“It’s a shame they turned the lights out just as we got here,” my friend said, but I was secretly relieved. “Bend your knees and lean into it,” she advised as I lurched unsteadily onto the hardwood rink. Kids, including my daughter and her friend, zipped by close enough to cause breezes that ruffled the fabric of my shirt. The blaring music, flashing disco lights, and huge video screens were disorienting, but I was grateful in advance for the cover they would provide should my rented, 70s-style roller skates succeed in their quest to liberate themselves from underneath me.
As I inched my way around the edge of the rink, I tried to remember the last time I’d been on skates. I had to concentrate hard to remain upright, so my math was a little fuzzy, but I arrived at a figure of about eight years. It had been at a fundraiser that my friend – the same one who was offering intermittent encouragement as her graceful arcs around the rink crossed my erratic orbit – had organized to raise money for our local (and sorely underfunded) family center. Before that, the last time I’d strapped wheels onto my uncoordinated feet was back in the early 80s when the movie Xanadu inspired me (and thousands of other eleven year-old girls) to don white roller skates and beribboned barrettes in imitation of Olivia Newton John as the beguiling muse, Kira.
I smirked wryly in the dark as I mentally compared Olivia Newton John’s flight-like finesse on eight wheels to my tentative, pitching and pinwheeling progress. Lean into it, my friend had said. Never lean back, she had warned.
··• )o( •··
It took me nearly two hours to achieve a tenuous equilibrium. Though my turns around the rink featured a never-ending series of heart-stopping moments right up until I rolled off the floor to remove my skates, I had also experienced a few strides of almost graceful motion. And though I knew I was no Kira, it had felt a little like flying to me.
My friend’s advice about leaning into it had been spot on. It had been painful at first. My shins, unaccustomed to bearing the weight of my body at that particular angle, had ached. I couldn’t get comfortable in my skates or my stance. Everything I did felt awkward and ungainly. And it seemed as if each time I felt a rare moment of poise and ease, my body would betray me by tipping backwards just enough to upset my shaky balance. My focus disrupted, I’d have to flail my arms around like the wings of some ungainly and flightless bird in order to keep my feet under me.
What I discovered halfway through our afternoon skate was the stabilizing power of momentum. The hardest parts of skating were when I wasn’t moving forward. Standing still (or, attempting to stand still) was a recipe for disaster. Despite my best intentions, my feet seemed incapable of being at rest. As they slipped and slid beneath me, I quickly countered their movements in a heroic effort to stay standing. The result was a jerky little dance that made me look, if not possessed, at least not in control of my own limbs.
Starting to skate after stopping was the other especially difficult part of the process. At one point in the afternoon, everyone on the floor was drafted to participate in a game that required us to stop and start multiple times according to musical cues. After admitting to my friend that I was not capable of either stopping or standing still, I realized that I was also almost incapable of starting to skate again once I’d “sort-of stopped.” The problem was that I didn’t have any leverage. Standing there, barely balancing on my wayward skates, I instantly devolved back to the level of fear and gracelessness that had colored my first moment on the rink. It felt like starting all over again, from scratch.
The few moments of success I’d felt all occurred when I was “leaning into it” and building momentum with my movement. It was only then that I seemed able to find my balance and a certain “flow.” Even though it felt a little scary to be moving faster, it was the momentum that steadied me. Not only did it steady me, it also gave me the confidence to push a little harder down the long sides of the rink, reach a little farther into my turns, and even stretch up out of my otherwise protectively collapsed posture.
··• )o( •··
When I realized the power of momentum to improve my skating, it dawned on me that the same advice – lean into it – applied to many other activities. Each time I slipped up and leaned back in my skates, for instance, I was instantly reminded of how it feels to be “left behind” when riding a horse. When you’re riding, you need to go with the momentum of the horse – always leaning a little forward unless you want to collect (slow down) or halt. Being “left behind” means you’ve fallen behind the forward motion of the horse and you have to move quickly to regain your balance or risk being unseated.
Staying with your horse is especially critical when you’re jumping. I’ve always joked that my jumping technique involves squeezing my eyes shut as we approach the fence, but the truth is that you have to lean into the forward momentum and trust yourself and your horse. Although I find jumping a little scary, I can’t let my fear hold me back. Instead, I have to ride even more proactively and even a little aggressively if I want a good jump.
Similarly, when I was taking trapeze classes, I quickly learned that the art of “flying” is all about momentum. There is no half way when you are leaping off a platform to swing some forty feet above the ground. You need to “jump with both feet,” as they say. If you hesitate, you’ll lose your momentum and everything falls apart, leaving you dangling. But, when you go for it and throw yourself into the swing, it really does feel like flying. The momentum carries you through the movement. At times, it feels almost like no effort at all. It’s like you’re riding on a wave of motion that pulls you through the air, and all you have to do is hang on and enjoy the ride.
··• )o( •··
“Lean into it” turns out to be good advice for writers, too. We all feel awkward when we start writing, but if we keep at it and build momentum, we can create moments of “flow” that are full of ease and joy. Writing can be scary. It can feel like jumping off the trapeze platform or riding toward a jump, but it’s in those moments of fear and doubt that we have to double down on our efforts, lean into it, and keep going.
And just like with roller skating, writing becomes especially hard when you stop and have to start again. When you lose your writing momentum, whether on a particular piece or with your writing practice in general, it can be agonizingly difficult to get yourself going again. You can feel, as I did on my skates, that you are starting all over again from scratch. A consistent writing practice that keeps your creative muscles and craft skills sharp will help you avoid those discouraging moments. It will help you build your momentum and confidence so that you feel ready to push yourself a little harder, reach a little further, and stretch more deeply into who you are as a writer.
Perhaps the most beautiful thing about momentum is the way it is born out of the smallest, simplest actions. I didn’t have to master the art of roller skating before I could create enough momentum that I started to feel a little at home in my skates. I just had to get out on the floor and push one foot in front of the other. Tiny steps. Nothing grandiose. It’s the same with riding, trapeze, or writing. All your success is built on a foundation of simple actions. It may not seem like much when you’re learning to push one skate in front of the other, stay with the motion of the horse, or take that leap of faith off the trapeze platform, but if you lean into it, those small, simple actions will take you far.
Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.