the star of the movie, and they’re the audience that counts. And anyway, it’s my movie, and when it flashes back before my eyes in the moment of my death, the only person it has to be interesting to, is me.
So thanks little stowaway, for the chance to embrace messiness and randomness and to officially be a clusterfuck for the next bunch of years. We have called you The Experiment, because really, that’s all life is: a series of hypotheses followed by some trials, followed by a slightly refined thesis and then a new hypothesis… And we might accidentally blow some shit up, but we’re going to try our best to have some laughs while we’re doing it.
Penelope Trunk says the most revolutionary thing we can do for women right now is to stop celebrating women who choose to work 120 hours a week when they have a new baby.
But I say, let’s stop perpetuating the myth of brilliance – full stop. Everyone shines, at certain moments in their life. And for the other 99% of it, we’re just getting by. And that is totally fine.
“The mountains here at Whistler Blackcomb are a big place. It’s easy to fall into the habit of skiing the same terrain over and over. I came here in 1994 because it was the best. I knew you could ski a lifetime here without getting bored. And the beautiful thing about the mountain is it’s got a little bit of something for everyone. That’s what makes Whistler Mountain such an amazing teaching mountain. The terrain offers endless challenges.”
Finally, as Hobson told me for a Vancouver Sun story this week:
“If you’re happy with the way you ski, that’s great. Go slide around and have fun. Ultimately, that’s what really matters. But if you’d like to ski with less fatigue, better poise, and more grace, try a lesson. It’s such an easy sport to do badly, but it’s a lot more fun to do with finesse.”
Starting January 7, Whistler Blackcomb offers Discover Whistler Days pricing – 30% off Max 4 lessons with any of Hobson’s crew of pros, stacked with the highest concentration of Level 4s on the mountain. (Think skiing’s black belts.)
As Whistler Blackcomb announced today in a press release:
Whistler Blackcomb’s snow school is one of the largest in the world consisting of over 1,200 professional ski and snowboard instructors. Combined, they speak over 26 languages, originate from all over the world and more than 50 of them are certified Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance (CSIA) Level 4 instructors, the most in a single snow school in North America.
On January 12 and 13, Whistler Blackcomb is also offering Never Ever Days, with beginner lessons (plus rental gear and a lift ticket) for just $25 for the first 500 newbies to take up the challenge. They’re even offering a free beer at the end of the day, so you can get a start in the art of aprés. (Register online at www.whistlerblackcomb.com/learn to nab one of those 500 spots.)
*Full disclosure: Dave’s my husband. Call me a lazy journalist for going for the easy interview. But he’s been “fixing” my skiing for almost 17 years, so I can say for sure, he’s the real deal.
The failure of the world to explode in cataclysmic fireballs on the end of the Mayan calendar means those New Year resolutions you didn’t bother with suddenly demand a little attention. (It’s not too late!) Today, I told the Liftopia community that any Self Improvement journey should begin with a promise to go skiing. With a group of girls.
For all those she-skiers willing to take up the challenge, here’s the one piece of wisdom I developed after coaching the Roxy Women’s Clinics for a couple of years – all it takes is one simple trick to Ski Like A Man (and it doesn’t involve cojones implants.)
Evolutionary biologists say that women are trained by 10,000 years of vulnerability to saber tooth tigers and cumbersome babies, to avoid risk. Men, to protect aggressively. At the top of a double-black diamond ski run, therefore, the female will go around, and the fella will bash, flail and roar his way down.
Further, the male of a species must out-compete his fellows, in order to attract a willing and receptive mate. Hence, at the top of a double-black diamond run, the male will suddenly be driven by his limbic brain to strut, puff, prance, and throat-call, completely blind to the fact that the once receptive mate is cursing his name to the heavens.
But I do not want women skiers and riders of the world to be dictated to by Neanderthal prehistory. I want us embrace our opposable thumbs, linguistic superiority, and the way our ancestors out-witted the wild.
Do not ski around! Do not curse your beloved!
In the spirit of reportage that has seen journalists don fatsuits, change their race with make-up or go undercover as the working poor, to see how different the world is from inside a different body, I donned a mansuit and a moustache for the day.
I discovered that:
- I could park.
- I knew exactly where on the mountain I was, even when I had no landmarks or signs.
- I didn’t apologise to anyone who bumped into me or nearly cut me off.
- I took a warm up run in steep trees.
- I gave my girlfriend some tips on how to improve her technique, which basically involved, getting forward, being more aggressive, and generally “givin’ er”.
But seriously, the bottom line is that skiing like a man means one simple trick. No facial hair required. It’s just a question of managing your risk strategy.
Step 1: Determine the given risks on any run – the rock, the cliff band, the cornice, the landing, the run-out.
Step 2: Assess whether your combination of skill (with or without the added edge of bravado), makes this fundamentally do-able.
Step 3: If YES to step 2, commit. Risk analysis phase is over. ‘Assessment of risk’ button must be switched to “idle”. Not to be revisited until the run has been completed. Definitely not to be re-engaged halfway down the run, or just before the technical bit.
These are 3 distinct phases that must be kept separate. No bleed is permissible. That’s what the mo’s know. So here’s to Lucy, and her innate wisdom that keeps us alive on a daily basis. And here’s to being able to switch into override when there’s fun to be had on the hill.
Now, go skiing.
