Saturday, October 25, 2008

477: 'becoming an apostle of the now'

“477” read the title of the letter my coach sent me. “You are as talented as anyone in the world. You are as well trained as anyone in the world. Against quite a few obstacles we have done great work this summer and in all the years previous.

“But we are not the only ones training hard. We are not the only talented ones. And we never cheat. We never dope or use any illegal methods or means to win. And we never, ever will.

“So what will separate us and put us in front of all the rest? The way is in daily psychological and physical preparation. This must be very specific. You must be able to answer this question specifically:

“What did you do today that will put you on the podium in 2010?”

This question gets me out training twice a day, most every day. In a year it’s questionable what accrues more miles, my rollerskis and skis, or my truck. As the title of my coach’s letter suggests I have 477 more days to improve my physiology - to build the pumping capacity of my heart, improve the economy of my ski stride, and boost my top-end speed. I have 477 days to go beyond believing that I am someone that can handle whatever the future throws my way. It doesn’t get more specific than this: I have 477 days to become the toughest athlete - both in the mental and physical arenas in the world - then showcase this in Whistler in 2010.

To get myself into a place where I’m in the start gate of the Olympic A-Final and know with every fiber of my body I am ready to fulfill my dream, my destiny, my potential – that is my goal.

I can see the crowd. I can hear the cowbells clanging. I can feel my classic skis underfoot, gripping, then gliding over the snow. It’s snowing. It’s snowing hard. I love it. And the energy’s rising. I can feel it. The crowd feels it, too. The starter makes his final commands.
“Racers to the line.
Fade to the now.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Beyond the Shallows

The story of life is quicker than the wink of an eye.
The story of love is hello and goodbye.
Until we meet again.
-Jimi Hendrix

Out my Grandmother’s second story window the sun intermittently sparkled on the open water of Lake Superior. I had eaten my pickle, finished my sandwich. Time to leave neared. My grandmother and I talked one last time. At times directly, most others indirectly. Before leaving, I visit my Grandfather’s studio one last time. Pictures line the wall facing the greatest of the Great Lakes. Bookshelves full of books line the westward wall. I try to take it all in, capture an accurate postcard in my mind that resists the fading of time. I pick up a work by Robert Frost. My fingers run over the book’s binding. Inside, I see the poems from North of Boston. The words on these pages have been read, over and over. I wonder what my grandfather thought about the line “I am overtired / Of the great harvest I myself desired.” Did meaning of these words change to him over time, in the twilight of his days?

I say these lines over and over, as if repetition itself will lead to revelation. Some thoughts we wish to hear will never be said. A clearer meaning to this question will have to come another way on another day. Maybe true meaning eludes us with those we live with and with whom we love and remembering them and the little time we shared together is enough.

During the Renaissance the idea of virtu – a kind of excellence that went beyond competence – took hold. My Grandfather was loving and caring. But he also believed in this holding those around him to the highest and hardest of ideals.

I do know my Grandfather was a surgeon. I am told a good one at that. He worked in a specialized field of urology, though I knew my Grandpa as a fisherman and an artist. No clear line of division separated his passions. Attributes of one merged into the other.

“The goal of life is rapture. Art is the way we experience it.” -Joseph Campbell

In each, you use your hands. The skills are kinetic-based. Surgery is one of the few areas of expertise the practitioner gets better at the farther one gets away from their formal training. It’s not that the rigors of surgery or learning the art of a four-count rhythm get in the way of perfection. It’s just that reaching an epiphany in fly fishing – or medicine, or sculpture, or sport – requires the artist to work beyond the rigid definitions of what is known to what is possible. “Let rules melt into pure action,” is how my Grandpa put this.

In medicine, each patient, each operation, is unique to the here and now, causing an inquiry into questions. “I had no choice now but to cast into the willows if I wanted to know why fish were jumping in the water all around me except in this hole, and I still wanted to know, because if is not fly fishing if you are not looking for answers to questions,” wrote Norman Maclean in A River Runs Through It. While fishing or melding clay into form, my Grandpa was participating in a search for harmony - a quest I believe worthy of consideration of Joyce’s proper art title.

In dry-fly fishing, surgery and sculpture, the learning curve is steep. So steep in fact that mastery is fleeting. A writer once told me, “When I was young, a teacher also forbid me to say “more perfect” because she said if a thing is perfect it can’t be more so. But by now I have seen enough of life to have regained my confidence in it.” My Grandfather was one who chased the “more perfect” moments.

For this, among much more, thank you. When I left your house Grandma told me to “keep following my bliss.” I promise to take Grandma’s advice. I will be a seeker of the more perfect of the everyday. Until we meet again.