Monday, August 14, 2017

Peak

I've spent the past week on a little vacation, and what a wonderful one it was!

It included movies, a day at the beach, a lot of ice cream, tours of interesting historic homes, miniature golf, go-kart race cars, and climbing and traversing an aerial obstacle course made of rope bridges and zip lines.

Yes, you read that correctly: I set down the knitting and went a-climbing at an "adventure park."

It bruised both my ego and my body, but I did it. The zip-lining was actually fun, but crossing rope bridges and logs and narrow beams suspended high in the air was challenging, to say the least.

I'm not afraid of heights, really, but I also don't consider myself Cirque de Soleil or tightrope-walker material, and this was kind of that.

My people are solid citizens, going back generations. If you need light and nimble and graceful, you'd best go elsewhere and find someone else.

But if you want someone to yell and maybe throw a punch or block and tackle, my people are your people.

In general, I prefer a more stable substratum beneath my feet, and this park denied me that. I didn't really realize that it would, or I probably wouldn't have gone--and that would have been a shame.

That said, I would never throw shade on anyone who took one look at this place and said, "Not for me."

Their website offers perhaps the best description of what I undertook: "Each trail has 12-14 elements which include tunnels, moving planks, zip lines, rope walks, cargo nets, and similar features."

"Elements." Isn't that a nice word? Yeah, I thought so too. FYI, this is what they mean by that:


Needless to say, my best friend's kids LOVED it. It was a great idea. For them. They want to go again.

For her part, my best friend said, "Okay, it's like we're in the army." This was when we were talking about crawling through a barrel suspended 20 feet in the air, like so:


My BFF handled the things like a boss, though. She went on some of the more difficult trails and owned it. I felt slightly queasy just looking at a couple of the "elements" that she tackled.

Me? Well, I fell off an "element" on one of the intermediate trails. This one, actually: 

 
 
Yes, that's an "intermediate" "element," and no, that's not me in the picture. I got to that midpoint, the whole thing began swaying when I tried to transition from one beam to the next, and I slipped and fell and ended up dangling next to the beam instead of perched on it like the little sparrow I was supposed to be trying to be.

So I had to have a staff member come up and attach me to a pulley and lower me to the ground. They don't put that image as their cover photo on Facebook. (I hope.)

Once that had been accomplished, I crawled off to tend to my wounded ego. I also took that opportunity to marvel at the large hematoma on my shin--that was from a previous "element."  This one, in fact:



Those logs eventually go up a little incline. One of them swung back and hit me in the leg. It hurt, but I was so high from the adrenaline rush that comes when you're clinging to a wire and thinking you might actually have paid for a ticket to die that I just thought, "ow" and kept going because all I wanted was to reach that glorious, beautiful, three-foot wide platform on a tree that means that you've completed an "element." 

To her credit, the staff member who helped me tried to convince me to keep trying after I fell.

I appreciated her confidence in my strength and balance. I think their attitude is, it's a question of mindset: if you put you mind to it, you can do it!

They're so young, these park attendants. It's really sweet to see. Such a shame they'll eventually get older and learn that things like time and gravity are not kind and not at all on their side.

Her attitude was, even though all 140 lbs of me was dangling between those two beams in that center photo, theoretically, with the right attitude, I could have pulled myself up on a narrow wire, set myself back on that swaying beam, and continued. That was her claim.

I mentally calculated all of the various laws of physics that were not in my favor as I listened to her. As I said, I sincerely appreciated her optimism. To hear her describe it, I was a mere wisp of a thing and with a simple grunt and a "hey, presto!" I could right myself and be on my way.

She cheerfully told me that the alternative was, if she came up there, all she would do would be to lower me to the ground.

I confess, I've replayed that sentence several times in my mind since this incident and I'm really not sure why that would have ever been unappealing, in that situation or in any other situation in which a person found herself helplessly dangling 20 feet in the air.

Suffice to say, I'd had it with that particular "element" so my mindset was basically, "Oh, f*** this, I'm nearly f***ing fifty years old and I have nothing to prove. I have a Ph.D. and right now, I'm feeling pretty stupid for even attempting this, so get me OFF this effing thing. Please."

But I didn't say that. I just cheerfully said, "Okay" and nodded vigorously to encourage her to climb up there and help me. Which she did.

But inside, I was terribly disappointed in myself that I'd fallen and given up. 

Luckily, I was with friends, who were more than helpful and sympathetic. Eleven-year-olds can be very kind to us grown-ups sometimes. And other people came up and told me that were not at all surprised that I had fallen, because they had been 100% certain that they were going to fall too and that it was only by the grace of God that they had (somehow) managed not to.

Once I got over the initial discouragement and inclination to just give up and go home and eat all the ice cream, forever and ever, I was able to go back and try again.

I didn't go back to the same obstacle course: I just didn't feel up to it. But I tried another one that was equally difficult, but in a different way, and I was able to complete it.

Maybe someday I'll attempt the other course again, but right now, the thought of it gives me the willies.

Interestingly enough, before I went on vacation, I was reading Anders Ericsson and Robert Peel's book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise (2017).

Ericsson and Peel argue that research suggests that "potential is an expandable vessel, shaped by the various things we do throughout our lives. Learning isn't a way of reaching one's potential but rather a way of developing it."

Oddly enough, I thought of this after I was back on the ground and it helped inspire me to keep trying and attempt another aerial trail.

Because, as Ericsson and Peel insist, "We can create our own potential," but "[i]f you never push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you will never improve" (18).

The trick is to push yourself "outside--but not too far outside" your "comfort zone"  (41).

The "element" I fell on was too far outside of my comfort zone--that much was clear to me.

And because I knew that it was, I was willing to try a different trail that put me "outside--but not too far outside" my comfort zone.

I'd already done an easier trail and felt confident on that, so I knew I was ready to move to the next level of difficulty. I knew it wasn't that I "couldn't do it," it was simply that I couldn't do that particular element on that particular day, because it was only the second trail I'd ever attempted.

So I opted for a trail that my friends and the staff worker had told me I should try. It was equally difficult, but in a different way. And I did it.

Don't get me wrong: the minute I did, I was like, "Okay, I am DONE, and I want ice cream and no one had better say a word to me about not having ice cream, because I just will not even at this point."

Because being just far enough outside of your comfort zone to be challenged and learning and stretching your potential is exhausting, no question. 

And maybe also because I'm still nursing that hematoma and there's now a large-scale bruise covering the front half of my right leg from shin to ankle.

Here's hoping it's gone in two weeks or else I may have to teach class wearing my winter boots.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."