Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Afternoon Swim/ What I Think About When I Think About Swimming

Left Bicep: 32.5 cm
Right: 33 cm
Shoulders/ Back : 107 cm

This may seem more than a little more than last time I measured-which will be down be my being unable to tell the difference between cm and inches while wrapping a measuring taped around my bicep-this is obviously not an accurate way of checking-I think I may need a hand. 

Tuesday Morning: A slightly restless night left me without the inclination to wake up at 6.45am and swim two miles. I spent an hour and forty minutes drifting out of guilt before finally rising to the challenge and deciding to head to the pool for my favourite of sessions - the lunch time swim.

During this time the lanes are wider, and the people packing into the pool happens in ebbs and waves. There are the familiar swimmers.  The steady swimmer, regular, rhythmical, never stopping. A machine of a man. With slap and kick of arms and legs. He appears slow in his concentration, but I always have to let him overtake me.

I have been lent Huruki Murakami's 'What I Talk About When I Talk About Running'   (possibly on a no return basis, having lost the orginal copy with six rubber eggs on London Overground somewhere between Forest Hill and Canada Water) by someone who is to all intents and purposes a marathon runner.  Something which I , definitely, am not. (Before the new year I started trying to jog as a way to test different fitness levels, more about being able to run less than two minutes without throwing up at a different time.) There is a theory-I'm not sure who's, that you are either a runner or a swimmer; it is rare to find someone that finds an equal joy in both. But I could be wrong.

Murakami talks (writes) about running, why he runs, the need to run, why he started and the impact and similarities it has to/on his writing practice.

Early on in the book Murakami answers the question that people commonly ask him-

'What exactly do I think about when I think about running? I don't have a clue' (p20 vintage edition)

When asking the person that lent me the book the same question-there is a similar response. Something along the lines of 'Anything. Nothing. I'm not really sure'. That person's impulse to start running was a change in his life, a shifting of personal circumstances, a goal to aim for. I've started to take swimming seriously for the goal of the channel, as a project, something I can focus on.

My answer to what I think about when I swim is everything. Or rather, the small specific things. I tend to avoid the big topics. Fantasy conversations played out as I would have liked them to have gone. What I didn't say. What I should of said. What I couldn't say. Or conversations that never took place. Conversations that will never take place. Conversations that might happen. They slide in a scale of meaning and impact on my everyday life. Small acts and irritations that creep under my skin, powering around my head, up through my arms and shoulders, into speed and movement.

That is not to say that these stories that I tell myself do not occupy my time when I am not swimming; they knock constantly around my head in dead time-during my pay job, when travelling, in the middle of reading, while listening to music.

But in swimming while submerged up to my ears, in my eyes, over my mouth and nose they become nothing but that narrative. Filled by water as a vacuum, taste, breath, sound and sight all dulled by what surrounds. A list of wants, wishes and possibilities seem to speak louder when I am face down in the water. So often do I rant in my head that when emerging from monotony of lengths to adjust my goggles, or let the steady man overtake, I am surprised at the calmness of the pool above water. The kicking of legs, the lapping of chlorinated water on tiles, the (general) lack of chatter, the exaggerated breathing of others, the regulated splash. It can be a shock of light and sound. But often its a full stop, a change in paragraph for the shuttling around my head.

So often it can be these aggressions, these unsaid words that keep me moving in the pool, as if I can move away from them in the repetition of the swim. Swimming is a time I let myself talk these ridiculous situations and irritations that I cook up in my head. As I'm already doing something useful with my body, I just need something of equal impact to occupy my mind.

Often I start with the intention to use pool time to rehearse performances in my head. Measuring equal physical exertion with a mental test of ideas. Go over words and gestures in time with the swim.  As if the physical helps to press upon the memory. I even schedule it as rehearsal time. This often falls down quite quickly, like all the time I try to press into pockets and patterns. I tell myself that I will allow the first 20 lengths to be taken up with thinking about X or the situation with Y and so on, and by the 21st length I must begin thinking about something useful. Rehearsing. Knowing my words. Curtain up, the show begins. It is rare I get past the first page.

That is not to say these narratives are a bad thing ,sometimes I have so successfully wound myself up that I have beaten a previous personal best in time. I can be so occupied by the tales I tell that I barely notice physical exertion and feel I could carry on past the goal of distance that I have set myself. This is, a good swim. Other times,  I get distracted and that ranting to myself is transferred (somewhat unjustly) to those around me (as with the previous post). A constant monologue of silent seething similar to the daily commute.

No, no go on sweetheart, you are obviously desperate to go in front of me. 

Yes, why don't you stop right there. Right there. 

Can you not see the sign that says fast lane? Sculling in the fast lane. 

Flippers? Flippers? Really?

But these little comments sometimes please me, an act of self camaraderie. A talk to oneself.

Murakami talks about stopping, running and writing, when you know you know you could go on. So just for now. I'll stop.

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