In honour of the 21st of December and the end of the Mayan calendar and possible impending annihilation of life on earth… I make this confession.
I’ve always envied dying Catholics.
Hail Mary, full of grace, blessed are thee amongst women.
I envied them their Hail Marys which seemed to bring such succour to television’s dying cowboys and soldiers and mobsters.
I envied them so much that I wrote myself a mantra, a prayer that I imagined I could repeat to the click of beads, that would lull my brain into a sense of quiet if I were ever bleeding to death, or in a spot of bother, that would replace the song of St Francis that our high school chaplain taught us: Make me a channel of your peace, and let me seek the comfort of prayerfulness without the uncomfortable hypocrisy of throwing down a little beseeching only when the shit has seriously hit the fan.
This is how I pray.
In silence, may I find stillness. In chaos, a sense of the essential. In transcending myself, let me rejoin the Other. Reverence sweep away fear. To all things, let me be Compassion.
It’s not as beautiful as the Navajo prayer that I have in my notebook.
But if the sky sets itself on fire tonight, I will probably chant it a few times, as I reach for a bottle of wine.
In beauty, may I walk.
All day long, may I walk.
Through the returning seasons, may I walk.
On the trail marked with pollen, may I walk.
With grasshoppers about my feet, may I walk.
With dew about my feet, may I walk.
With beauty, may I walk.
With beauty before me, may I walk.
With beauty behind me, may I walk.
With beauty above me, may I walk.
With beauty below me, may I walk.
With beauty all around me, may I walk.
In old age, wandering on a trail of beauty, lively may I walk.
In old age, wandering on a trail of beauty, living again may I walk.
It is finished in beauty.
It is finished in beauty.
I sat at my work Xmas party the other night between two twenty-somethings and two forty-somethings. I nursed a cranberry juice and an unplanned-for 6 and a half month pregnant belly and played the Berlin Wall as the conversation bounced back and forth about the pros and cons of having kids. (Me: quiet as stone. Them: each trying to understand what life was like on the other side of the divide, but getting nowhere.)
The fresh-faced ones said, “I think there’s a bit of a conspiracy of silence around motherhood. No one really tells you the truth about it. I mean, I just want to see a list of pros and cons, like I would make with any other life decisions.”
The veterans of working motherhood exchanged a knowing look.
They tried to explain that, once you’ve made a person, you can’t ever articulate regret over that because that would be like committing some kind of existential genocide: you just can’t undo a person that you’re responsible for creating. You can’t do that to them, you can’t do that to your own grip on reality. Any other bad decision you’ve made in life, to enter an ill-advised relationship with a lover, with someone else’s husband, a toxic boss, or a back-stabbing friend, whomever, you can wish undone. But not a human being that you actually brought into life. (At least, that’s what I think the knowing look meant.)
I’ve got a pros and cons list. I’ve been scratching notes into it for almost 20 years as people would make throwaway remarks (Me, at 26, jumping on a trampoline. 46 year old friend looks on ruefully and says, “I haven’t been able to jump on a trampoline since I had kids. My bladder just isn’t up to it.”) From the scary toll on your physical self (haemorrhoids, incontinence, sleep deprivation, varicose veins, stretch marks, sex life down the drain) to the evident toll on a relationship to the daily drudgery of taking care of another (thankless) human being, to the financial impact, loss of freedom, absence of Instruction Manual, terrifying prospect of having to go through high school vicariously all over again, loss of identity, and insurmountable challenges balancing professional development, self-actualisation, and the practical demands of parenthood, my list skewed pretty strongly ‘against’.
Last winter, I stumbled on this article, All Joy and No Fun, by a woman who broke the Code of Silence and told the truth:
Most people assume that having children will make them happier. Yet a wide variety of academic research shows that parents are not happier than their childless peers, and in many cases are less so. This finding is surprisingly consistent, showing up across a range of disciplines. The effect of children on the life satisfaction of married individuals is small, often negative, and never statistically significant.
Which just confirmed my disinclination to have kids.
I had read an anthology of essays by writers debating whether to have children, Maybe Baby, and my conclusion was pretty much the same as the executive editor’s: remaining childless means you are more likely to be able to travel, live abroad for work, take physical risks, or inhabit the world of your fictional characters without being pulled into the demands of real ones.
“There was a richness and texture to their work lives that was so, so enviable.” Lori Leibovich
So, for 16 years, my partner and I were officially “ambivalent” regarding Destination Parenthood. We put off making an official decision, and as we got on with our lives, that procrastination was on the verge of making the choice for us. People stopped asking. No one, least of all us, expected us to get pregnant.
Creating a human wasn’t an act of will for us, but when the Universe made us the butt of a cosmic joke and those two little stripes appeared on the pee-covered dipstick, we committed to make it an act of willingness. At the end of the day, proceeding is our choice. So, we’ve spent six and a half months making psychic space, and physiological space, (“really? that’s my stomach?”), trying to open our minds and to hold physical space for a new person that we are (so irresponsibly) responsible for.
And I’m looking at that pros and cons list as closely as ever. And scratching into the ++ column:
the chance to touch Mystery.
That’s the thing about that Xmas party conversation. In the debate between “It just doesn’t seem very convincing or appealing” vs “You just can’t understand until you do it” – everyone is right.
That’s just how the Ineffable rolls.