I am a writer. Not just in my trade, but in my bones. When I told my grandfather that I was going to study zoology at university, not literature (like everyone else in his family), he looked a bit baffled, and a tad disappointed. He said, “OK, but don’t you ever forget: You are a Writer.”
I love to write. I love to script things in my head. I love to scribble with a pen. I love to type on a keyboard – it is physically soothing. And, like pianists, I’m picky about keyboards – ones that are too stiff and clunky hurt my hands and make the act of writing unnaturally cumbersome and unpleasant.
I love to write. But before I could write, I could ski.
Not because I come from privilege. Mine was not a family that skied because we had tons of cash, who could afford to jet to France or Italy or Whistler. I’ve never skied in any of those places.
We skied because we ski. It’s in our blood. My dad was a ski instructor as a teen. My uncle runs a ski shop. My grandfather – who worked in coal mines as a young boy in Cape Breton – skied until he was, I shit you not, in his late 70s, and realized that a fall could kill him. The day he decided he needed to give it up was a sad day. In my mind he will always wear his “SHUT UP AND SKI” shirt.
My father taught all of us to ski almost as soon as we could walk, starting with a bungee cord tied around our waists, tethering us to him so we wouldn’t fall. I could ski before I capably hold a pencil. So I’m not being hyperbolic: I could read first, but I could ski before I could write.
This year, for the first time in six years, I got back on my planks. For financial and scheduling reasons, I just haven’t made it out to the family time share in Smuggler’s Notch, Vermont since 2002. But this year I decided, come hell or high water, despite piles of work and the cost of flying all the way back out to Canada, I was going to go.
I knew I missed it – but I’d forgotten how much I love it. The freedom. The fresh air. The snow and the sparkle. The SPEED.
I hadn’t forgotten that I love to ski, I’d just forgotten just how much I love it.
But there was one thing I had truly and completely forgotten about: the beauty of silence.
I have a difficult time with silence. It makes me restless. I bore very easily. When people sit around saying nothing, I can’t help but find it awkward.
I desire constant stimulation in my life. Whether it be verbal, written, musical, gustatory or tactile, I like to have my senses constantly poked and prodded. My friends find it very amusing sometimes, how much I babble and chat. Though, as I always point out, I might talk a lot, but I’m a very good listener.
I just require constant stimulation, that’s all. if I’m not talking, reading, or writing, I’m usually listening to music, cooking, eating or all of the above. When I was a teenager I watched about six hours of TV a day – and I would watch it all while doing my homework. One on its own was too boring – I needed both at the same time.
You know those people who sit on planes, not talking, not watching films, not reading, not doing ANYTHING? You know those people? They freak the crap out of me. What on earth is wrong with them? Aren’t they BORED? How can they just SIT there, staring, for hours on end? Downright creepy.
These days I don’t watch much TV, but I listen to music almost constantly. I grew up in the house of a promoter, so music has always been a constant. Almost always when traveling on the subway, I listen to my ipod while reading a magazine. In my house, I can’t bear to cook or clean without tunes. I simply don’t understand how people lived before the advent of the stereo.
But, for some reason, the first day I went skiing, I decided to leave my ipod at home. Partially because I couldn’t bear the thought of dropping it in the snow. But mostly because I figured, well, I listen to music all day, every day. Maybe I could use a day without.
I skied by myself that day. And the slopes were deserted – for some reason the fog drove the crowds away.
For the first time, in six years, I spent a day in silence. No talking. No listening. No words, no newspapers, no books. No music. No company. Nothing.
Nothing but the wind in the trees, the swish of my skis on the snow, and occasionally the squeak of the chair lift.
But above all: the sound of silence. Seven hours of actual silence. I’d forgotten how beautiful it is. Soothing. Calming. Therapeutic.
I’m a writer: But I can’t really put into words how good it made me feel to spend seven hours not having to think, speak or listen. I can’t really explain it. All I know is that going up the chair lift at the end of the day, staring up at the slopes I’d skied on all my life, slowing drifting up the hillside, I felt warmth, happiness and peace. Like being in love – but with a mountain. Sounds ridiculous, but that’s the only way I know how to explain it.
Makes sense, though, doesn’t it: humans didn’t evolve in a world of traffic and sirens and speakers and chaos. We need company, and conversation, and culture to live – but we also need some peace and quiet now and then.