Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, February 21, 2016
Dear 11-year-old self,
I’m writing you a letter about jumping rope — double Dutch, to be exact. It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about the last 10 years, for whatever reason. Yes, 10 years. They go by fast. I have not been cogitating on jump rope, but rather I’ve been noting its recurrent presence in my consciousness. (No, I’m not dumbing this letter down for you, by the way. You’ll just have to do your best with it, big words and all.)
I’m writing you because I know you’re out there somewhere, suspended in time like a hologram, even though it’s beyond me to comprehend how. Nothing is showing up under this rubric on Wiki-How — one of my favorite places on something called the Internet — where you can learn pretty much everything there is to learn. But not quite.
Wiki offers an intro to astral projection, for example, which would take me out of my body to look down on my current body, which might eventually get me to some overview of all the different selves in time. There’s a Wiki explanation on how to embrace your inner child — but that also is not the same as sending a missive to your ever-present pre-teen. They have “How to send a message forward in time,” but nothing about sending one backwards.
Anyway, if you get this letter, you’ll know your 57-year-old self has found you, and you’ll get a sense that maybe every version of your/our self is fully realized somewhere in the Big Right Now. For you, it’d be like an episode of the Twilight Zone, which scared you so much, you’d watch with your hands over your eyes. If you get this letter, you’ll go, “Wow, I’m 57? That’s ancient!” And because I’ll attach a photo (because memory doesn’t work both ways), you’ll then go, “Whoa, too much information!” Believe me, it’s not. What’s too much is how fast time goes by and the mystery of our life’s trajectory, which is like the flash of a comet’s tail streaking across the sky.
As I write, I see you in my mind’s eye. I see the scab on your knee right below where that jumper Mom made you hits. That red and blue plaid jumper you wear all the time. Zipper up the back, white blouse underneath. You don’t wear any jewelry — nothing. You’re either wearing sneakers or some Oxford-type shoe, and they’re pretty well worn. Your hair’s short and tousled and your eyes, notably different colors, have not started to even out yet. Next year, things will all change with Converse and Adidas and Pumas and hot pants and ripped jeans, but that has not happened yet, not in 5th grade. Your 6th grade teacher, Mr. Singleton, has not yet had a heart attack and died in the middle of the year. You haven’t started feeling either super cool or utterly wretched yet.
It’s May in Seattle and it’s breezy. Despite Vietnam and Woodstock and Nixon and Apollo 11 and the very inception of things like the Internet and microprocessor, things are a lot simpler in 1969. For you, even though a certain essential quality of childhood has started to fade as puberty begins its sneaky approach, things are still rivetingly adamantine. Look the word up.
I remember your infatuation with that boy, M.K. I remember recess, with its obsessive sessions of tetherball, foursquare and Chinese jump rope and double Dutch. The concrete of the playground, its yellow lines, its jungle gyms and the garbage blown up against the outsides of the chain link fence, where we’d reach our fingers through to pull out gum wrappers for making those chains, also zealously crafted day after day after day. Girls huddled together and then racing around like little flocks of birds. The intense focus of endless days of Chinese jump rope, and then double Dutch.
Nowadays, there are double Dutch championships all over the world. There are kids whose feet move so fast, they hold one riveted, in rapt attention, as if the world’s state of balance is directly dependent on their solid footwork.
So here we are heading for spring, and I’m thinking of double Dutch again.
I am conscious of the incredible poetry of two ropes going opposite directions and a jumper hopping in — jumping, jumping, jumping as the rope’s arc peaks and then drops to touch pavement before scooping it all up again. The beauty of arms rhythmically moving in circles, catching bits of sky and bringing it down as the jumper keeps perfect time. Dzubble dzutch. Dzubble dzutch.
Just asking you to hold that one in your heart.
[Author’s note: “Dzubble dzutch” were words coined in 1981 in “Double Dutch Bus” by Frankie Smith and later The Gap Band. Classic!]