This week on the blog we have a short piece of writing from Lynn about swimming in the ocean. It’s about the shock of cold that wakes up your senses, sharing the wonders of life with someone you love and grabbing life with both hands. When asked what this piece was about, Lynn said
I think of this piece as an example of life writing: it’s a word sketch of something simple, but it’s the simple things we do that stitch together the tapestry of our lives. I love trying to show how the prosaic things we do every day, can have great power in making a fulfilling life.
I thought this was a really beautiful description of creative non-fiction. It’s so difficult to convey the simplicity of everyday life, but so effective when it is done well. I find life writing the easiest genre to connect to as a reader, but probably the most difficult to write. Reading this made me shiver, in a good way! But enough from me, let’s let Lynn’s writing speak for itself. Her words are below
I notice she’s not beside me and I turn back laughing, grab her hand and pull her forward. I am your mama: this is my job. Our toes might be numb and our thighs screaming stop, but you will not be left quaking on the brink: I’m going to tug you onwards into water that’s higher, colder, greyer. This is what we came for after all. There’s a warship on the horizon, a hulking, grey, menacing thing travelling behind the island. There’s always a bloody warship. The trick is to keep your eyes on the movement of the wave in front of you, on the sandy space your feet will move to next.
This is my happiest of places – chilled, unwelcoming, as likely to slap you in the face as hold you calmly aloft. Each day, the sea has a different mood. Today she’s slightly grizzly, tolerating company but warning that soon she won’t be as agreeable. Waist deep, I splash water on my chest, my arms, my back, each pinprick making my skin fizz in protest. I’m ready to lose my breath so I bend all the way forward, my torso fully submerged and once I’ve done that, there really is no point in not swimming. There’s a tipping point and it’s that, that you need to learn, when every cell is shouting for you to stop, but you fall forward, reaching for something just a little mightier. I scream. I can’t help it. Then I’m laughing, stretching out into every wave while you’re still standing, waist deep, laughing and saying, I can’t. I ignore this. You’re talking to the sea, not me, and she’ll persuade you in good time.
It begins to rain, great fat drops of sky that feel warm and sweet and have lost all power against the rawness of the sea. You’re bobbing about looking wee and lost, so I swim back, take both your hands and say ‘One. Two. Three’ as if you’re four years old again and need to jump a puddle. You get your chest in and that’s all it will take. I swim away, leaving you to puzzle it out for yourself, to figure out how to make that decision to yield and fall forward. I don’t know what goes through your mind, or when exactly you decide, but a few minutes later you’re swimming beside me, thrilled, showing me excitedly how the veins stand out blue on your arm.
A drizzle of a Saturday. Later, there will be a fire in our garden, and cake and bubbles. We sing Happy Birthday, raking the water up into sparkling showers, riding the waves, noticing how we’re pushed back by the tide and swooped on by seagulls. There is no destination when you’re in the sea, no side you can aim for. You choose a direction. You choose how fast to go. You choose when to stop and rest and when to set off with a new piece of the horizon as your view. It is aimless. Pointless. Utterly wonderful.
There is a moment in cold water, when you notice a change, when the cold reaches a spot deep inside your core and sends a message back. Enough. Don’t push it. Leave now. We make for shore, but when we’re almost there, just shin deep, I say, ‘let’s just run in one more time’. I’m greedy for these feelings. You must hold life, ask for seconds, grab every glorious minute. I want you to be able to swim in freezing water, on a grainy day, with no prospect of ease, and feel happy beyond measure. We grin at each other and turn back towards the depths. Two more minutes more won’t kill us: it’ll show us how to live.
Lynn Blair is a lecturer in Communication and Media. She has a particular interest in life writing and writing to improve mental health. On social media she’s @verbisan. If you’re interested in writing something for Mind Waves, please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, sending a message on Twitter @MindWaves1 or DMing on Instagram @mindwaves_scot