The Art of Publicly Sucking at Stuff

March 02, 2017

Picture a finger sliding smoothly across the surface of an iced chocolate fudge cake and you’d have a microscopic idea of how I looked on my fourth or fifth time snowboarding; instead of a finger, however, imagine my lifeless body, and instead of an iced cake, imagine ice.

I was barreling down D-Street, an intermediate route at my local ski resort, when I started thinking too hard, caught an edge, and flipped over every vital organ and vertebrae in my body to land straight on my nose in a sheet of hard ice. I then slid 20 feet down the mountain on my face, my arms dragging above me like corpse limbs until I came to a heaping stop right under a lift packed with people who didn’t realize they’d also paid for improv comedy.

If there’s such a thing as an “unfinest hour,” this surely was mine.

Over the years, I’ve gotten quite decent at snowboarding and I’ve also gotten quite decent at the art of sucking at things in public. If I ever muster the pretentiousness to write a memoir about my life, it will probably share a title with this post, because publicly sucking at stuff is what I do best. Today, for example, I went on a “run,” which trickled into a geriatric shuffle that I’m sure made my observant elderly neighbor feel better about himself as he sat on his porch in the cold and waited for his Shih Tzu to poop. When I go to workout at Kubex (aka, the Celestial Kingdom of gyms for introverts), the only thing sparing me from abject public shaming is the fact that I get to workout in private (this means that I can misuse that pulley thing with the handles all I want and my gymmates will be none the wiser). Public speaking, though something I’ve come to enjoy, always releases the paranoia that somehow in some way, I’m about to say something offensively stupid, like that one time I stood up in Sunday School and told everybody “Institute is a great way to relieve yourself” and they all laughed their guts out and I didn’t know why. Even recently, as I’ve been practicing snowboarding black diamonds, I’ve gotten caught up in the inevitability of falling and failing — it’s hard to do routes in sight of the lifts because I know that when I fall, people will notice. Such is most of life.

Truth be told, I’m pretty much the Bob Ross of painting myself into a looking like a fool corner, and I’m not that great at dealing with the consequences. I stress about what people think or what they might say. It overwhelms me. I have to be perfect to avoid the painful side of public attention. When I write (just like when I snowboard), I sometimes get so concerned about nailing the landing that I don’t realize I’m not even moving. Sometimes I’m so focused on being the next Shakespeare and so worried that I’ll end up being the next Stephenie Meyer that I leave Ari alone, shouting, “Hey! What about me?!” While Shakespeare’s gone the way of poor Yorick and Stephenie’s still busy making dough off of bad movies, Ari’s got a life train that’s passing by her while she watches someone else’s train move onward.

That is failure, not falling short of what we want to be right now.

One of my favorite quotes is “The Man in the Arena,” by Teddy Roosevelt. It says:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

What I forget when I’m on black diamonds is that I’m the girl on the black diamonds, not on the chairlift. When I’m trying to write a blog post and I’m worried it’s going to be dreadful, I’m the girl writing a blog post, not the girl writing unread, angry novellas in the comment section. It’s okay if I fail. It’s okay if I do poorly. The point is that I’m doing something, even if public, even if mediocre, even if not good. The voices that matter will be patient with me, and that _has _to include my own.

Publicly miffing things up can feel personally devastating, but every great doer of deeds started by miffing things up. So if you make a fool of yourself on a date, cool. If you stink at running, neat. If you fall halfway down the mountain every time you try to ski it, join the club. You’re there and you’re living and you’re trying. You’re in the arena, and even if you take a few punches in the eye, it’s evident that you had the guts to be there. That is what counts.

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