Although I remember the agony of learning, I can’t remember not knowing how—can’t remember a time I couldn’t dolphin-kick through clear water, can’t remember a time I couldn’t string words into stories.
You throw yourself in, hope the water isn’t too cold, and if it is, you kick like crazy to try to keep your blood pumping to your fingers and toes. Sometimes it closes over your head, and you open your eyes, and you see the whole world distorted and wavery, and you realise that there are a hundred million different worlds, if you could only see through someone else’s eyes.
Years of practice turn clumsy doggy-paddle thrashes into smooth strokes, turn the adverbs that splash like cannonballs into verbs that balance with the grace and poise of an Olympic diver. You do it until you slip into it like you slip into your bed—without thinking, without hesitating, until someone could throw you in without warning and you would rise to the surface because your instincts know the motions.
You’re untethered, pulling through deep water with only your lungs and your muscles and the strange glide of your body suspended between earth and sky—pulling through strange worlds with only your ideas and your vocabulary and the timeless stretch of your mind between thought and keystroke.
On some days, you cut through the water with the simple ease of a sea creature, barely aware of where your fingers end and the water begins, cut through the thoughts until you can’t feel the place where your ideas merge with words on the page. And on some days, you tread water, and it is enough that you keep your head up.
Sometimes the waves batter you, and the water claws its way up your nose and down your throat, and you can’t kick hard enough to keep your feet above the sucking depths; the words stick and crumble, and your thoughts drown beneath a clear surface your best efforts can’t reach.
Writing and swimming.
You do it, and it keeps you alive. If you stopped, your lungs would fill and your heart would stop. But you do it, not because it makes breathing possible, but because breathing is made beautiful by the burn in your lungs when you kick up from the depths and break the surface like an epiphany.