In recent years I’ve discovered how important it is for me to have a physical outlet. I can be a fairly emotional person, and all the feelings that accrue as we go about a day—happiness, anger, passion, peace, outrage, frustration, cheer, lust—often beg for release. Some of that energy gets diverted to the page, either onto a blank computer screen or into a journal, but even there it finds a bodily expression. If I look back through what I’ve handwritten, my mood is as obvious in my penmanship as it is in my words. When I’m upset, the lines are thicker and deeper, sometimes embossed on the opposite side of the paper. Loops are opened or closed, letters neat or sloppy. It can vary by the day, or sometimes even the time of day.
That uninhibited expression of emotion, and ultimately of self, is essential to any art. Our first art, however, isn’t always enough to unleash all that lives inside of us. Certain feelings demand a different liberation, and so I’ve found myself drawn to figure skating. What is it about skating that holds such appeal? For me, it’s the dramatic physicality, much like dance. You can display tenderness in your shoulders, push sadness through your feet. The elements at your disposal are like brushes and colors in a painter’s kit—your rate of speed, the position of your body, your choice of music. There are no words involved, but the conversations you can have with yourself and with others are limitless.
I’ve learned a lot about being an artist by practicing another art. For instance, if I put too much of myself into a spin when I’m skating, it throws me off balance, much as if, when I write, I try too hard to capture something I’ve experienced and the phrasing becomes awkward or the thought too obvious. Other lessons are purely aesthetic. Movement in skating often follows the rhythm and pacing of the music. Sometimes it’s steady, sometimes it builds to a crescendo. It’s all for different effect: to build suspense, to convey calm, to shout joy, to radiate love.
I’m endlessly fascinated by the second arts of other artists—writers, in particular. I love that Stephen King, Dave Barry, Amy Tan and other authors play in the band, The Rock Bottom Remainders, and that J.R.R. Tolkien self-illustrated his famous works, including The Hobbit. John Lennon, in addition to composing some of the most memorable songs of our era, also enjoyed line drawing in pen, pencil and ink. On the flip side, Bruce Lee, known exclusively as an actor and martial artist, wrote and translated poetry.
There’s much to learn about ourselves and our craft by playing with different forms, by expressing ourselves creatively in multiple ways. Because ultimately, a blank page, an empty canvas or an unblemished expanse of ice serve the same purpose and offer the same opportunity: to tell a story.