Friday, April 18, 2014

What's Right in the World: Adult Nationals diary recap

That's me hanging with Dick Button and Charlie Tickner. Three skaters, three Olympic medals!
(Some of us have more modest resumes...)

So me and the girls headed out to New England last week to participate in the 2014 US Figure Skating Adult National Championships, known affectionately among its participants as ANs.

To save money (we think) and time, we road tripped to Chicago to catch a flight from there to Providence, RI. Hi jinks began on the road and continued through the airport. One passenger noted our jovial mood, and commented that we seemed like a lot of fun. Sweet. As Southwest fate would have it, I ended up seated next to this passenger, who began conversation with "you know this country is run by communists!" and proceeded to discuss one-sidedly gays ("boys wanting to be girls, girls wanting to be boys, you jus' don't know who's wearing the pants anymore!"); his time as a wrestler, including being a "state champeen"; Vietnam; a stint as a horse jockey; raising kids "they all disappoint me"; and of course politics. He of course had an aura that can only be obtained through 30 years of cigarettes and horse manure.

Off to Providence, where upon landing we chanced upon Jean, a fellow competitor who happened to be in all three of my events. Stalking through the airport in stilettos, I wondered how I'd measure up. But I had other things to celebrate, as I was now in a new state! I regret saying I am somewhat unimpressed, it looked like Detroit with yachts. This led to conversation about the Kwan and the critical attractiveness of her husband, who is running for governor.

In the blink of an eye, we exited RI and were in MA. For such a highly concentrated population area, it still felt woodsy and small town. We stopped for supplies, dinner and booze. We made it to the cottage around 9pm, after having travelled for 13 hours.

We woke up Tuesday to fog and rain. Beach? No beach today, it was time for registration check-in, and pray I would be able to hop on to practice ice somehow. Competitors gifts were a grocery tote, a pen, an alarm clock and a phone case only for iPhones. My Galaxy and Blackberry companions were not impressed, and I ended up with the extra cases. Due to a clerical error, I was able to hop on the 1pm practice session and step on Nationals ice for the first time. It was nice. It was smooth. There was a camaraderie that can only be found among adult skating athletes. I landed all my jumps, did all my spins, and managed to crank out a little choreography. Afterwards, I power walked the track and hung out with friends until it was time to go to yet another rink.

We headed to the Tony Kent Arena in Godknowswhere, notable because that was Nancy Kerrigan's rink where Tonya Harding's henchmen were suppose to stalk and attack her, but they got lost. So did we, finding ourselves at a trailer park closed for the season. Recalibrating mapquest, we were quickly back on track, giving us the unique opportunity to debate the merits of Paula Abdul's career. While at TK, we ran into more friends and for me, a familiar face. Because I was staring, I decided to approach the man, and introduce myself, wondering how I knew him. A few quick questions, Kevin introduced himself and we discovered we had met a ISI competitions nearly a decade ago. It was the ISI Adult Championships in Vegas in 2005, he had been rinkside, waiting to take the ice while I was performing in FS4. In the middle of the footwork sequence, I stutter stopped in the middle, looked him square in the eye, exclaimed "fuck!" and proceeded to complete the step to his howls of laughter. The next year in Nashville, before starting the footwork, I nodded at him, and made the sign of the cross then proceeded to complete the dance step to his howls of laughter.

Dinner was at a British pub, with trivia and karaoke going on. Huge pickles and tasty personal pizzas.

Recovering from a cold/flu/whatever, I was pretty close to fast asleep when a coughing fit woke me with a start at 1am. Ordinarily, I would read myself back to sleep, but I was sharing a room with Robin, and I didn't want to disturb her. And the realization that I was competing freestyle at nationals THAT DAY, jarred me awake even more. Sigh. I hadn't been nervous when I went to sleep, why now? So I did what I usually do, went through my program in my head. Told myself stories. Contemplated withdrawing. Cried a little. Went downstairs so as not to disturb anyone to read myself to sleep off my phone. I must have gotten a little sleep because I woke up to weird dreams, ready and anxious to compete.

For some reason, the nerves worked for me that day. It was satisfying to know I was nervous because I wanted to do well, not because I was ill prepared. I truly let my muscle memory and training take over so I could perform. For once, I was glad I went first. I startled myself by how high my jumps were, how flowly my movements, how serene my smile, because I was feelin' it. I even looked at Michelle after the rocking exit out of the lutz like "really?!" and I ended the program with a fist pump and "eff yeah!" because I haven't quite worked cursing out of my performances quite yet. I came in 10th, which is about where I expected, smack dab in the middle, given my early draw and my well-balanced-but-not-as-difficult program. Greedily, I wished for 8th, and a couple judges gave me that place in their ordinals. I celebrated with candy and clam chowder and spent the day watching friends compete, leading up to the opening ceremonies.

