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Getting There Episode 6 - Nothing Ventured, Nothing Sprained

Updated: Jan 8, 2021

"Bart the Daredevil" is one of my favorite Simpson's episodes. Not just because it's a very well-written episode, and not because I was a rambunctious little trouble-maker, or a go-for-broke thrill-seeker like Bart. I mostly wasn't. Mostly.

I like that episode because I wish I was.

It appeals to a spirit I used to have as a kid, but not so much anymore.

When I was a little kid, maybe 6 or 7 or so, my family went on a vacation somewhere in the mountains. I’ve long forgotten which vacation it was, or where these mountains are, as well as pretty much everything else about that particular vacation. Maybe it was the same vacation I split my head open trying to somersault over a boulder while running down a hill... for some reason I can't remember.

What I do remember, however, was my first experience on something called an Alpine Slide.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, imagine a concrete luge track built into the slope of a mountain, and imagine that you, as a sane adult, lie back in an open plastic sarcophagus on wheels at the top of this slope, looking down at about a quarter mile of winding, hair-pin turns below. In this sled, your only method of controlling this contraption is a single pedal at your feet. This pedal in its neutral position, acts as a brake, but when you apply pressure with your foot, that brake disengages, making it act more like a gas pedal than a break pedal. The goal of this entire endeavor, much like an actual luge event, is to careen down the track as fast as you can go without losing control and launching yourself over the lip of the track on one of the many treacherous turns.

It's here that I should point out that I made it through my adolescence with very little permanent damage. I would even go so far as to say that, among my steady group of childhood friends, I was the cautious one. When we rode dirt bikes, I wasn’t the one to fly headlong over the handlebars after a poorly planned attempt to ramp the barn hill. It was always in my nature to want to be the one that knew better.

That said, I was a little boy who loved speed, and standing at the top of that alpine slide with my dad, waiting our turn to risk serious bodily injury, was just the right amount of terrifying and exciting. I didn’t want to know better… I wanted to go fast! To this day, I vividly remember sitting in my dad’s lap as we rolled down the track, going faster and faster, our combined weight throwing us around one turn, and launching us into the next. I remember stomping on that “accelerator” pedal at our feet, demanding that we go faster, and I remember my dad laughing while desperately trying to un-stomp that pedal. The conflict was a simple one. I wanted to go as fast as possible, and my dad wanted to survive.

This story occurred to me in the buzzing afterglow of artistic inspiration as I drove home from a recent art convention. Meeting with friends and other artists, talking shop, inspiration, jobs, and passions, has a unique way of firing my inner creative spirit that art alone doesn’t accomplish in me. As always happens after such events, I find myself looking at my own art career as a kind of out-of-body observer. I’m pulled out of my malaise of self criticism as an artist who is rarely happy with the results of his own work, and reminded that I truly do love the work. It was in these moments of reflection that I was reminded of riding that alpine slide.

It occurred to me that I, in that moment of charged creative energy, was again that little kid that just wanted to go fast, and I was now, again, in a struggle with the adult in the same gravity-bound vessel that just doesn’t want to die.

A sensible objection, sure, but it seems to me now that my too-safe, too-sensible nature that I've grown into is exactly what keeps me from that childish thrill of adventure and unsafe speeds in my art career. I'm too busy worrying about the sharp curves ahead to think that I'll just need to lean into them, and too concerned with reaching the bottom unscathed to remember that for better or worse, I'll reach the bottom inevitably. Whether unharmed, scuffed and bruised, or dead to rights, I think I'm better off knowing after the fact that I risked something worth losing for the sake of earning something worth having.

Looking back now, I realize that if I was never that little kid that just wanted to go faster, the story of that slide so long ago wouldn't have been a story worth remembering.

Getting There Episode 7 - Inspiration is a Fickle Friend >>

In the spirit of the saying that "it's not the destination, but the journey that's important", I've titled this series "Getting There." While I appreciate this saying, the journey would not exist if not for the destination, therefore the title "Getting There" is a reference as much to the destination as it is to the journey. The "Getting There" series is a collection of brief, episodic articles describing my ongoing journey into the animation industry.

By Alex Esbenshade

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