Saturday, January 28, 2012

The right equipment

As some who've read this blog may know, I'm a serious nordic skier. One might be tempted to say fanatical. It's no surprise; I'm as close to biologically predetermined for it as can be imagined: I'm tall and most of my height is legs, I'm what may generously be called gangly, and I'm a distance runner who trains at at least 5200 feet every day, so I have strong legs and good lung capacity and lots of stamina. I'm sorta built for it. And if I may say so, I'm very very good.

I'm also frugal, of that "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without" philosophy, and so I have for many years been using equipment I got a long time ago. I have been using the same classic skis, boots, bindings, etc., for maybe 25 years. My skate equipment is likewise over 20 years old. It has all served me very well.

Last year, I bought myself new skate skis. Last week, I splurged on new boots to go with them. And yesterday, I went and test-drove the whole kit.

The difference was jaw-dropping. Like the difference between upgrading from bald tires to snow tires. My high-performance, competition-grade new stuff is so technologically advanced over my old equipment that it improved me as a skier instantly. Whatever plateau I had reached previously got shattered. The new equipment is so responsive that I was able to ski more efficiently, which means that the energy I might have once expended on, say, turning, is now free to be used toward greater speed.

This is the point I've been trying to make to my students about the importance of having a lucid prose style. It's not merely a matter of my finicky readerly taste; it's that if your prose is laboring to be understood at the level of the sentence, then you can just do so much less at the level of your argument. Prose is a site of ideational development, and if the prose is resistant, unclear, convoluted, obstructive, then the ideas get clogged in both the writing and the reading of them. Working on developing a good prose style is the argumentative equivalent of investing in new skis: it makes you a more efficient thinker, which frees you up to think more complexly, more subtly.

Having cool ideas is like my being physiologically suited to XCskiing: it's a good start. But raw biology can only go so far and so fast; the right equipment magnifies the innate, frees up the natural to become its best.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

No Fear.

I was thinking about the end of Squadratomagico's New Year's Meme (to which for some reason Blogger won't let me link), the question that wonders what fears one has overcome during the previous year. I would say that 2011 was the year I learned to stop worrying and learned to love the bomb. I've always been a risk-taking personality, with a serious penchant for adrenaline and altitude and activities that smack of precariousness. But I think 2011, probably not coincidentally the year I turned 40, was when I finally stared down the inner fears that have aided me nothing over the course of my life: what if people don't like me? what if I can't do the task I've set for myself? what if that person says something hurtful to me? what if that person does something other than I would have hoped? what if I have to say something hard and potentially hurtful to someone else? For me, these questions are way scarier than jumping out of an airplane. I don't know whether it's that I've moved chronologically into undeniable adulthood or that I've lived through more of these crises of the secret self and survived. That doesn't mean I don't register these situations in my guts, but that I refuse to valorize that clench as a legitimate response to a challenge of the soul. I've come to feel that fear is, for me, the opposite of integrity, and I no longer wish to give it a platform.