a life without plot, a day without narrative
and we back
As soon as I wake up, I find the water. Sometimes I’ll still be in my sleep clothes, barely awake, fumbling my way from my writing studio to the shore. In “A Map to the Door of No Return,” Dionne Brand wrote that “the word gaze only applies to water.” My days are better when my main gaze stays fixed on the water. My mind is quieter; the inner critic less effective.
Out in the middle of the Adirondacks, I was able to swim comfortably most days. The lake we were on was a perfect blue bowl, glittering with light. There weren’t many fish and the water has no real smell or taste, but even so, it felt full of life, restorative, beckoning. I’m not an elegant swimmer: I tended to chop my way towards the middle with satisfying smacks and then paddle back quickly to the safety of the dock, where I would haul myself out of the water by the forearms, ignoring the ladder (ok, truthfully, I didn’t realize there was one for awhile) and drop in a dripping heap to dry in the sun. In the water, my body isn’t anything but motion. It isn’t moving for the sake of re-shaping itself through exercise; it is moving for the sake of grace, for joy and for the miracle of countergravity. When I’m in the water, I am responding to my aliveness, what Rumi describes as God living through you. I love getting to know my body in water and new bodies of water, which is why the other day, when someone suggested — casually — that we should swim across the lake, my body surprised me with its immediate response. I felt my head nodding vigorously and giving a thumbs-up that everyone else should absolutely do it, while pointing to myself and shaking my head nah. Yawl go. Not me.
One of my meditation teachers talks a lot about dismantling the fear body as our most important work. When we feel fear, our life force is contracting. Our response to fear is what keeps us safe: It just also happens to cut off our presence and keeps us from taking risks. I know it’s not irrational to be afraid of swimming across a lake. I also know that in this instance, my reaction was outsized, fatty with something other than logic. I’m stronger than I have been in awhile; being in the woods all these weeks has helped reverse my quarantine atrophy. I’ve chopped firewood (truly leaning into my dyke lineage), hiked half a mountain alone, hiked an even bigger mountain in a group, canoed twelve miles in a day. I sailed all around the lake one afternoon on a tiny sunfish dinghy, holding the tiller in one hand and adjusting the mainsheet with another.
The people hosting us here have lived on the water here for a long time. There are protocols for these swims. More experienced swimmers accompany the group, there are float belts to wear and a canoe outfitted with lifejackets to tow back anyone who gets too tired. The weather has to be calm, no currents or strong winds or thunderstorms on the horizon. We can keep us safe in this small way, as a practice for what we mean in a larger way. No one ever taught me how to swim: Once an older kid pushed me into the deep end of a pool to see what would happen, and exactly what you’d expect did - I was yanked out by an exasperated lifeguard, and I felt embarrassed and ashamed even as I gasped and vomited up chlorine. That still wasn’t enough to keep me from my first home, the water. I learned to exist alongside it by studying her rhythms, by imitating those already fluent in her language, determined not to let this one source of joy kill me. But the idea of entering it in this new way felt scary, unknown.
I resent the way anxiety remapped me these last few years. I resent how made crazy I feel and my habit of lightening up what happened to my insides as a burnout when it was probably closer to something like a nervous breakdown. I’ve been sitting with how Resmaa Menakem talks about how our attachment to trauma can become mistaken for our identities. Our personalities. Our brands. The terrain here is also marked by improbably large boulders that were moved ages ago by melting glaciers. Those giant rocks are called erratics, and I identify with them hardt. I have also been moved by forces beyond me and my control, picked up and set back down someplace new, a new geography of self I am still in the process of understanding. There are some things these last few years took that I’ll never get back; I don’t want a fear of the water to be one of them. I am ready for my new survival instincts, as Mykki Blanco wrote so beautifully recently.
That day, about four of us decided to try and swim across the lake. At the appointed time, the other swimmers and safety boaters got in the water. One of the fellow swimmers waited with me on the dock. “Ready?” he asked gently. I nodded. We took a big breath together and dove in. The texture, as always, was buttery, soft, enveloping. We hit the halfway mark easily and the group let out a cheer. The water was a patchwork of temperatures — warm on top from the sun, with cooler currents flowing towards the bottom. I rolled over onto my back to float, fluttering my legs and staring at the clouds. They look different from the middle: Harried, like they had someplace important to be. A monarch butterfly passed through my field of vision, doing loopty-loops on its way. In “The Politics of Trauma,” Staci K. Haines writes that the body transforms on yes. We got to the other side. We made it back. Yes, yes, yes an entire chorus of wet ass yesses.
The Juicy Bits:
Thank you to everyone who told me to watch “What We Do In The Shadows” over the years. I finally did and it is a miraculous hole of brilliance (and I can’t stop talking like Nadja, send strength to my loved ones.)
Chani’s morning meditation is getting me THROUGH.
Hanif’s Missy playlist is *chef’s kiss.*
I’m working my way through Melissa Febo’s generous and irresistible list of thrillers for “Feminists with High Standards” - I loved the creepy saga of Maud Dixon and revisiting the ethereal (if not somewhat problematic) book “In the Cut.”
Upgrade these brownies with some nice Maldon and Valrhona for serve them fresh from the oven over some ice cream and maybe with some toasted nutsssssssyum.