Posted by: annemartinfletcher | July 11, 2009

How Does a 70-Year-Old Woman Learn to Ski? More advice to new writers

How does a 70-year-old woman learn to snow ski?  The same way most of us women “of a certain age” learn to write.  Writing, like skiing, requires us to defy our naysayers, find good mentors, and work around our limitations.

One day this past March, my supervisor at the Winter Park Ski and Ride School waved me over to help a client.  As the rest of the class headed to the chairlift, the other instructor whispered, “Be careful—she can’t even stand and slide.”

The client, I’ll call her Janice, stood stock still.  I helped her shift her weight so she could slide, then—slip-crunch—together we toppled down the bunny hill.  “Would you like a rest?” I gasped.

“That would be nice,” Janice cooed.

We sat on a bench while I politely asked Janice what her motivation was for learning to ski.  She beamed at me with an unlined face.  At first, I guessed that she was about my age, a little over fifty.  Then she described her annual multi-generational ski trip with great-great-grandchildren, and I realized she was much older than I had thought.

“Every year I stay in the condo watching the youngest, while the rest of the family skis or snowboards.  They come back telling me all these stories about what it is like.  Well, this year, everyone is old enough to be up skiing.  I want to experience for myself what they keep talking about.”

My heart went out to the woman who had sacrificed her own dreams all these years so her family could ski.

How many of us wait to start writing until the children are grown-up or we have finished nurturing other people’s dreams?

Janice continued, “My family told me not to do this, but I insisted.”  Janice’s worst critics and saboteurs were her own family and friends.  Instead of offering encouragement, they abandoned her at the learning slope, as did the rest of her class.

I wonder how many writers give up after a family member offers a scathing critique?  Our families know all our weaknesses.  They assume that our daily activities display the limits of our ability.  They rarely observe our untested potential.

Fortunately, Janice sought out other mentors.  She paid me to help her.  The only other skiers left on the learning slope were volunteers for the National Sports Center for the Disabled.  Like me, they rallied to Janice’s cause.  I borrowed a device from them to help Janice control her skis.  As Janice and I settled on an achievable goal for the afternoon, the volunteers cheered, “We love a woman with a goal!”

As writers, we need mentors to help us formulate achievable goals, encourage us, and introduce us to the “devices” which will help us write.  This is what my Jane’s Circle has done for me—I hope that your circle can do the same for you.

A few tries convinced me that Janice would not master the moving carpet that carries beginners to the top of the learning slope.  Instead of giving up, she steadfastly walked to the top of the slope, where we put her skis back on and she learned how to slide down.  Eventually, she skied down without the device holding her skis together.

Not everyone can fit writing time into their lives in conventional ways.  Janice used her strength to get to the place where she could ski, without using the conventional lift.  As writers, we have to be creative about finding a time and place to write.

Janice wanted her family to share in her accomplishment, but at the end of the day, they failed to show up.  Instead, we asked a stranger to film Janice using her cell phone.  The stranger ignored her own husband’s whines that they leave “right now, I’m done,” in order to capture a video of Janice skiing.  I encouraged Janice to save the video as her personal reminder of what she accomplished.

Writers need to claim their own successes.  Our families may dismiss or ignore what we accomplish.  Find a good woman to help you celebrate and record your writing achievements—and be a good woman who does the same for another writer.  Be a Jane!

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Responses

  1. Thank you, Anne. From now on, when I’m looking for an excuse not to write, I’ll think of Janice. One day, I may write a monograph of excuses, but for now, I’ll just plug away at my current project — which is turning into an excuse generator!

  2. Anne, this is a truly inspiring and amazing piece you’ve written. Getting down to the bottom, I’m struck by this:

    “Writers need to claim their own successes. Our families may dismiss or ignore what we accomplish.”

    Many times, the “writer” in the family is also the one with that strange light about them; some people are drawn to her and her light, but all too often, especially in a family where creativity isn’t the norm and isn’t understood, people back away from the light and cast the writer as “the weird one,” or say things like, “Oh, you know, she’s ‘a writer.'”

    In tying in the story of skiing, you really bring this thought home. Beyond publishing success, acclaim, or even family recognition, writing truly is about the journey of the writer.

    Thanks again

    Dave

  3. I loved your entry! I know that family members are the most critical when you embark on something like writing. I was a science major and so when I tried writing for the first time, I was teased so much that I took a long time to get back to it, almost 20 years! But family can also be very supportive once you do it and continue to hammer away!

  4. I enjoyed your story. To me it speaks to asking others for help, not being afraid to fail, appreciating accomplishments regardless whether small or large and not giving up!!

  5. Thank you Gene.


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