The ceremony was hosted by the Yarmouth club, and featured opening remarks by the club, the mayor, US Figure Skating dignitaries. Friend Michael Tongko sang the National Anthem, and web celeb Michael Buckley came out to do a little shtick and introduce The Nine. The Nine are the skaters who have competed at every single ANs since 1995, including friends Julie, Thom and Angie. It was a pretty big deal.

Thursday I had no plans, so I took half a bagel and a cup of coffee down to the beach for an hour and a half. I amused myself with boat watching, listening to waves, and picking up shells. I did the brave/crazy toe dip, and was immediately punished by the ice cold water that seeped directly into my bones. I warmed myself on the rocks of an inlet pool, and absorbed the sunshine and blue sky. Ready to go to the rink! I was a "sweeper" the rest of the day, one of the gals who races out to clear the ice of presents and debris tossed by friends for the skaters. I was assigned to Butler, but with dance going on, there wasn't much to sweep, so I reassigned myself to Kennedy with Robin. Oh, it was so much fun. And yes, people started aiming for us, but no one was able to hit us. After the Gold ladies, we were interviewed and photographed by a reporter for Ice Network.

Friday was a big day! First, Dick Button, two-time Olympic gold medalist, pioneer of both sport and broadcasting, was in the house to autograph books and talk to adult skaters. Whoa! We were among the first to show up that morning, so he was fresh and spry. When it was my turn to meet and greet, I told him I was a judge and skater, and agreed with his stance on transparency and accountability in the sport. He looked at me in what I hope was admiration and we had a lively discussion on the pros and cons of the IJS system, artistry, getting rid of Ottavio Cinquata who is the head of the ISU, a speed skater that doesn't know squat about figure skating. Acknowledging the line building behind me, I cannot believe I attempted to hurry the man along, but he had an ear and he wasn't going to let go of it until he was good and ready. He allowed me behind the table for a handshake and hug, and when it came time to dedicate my book, he asked what inscription I would like. I said, "I'm Melissa, but my friends call me Mel." And Mel is what he wrote with a smile and flourish.

After dumping costume and skates in a locker room, I headed back to the gym for STARS training camp. The camp is comprised of a series of exercises designed to measure strength, endurance, flexibility, etc. I was hooked up with Heather and Audrey to run from station to station. I did remarkably well on some measures, pathetic in others. Shamefully, I recorded two zeroes: push ups and hand presses. For the push ups, I blame doing them incorrectly for the last 44 years, since I rocked at least 2 with wrong form and when she corrected it, I crashed to the floor. Hand presses were a near physical impossibility, given my short arms and large breasts. Not sure I need to know how to do those since my window of opportunity to be a pairs skater closed when Larry quit. I still want to be able to do it, and practiced the hand press in the pool. Not impossible, but still very difficult.

I competed That's What Friends are For on Friday, which I have already posted about below.

The gals and I went out to dinner finally, after a series of days eating breakfast and lunches on the go (I cannot believe how many times I packed a little lunch for the rink - responsible!). We went to the Black Cat Tavern for lobster rolls and its piano bar, where the guy was playing 80s alt rock, like Midnight Oil. Yes, I savored tuna sashimi and lobster over the strains of Beds are Burning.

Saturday arrived way too soon, and having put in 12 hour days at the rink, we hung out at the house in pajamas watching Bridesmaids for the morning. Afternoon started comedy interps and Jen was first, so off we went. I needed to get in costume and character for Look At Me, I'm Sandra Dee. I hung out in the locker room with Jean, Mary and Carol and we posed synchro style prior to our event.

Oh, our event! The great thing about creative people is they feed off other creative people and what would have been a typical warm up was turning into something entirely different as I fed off Sharidan and Kathy as we played it sexy and crazy. The audience was cracking up and it was a great feeling. In fact, the only other time I have ever been this relaxed competing is with Denise. I hammed it up, playing up Rizzo to perfection. I came in 6th in a very tough group, and had three judges place me in the medals. Ugh, I only needed one more!

I parted with my very last tossie, a blue raspberry lip balm I threw to Becky at 7:40 pm. That would be 100 power gels, 100 lip balms, two pair of underwear, two champagnes, and a handful of flowers and bandannas thrown at Lanette's request.

So what have I learned? Being prepared builds confidence and confidence reduces anxiety. I know I couldn't have skated any better than I did, so I'm proud of that, but at the same time, I'm disappointed not to have a medal to show for my efforts. I'm admittedly jealous of everyone posting their medal shots and podium pictures and I wish I could figure out how to make that work for me. I guess that's what coaches are for.

