What I Learned Before My Summer Vacation

If anyone ever tells you you’re too old to skateboard, maybe you should listen to them. Then again… that’s not exactly what I would do.. or what I did.

So, on April 26, 2013, I hit a milestone on an epic journey that began almost five years before, with all the thinking that went into this idea (blogged often between 2008-2010) called BAQON. The Experience API™ was released as a version 1.0 specification on a Friday. I woke up on the next day and took my kids to their theater arts classes and thought to myself, “I should treat myself to something for a job well done” and I remembered being in college, watching my younger brother skateboard with some admiration, wishing I knew how to skate. I just never took the time to learn.

I thought to myself, with xAPI now at 1.0, I’m going to have the time now. So I went out with my youngest and bought my first skateboard — a nice wooden longboard; the kind all the dads get. As the kid in the skate shop said to me, “Lots of dads like that kind. It really looks good on a wall if you’re not using it anymore.”

What a little bastard.

Anyway, picking up my oldest, we headed out with skateboard and their scooters to a local high school’s blacktop and started practicing. After an hour, I was both exhausted and hooked. I found it easier to stay up, move forward and steer than I expected. The girls liked it so much that I made a note that the next week I was going to pick them up a skateboard, too, so they wouldn’t have to borrow mine when I wanted to ride it. I’m a mensch.

That whole first week, I made a point to skate everyday and put my time in. 2013-04-28 15.10.28The weather was beautiful in early May, and during the day kids were in school. The local park was already a nice place to go for a lunchtime walk, and now I could go for a lunchtime lap or two on my skateboard without worrying about crowds of kids. It was great. I tried taking to the streets and the sidewalks, and occasionally I would have to jump off the board from losing my balance, but I always caught myself.

2013-05-05 16.32.00The following weekend, the girls and I went out and got a second penny skateboard for them to play with. I thought to myself that this was the perfect size for a travel skateboard that I could take on trips with me. The girls took to it quickly and gracefully. I was feeling pretty confident about my ability to just use my skateboard to go from Point A to Point B. I was already plotting out longer trips on the longboard to the train station from my house, about a mile away, using the bike lanes on the street as so many other longboarders in Chicago do. I just felt good about it, and I was confident in my small bits of skating here and there that I could do more real-world skating.

This would be my big mistake.

The next morning I ran errands, taking my skateboard with me, and decided to skate home from about a mile out. I had a whole week+ of experience on blacktop and sidewalks and felt like this was within my reach. However, it never occurred to me that I could fall after the first day, because in my small safe environments, I never fell. So when I hit a crack in the sidewalk on my way home, I fell forward. It might have ended up differently had I worn pads or even a helmet and hadn’t felt the need to try and catch my fall (and protect my head)… but I didn’t own pads… and I wasn’t wearing a helmet. Immediately after falling, I looked to my left hand and found two fingers impressively mangled. I chuckled to myself.. because I knew I did it to myself.

2013-05-13 14.01.12I walked myself to an ER to discover how badly I’d screwed up my hand. The next week, I had four pins in my hand that stayed with me for six weeks. Two weeks ago, the pins were pulled out and my occupational therapy started. I’ll spend the rest of the summer learning how to make a proper fist again, which is useful for holding markers, suitcases and cases of beer. Fortunately for my professional life, the typing came back almost instantaneously.

So anyway, this experience hasn’t left me feeling very sorry for myself. This is the first time that I ever hurt myself doing something I actually enjoyed, and therein is my first lesson: If you’re loving what you’re doing, you won’t regret it much when it hurts.

Of course, the fact that it actually hurts kinda sucks. When I had to explain how I hurt my hand to doctors, nurses, insurance people, family, friends… conference attendees… well, the look on their faces that simply stated “are you out of your f*****ng mind?” reminds me that sometime around when I turned 40, apparently my body decided that it was going to be more fragile (not that I was ever all that hearty to begin with). So I suppose when my youngest admonished me, “Daddy you should ALWAYS WEAR YOUR HELMET…” and I gave it short shrift… well, she was right. No one told me not to skate. Some people told me how not to get hurt. I should’ve listened; second lesson being, when someone tells you how not to fail, you should listen.

I ran into so many friends at Overlap ’13 this year and while many of them were busy doing the blacksmithing, I was hobbled by having one good hand, which presented the opportunity to really get into 3D Printing and Arduino for the first time in any applicable, practical sense. I loved the experience. It so directly tied to the design implications that come from working with the API and I thought to myself, inspired that there is something more to learning by doing than just the projects and the competencies developed. There’s an emotional trigger that is born by creating something.

2013-06-05 07.22.48I took copious notes and sketches, thinking about how I could get my kids into it (and get more into it, myself, with them as the excuse). I thought a lot about how to approach projects from my context… then I saw Wendy Wickham create something wonderful and bespoke for me, something that could only come into being or make any sense because of my injury, and it changed this last lesson for me even more powerfully, and that is that learning through what you create has to have a resonant context. Wendy made me this lovely “seasonally inappropriate cast coozy,” knitting by the fire on a Friday night. On Saturday, Nick Poole and friends helped her with the electroluminescent wire which was woven into the coozy and allowed my bandaged, club-like hand to be a beacon of light (and it was really cool dancing by the fire after a couple of beers on Saturday night in the disco mode they set for it).

2013-07-02 16.08.30Today I got back on my skateboard for the first time since I messed my hand up. I purposely practiced both my dominant and my weaker sides because I’m scared… and while I want to break through any locking fears I have, I also want to respect for this fear, because I can get hurt, I need to know that and remember that I don’t want to get hurt. The desire to improve has to be hedged against the fear, which left unchecked would keep me from ever getting on a skateboard again. There’s a line in the movie Batman Begins where Michael Caine (as Alfred) asks a young Bruce Wayne, “Why do we fall? So we can get back up.” There’s also a line by William Shatner (as James Kirk) in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan where he says to Lt. Saavik, “How we face death is at least as important as how we face life.”

Skateboarding has been a good reminder to me that I’m going to fail, even when I think I’m very clever and have everything all figured out. What I hope my kids and maybe others will take away from my cautionary tale is that sure, failure sucks, but how you get back up is at least as important as how you fall.

More to come on other lessons I’m learning from times spent with good friends and kids, gardening and travels.

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Jeffrey Levy

What a great story on so many levels, with many valuable lessons you explained very well. I especially loved the first one. I’m 46, I’m sitting here with a sore back, and I suffer from other sports injuries, but I’m still playing!

Another lesson you implied is “you’re never too old to learn, which is really another way to say “you’re never too old to expand who you are.” As a teenager, I wanted to learn become a pilot, take great photos, and play acoustic guitar. I began learning them at ages 32, 39, and 45, respectively. 🙂

Thanks for an entertaining, thought-provoking post!