Please welcome today”s guest writer, Nathan Groenewold. Nathan graduated from Calvin in May.
Back in the day—that is, six years ago—I was an aggressive skater. I’ve started digging this little piece of my history up for conversations only recently. Maybe after 22 years I’m running short on things to say.
You’re probably wondering what, exactly, is aggressive skating? ‘Aggressive’ in this usage does not function as an adjective, nor does it denote the mood of the skater (though it certainly might). Actually, it’s just an unfortunate name picked out in 1994 for a sport that is, well…
Here’s the Wikipedia Definition: Aggressive Skating/Inline (n.) a form of inline skating executed on specially designed inline skates with focus on grinding, spins, and debilitating falls in the half pipe (I added that last bit).
My best friend from high school and I picked up the sport shortly after the X-games nixed it. Just like my purchase of the N64 in 2009, we were late to the game. This meant we shared the skatepark with skateboarders as unicyclists would share the road with bikers.
“You’re fun to watch, but what the h#*& are you doing here?” — Adolescent skaters everywhere
But when I pull out this bit of my past, I’m not trying to educate anyone on the sport. Rather, I often bring this topic into conversation for my own entertainment. Each time I throw this piece in a little differently. Once, during an extra long pause in a conversation, where I often deliver my usual, “You’re probably wondering why I’ve gathered you here today” line, I said casually, “I used to hit up the skatepark every day during a summer back in high school.”
And that’s when the fun starts. In a split second, my blond hair/blue eyes are assessed, my lack of piercings catalogued, my drug-free past weighted, my general lack of colorful vocabulary noted, and after all the odd juxtapositions have been realized, I stand back to enjoy the, “You did what?”
To which I reply, “Yep, I did this thing called aggressive skating.”
To which they reply, “You did what?”
To which I follow up with a brief exposé on the sport, pending context and attention span of listeners. I’ll talk about that rush of dropping into a 10-foot bowl, the time I nearly snapped my leg grinding the coping on a park bench, the Eastern Washington sun beating down on a newly-graffitied half-pipe. But every time I talk about that summer, I am acutely aware of how I frame the conversation: firmly in the past. It’s almost as if the supposed bad-assery of it all must stay six years behind me: a piece of my life from which I have moved.
And perhaps I imagine this, but there seems to be a sigh of relief in my listeners when they ask, “Would you still do it?” and I reply, “Maybe once or twice for old times’ sake, but no, probably not.” (Though I’m not sure I mean that as it rolls off my tongue.) I imagine with that reply, I have deferred a kind of impending judgment. I then go on to commit the social crime of admitting that during that same summer I listened to Nickelback, and that I still love the song “Photograph.” Those six power chords bring me right back.
“Every memory of looking out the back door
I had the photo album spread out on my bedroom floor
It’s hard to say it, time to say it
If I hadn’t already, at this point in the conversation I must add a quick and sincere apology for my flawed musical tastes, for the lingering side-effects of ‘bleach-blond bunny’ lyrics, and the possible ramifications of idolizing a playboy. I imagine everyone has a similar secret love for a past vice. But when I bring up this skating past, I always regret talking about it with an air of apology.
I hear this similar kind of shy apology all the time with other topics. Perhaps it’s a problem unique to twenty-somethings.
“I used to think we would all get swept up in the rapture.”
“I used to think women shouldn’t preach.”
“I used to listen to [insert speaker here].”
To which the room sends up a silent prayer of thanks for those small words “used to.” As a newly minted graduate, the list of used to’s can go on for a dizzying number of miles.
But there must be a better way to look at our past opinions without saying, “God, that was dreadful. I’m glad I’ve changed.” To put it another way, should we extend a bit more hospitality to our past selves? That might even make us more hospitable to those who still hold those used to’s. And there’s always the possibility that what we believe to be a progression from some used to’s could be digression disguised—maybe in the form of pride.
I worry about the smirk I feel forming on my lips when I say, “I used to think this, but now…” or, “I used to do this, but now…”
I have a tendency to think of my past opinions as a linear accumulation of knowledge I begrudgingly keep trailing behind at a safe distance. It’s why I balk at a freshman year term paper, asking, “how could I have written this?” It’s why I look at a facebook status from 2011 and cringe. But the delete button isn’t a fitting reaction. Instead, I try to look at these past ideas as part of a shifting sea to which I may some day return and rework and—dare I go all Calvinist—reform. Keeping that “six-year separation” between what I think and what I thought, what I did and what I do, might actually cause a few blind spots. Let’s not be too quick to disassemble our pasts.
For now, I’m content to say I’ve still got “Photograph” on my 4th generation iPod nano, and if I’m being honest, I’d still strap on those aggressive skates.