By Nick Triolo
Simple is white rice and cream soda.
Simple is Mario Rojas calling my family’s landline at eleven on a Sunday and wondering a) if I’m up yet, b) what my dad made for breakfast, and c) If I want to meet for a skate downtown.
Simple is the smell of apple cinnamon pancakes left on the kitchen counter and a note from dad:
"Make Every Day a Masterpiece."
Simple is a childhood unmuddied by plans, by heartthrob or heartbreak, professional ambitions or self-doubt. No Google Calendars, no Facebook, no hour-by-hour corralling of life into lists and to-do’s. Coffee wasn’t part of this adolescent calculus, either, nor hangovers or attachments of any sort.
If there was any dependency it was skating, regular ten to twelve hour binges. I’m speaking of inline skating, an activity people like me tuck under the moniker of “skating,” to dodge bullying skateboarders who hear inline and instantly lob derogatory slashes about one’s self-worth.
Regardless, it was the nineties, I had frosted tips and Sugar Ray was king, so I’ll stand on eight wheels and call it what it was:
Mario and I would rollerblade down to Main Street in our small town of Murphys, California with pockets heavy in allowance coin and candle wax, to slicken railing and curb. When hunger struck we’d pool change to buy cartons of white rice from Sun China and whatever two-liter bottle of pop was on sale—cream soda, always. We’d sit and poke chopsticks at our empty calories and guess the models of cars as they approached.
White rice. Cream soda. Rollerblading. Simple.
To grow up skating in Murphys you had no choice but to be creative. There was no endless cityscape to manifest your next trick, grind, or flip. It mandated invention, requiring you to think hard about moving through time and space, given limited opportunities. My high school mascot was the bullfrog; the town was that small.
Here in bullfrog country we worked with what we had, like the time Andy Burke and I trespassed onto the high school’s rooftop and attempted to jump a terrifying gap between two buildings—a thirty foot fall and guaranteed paralysis if you failed. Andy was first to launch his BMX bike across and he made it, barely, a legend now immortalized despite serious trauma to the loins. I followed.
Looking back, skating gifted me with eyes to view my external conditions with boundless possibility—to work with how things are, not as I would like them to be.
Running affords similar vision. When looking at mountains and maps I’ll often revert back to skating’s no-frills approach to movement in a given and limited landscape: pump the legs and lean into the climb, up into forested gully to a big air at the summit, then grind along ridgeline for that drop-in, that halfpipe velocity, wind rushing adrenaline flailing return to solid ground.
In running, as in skating, I’ve found play to be at the heart of what’s simple: a form of buoyancy found through such daily practices of visualization and creative body movement.
“Busyness is the thief of intimacy.”
For me it’s these simple things that also tend to amplify how busy our days have become. Living with intimate calm isn’t difficult, on its own, but it can sometimes feel like the hardest thing to embody.
And yet I thrive on complexity. I excel when oscillating between naked breath and intricate problem solving. I pine for both—to sniff along singletrack, letting mind melt into the locomotion, then return home to wrap around the tectonic things, complexities of a mysterious planet and my niche among the fray. These two sensibilities feed one another and both require attention and presence. Mary Oliver said it best (she always does):
“Ten times a day something happens to me like this – some strengthening throb of amazement – some good sweet emphatic ping and swell. This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.”
To braid our lives with rituals of play, of simple movement calibrated by attention and joy is preparation for when the more complicated trials come tumbling through Main Street (read: current political climate). Then we’re better able to set down the rice, that bottle of pop, and take fierce action from a platform of equanimity, attentiveness, and calm.