Monday, December 14, 2015

A Work in Progress: One Year to Go

I just celebrated my 49th birthday and I can't say that I'm thrilled about it.  Getting older is inevitable but it's not very fun. Joints start to wear out and you start regretting not having worn sunscreen in previous decades, and all kinds of other things like gray hair make their presence known.  But since aging is inevitable, I decided about six months ago to embrace it and embarked on a plan to see how much I could accomplish before I turn fifty. Though I did a remarkably bad job documenting it, I actually did get moving on the plan.  So now that I officially have exactly one year to go, I'm taking a step back, assessing my goals and where I stand with them, and officially re-launching my plan to use the next year of my life to become closer to the person I want to be when I hit fifty.  During the year of 2010 I spent a whole year exploring new things (52 of them, actually), and by the end of it I was more fit, more fun, more well-traveled, had a slew of new friends and a much more positive outlook on life.  This year, instead of dabbling at a bunch of new things, I want to work hard to get to the next level on some of the things I discovered, (or re-discovered), during that year of new things.

By the time I hit fifty I specifically want to be:

1. a better figure skater;
2. a more competent outdoor adventurer;
3. a more skilled rock climber; and
4. a better (more empathic, less reactive, more grateful) human being.

Looking at it, this seems like a strange list.  But one of the few benefits of aging is that you start worrying less and less about what seems correct to someone else, and thinking more and more about what feels right personally.  And for me, these are the things I really want, so they're the ones where I'll put my focus and accountability for the next year.  As with the year of 52, I'll keep a blog, both to keep tabs on how it's going and to invite my family and friends to make their own lists and/or join in on some of the projects going forward.

Here's where each of these goals stand at the moment, and the plan for where I'm going next.

1. Figure skating. When I was a kid we had a pond and skated on it, and I loved it.  A few times as an adult I took some adult group lessons.  But during the year of new things I did a bit more skating and realized that what I really wanted was to not just skate in circles but learn to actually do more.  And now I am.  It's slow, slow going, but it's awesome.  And the more I skate the more I want to skate. This summer I hit my first milestone as a figure skater when I passed my Pre-Bronze Moves in the Field test -- it's basically the test where you show you can skate forwards and backwards, skate on "edges" -- an essential skills for just about everything else, and do a few of the easier one-footed transitions.  It was also the first time I skated all by myself in a rink in front of three judges, which was as nerve-wracking as any grad school exam or defense I'd ever done.

My favorite  skating thing to do is probably spirals like this one.  Now I'm working on doing them on edges (on a curve) and going backwards.

Right now I'm working on three different fronts.  The first is figures -- literally learning to trace the circles of a figure eight in different ways.  It's a lot harder than it looks.  I think of it as moving meditation and on Tuesday mornings I spend a whole hour just repeating the same four-circle pattern over and over until I'm able to do it evenly and follow the tracings exactly. On Wednesdays I have my advanced adult class where I am one of the least-experienced people in the class and struggle to keep up with colleagues, who have been at it longer and are a lot more graceful than me.  And on Fridays I head to Waterbury (about 20 miles away) to work on ice dancing and preparing for my next Moves in the Field test with my very own skating coach, Russ. And I try to skate at least one other day a week.
Such a simple little thing but it took so much work to get there.  "Pass" on my Pre-Bronze Moves in the Field Adult Test.  Now I'm working on the Bronze and the first two ice dances.

Because this is the thing I find the most fun on my list (my boyfriend Jon has actually used the term "obsessed"), it's also probably the one for which I have the clearest picture of what I'd love to try accomplish before my fiftieth birthday. There are basically three ways I can demonstrate improvement as a skater: free style (which includes the jumps and spin stuff); moves in the field (basically all the cool stuff that you see a skater do between the jumps and spins); and ice dance.  So, my goal in the next year is to try to pass the next tests in each of these three areas.  In ice dance there are three "preliminary" (simple, all forward skating pattern) dances I need to pass: the Dutch Waltz, the Canasta Tango and the Rhythm Blues.  In my Moves in the Field, I am now starting to prepare for my Bronze Test, and the final one I'll attempt (if and when I pass the others) is my Pr-Bronze Free Style. So, in a perfect world, before I turn fifty I will have passed all three tests; in a less-perfect world I'll give it my best shot and have gotten a whole lot better from all the practice it's going to take

2. Getting Competent Outside.  This is the area in which I think I've made the most headway largely because of a decision I made in August.  Saint Michael's College, where I teach, happens to have one of the best Wilderness Programs in the country. I discovered just how  great it was in 2010 during the year of 52 New Things when I turned to my students (who happened to be instructors) to introduce me to all manner of outdoor activities from ice and rock climbing to kayaking to hiking. Since that time I've been the Wilderness Program's biggest faculty fan, and have been invited to tag along on some of the training experiences so that by last year I knew enough to be able to be an assistant leader on some of the easier day hikes.  But I was still very intimidated by many of the activities and even some of the equipment.  

