Sunday, August 12, 2007

Without words

I've been taking stabs at writing about swimming for a couple of days now. I'm finding that instead I wind up writing about other things, topics that haven't wound up on the blog and which I'm not sure need to show up here, either. And while these long-winded, abortive drafts proliferate, I don't ever get around to swimming, the thing I wanted to talk about in the first place.

So I've realized that this is a post that matters to me, and will be all the better for my leaving it to my hindbrain for awhile: days or weeks or months. A couple of other posts have taken convoluted routes like this one--there was one I wrote about friendship a week after Helen's memorial that incorporated half-assed stabs I'd been making at the topic from before I started blogging. And the post I put up on singing for and with Z. benefited from my coming back to it and back to it over the couple of months it was incubating.

However, one thing that I think I'm trying to figure out how to get around in writing about swimming is not just how much of my life it is attached to--though that is immense--but also how I use the laplanes as a wordless place that my brain can fill with words in the most tumbled-around way. I am paying attention to my body--my stroke, my muscles, the floaters in my eyes, my breathing--and the words in my head must cope and comply with that rhythm. They don't have my head the way they do when my head is in the breathable air, so they loop back on themselves more, they trail off, I let them go and pick them up again when I can, they dance and swim their own selves; and when I am swimming, I am more able to handle the emotions that I usually try to corral with words. In my time, I have swum miles fueled by sadness and anger and fear and anxiety and bewilderment and joy. Coming out of the water, I find the words have sometimes come together, or dispersed--the first situation is a gift; the second, also: if the words are gone, what was setting them off didn't matter so much after all, it was just something I needed to get out, and I did.

Knitting is a similar kind of quasi-meditative activity for me, though it is one in which words act oppositely, probably because I think about my form when I swim, but not my technique when I knit. I knit talking. I knit reading. I knit walking, even--all I need is a pocket big enough to hold the ball of yarn. The rhythm of my knitting is steady and relentless and my thoughts get pulled along; I knit words right into the fabric my fingers are making. Knitting keeps my brain going in sentences and paragraphs, and I follow my thoughts interminably. I have entire conversations with myself while I'm knitting, I have disquisitions on whatever it is that I cannot currently dislodge, and I seldom seem to get anywhere. It is not an accident that I find staff meetings and after-dinner conversations and waiting rooms to be the ideal settings for knitting. Whether I experience it as pleasant or plodding, if time becomes long and meandering, I want to fill it with rows and rows of yarn. The only emotions that I have used to fuel entire sweaters are grief and love.

But I hardly ever write about knitting. I think in six months of blogging (today exactly completes my sixth month) this makes my third post about knitting, and although taking up typing as a hobby has cut into my knitting time, that still severely underrepresents the amount of fiber I have made my way through. But as much as the activity pulls words into its wake, I just don't often feel like I need to attach any words to the action itself, so I don't have a string of half-started knitting posts cluttering up my dashboard.

But swimming ... I hope I'll get back to it.


Phantom Scribbler said...

I hope you get back to it, too!

Magpie said...

I found that taking ballet classes for a few years as an adult was like therapy - it was 90 minutes out of my head, thinking about form, body, technique, thinking about such specifics that the stresses of daily life melted away. It sounds like swimming does that for you.

jo(e) said...

That third paragraph made me want to take up swimming ....

S. said...

Jo(e), you don't already? I would have guessed you for a swimmer. And thank you!

Magpie, yes!

Phantom, I think I will...if I figure out the best way to sneak up on it.

Julia said...

It seems to me that paragraph was a pretty good go of it. I'd love to see more when you catch it.

I was a competitive swimmer as a kid, and still have pretty good technique, but no easy access to a pool. And when I did a couple of years ago, for some reason I went very irregularly. When I was on the exercise kick before Monkey I did swim a lot, and that was good. I keep thinking that I want to get back to it, but my life has not so far cooperated.

S. said...


We belong to the Y but I've found I'm miserable about getting to the pool during the year. I have to make that change, though. Really, I'm not exaggerating to say that my sanity--which is pretty effing shaky in the winter--depends on it.