As I write this, I’m watching a girl in hot-pink ice skates take instruction from a portly woman who moves like she never takes her skates off. The girl is doing well, arms held so, feet working the drills, and my instant assessment is that this kid can be pretty good.
But, honestly, not great. I hope she’s in the whole figure-skating game for the right reasons: because she loves the challenge, the discipline, and feels great when she gets the toe-thingie just right.
Once upon a time (was it Vonnegut who first pointed this out to me? Maybe. Probably not.) a pretty-good singer could be the pride of a village. “She has the voice of a nightingale,” her neighbors would say. They would ask her to sing at all the village events, and she would, without any compensation beyond the appreciation of her friends.
It was electricity that broke this relationship. Curse that devil’s magic! The villagers could hear the broadcast from New York, then buy records, and before long our village chanteuse is being compared to the best in the whole damn world.
But it didn’t end there, especially in sport. First there’s a tournament in town. The winner of that goes on to face the winners in the nearby towns. That winner goes on to face a group from farther away. Somewhere on this sleigh-ride our hero loses. All the heroes lose but one, out of thousands. Tens of thousands. “He lost at regionals.” “She lost at state.”
OK, that’s an exaggeration, there’s plenty of celebration when a local athlete gets to state. But as the world gets smaller we just can’t let someone be a local champion.
And so, back to the girl on the pink skates. She’s working hard, dong things slowly that seem like they’d be easier fast. I hope she’s having fun. (I think back to trumpet lessons when I was a kid. I wanted to be good, but honestly the lessons weren’t fun. That’s about me, not the teacher. I wasn’t hungry.) I hope there’s a village where Miss Pink-Skates can be the best, but even if there isn’t, that’s not a disaster. The worst part about being the best in the village is the sudden arrival of the world outside.