every few weeks or so, i get the song of something stuck in my head. suddenly, it’s a secret i repeat to myself, over and over until it warps until it’s mine. sometimes it’s an actual song, or a poem; in May of last year it was dried dates in bulk. it’s a crush kind of fixation — a repetition that peels away big-picture excess so i can poke around in the good stuff, the details. like rewatching a movie just for the extras, or the part where selena gomez wilts a pickle slice into her mouth. maybe it’s about intimacy, ownership, distilling aesthetic satisfaction. but the initial snag has also always been in how these earworms, lungworms, heartworms boom something, somehow so directly, to me.
last month, it was an Adidas minidoc of professional skateboarder Nora Vasconcellos.
it begins: nora walking into a balloon-floored surprise, her legs wide, untippable, a keychain clutching her belt loop. black elastic around her wrist. “hahaha, she dropped her phone,” spys the videographer, ready to tease her for her arrival.
then from nowhere: she surges up a half bowl, drifts along its edge.
fellow skaters describe her, mouths slack with easy lingo. i can’t skateboard, not even a little bit, so i don’t know their terms, what they look like written down, but i don’t look them up. i leave them in phonetic abstraction; it keeps the words tenuous, precious — for me, it prolongs the nostalgic jolt of being less fluent in a language than i thought.
she glides through their voices, growling wheels.
i love documentary interviews, the unscripted fidgets. here, there's a kind of kind omniscience to watching how these people love in nora’s direction. their gazes tangential lines that accumulate into some outline, grounding the mystery of external existence (exacerbated by internet performance) in its rebound: the perception, collected. ribboned by her body, flipping through air.
cars huffing past, nora pulls at both straps of her backpack. bobs on her feet on the sidewalk. she calls L.A. Los Angeles, free of pretention. her sunglasses reflect the bloated heads of the people around her.
cut to her mom, clearly elsewhere, green, hair half up. a weekend shirt. her voice narrating home videos’ grainy familiarity: nora dancing in her own twirling world, bobbing on smaller feet. hurtling up to catch monkey bars, crawling and deliberately falling into sand. AUG 23. helmeted kids that nora cuts through. a rollerblader crumples behind her; another rolls to help them up.
nora’s family adorns her with always-es — a cohesion which, despite my resistance, my human brain adores. to think anyone has always been anything. there’s her father’s absurd anecdote that one year, on her christmas list, “there were ten items listed, and each one of them was a skateboard.” and the video of christmas morning, when nora, bibbed nightgown, her drowsy hair mussing over her face, steps onto her first board and is already immovable, even as she oscillates. her father’s morning voice: “wow nora, look at you, honey, can i see?”
now, in her childhood bedroom, adidas sweatshirt tucked neatly in her closet (i need to know: was it planted?), knees up to her ears, nora pulls out a drawing her father drew when she was “eight or so.” cartoon nora, stuck in the air, doing what has become one of her best tricks. her eyes bob. “—which is so crazy,” she stumble-hedges, “to me.”
an interlude: she’s driving, checks over her left shoulder, “um,” as she recounts the splitting moment when, right before she moved out west, her family lost their house and her parents divorced. this month, my family life caved in quite abruptly, right when my own life was moving. which is so crazy, to me. that i found her, saying “it’s like jumping off a ship that you can't swim back to. like, ship’s gone.” with a laugh that still shifts under its own feet.
around the six minute mark, nora falls in montage — slam slam slam. showing the actual stakes of her wild contortions, previously unfathomable to me because of her heavy grace. but “that’s where all the power lies — you learn to just not give a shit.” “with skateboarding it was like, i’ll bleed for this.”
“it’s very surreal feeling, the whole ‘where i am now’ versus even just two or three years ago,” she says from her perch at twenty-four. which crawls back to me, twenty-two. which is something i knew already, of course, that everything would change and that some things, like that laugh, wouldn’t, but now i’ve seen it — twenty-four, spreading wakes of concrete in wide, empty pools, feet flipping a board like a trilling tongue. i just have to keep falling (crash), falling for (crush), and falling for it (fooled) until i get really good.
emilie kneifel is your secret admirer. find 'em at emiliekneifel.com. this month, em recommends: covering your zinc spots with fruit stickers.