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  • Scott Bowman

Falling up...

A friend of mine, Lisa, lived south of us a ways in one of the neighborhoods close to Dodgers’ Stadium. It was a pretty rough street and I remember her showing me the bullet holes and furrows on the retaining walls fronting the homes there, left from drive-bys and other youth activities.

She was learning to skateboard at the time. She had the coolest job. L.A. is such an industry town that I can’t imagine this kind of company existing anywhere else, but I suppose it might…. She worked for a company that researched things for scripts. Producers needed to know that the company names in their scripts weren’t real or if there were any bits they needed to change for legal reasons, or sometimes they just needed to know something like — what’s the origin of the phrase ‘Sitting in the Catbird’s seat’? Lisa was Google for late twentieth century Hollywood. (Oddly, sportscaster Red Barber and author James Thurber each claim to have gotten that particular phrase from the other. Evidence of time travel? )

She was about 35 I guess when she decided to learn to skateboard.

Like any smart person out to learn something new she sought out expertise, and found it on her street, where a small crowd of kids would reliably assemble on their skateboards working on tricks and moves among the bullet holes. I remember her describing to me one day learning how to Ollie.

I am not a skate punk, BTW — so none of this will be phrased in the appropriate vernacular and my lingo will be fug wump awkward. Sorry kids, Dad’s not cool — apologies offered in advance.

An Ollie is, I believe, where you leap up briskly from your wheeled platform, contorting its resilient surface with your weight differential in such a manner as to cause it to spring brightly into the air beneath you, seeming to stay in constant contact with the soles of your Vans shoes or simulacra. Thence floating effortlessly over the curb or chicken in question and subsequently returning both the contraption to the ground and yourself to its non-slip top surface simultaneous-like.

(How do you like me now?)

The kids on her block were working on this and Lisa really wanted to learn how to do it. I still think it looks cool as hell when someone does this basic move, and she was an adventurer. She was cool. She had a collection of Indonesian shadow puppets covering the walls of her living room that she added to each time she took a solo trip to Indonesia. Surely she was cool enough to Ollie. (Is that proper usage? Is it ‘…do an Ollie’? or ‘…pull an Ollie’? …’push an Ollie’? Do you even capitalize ‘Ollie’? …I digress).

She wanted to learn to …Ollie, so she hung out with these kids and had a couple of them explain it to her. She put her board on the grass and stood on it, experimenting with shifting her weight, thinking about the physics of it, and the multiple stages, and what she had to remember, and when she had to remember it… When it occurred to her to look up and see how all these kids were learning to do this. This is what she said she saw.

They were all trying and falling down a lot.

Everything she was doing — or not doing really — all the ‘learning’ she was studiously thinking about was an effort to keep from having to fall down.

But it turns out that falling down is the best way to learn how to do an Ollie.

I think falling down is probably the best way to learn a lot of things.

I hate falling down. And envious as I am of skaters and their graceful leaps and do-dads, I am not willing to fall down enough to learn how to do that. That’s a good thing to know.

But there are plenty of things I am willing to fall down to learn. And viewing them that way helps me get out of the grass and get started.

Sometimes counting on falling down in the beginning is a great way to get over the very worst part of learning something new — the fear of screwing up and looking foolish. Because if it’s guaranteed that you’re going to fall — ass over teakettle — right out of the gate, then you don’t need to worry about that, do you?

You just need to ask yourself if you want to learn this thing badly enough to go ahead and get that part out of the way.

Is there something you want to learn that you’re standing on a skateboard in the grass trying to figure out? What is the falling down that you’re afraid of?

You know that refrigerator magnet quote “What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?” (that was Robert Schuller, BTW, the Crystal Cathedral guy — originally designed that thing to be a drive-in church for 500 cars because he got his start preaching at cars in a drive-in movie theater — like The Blob, but Christier). Well, I’ve got a different question –

What would you do, even if you knew that you would fall?

Because falling isn’t failing, unless we refuse to do it, is it?

Not being willing to fall — that’s how we fail.

Falling is just learning. Think of it as falling up.

It’s how you get to do an Ollie.

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