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It shocks me that I was once a figure skater. I laugh to think I even won some medals.

The 1970s figure skating world featured a musical repertoire that was unspeakably appalling. Some tinny perversions of the waltz I have not heard since.

Life’s pleasures, skating, dancing, playing music, swimming, skiing, are introduced to kids exclusively in the context of competition.

Sometimes that provides a lifelong connection with a sport or instrument. Sometimes it leads us to turn our backs on something that otherwise might have provided solace.

I remember swimming on Georgian Bay as a kid. I swam all day during the summers. The best was rough water, getting hammered by the waves, swimming from shoal to shoal.

I did surface dives, swirled in a floating ring endlessly. We played tea party under the waves. We sang Rolling Over the Billows, hanging on to a piece of rebar that had been slotted into a submerged hole in the granite. The “marker” was topped with a slightly slimy inverted javex bottle on top. I would grip the bar not to get tossed with each wave.

It seemed we had to be pulled out of the water, by frustrated adults who were reduced to threats. Our fingers were shriveled.

There was a coveted striped red and white towel. I remember it triumpantly draped over my brother’s wet dirty blonde hair, freckles on his nose. He was a beautiful, spirited boy with whom I fought endlessly.

Adulthood didn’t agree with him much and whatever his medical results, it was yielding to despair that ended his life a few years ago.

By sheer coincidence, red and white striped towels are featured in my paintings.

Without my having ever wondered where this came from.

The mind is a curious thing.


I hated skating. I was cold. Arenas seem to be designed as an assault on the senses.

I was cold.I felt physically precarious. Competition and not breathing seemed to me the same item.

I didn’t understand that judges were looking for a list of particular movements. When it was my turn I glided out onto the ice in a thick pink and textured polyester skating dress, held my breath and hoped I would still be alive in three minutes time.

That the world was populated by winners and losers, that success was somehow bestowed from above, was something I didn’t know could be questioned. Pleasure wasn’t up for discussion.

Surely the point was to get kids comfortable doing new things, to fall in love with movement or music. To enjoy using your body.

My own kids have a tool in their arsenal called Rubric. They walk up to the teacher’s desk with a list of how they have fulfilled the requirements and they kindly help their teacher see inaccuracies in their assessments.

Particular steps to success as well as the significance of whether they actually enjoy emptying the dishwasher or not seems to be at their fingertips.

I am hoping Ottawa’s canal will soon be frozen. I will sit on benches and lace up with all the middle aged people with steamy glasses. I will watch the parents helping their kids, heroically having remembered forty-nine items for the event.

As I pull my hat over my ears and glide for fun I will again be struck by how everyone seems to be glowing, massive smiles on faces lined and smooth.

Minus forty with the wind chill.


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