October 28, 2009: Falling Lessons
Have you ever wanted to learn how to ride a unicycle? Winter is coming up fast, and learning how to balance on one wheel does not work well when black ice is added to the equation. Contact Jeremy to schedule a lesson.
I responded to the email. How could I not? It was late fall of my senior year of high school, and things around me felt unsteady enough as it was––learning how to conquer riding on one wheel, I thought, might give me some sense of control over change.
Nice try, Devi. Control is an illusion.
Jeremy was a patient teacher. “Welcome to day one,” he said. “You’re going to learn how to fall.”
We met for the first time in an elementary school parking lot bordered by a waist-high chain-link fence. Jeremy rode loops around the pavement. Then he stopped to demonstrate the many ways there are to lose balance. Sideways. Forwards. Backwards.
“The easiest way to fall is just to step off.” He made it look so easy.
I thought of all the steps I had taken to get to this point. The great leap of moving away from home as a 15-almost-16-year-old. The dance steps I had practiced again and again for eleven years of recitals in front of a crowd of family and friends. Sure, stepping off of a unicycle into a parking lot filled with late-autumn leaves? I could do that. The idea of falling ungracefully terrified me, but I didn’t let it stop me from grabbing onto the chain link fence and putting my feet on the pedals.
“Not too much to the right,” Jeremy advised. “Good. Now once you start moving, keep pedaling!” he called out. His breath made puffs in the air. “Forward momentum is critical.”
The fence propped me up for the entirety of the first lesson. I fell by stepping off of the unicycle to the front. I fell off backwards and almost hit my butt on the pavement. I stepped off to the side and diagonally. The air was thick with the smell of the old leaves that one tire and four feet had churned up. After half an hour of trying, I still couldn’t let go of the fence for more than a hair of a second.
“Just keep pedaling. Keep your core tight and centered. Don’t over-think it.”
The next week we met on a stretch of sidewalk outside of the Academy Building. There was no fence in sight.
“You can use my shoulder to get going,” Jeremy said. “Once you get started, just keep pedaling.”
Late-January 2010: Friction and Ice
Q: What is the sound of a unicycle riding over day-old snow?
A: It crunches.
Q: And how does it feel?
A: Surprisingly firm.
Ice didn’t stop us. Armed with my new knowledge of the basics of balance, Jeremy agreed to continue to meet with me once a week throughout the winter term to fine tune the art of turning, hopping, and assist-free mounting on one wheel. I loved the coolness of the air in my lungs––I would jump on any excuse to get outside and practice. While I never progressed to jumping up a flight of stairs on one wheel, Jeremy managed to teach me the basics of riding in a straight line, pausing, turning, and having the guts to just roll up or down a curb.
Bundled in layers of clothing, people started to mistake me for Jeremy––until I rode past and they saw the long, curly hair beneath my helmet.
Spring 2010: Comments Overheard While Riding a Unicycle
- That’s so impressive.
- Devi, it’s Corey! And Maggie!
- Don’t fall.
- That doesn’t seem like an efficient way to get around.
- That girl has a UNICYCLE!!!
- I just don’t get how you do it.
- You must think you’re so cool.
- My son can ride one of those.
- Don’t fall.
- Ten points if you hit the girl on the unicycle.
Rainy days were my favorite for riding because I could hear the whole sound of every texture I crossed as it was washed with water. I love the smell of spring rain. Plus, people didn’t talk to me so much. When I’m putting all of my energy towards staying in balance, I’m not good at keeping up with the extra noise of human communication.
I’ve always been afraid of being off-balance.
I want my body to be symmetrical, my teeth to stop shifting. I want my right leg to mirror my left in every respect, even though two years ago I had ACL reconstructive surgery. I want to sleep for 8-9 hours a night and wake every day feeling refreshed. I want to have the perfect triad of supportive friends, family, and health. I want to gloss over every imperfection that has ever ailed my 21-year-old body. I want to be even and flawless and free.
If planning for a year-long trip has taught me one thing, it is that I need to let go of expectations, just a bit––to plan the basic infrastructure but then let the trip take its own course.
I want to redefine balance in my life as loving my imperfections. Balance as motion. Balance as vulnerability. Balance as falling and getting back on again. I am a work in progress and that is okay.
Balance is surrendering to the immense beauty of this moment, and the next––looking not backwards or forwards but inside myself for answers to the tough questions.