Instant Karma, The Heart and Soul of a Ski Bum, Wayne Sheldrake. Ghost Road Press. Book Review by, Christa Mastrangelo Joyce
Few people have discovered how to live with the kind of reckless abandon that allows them to pursue life while looking death square in the eye. This is exactly the journey that Wayne Sheldrake reveals in his memoir, Instant Karma, The Heart and Soul of a Ski Bum. Sheldrake admits, "I was a little confused when I passed my twenty-fifth birthday. I never thought I'd live beyond twenty-four. I assumed my stunts would catch up with me, or my heart would just quit. But I was happy because I knew how I wanted to live and if I died in the process, so be it." The memoir follows this notion through Sheldrake's forty-odd years of life, unfolding into a poetic exploration of skiing and the revelation that daring is always worth the pursuit.
Instant Karma has plenty to get excited about. The descriptions of mountains covered with snow in the heart of the Rockies, the landscapes of quiet white, and the visceral images of a man bound to soar downward through that whiteness, soar over those mountains, is just one part of the picture Sheldrake paints. He writes, "The light was moon-faced. The chairlift rose through a hall of spruce loaded to their armpits with snow...dense clouds dipped into the trees...the mountain vibrated. The trees unswaddled cradles of snow. Sugar sacks lumped down on flour sacks which lumped down on potato sacks which lumped down on onion sacks which lumped down on cotton sacks, until like futons tumbling from the sky, the foundered Qali found snow pack." Throughout the book, Sheldrake leads his reader through a magical world seen by so few--a mountain in full blizzard in Colorado. The snow he describes is a force, the mountains are legendary. And in the middle of it all, Sheldrake makes his presence known. No snow storm, no mountain is too much. For Sheldrake, it becomes clear, to ski is to live and to live means to give up any timidity he might have. Sheldrake writes, "To almost die and then live--it's wild. Surviving terror can lead to a kind of joy that makes the traumas of `real life' seem less intimidating....some people have to get close to death to really figure life out--really close." Sheldrake is definitely one of those "really close" kind of guys.
The book, though, isn't just a look at a crazy guy who likes to live on the wild side of skiing. Instant Karma will make you look into your heart and soul and think about what you are willing to do to live your dream. It is an adventure into the soul of a man who is
reckless enough to do as he dares against the advice of family, friends and doctors; it is also a love story about a man who follows his own guidance and finds himself a partner who believes just as fully that living with passion must be the goal in life. And it is a portrait of memory, something that is distilled and changing and somewhat illusory, but also the only thing we have left in the end. Sheldrake writes, "I wanted to ski exactly the same run, relive it if I could...It might be delightful, joyous--even orgasmic--but never the same. It makes skiing as sad as jazz. All improvised and all lost in the midst of its own becoming. Every moment hangs in memory, the phenomenology forever internal and terminal. When the memory goes, it's gone. You can never go back--not exactly." And so, Instant Karma is a movement through that phenomenology, making the internal, external, capturing the fleeting memory so that Sheldrake could bring us his understanding of life and skiing. In the end, he gives us what we all would like to pass on--a good story about a full life.