Oh and even chowder from a rink cafe in New England is ten times better than canned crap. I'm afraid this trip spoiled me for quality seafood. That lobstah roll was wicked delicious.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What Art Matters: Putting Together a Skating Program

Me, coupled with inspiration.

So I just got back from the 2014 USFSA Adult Figure Skating Championships. I performed three well thought out and, IMHO, creative programs. While I didn't win any medals, it was beside the point. I make a case for, and will explain the creative process behind my artistic/dramatic entry, That's What Friends Are For.

A year ago, I was pouting in the car on a trip back home that I was missing the adult skating party of the year since I elected not to compete. Via text and facebook posts, friends kept me up to date on the various happenings. a few even contemplated what measures should be taken to celebrate the milestone anniversary, as we were coming up on the competition's 20th.

While musing over those photos, I said aloud, "There's plenty of icons in the sport that have been honored, like Jay doing Michelle Kwan. Adult skating has a long enough history that we have our own icons, like Larry doing his triples and Amy's Bolero program. And then there's Wendy Bears..."

Wendy, center above, is a long time adult skating competitor who knits tiny sweaters that she puts on tiny bears and then tosses them out on the ice at the conclusion of a routine. (Skating tossies should be their own WAM, perhaps next year...) To get a bear is a huge honor. There are some skaters that have never, ever received one. I received my first at the conclusion of my first competitive program, at my first ANs (Adult Nationals) in 2005.

A Wendy Bear as an icon of adult skating. The idea sprang fully formed - skate AS a Wendy Bear! The song came quickly to mind as well, That's What Friends Are For, a group sing by Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight, four singers in perfect harmony.

I approached Michelle with the idea, whose choreography was intricate and worked with the nuances of the song as well as the emotion I wanted to convey.

My original plan was to get a bear costume at a Halloween shop. This idea fell through when you could only find sexy bear costumes (seriously, what?). Instead, I went with leggings, leg warmers, a bear hat and a green sweater with AN 2014 cross stitched in white.

Hoping for secrecy, I told very few people about the program until Nationals. Then there was a group effort to make sure Wendy was in the stands for the program.

When I skated out for the warm up, the cheers in the stands were audible. I was told during the performance, there was barely a dry eye in the house. I was mobbed afterwards by skaters who wanted a picture with the real live Wendy Bear, and most importantly, Wendy herself.

Not one for tears or sentiment, she nonetheless embraced me in at least 4 bear hugs, saying it was so touching, so amazing. And... it placed 14th. I was disappointed, but when people started saying it was their favorite program of the competition, I can hardly pout.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April Fool's Playlist: Beatles Songs I Hate

You don't love us anymore then?!

I'm like Rolling Stone magazine, I have to feature The Fabs at least once a year.

I'm turning the April Fool's joke on myself this time. What songs by my beloved band do I hate? This April playlist is in reality an anti-list.

Revolution #9: tape loops. Drugs. Yoko. Lazy.

You Know My Name, Look up the Number: Paul as a fake bossa nova lounge singer. It's on Past Masters, it came out around the White Album, but I don't care enough to know more. I find it annoying.

Yesterday: Whaaaaaaaaaaaaat?! Hear me out. When I think of my Classic Rock ban playlist from January, 2013 I think I chose the wrong song. Overwrought, over played. When people find out I'm a Beatles fan, they assume this is one of my favorite songs. They are wrong.

Fool on the Hill: I don't know what annoys me about it, maybe it's a series of things, like the pan flute, the stupid video of Paul looking stoned dancing on a hill during the Magical Mystery Tour, the knowledge no other Beatle wanted anything to do with it, or the fact once it's up in your head, the only way to excise it is another ear worm.

Her Majesty: the greatest band in the world completes their legacy with the words "and in the end, the love you make is equal to the love you make." Astonishingly profound, right? Wait for it.... this little snippet ruins it. The only flaw in an otherwise flawless album.

It's Only Love (Help! version): sometimes Sir George Martin got a little too heavy handed in the studio, and he slicked up this song by Lennon to boy band standards. By doing so, the gloss obscured the charm. I usually skipped this song completely when listening to Help. I was pleased to hear this song on the Anthology II disc, when it was just Lennon's vocals and a guitar, the rawness and simplicity enhancing the vocals. I fell in love with it immediately.

Misery: off the debut album. *sigh* They can't all be classics.

Piggies: Harrison's bitching about the British tax system again. An interesting song, but given its discordant nature, I think it's an *important* work, but not one we were expected to jam out to. I tolerate it in order to listen to the White Album in order.

A Taste of Honey: it sounds dated, feels like they are playing through honey. Heavy, forced.

Yes It Is: kind of a masochistic piece of crap, manipulating the sensibilities of a new girlfriend against the memory of another. Yeah, you're not over her yet, are you? I'll wear red if I want to, pal.