In the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Michelle Kwan skated an amazing and beautiful program without apparent effort. You can watch it here:
What touched me most about this performance was what happens at the end. At about 4:58 in this video, while waiting for the judges to put up the scores, Michelle Kwan tells her coach: “It happened so fast.”
After years of preparation, the experience went by in four minutes. No time to savor it. The artist falls out of her dream and back into the ordinary world. No wonder we grieve.
I say we, because we all have a creative side to express. A pie that lingers in the memory, a riot of color in a garden, a word or story that tells us what our lives are about, a bridge that crosses a gorge, or a computer program that delivers the goods: these are all things that exist in the imagination first. And we all grieve because no matter the kind, all beauty is transient.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s iconic TED talk about creativity is about this experience of being visited by creative genius.
Daphne Gray-Grant’s recent connection between figure skating and writing sent me down this rabbit hole of Olympic YouTube videos. She writes about competition, practice, taste, critique, and hard work that are common to both writing and figure skating. I’d like to add Elizabeth Gilbert’s transcendence to her list.
All of this argues for enjoying the practice and hard work that lead up to transcendent moments when we think: “It happened so fast.”
As unreliable as the creative process may be, it’s our source for moments of clarity, connection, joy, or insight. The few moments in my life when I’ve experienced unexpected ability in some tiny way were both puzzling and addicting. The natural question is: “How can I make that work like that again?” The answer is probably: “I have no idea” AND “Practice.”
Michelle Kwan’s masterful performance makes me want to practice more. Not so I can achieve at her level, but so I can achieve at whatever level I can. I take joy in the routine work, not just the impossible hope that I might be ready if called on.
Questions for you: Are you inspired by Michelle Kwan’s performance? Is figure skating like any creative work that you do? What do you think about Elizabeth Gilbert’s ideas about genius and creativity?
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