Tuesday, February 03, 2015

My First Published Piece: The Snow Plow #bravewriting

Okay, sheesh. I can't believe I'm doing this, but here goes. As part of the #bravewriting challenge I wrote about in Saturday's blog post, here is the promised piece.

My first published bit appeared in Volume 11 of the Summer 1990 edition of Penn Statements: A Magazine of Student Writing from Rhetoric and Composition published by the Pennsylvania State University.

It was my freshman year in college, and this was the required Rhetoric and Composition course everyone had to take. As I mentioned, I don't know if the instructor chose it so it could be shredded in future class discussions or because she saw something admirable about it. All I see now when I read it is what I didn't know then.

Ah, well. We all start somewhere, right?  Well, without further ado, here it is:

The Snow Plow

by Melissa Baer

Not so long ago, I found myself if somewhat reluctantly, facing the slopes on a cold December evening. Having somehow managed to adorn myself with the conventional, rented ski boots, and then to maneuver the frightening looking skis onto the bottoms of my boots, I was ready, hopefully, to conquer the world of skiing. Little did I suspect that, lying in wait, was the concept of snow plowing, so basic, so influential to my success as a beginner that it could render my attempt limp and fruitless.

Snow plowing, in simple terms, is how you slow down and stop on the ski slope. The application of the aforementioned is not, however, simple. As I rode the lift to the top of the beginner's slope, my friend and instructor briefly explained the technique of snow plowing: "When you want to slow down, turn the fronts of your skis inward, but don't let them overlap." With this advice stored safely for later reference, I felt I was ready.

At the top of the slope, I peered down the sparkling, snow-covered incline, feeling relatively confident, and pushed off with the poles. As the stinging wind began to slap my cheeks harder and faster, I remembered the advice of my well-meaning friend, turned my skis inward, and promptly found myself veering out of control towards a fence post. Rather than risk a confrontation, I bailed out and slid to a wet, rough stop on my backside.

Somehow, I managed to get back on my feet. My friend innocently asked me what had happened, and I proceeded to explain, though these were not my exact words, that his instructions had been somewhat lacking in detail, leaving me wanting in the ability to stop. While we headed toward the lift, he added a necessary detail to his previous instructions on snow plowing: "When you turn the front of your skis inward, remember to also press on the inside of your foot, making the inside edge of the skis dig into the snow. You should see snow flying then. That's why it's called 'snow plowing.'"

With this new information, I proceeded to try again. The once small incline looked slightly steeper, but this time I was positive that I would be victorious. My red gloves covered with sticky snow, I gripped the poles and shoved off. The sound of skis on gritty snow filled my ears. That cold, fresh scent gave me confidence as the wind grappled for possession of my hat. Now, going faster than I felt  I could safely handle, I attempted to use the snow plowing method. Success! I slowed slightly and was able to come to a somewhat clumsy halt near the chair lift. Smiling with approval, my friend suggested a few more trips down the beginner's slope and then he would take me to the intermediate slope. Jubilant in my mastery, I agreed. It seems I had fallen into the experimenter's trap of proof and disproof:  I had accepted the next few successful snow plows as proof of my theory of mastery instead of looking for the disproof, because I wanted to believe that my theory was true. It only takes one failure to throw a theory to the wind.

With my friend, I took the next lift up to the intermediate slope. Being assured that no bodily harm would come to me if I remained calm, I began my descent, this time a little uncertain of my abilities to best the gently rolling powder. I had been versed on how to turn, and I was practicing shifting back and forth when I started to go too fast. Immediately, I attempted, notice I say "attempted," to slow my progress. Careening out of control, I made the rest of the trip down the slope, on my face sampling the flavor of manmade snow.

My friend skidded to a stop quite near to my face and asked, once again, innocently if I was all right. Of course, I knew he meant no malice towards me, but I couldn't help but wonder if he knew what he was talking about. I inquired as to his own education in the field of skiing. Was he positive that this was the correct way of stoping? "Are you bending your knees?" he inquired. Ah.

After a much-heated debate, we resumed our course toward the lift, and I was amazed to find myself facing the intermediate slope for the second time. I was determined, this time, to remain on my feet with dignity. I worked my way down slowly, shifting back and forth across the hill, snow plowing with all my strength. My heart and legs breathed a sigh of relief as the end came in sight around the trees covering the bank of the bend. I came to a somewhat bumpy halt, noticing, out of the corner of my eye, white waves of snow flying to the sides. Finally, I had accomplished true success.

My experience had left me exhausted, achy, and satisfied--satisfied in that I had accomplished the feat of skiing, and subsequently, the feat of snow plowing. I had learned that a simple term could encompass a broad meaning and that complete, precise definitions could save a lot of heartache, and, and in this case, headaches.


*peeks out from between fingers*

So there you have it, folks. Do you know how hard it was to type that without editing???? I wanted to fix it sooooooo bad, but then it wouldn't be what it was, and that was the whole point.

I was eighteen years old when I wrote this and going for a certain type of humor that I would describe as understated tongue-in-cheek.  

I see you staring blankly at the screen. 

Oh, never mind. 

*mumbles* I'm so embarrassed.

I'd been writing poems, stories, and essays long before then and I'm still writing today, 25 years later. Holy crap! 25 years! Damn.

So when did you start writing? Got any bits to share?


  1. I commented on this, but for some reason my first comments on your posts never stick. :( Anyway, I really enjoyed this piece and totally see why your professor liked it. You have NOTHING to be embarrassed about. Yes, there are a few typos and punctuation gaffs--but the piece is wonderfully evocative, put me right into the scene with great sensory images and descriptions, and even made me chuckle. It was #bravewriting though to post your early work, though--so kudos to you!

  2. D'oh - wanna delete the "though" after #bravewriting? :)

  3. Aw, shucks. Thank you, Ev. :-)

  4. I remember this! Funny thing -- after 25 years, I still remember the subtle-yet-powerful use of the word "Ah.". =)