Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Olympic Virtue and Moir

I have been obsessed with the Olympics, and now that they're over, I'll need to find a new obsession. I am hoping it will be painting the downstairs, but I'm still in transition mode, so I'll muse a bit more on the Olympics here.

My obsession with the Olympics kept me from being as productive and getting as much sleep as I would have liked---even though we don't have TV! (But thanks to Lisa and family for inviting me over regularly to be an extra potato on their couch.) Whatever I was doing, if I knew there was an event on, I had to check the standings/results on my NBC Olympics iPhone app. You know how they talk about technological distractions? That was me.

In addition to the events, there were the tweets from the athletes that, though generally not very interesting, were always new and varied. I learned about the earthquake in Chile from a speed skater's tweet.

Many, many things to discuss: Apolo Ohno's Jedi-like powers, figure skating costumes (especially ice dancing---ugghh!), how amazing the athlete's abilities are and yet how they are also just ordinary people with ordinary foibles. I'm fascinated with how they handle fame or adrenaline or years of training in obscurity. I love the different cultures and ethics of the different sports: how the mellow snowboarders (whose snowpants looked like ripped jeans) were horrified at the white pants they had to wear for the opening ceremony, while the figure skaters gushed, "I love you Ralph Lauren!" And on and on.

All of the athletes have drive and dedication, and I am curious about that too. Some seem to truly love what they do and others just seem really determined. Some thrive on pressure and rise to the occasion, others don't. Some get a lot of energy from their fans, some prefer anonymity. The psychology of it all is a microcosm of all our interactions (or like human drama put under a microscope!).

One thing I wanted to share is an obscure video of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. It was what is called a "Fan-swer" session, where fans send in questions and the athletes respond. The skaters are looking really young and normal in warm-up jackets, not in their fancy guise, not "on stage," but still on the spot, doing their job.

Virtue and Moir are the Canadian ice dancing pair who won the gold. Now I am not a big fan of ice dancing. The idea of dancing competitively is weird to me, and then doing it on skates even stranger, and then making it an Olympic sport seems a stretch...but whatever, it's there, and it is amusing in its own way.

I didn't watch the competition, but I did see some of the more outrageous costumes and some of the clips of the winning dances.

What first struck me about Virtue and Moir was the name Tessa Virtue. I first heard it when they said Joannie Rochette was rooming with teammate Tessa Virtue, but Rochette would get her own room after her mother died. Tessa Virtue, what a perfect name for a figure skater, an icon on ice. (Scott Moir also a solid name in it's own way, kind of a mysterious counterpoint to Virtue, like noir or moiré). I wondered if she lived up to her name.

Then she did, they won the gold, and their costumes were relatively nice and classic, not outrageous. Watching their videos showed me how they are just really really good at what they do. They are completely present and their performances are transporting. It is an art.

Sometimes ice dancers are a couple off the ice, but often not. Part of their job, then, is to act romantically involved, and not just for one movie or one show, but for decades. What a strange job. And to find two people who are not only matched in talent and style but also drive, ambition, and personality, is truly miraculous. They must really work at it on ever so many levels.

So back to the "Fan-swer" video. It is always interesting to see a pair interviewed because they are both being asked to speak and to speak for each other as one. Sometimes this works, but sometimes it can seem awkward. Ice dancers are supposed to be perfectly matched, so the pressure is on to just smile and agree. Have no idea if Virtue and Moir are a couple off the ice, but they do a great job of acting as if they are, which is part of their business. They create fantasy.

The fan question was something like: "Everyone wants to know, what did you say to each other at the beginning and end of your performance?" Their answer seemed so metaphoric and inspiring, a lesson in how to live life, how to get along, and how to bring your best to any situation. Here is how they replied in their 20-year-old, casually dressed way (and it really helped that clips of the performance—where you could see them mouthing these words—were played at the same time):

"At the beginning, I don't really, you can help me out because I don't really remember, but we always just look at each other and say, 'we're here,' you know like 'this is it, we worked so hard' and 'let's do it.'"

"And then we'll get into it and Tessa will say something like, almost immediately, once, as soon as we start."

"I think I said, 'Hi,' within the first five seconds, as soon as Scott came up behind me and I turned to face him."…

…"We talk pretty much the whole way through."…

…"Then you said, 'Thank you very much,' at the very end."…


"We're here," "Hi," communicate, and "Thank you very much."

That pretty much sums up a great way to be in almost any situation: present, receptive, filled with gratitude. I think they meant it, but I also think they LEARNED this and practiced bringing their best to their work together. That joyful attitude helps make them champions. They could just as easily have said, "Oh boy, here we go!" "You again," and "Phew, that's over!" Every day they are on that ice, working. Yet they've learned how to keep it fresh. They love what they do and it shows. A really great example to follow.

Airplane 1/4/10

7:30am flight, up since 5am. Sitting next to c. 40yr old man. He is fashionably dressed and exudes a hip and thoughtful vibe: artistic glasses, fashionably cut hair, perfectly distressed jeans.

Across the aisle is his family: equally fashionable and coiffed wife sitting in between c. 6yr old son and active and charming c. 4yr old daughter. Mom is tirelessly interacting with kids, reading books, playing word games ("What letter does cat start with? What letter does apple start with? Yes! You got it!").

I am simultaneously thinking two contradictory thoughts: on the one hand, how sweet and lively the scene is across the aisle, and on the other hand, how in my mind, the dad got the prime seat by himself and how the mom got the mush pot between the two kids.

In a way, though, his situation was sad: he was on the outside, quiet and alone. Perhaps the kids chose to sit with mom. But then there she was, doing lots of work (making it look easy), likely up very early, not able to relax, read, shut her eyes. Instead, having to make up endlessly interesting tasks for 4yr old mind. She really did seem to be enjoying it too. Why not?

The dad slept, read his kindle. I slept (Kadin, sitting next to me, also slept), did a crossword puzzle (Kadin helped a bit, played on his DS). But I was drawn to the energy on the other side of the aisle, even as I was so glad not to be in the middle of it.

Is it really that simple, just a swivel of attitude to change something from a burden to fulfilling enjoyment? How could she not be achingly tired? Resentful even? Could I embrace such moments? Revel in the love and liveliness? Boy, was I glad to get some sleep and have older, self-amusing kids, and yet...