My challenge to myself to swim every day in 2022 is also, of course, the even bigger challenge of writing about my daily swims. While I might not write much each day, there are times when churning out these few hundred words feels like pulling unloose teeth from my skull with pliers. I’ve been a daily (or nearly daily) journaler for most of my life so chronicling the minutiae of my days comes easily to me, but it’s different to blog about it. While blogging isn’t like preparing a piece of writing for publication, it’s also nothing like writing in my journal. For a start, it needs to make some semblance of sense to a reader that doesn’t live inside my head. I also feel compelled to spell correctly and maybe even follow a few rules of grammar.
It’s especially challenging when I swim at the Albany Bulb because I am so often in these waters that I struggle to conjure up new words to describe the experience. There are variations I can latch onto, of course, variables that shift from day to day. The characters change ever so slightly; today was Sunday and so there was a big crowd splashing in alongside Arwen, Colleen, Angie, and me. While there is a certain magic in feeling alone out in the bay, as Angie and I felt on Friday, there is nothing like the camaraderie, the fun, of fifteen (or so) people clamoring into the water together.
The tides change and sometimes this change is a significant feature of my swim, other times it’s barely noticeable. Today was dramatic. The tide was so low that wading in like we usually do wasn’t practical; by the time the sandy sea bed gave way to unnavigable mush (“The muck starts here!” Kaushik called out when he crossed that threshold this morning), the water was still too shallow to properly glide into. On days like today, the only thing to do is to ungracefully flop your body in and conduct a strange, shallow stroke until the water gets deep enough to properly swim through.
Temperature is probably the most significant factor of change in my daily swims, the embodied experience of each swim shaped by the slightest fluctuations. Today was a knives through my wrists kind of cold. A skin tingling with life kind of swim. Those with thermometers said that we were in the low 50s today.
The weather changes too, of course. Sometimes the change is dramatic, but today was much like yesterday; fresh and clear (slightly less clear, the wind has died down).
Sometimes I’ll grab ahold of one of these variables and focus my writing there for the day. Sometimes I have something else on my mind and find a way to weave it into the narrative. But every day it’s work to shape these short entries. How many different ways can I write about how beautiful the bay is? How this expanse of liquid cradles me along under a big blue sky, birds swooping and dancing above me. How many ways can I think of to write about the experience of immersion in the shocking cold; the way the sting gives way to an inner warmth that feels like being well-fed, well-loved, well.
The puzzle of writing the same place and same activity day after day is definitely the most valuable part of this challenge to my writing practice. It’s forcing me to think harder about what the experience feels like; even as I’m swimming, and to dig deep for new ways of expressing the nuances of what has become routine.