Hello, World! I’m sitting in the same hotel bar for the third evening in a row. Warm air skitters over my papers. There is wine. There is a small bowl of complimentary popcorn. There are bulbs on the orange trees throwing romantic light on the tables. I’ve just swallowed two muscle relaxants with a multi-vitamin. They will take 45 minutes to work.
I’m in Barcelona for the 15th FINA 2013 World Aquatic Championships where my husband is part of the Canadian delegation as President of Swimming Canada. We’ve already attended the men’s and women’s 10K marathon races and pool swimming will begin in three days, on July 28. July 28: the same day I am scheduled to participate in my first open water swim race in thirteen years. Have I trained for this race? No. Do I have shoulders in rehab? Two of them. Did I throw my back out last week for no good reason? Yes.
Why am I going to swim a 2.5km open water race in three days under these circumstances? Because two months ago I told myself I would. Seventeen years ago I swam my first 10K on no training, and the experience changed my life. I was not swimming at the time, never mind in shape. I was cultivating the onset of dreadlocks and a dubious future. Somehow, during this phase—the details being age-appropriately fuzzy—I happened upon literature about the Vancouver Open Water Swim Series. I peered at the brochure. Swim the Burrard Inlet? I’d always wanted to swim a channel. Did I have to barista or pump gas at the station that day? No? Perfect. I declared myself qualified.
Two weeks later I tucked my waist-length-extension-braid-dreads into the back of a purple wetsuit, and set out to swim across the shipping channel, a 10K distance from Sandy Cove to Kitts Beach. My father and brother sat on a boat for over four hours as I turtled my way across the inlet, emerging a delirious raisin.
Long story short, after that first 10K, I joined a competitive team and trained Monday through Saturday for a year. Up to eighteen hours a week. The next summer, my 10K time dropped from four hours to two and a half. I continued to train and race for four years and eventually became a coach, and later, a writer. Swimming—long distance, open water in particular—had an enormous impact on my life. I’m not sure I appreciated then just how much the long swims were teaching me about perseverance. This may sound obvious, but crossing a channel is a metaphor for overcoming just about every possible struggle.
When you swim long distances, you are constantly reminded that the best way to respond to unexpected currents, rip tides, rogue waves and bad news, is to relax in the turbulence as much as possible. Breathe. Stay calm. Do not make decisions based on fear. Try not to project, over-think, panic, or punch relentlessly against a current. This wastes precious energy. Above all, you learn to recognize (and snub) the insidious voice that says: Stop. You’re not good enough. What are you doing? You’ll never finish this. Who do you think you are, anyway? Loser!
Somewhere along the way, over the past decade out of the water, I have forgotten some of this. I have developed a burgeoning sense of trepidation. Instead of tucking twenty-pound hair into the back of a cheap wetsuit and asking, “What’s the worst that can happen?” I now ask the same question, brow furrowed, one eyebrow lifted, “No, really,” I lean into a scenario, “What IS the worst that can happen?”
Today marks the 3-day countdown into my July 28 re-immersion and the launch of this blog. Here, I will write about people, places, second-novel-writing-hell, jellyfish, writers, artists and swimmers, alongside other adventures deemed noteworthy and/or metaphorical and/or poignant.
Approximately fifty people have said that perhaps my writing process would benefit from a *side project* when I need to step away from the novel I am working on. “A side project will refresh your headspace when the novel loses momentum or you need to take break.”
Well, here it is.
Hop on board, intrepid skippers. There is wine. Complimentary popcorn. Muscle relaxants. Life vests available in the event of a disaster.