260: “Only About” (Tillie Walden)

                “So much of my early years in skating weren’t about skating at all. They were only about Barbara.”
                -Tillie Walden,

                I’m not sure what anything’s about. Growing up, backpacking was about the mountains, about the beauty of rock and water (we were often above the tree line). It was also about family: about lying on a rock next to my brother, shivering after we’d jumped into an ice melt lake. About wading across a creek with my mom. About picking the perfect campsite with my dad. It was about quiet, and it was about all the sounds you hear outside. It was about stepping away from my friends and the social rules I usually moved through, and it was about coming back to those friends again.
                Tillie Walden skated, in part, because it was through skating that she’d met an adult (a coach) who held her and cared about her. I’ve seen that story many times: I had a group of students who loved their own version of “mini basketball,” but I’ll bet you what they really loved is each other. I had a varsity golfer who golfed because of his grandfather, a basketball player who played because of her mom, a violinist who was singing for her siblings. So much of skating isn’t about skating at all.
                I think there’s a warning in all this: we should be careful what languages we ask children to learn, to speak, in order to hear us say I love you. I think there’s also a chance: not necessarily to get to the bottom of things, as I’m not sure there always is a single coherent “why” to uncover, but to at least to sink down into them. Lately I’ve been saying “I just miss being around people.” And that’s true. But it’s not simply, easily true, because being around people isn’t just about being around people. It’s about feeling seen, about getting to share myself. It’s about getting to be quiet and not attached to a computer, and still be close to someone. It’s about getting to ignore each other and still being there. It’s about touch, and laughter, and a challenge to my expectations that pulls me out of my thoughts, and a kind of support that makes me feel at home in my head. At 25 I would’ve said that we should only go after the main thing we’re after, the real thing we’re after, but I’m not sure that’s possible. Maybe it is. Maybe, instead, I can be careful about what languages I ask others to use before I pay attention to them, and I can weave myself into my own messiness. Rock and water, family and solitude, leaving and coming back: these years are about so much.

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