on skating,

published at 5:01pm on 01/17/10

I went ice skating this morning. I woke up, had a glass of water, hopped on my bike, and rode up to the free seasonal ice rink. I waited on line for about 10 minutes while the father behind me explained to his child, the budding consumer, that while the price difference between a skate rental alone and the skate rental with the “skip the line” fee was only seven dollars, it was most certainly not a good use of money for them.

“What’s seven plus seven plus seven plus seven?” the boy asked his father.

“Can you figure it out yourself?” came the reply.

The boy thought for a minute. “Twenty-seven?” he asked.

“Close!” said the dad, “But you’re one off.”

“Twenty-eight!” said the boy, triumphantly.

I wonder if the lesson will stick. Not the math lesson, though that one is particularly useful as well. No, I mean the one of frugality. It’s how I was raised, to be sure, but there’s a part of me that always expects, living in Manhattan, that the notion of not spending the extra seven dollars to skip the line would seem far more out there than the cheapo option. Then again, the reality of raising two children in New York City is probably such that every dollar does, in fact, count. But for that to come across to the children as a “this is the way we do things” was a delight to see.

By now we’d reached the front of the line, and after opting out of having a photo of me taken in a “skating” pose, I donned my skates, stashed my belongings in a locker and got onto the ice.

I hadn’t been skating since last year when I’d unfortunately chosen the warmest day of the winter to hit the ice, meaning that what I was doing far more resembled swimming than skating. This time, however, it was pleasantly chilly, and I was able to get away with just a sweater and a light jacket, gloves and no scarf. As I stepped onto the ice, I immediately had to scurry away from the pile of children and parents gathering at the entrance to the rink. As this was a solo adventure, the lack of a skating companion meant that I was free to actually take in my surroundings. The dance that we do while skating in a crowded rink is really quite fascinating, both for the groups of people that appear on the ice, and for the interactions between them. I found myself skating in fits and starts around as I kept getting stuck behind a group of five holding hands (against the rules!) or a first-timer splayed out at my feet. It was then that I noticed a handful of skaters who were effortlessly gliding through the crowd, never changing pace, never slowing for a group of girls, holding hands, shuffling along, nor speeding up to move around the child who was suddenly hurtling along the ice on his butt as his legs kicked out from beneath him.

What I noticed about these skaters was that were always looking ahead, not merely in the space directly in front of them but rather at the entire landscape before them. They were looking for the openings that were about to appear, not the ones that were already there. They were looking for the child who was about to fall, or the couple, steps apart, who were about to link hands. By constantly monitoring their entire surroundings, they were never put in a position where they had to drastically change course; they’d already steered clear of that situation before it ever happened.

I started doing the same. As I began looking for the openings that were about to appear, I became aware of all of the calculations that I was doing, subconsciously, to try to determine the landscape. I first made note of everyone around me and their relative speeds. I then started looking at each person’s individual behavior, looking for clues as to how they were about to behave. A single arm out meant that the skater was looking for her companion and that they were about to link arms. A child, legs bent, arms out, was slowing down rapidly. The couple holding hands with neither party actually moving their feet were slowing down, and were most likely about to fall. The young man in a sweater and loosely tied hockey skates was about to cut across the ice. Hundreds and hundreds of these observations were being made in seconds, and as I remained conscious of it, I was able to dart in and out of the crowds easily. I knew what the collective rink was going to look like a few seconds before it actually did, and was able to avoid the constant blocks and tumbles that were happening all around me.

But the moment I stopped thinking about the rink, the moment I started looking around me, or started thinking about writing, or started thinking about work, the entire blueprint fell apart. I continued to be aware of the problems as they fell ahead of me, but I was more likely than not to have to step over the fallen child, or to stop in the middle of the ice as I got caught behind a wall of beginners.

As I get older, I am learning more and more that I am not able to multi-task. I can’t even task-switch effectively. When I was a child, I did not have a television in my room, I was not allowed to watch tv while doing my homework, and ultimately, the television was rarely on in my house. I know plenty of people who like having the tv on as “background noise,” and I will admit to coming home after a long day and turning on the television, simply because a quiet apartment can tend to be a lonely apartment. But the pictures on the screen, the constant droning from a glowing box is always enough to take at least 50% of my attention away from my task at hand to the point that if there is something on tv that I actually care about, I will just give up on my work, watch the program, and then turn it off, rather than try to do two things at once. There is nothing like silence and concentration to truly provide clarity.

Back at the park, the first drops of the afternoon rain that had been reported earlier were starting to fall. I took one more turn around the rink and hopped off the ice. I packed up my skates, threw my backpack on my back and headed out to the street where my bike was waiting for me.

I clipped in to my pedals and as I looked out at a sea of taxis and pedestrians I looked not for the traffic that was already there, but rather for the spaces that had yet to to appear.

P.S. Hey you – get off your damn cell phone when you’re driving.

Filed under: Observations

At 2:31 am on 08.18.10, brent christian said,

hey, uber cool to find you online… haven’t graced this site since circa 1998! (i think) you are one of the original blog writers that i ever read… along with a few others of our peer group. thanx for being REAL!


– brent

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