So, this year I bit the bullet and formally applied to the program to be trained as a Student Instructor.  I went through the same fall training as the other candidates and was selected to continue on as a Wilderness-Instructor-in-Training with the group of mostly first-years and a few sophomores.  Together we have done our "death march" on Mount Mansfield (where I managed to dislocate a finger and allow our leaders to show off their serious wilderness medicine chops when they reset it in the field). Like the others I was assigned a mentor, senior Meghan Lynch, who taught me to tie knots and pitch tents and use water filters (still not great on that one).  We spent a weekend learning Wilderness First Aid, and lots of other weekend days hiking up mountains and climbing rocks.  I have another semester to go, but if I pass at the end of the year, I will have acquired a whole set of skills I never imagined I'd have, and I have all kinds of plans for using and deepening them this summer.
My fabulous mentor Meghan, teaching me how to pitch this and several other tents.

My Instructor Training Group on our all-day hike on Mount Mansfield.  This picture was taken about an hour before disaster struck and I totally dislocated my fourth right finger.  It was really gory, but alas, I did not have the presence of mind to capture it on film.

3. Rock Climbing. Unfortunately, my commitment to Goal #2 has taken a bit of a toll on Goal #3. If you've never dislocated a finger here are three things to know. First, it looks very grotesque to have part of your finger going at right angles to the rest of the finger; second, it takes a long. long time to heal. and third, your ring finger does a lot more work than you give it credit for,  Take it out of commission and you'll find that out in a hurry, especially if you try to climb rocks while it still won't bend. Still, it is slowly, slowly starting to bend again, and my very patient occupational therapist tells me it will heal eventually, even though the joint may look a little swollen for the rest of my time as a mortal.

Jon, showing off his impromptu climbing skills in Southern Utah during last March's rock climbing and hiking trip.  We're headed there again in March 2016.

This means that rock climbing is staying on the list, and I am hoping to get better in three areas before I hit fifty.  First, I'd like to be climbing at a higher level generally.  Right now 5.8-grade top rope climbs are where I'm at, and it would be great to be solidly in 5.9 range before the year is over.  I also want to get better in setting up anchors and being more competent with gear outdoors.  And finally, I want to work on lead climbing and at least try using trad (traditional) gear once before the year is out.

4.  Becoming a Better Person.  Sure, but how?  Actually I already figured out a path on this one, I just need to be more systematic in doing it.  One part has already been started.  About four months ago I started an on-line Be Better Book Club.  We've read two books so far (Pema Choudron's Start Where You Are and Brene Brown's Rising Strong).  It's time to reinvigorate the club, so if anyone reading this wants in, let me know.  Next up in David Brook's The Road to Character.  Second part is volunteering: at least once a month, with a focus on giving back to the parts of my community I appreciate or have contributed to my own growth and development.  Some of the things on that list include helping out on a trail maintenance day (since I love hiking), or a Crag Vermont work day (to thank the community for creating Bolton climbing area) and being a cheerleader/drink giver at a fun run (and being especially enthusiastic to the slower ranks running, the group in which I always belong).  And finally, I am blatantly ripping off an idea from my friend Ginger.  She told me that when she turned fifty she wrote a list of fifty people who had been important in her life and sent thank you letters to all of them over the yer.  Talk about an exercise in gratitude!  I love it, and I plan to do it.

So, there it.  I have my marching orders, and between now and December 10, 2016 to see how far I get.  Anyone who also wants to work on ice skating; adventuring outdoors; rock climbing; or being a better person is more than welcome.  In 2010 one of the best parts of the year was all the people who taught me new things or explored them together with me.  My plan is to blog at least once a month about how things are going and the plans for the next month. I hope lots of my friends and family will be part of the journey with me.

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