Thursday, February 12, 2009

When are you too old to learn new tricks?

When are you too old or snowboard?

Or when are you old enough to know better?

A couple weeks ago, my buddy Kevin (who's also starting a new blog about Things to Do in NYC) came up for a weekend. We hung out, did some sightseeing around Portsmouth, NH and caught up on life in general.

We also tried out something new to the both of us—snowboarding.

He'd just bought a board from a guy off Craigslist. The previous owner had run into some leg problems and had to give it up. Since he now owns gear, Kevin's hit the slopes a few times this season and also took some lessons. I've grown up as a skier, but have boarded a couple times so I knew the basics. Or I thought I did, completely forgetting that the last time I was on a board, I was in high school and probably didn't have my license yet. Whoops.

We went up to Cannon Mountain in the beautiful White Mountains of my home state. I wound up buying my own board while I was up there (Renting was $40, buying a used board, with bindings and boots, was $100. All I have to do is use it another time and a half and I get my money's worth. Freakanomics, baby.). It was a perfect day for it, really. Clear skies, relatively warm, and we still hooked ourselves up with student discounts since we're cheap like that.

We hit the bunny slope immediately.

And, immediately, my tailbone became intimately familiar with the packed powder of Franconia Notch. Again. And again. And again.

Eventually, I started to get the hang of it. After a couple runs, I had stopped falling on my butt entirely. Of course, that meant I was falling on my face instead, but it seemed to indicate some sort of progress. At least I thought it did, and then my lips swelled up. But after finishing another another couple runs, I'd managed to get the falling thing under control. Now, I was alternating between having my face smashed into the snow or bruising my pride and my coccyx simultaneously.

When you're learning to snowboard, by yourself, on a bunny hill, you're pretty exposed. Not to the elements—the ground down there is so flat that the wind doesn't whip by, it stops to laugh at you instead. Rather, you're exposed to the mockery of tiny midget jerks flying by on their own pint-sized boards and skis.

That's right, all of the under-four-footers, the beginner skiers who are too short to ride the adult-sized chairlifts to the top of the mountain are all around you, constantly annoying. To their credit, they can sure cut some snow, doing figure eights around you while they giggle at your prone form, ooohing and ahhhing at ever spectacular tumble. Even worse are the parents and ski instructors shooshbooming down the slopes with them, mournfully shaking their heads at mortifying failure after mortifying failure. My face was probably beet red, but you could also chalk that up to furious anger at the inventor of the snowboard and/or scraping it raw on icy patches.

Eventually, after breaking a couple times for cocoa, food, icy hot, pee breaks, and to cry softly into our scarves, Kevin and I graduated ourselves to an adult-sized lift. There, we tumbled off the chair at the top of the hill and realized that things get much steeper very quickly in the northwoods of NH.

You know those cartoons where Wil-E-Coyote falls down a mountain, rolls into a ball, picks up all sorts of detritus along the way, then crashes into a tree? Yeah. That was me. Repeatedly and painfully.

I remember our final run. I'd just taken a spectacular spill and was completely sprawled out, face-up in the snow (a crash made even worse by the fact that I hadn't even been moving when I fell, I just fell over). I ripped off my goggles and lay there, staring up at the puffy white clouds like some kid trying to pick out shapes, when I realized that I wasn't a kid anymore.

My butt hurt. My back hurt. My face hurt.

"Dude," I turned my head uphill to Kevin, who was mimicking me in a similiar state of repose, "I am too old for this."

Thankfully, the next thing my butt hit was a bar stool.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Time to Decompress...

I drive a lot. My commute is 75 miles in each direction. And though I only work in the office three days a week, I still spend at least 500 miles on the road each week. Add in the other miscellaneous driving I do, and I'm putting well over 2,000 miles on my car each month.

(For reference, I snapped this picture on January 2nd and I've gone over 3,000 miles since. This means I get a lot of oil changes.)

Typically, I spend about 100 minutes driving into work and 80 going home, since there's less traffic when I leave the office.

That's a lot of driving for anyone, but I have gotten used to the commute. I don't love it, but I can't say that I actually hate it, either. That drive home, spacing out as I maintain a certain cruise control speed in the fast-lane is peaceful alone time—the majority spent listening to the music, NPR, or audiobooks—does wonders for my post-work psyche.

Now, I don't have a stressful job. Sure, some days are busier than others, but it's nothing like a fast-paced, Crackberry, newsroom environments from my past gigs. Heck, even working at the travel agency caused more stress, since I was in charge of everything. Mostly, I do my thing, do it well, and leave it behind at the end of the day.

But for me, I still need that time in the car to decompress from my day. I use it as a transition from "work mode."

What's work mode? Work mode is how I get when I'm on task. It can happen in the office, at my real job, or when I'm banging away at the keyboard at home. As a guy, I can only handle one task at a time. I'll focus on that one thing and ignore everything else. This makes me a delightful conversationalist while I'm in work mode.

"Mmhmm... yeah, whatever."

"Uh, what'd you say?"

"(Dead silence)"

Yeah, I'm not that much fun in work mode.

The problem with work mode is that it takes me some time to work my way out of it. I can't just instantly leave the office and feel my brain turn to back toward my real life. Nope, it requires some coaching, some telling myself not to think about work stuff, and a lot of zen-like emptying of the mind. Not that I'm meditating while I'm driving... More likely, I'm just not thinking of anything.

And that part's great. I'm much more social and relaxed when I get home.

I don't know why I'm telling you all this. I was just thinking about it the other day and I wondered if anyone else has a "work mode?" Or is that purely an annoying Nagel trait?

(Yes, as you can see from my odometer, my Toyota Camry is the definition of a high-mileage car.)

Aristotle on Knowledge and the Soul...

"Holding as we do that, while knowledge of any kind is a thing to be honored and prized, one kind of it may, either by reason of its greater exactness or of a higher dignity and great wonderfulness in its objects, be more honourable and precious than another, on both accounts we should naturally be led to place in the front rank the study of the soul."

- Aristotle, "De Anima (On the Soul)"

Motivation to write...

From Paulo Coelho...

"I think the only advice I can give you is this : seat down and write - anything that comes to your head and keep going. At first you may feel stuck, but with time, if you continue on your quest of storytelling, you will see how the first barrier was only an illusion."

I have to say that I both agree entirely and also ignore this truth completely.

Bad Mike, bad!