Thursday, May 10, 2012

the evolution of the summersault

They're one of those things I can't do.  (Other things I can't do include rollerblading, skiing, iceskating, any sport involving a ball, and drinking milk.)

I used to be embarrassed of this.  Embarrassed of all of it, really, because not being able to do these things makes you "weird."  So I avoided things involving large groups of people throwing balls around (aka: sports).  I insisted that I preferred bicycle-riding to rollerblading so that I didn't have to try the latter.  When we'd go ice-skating, I'd latch on to the person who'd never been before so I could "teach" them, but mostly to mask my fear of embarrassment!  And because the only way I could eat cereal was if I ate it with chocolate milk, when I'd stay at friend's houses I'd avoid cereal altogether, lest they think I was weird.

I like to think that all these ineptitudes have made me more empathetic to timid, uncoordinated people like myself.  This is what I tell myself at least.  If nothing else, those poor people can at least rest easy knowing they won't be the only one falling on the skating rink.

Now, the embarrassment I've felt is, of course, thanks to societal constructs of what counts as "fun" (thanks society!).  Things like rollerblading and skiing and iceskating are fun and therefore if you do them you are fun and if you don't then you aren't fun.  I remember two days in particular, three years apart, with two boys.  First instance was when Boy One asked me if I'd ever had an adrenaline rush before.  My already self-conscious-about-if-people-perceived-me-as-fun little self was maybe a liiiittle overly sensitive to this--I laid awake all night feeling bad that I wasn't good at "fun" things, and that he'd perceive me as timid.  (The next day I realized where my adrenaline rushes come from--writing papers two hours before they're due.  NERD.)

The other moment was when me and the homies were suiting up to go jump off diving boards.  Boy Two said, "You're coming, Carolyn?!  I didn't know you liked to have fun!"  Now, he was just trying to be snarky, but man--if he had known that perceived funness (or lack thereof) is The Big Self-Consciousness I carry around, I don't think he would have said it.

And so I set out to make myself into a more socially-acceptably-"fun" person.  I bought a longboard.  I ice-skated on dates (see footnote 1).  I joined an intramural team (read Coach's recounting of the disaster here).  I taught myself to eat cereal without putting chocolate in my milk.  And when people asked what I did on the weekend, I learned to say things like, "Oh, I went to a football game," or "Oh, I went hiking," because those are the things People have agreed upon as Fun activities.  And heaven forbid anyone think I'm not fun!  (I make no mention to them of the weekend things that were actually fun to me--browsing used books at DI for two hours, making myself crepes and listening to "The Passion of Paris," sneaking into bed at ten o'clock and squealing with excitement for having a quiet room to read in until I fell asleep.)

All this embarrassment changed when I started watching Gilmore Girls.  Rory owns the fact that she hates sports, that she'd rather be alone in her room reading than skiing down a mountain.  I found a kindred spirit in Rory, and that turned upside-down how I think of myself.

The word summersault itself got turned upside down a little too.  It started out as sombresault (French: over(sobre)+jump(saut).  Sombre is an iteration of sobre ('over'), so the etymology makes sense: when you summersault (or sombre-sault), you sort of jump over yourself.  But sombre has a second definition: in common language, it doesn't mean 'over' at all---it means 'somber' or 'dark' or 'to sink.'

The French sombresault is now obsolete.  It has evolved, over 500 years into somersault, and then summersault, which I find so much more fitting--'summer', the two m's like your two hands, fingers spread wide.  I can feel the grass between each finger, this word is so carefree.

Sombresault.  Sobresault.  Summersault.
Somber turned over to summer...
...and turning things over to get rid of old habits, old fears, old somberness, darkness, or sinkings.  Old embarrassments.

Two years ago, my eight year old sister pulled me out to the backyard.  She said, "Come on Carolyn, if I can learn to do it, you can do it too!"  And with that she showed me how to plant my hands, how to kick my legs up straight, how to land.

And thus I learned to summersault.

1.  I ice-skated even when one time we got to the rink and an old man fell and split his head open on the ice and was carried away on a stretcher and they closed the rink temporarily so the fifteen yr-old on duty could scrape up the blood-stained ice, scoop it up into a dustpan, and tell us we were all clear to skate now (!).


BONUS QUESTION (ten extra credit points!): Tell me one thing you never learned to do and probably should have.  Winner gets Otter Pops.  Or to watch my sad summersaulting attempts.  Your choice.


  1. i have never really been able to sit criss-cross-applesauce. it makes playing board games on the floor and my yoga class

    1. hahaha, i love that you call it criss-cross-applesauce. probably more p.c. than "indian style." which is what i still call it....

  2. I've carried the same self-conscious of my fun-ness burden my whole life long. You've given me hope. :)

    1. This is why we are friends Laura. One of the most liberating things you ever said to me was, "I don't want to go running! I'd rather be home reading a book!"

  3. I never learned to enjoy watching sports on TV... which happens to be a common pastime for my gender.

    1. This is a good one, Dan. I feel the same. But it's okay because we like to throw parties.......right?

  4. oh man, this totally speaks to me. my list: skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, roller blading, long boarding, wake boarding, basketball, football, baseball, cartwheels, cliff diving (that's more fear than ineptitude though), riding a motorcycle, rock climbing, and I could probably continue but my pride is starting to kick in.

    1. If for nothing else, you win for sheer amount of things you can't do. ;) I can do wakeboarding...but barely. And yeah I HATE jumping off high things. That's okay Sam. We'll just have to go non-cliff jumping/footballing/motorcycle-riding together!

  5. Replies
    1. OOOkay, me either. Let's learn how this weekend.