The Casual Blog

Tag: My Struggle

Skiing in Utah, and Knausgaard’s radical honesty project

Snow at Snowbird, February 16, 2019

Last week Sally, Gabe, and I went to Utah for six days of skiing at Snowbird and Alta.  They had four or five feet of snow in the week before we came, and around four feet while we were there.  The locals said the snow was a bit on the heavy side, but even by local standards, at the snowiest ski area in North America, it was an amazing powder skiing experience.

In recent years we’ve had one week of skiing a year, and only a few deep powder days.  We weren’t completely unprepared for the powder challenge, but we were far from experienced.  Powder is a different ball game. The techniques that work on groomed snow have to be modified, and the modifications have to be further modified according to constantly varying snow conditions.  It involves trial and error; there’s no settled, reliable recipe for success. Facing down the steep terrain into snow where no one has gone takes gumption. But by day three, we were getting a level of confidence, which increased in days four through six.  It’s a wonderful feeling, flying on clouds of snow.

We rented skis at our hotel, Cliff Lodge (see photograph below), and they set us up with good tools.  I was very impressed with my Volkyl 100eights (173cm), which were versatile and reliable. They floated beautifully, were highly maneuverable on moguls, and could carve at medium-high speeds on packed snow.  

Skiing the challenging (black and double black diamond) terrain at Snowbird and Alta clears the mind.  There is, of course, the possibility of falling. Pointing the skis downward takes commitment and focus, and being in the moment.  It has a meditative dimension.

There is also a lovely social aspect.  Our little trio enjoyed exploring for new (to us) ways down the mountain, and savoring little victories together.  Gabe, by far the strongest skier, gave me a tip on poling technique that was transformative. He recommended I quit poling with my wrists, and envision turning the steering wheel of a car.   Almost immediately, my turns got stronger. He later reported that he’d focused more on the idea after he taught it to me, and found it helped him lift his game.

On day three, we skied at Alta with Sally’s cousin, Chip, and his wife, Judy, who live there.  They were great companions, full of good fun and local knowledge. They took us on a climb up Devil’s Castle in search of an expanse of untracked powder.  My legs and my lungs both gave out short of the top, and I headed down into a lesser powder field. I was really impressed and inspired by their good skiing and fitness, and resolved to get more fit for skiing next year.

Happy skiers at Alta: me, Judy, Gabe, Sally, and Chip

As it was, after three days of skiing I felt like I’d been mugged by a gang of toughs, aching and sore all over.  On day four, I felt much better. Along with the exhilaration, we had some tough conditions — very limited visibility in places, cold in the teens, and high winds.  I heard reports of gusts of over 50 MPH, and could easily believe that our sustained winds were 40 MPH in places. There were a couple of moments on the lift when I wondered if the wind could pull a person off.  

At the end of our ski days, we enjoyed some time in the hot tub.  I read more of Knausgaard’s magnum opus, My Struggle, book two. I’ll say one thing about it that I haven’t seen in the reviews:  it is radically honest. Knausgaard seems want to say as truthfully as possible exactly what he thought and felt in the process of ordinary life.  It turns out to be absorbing, and at times shocking, when someone sets aside, or at least tries to set aside, all pretense, all the layers of self protection, and all the small lies of social convention.  What’s left isn’t necessarily pretty, but it is fascinating, and makes the reader consider the consequences of extreme truthfulness.

At Snowbird: Peruvian lift and Cliff Lodge

The wedding dress problem, goodbye to Roth, and hello to Knausgaard

Jocelyn and Kyle visited us for the holiday weekend, and one of the planned events was the kick off of the search for Jocelyn’s perfect wedding dress.  Sally excitedly briefed me on their plan for a mother-daughter visit to a high-end bridal shop, and I felt a bit queasy. For the first time, it hit home that there was a strong assumption that I’d be stroking a large check for a dress that will be worn only once.  

I thought, maybe we can discuss this.  We could deconstruct the cultural significance of wedding customs and related status displays, and consider revising certain traditions, perhaps at lesser expense.  And then I realized that this would get me nowhere, and I may as well give up and enjoy the dress, which will, I’m sure, be beautiful.

I was affected by Philip Roth’s death this week, since his books have been an important part of my life.  I’ve read about a dozen of them, including several that enriched my understanding of what can happen in the heads of others. He had a fierce engagement with life, and his books did what the best novels do: tell truths that can be told no other way. My favorite Roths are American Pastoral, The Human Stain, The Plot Against America, the Zuckerman trilogy, Sabbath’s Theatre,  and of course, Portnoy’s Complaint.

I started an engagement with another major book recently:  My Struggle, by Karl Ove Knausgaard. Knausgaard’s book is an autobiographical account of ordinary life and relationships translated from the original Norwegian and extending for 6 volumes (3,600 pages).  It’s been talked about in literary circles, and I’d made a special note to avoid it. It seemed like unpromising subject matter having no bearing on my life issues, and way too long.  

But having made it halfway through volume one, I’m utterly captivated.  It’s uncanny: it seems very much about my life. In a recent piece in The New Yorker, Joshua Rothman notes having the same sensation.    The work explores emotions to a depth that makes them seem both strange and true.  My early impression is that Knausgaard has achieved something similar to Proust, but with less affectation and more intensity.  

I took these pictures on Saturday morning in Umstead Park, where I hiked for a couple of hours on the Loblolly Trail.  It was humid and very green.