Just keep swimming . . . and blogging?

Labor Day has come and gone, and with it the season most riddled with paradox.  If those long light-filled days of summer are so lazy hazy, why do they seem to slip away in a flash?  Plausible theories may explain why time seems to speed up as we age. But even as a child, the freedom from routine that summer offered always seemed to end too soon. 

My last post began the summer that I would give myself a hiatus from all things writing-related. No blog posts. No revisiting drafts of stories or starting new ones. A break that surprised me with an unfamiliar liberation. I meditated more, hoping that concentrated practice would let that monkey mind know it’s okay—actually it’s good—to let go of thoughts, leave the brain to make space for something far more settling than words.  

The pull of social media somehow diminished.  Was this a sign? I wondered. Some indication that, even in a time when the need for connection and community seems more urgent than ever, a little retreat goes a long way toward restoring a sense of balance, not to mention priorities?

Toni Morrison died this summer, which had me hankering to revisit her first novel, The Bluest Eye. I would have been 20-something when I read it. I still have the original paperback copy. Its impact on me was profound. 

Decades later, a full-fledged fan and a writer myself, I see it in a much more informed light. I relish the hindsight glimpse into the archetypes and themes that would get richer and more mythologically complex as her body of work grew.  

Decades later, months from turning 70, a more conscious vulnerability has me in its grip. The qualifier matters. Feeling vulnerable is not a new sensation but something about the time of life and the times in which we live make it all the more visceral. The world into which I brought my daughter (1986) was hardly the best of times but you can’t be a weed-smoking child of the ‘60s without believing in your power to change the world for the better.  The dark cloud hovering over what feels like the worst of times gives me pause, at least long enough to remember that everything changes. Doesn’t it?

***

Open-ended days are prime for reflection, not to mention restlessness. Years of feeling so driven do not give way easily to a less urgent rhythm.  I would use that energy to do a clean sweep of folders sitting in file cabinets. Even knowing that clearing space would open me to what might come next, I worried about the effect of seeing all the efforts and projects behind me, hearing voices from the past in a dull ‘this-is-your-life’ chant.

Reminders of disappointment surfaced, along with an affirmation of deep-rooted tenacity. I smiled when I came across this gem –

Chubby black dog
Barking up the wrong tree
Now there’s big trouble

Many of the school-based workshops I conducted were a collaboration with visual artists. This project was a mix of learning the art of hand-made paper, writing poems, and putting it all together. 

Then I saw these words on a prep sheet I used for another writing workshop.

If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live.  –Lin Yutang 

***

I look out at an autumn landscape, leaves fading, even beginning to turn. There’s a metaphor here. 

It’s been said that a writer’s work isn’t finished until it’s read. Even if you write in a journal religiously, there’s an assumption that you’ll go back, take a peek at your thoughts/observations/feelings in a given time and place.  

Some say it takes courage to write.  For me, writing is an assumption. I love the puzzle of it—images and thoughts into words, words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs that, when I’m most in the flow of it, become stories and essays that hopefully resonate.

More than one person has said it took courage for me to learn to swim at 66. For me it was more a question of finally doing something I’d been wanting to do for some time. Courage? Maybe. Or better yet, learning what buoyancy truly encompasses. 

Just keep swimming, the delightful Dory from Finding Nemo, tells me again and again. 

And I turn that metaphor on its head.

Just keep swimming . . . 

. . . and blogging?

I may not like the clunkiness of the word.  But I’m still at it, going on ten years since my first post, inspired by other writer/friends who had joined the web(log) bandwagon. Many have quit the habit, new writers find their way. But there are very few to beat C. M. Mayo, an inspiring and gifted writer indeed, for continual reinvention, and with it, the reminder that a blog is what you make of it.  I’ve come to think of mine as a notebook of sorts, public in the dialogue it makes possible between a writer and her readers. 

Nemo and Bambi and all the rest of us

If there’s a thread to my latest blog posts, I have nothing but that mysterious thing we call the unconscious to blame (maybe ‘credit’ is a better word than blame).

The other night I watched Finding Nemo, a refresher of sorts to get me ready for Finding Dory. Like all movies I’ve seen before, it’s the details I forgot, lines striking a fresh note, that ring out:

Fish are friends, not food.

When life gets you down, just keep swimming.

Ironic, indeed, since I recently decided to learn how to swim without feeling dead in the water. You would think that a woman with a longtime exercise regimen that has gone from running (including a marathon) to bicycling/walking/yoga (and now encompasses a combination of it all) would find herself a natural at this thing called swimming.

Doesn’t quite work that way. Sure, I have the endurance, but the coordination required to make staying afloat as pleasurable and seamless as it should be escapes me. Don’t even get me started on my fear of being in deep water. In my world (almost) everything is metaphor, and water has it all. Think about what it means to be in over your head. Buoyancy is never to be taken for granted. Fluidity? That’s just a start.

But thoughts take second place to the act here. I am, in astrological terms, a fire sign (Sagittarius) and even if I count on my other-worldly brother to keep me updated on how the stars are aligning for (or against) me in any given month, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to sense the power of water over fire. So it is with a mix of trepidation and pride that I take this plunge. There’s so much to be learned about myself, how can I help but keep a diary of my weekly lessons? In time, I’ll pull it together into a finely honed piece that has a ring to it: Learning to swim at 66. God is in the details, but I would hate to bore anyone with too many of them.

bambiToday on my morning walk, Bambi looked as if she wanted to run right up to me, but some uncertainty, not to mention the way she sensed Mama cautiously staring my way, stopped her in her tracks. They were both pretty close, and oh-so-trusting.   I would guess that the most threatening thing about me is the baseball cap I wear, a present from my daughter: Women who behave rarely make history.

If I feel a little like Nemo, lost in the ocean with his mismatched fins, I can forgive myself the facile analogy. His trial by water, coupled with Bambi’s trial by fire, has me viewing the darkness in Disney/Pixar in a new light.

How do we regain any sense of innocence lost when tragedy continues to bombard us? Nemo’s father does not even want to let him go to school in a movie that predates Sandy Hook by nine years.

Built into the classic hero’s journey are obstacles—how else does she/he learn and grow? But these days have me feeling we’re in a collective trial by fire, on the national and international front. I find myself thinking, a lot, about the brilliance and wit and pathos Frank Capra brought to movies with an undercurrent of troubled times. Meet John Doe is especially on my mind, what with a hero who runs from the media machinations and political connivance that created him, only to find he can’t run from the authentic, galvanizing movement he created.

If movies ostensibly for children strike a chord reminding me (us) that we have to find our own way in the world, could Meet John Doe, with its message of transcending despair, go a long way toward reminding us that we’re really not in this alone?

Everyone has an opinion/we all want to be heard.

A recent piece on Vox by Ezra Klein re: Hillary Clinton made it so clear that one of her strengths is LISTENING to people, and not, like her presumptive opponent, spouting and shooting from the hip. So here’s what I’m thinking: maybe we can shift the political conversation from the demoralizing, nauseating negativity dominating it by sharing talking points that speak to our favorite candidate’s strengths, not the other one’s weaknesses. I’ll begin right here/right now.

Speaking of women making history . . .Baseball cap