Yeah, like, to death.
(If you want to take a moment right now to contemplate what your life would be like without me and to cry inconsolably, I’ll understand. Feel free to pull out your hair a bit if that makes you feel any better. I’ll wait.)
Back to the story.
I was probably about eight or nine years old at the time. My family had a small pond behind our house where we used to go swimming. The pond was really deep and murky and, most likely, full of monsters. As you can imagine, I wasn’t particularly crazy about swimming in it because even back then I was a big fat scaredy cat. But, my parents refused to buy a swimming pool when we had a perfectly good, murky, monster-infested pond to swim in, so what was a girl supposed to do?
Because I hadn’t learned how to swim in deep water on my own yet, I would just doggy paddle around the dock in my water wings. I didn’t care that I was well past the age when water wings were acceptable swimming attire.
I also didn’t care that most of my friends could swim in deep water already, and some of them could even do fancy tricks – like swim underwater with their eyes closed and stuff. This frankly seemed like an overrated skill to me. Who needed to know how to swim underwater with your eyes closed? That was just like asking to be eaten alive by pond monsters, in my book.
Meanwhile, my brother, who was the same age as me, would be out in the middle of the pond acting like Jacques Freaking Cousteau but without the wetsuit and submarine and other cool stuff. I just figured he’d be the first to go when the monsters made an appearance.One day, my dad decided that I really should learn how to swim in deep water already. Unfortunately, my dad had a lot more faith in me than I did. While he was convinced that I would remain afloat when given the choice between sinking or swimming, I wasn’t so sure. My fears were confirmed when he threw me into the water without my water wings on and I did, in fact, sink.
As I watched the murky green pond water close in above me, I thought to myself, “Right. Well, I guess this is how things are going to end for me. I just hope they find my body before the pond monsters do so there can be an open casket at the funeral. And I really hope they bury me in my First Communion dress because I think that will give me some mad points in Heaven.”
Shortly after my near-death experience, I bobbed back to the surface right into the middle of the inner tube that my father had thrown me into. So, yeah, before you all accuse my dad of attempted daughter-slaughter and start marching in angry mobs to my parent’s house, I should probably mention that he didn’t exactly throw me into the deep end of the pond unaided. He had thrown me into the center of an inner tube. And maybe he didn’t exactly “throw” me in; he just kind of “plonked” me there. And, maybe I wasn’t really underwater long enough to lose any oxygen or brain cells or hear the choirs of angels singing to me. Frankly, I probably wasn’t even underwater long enough for anyone to notice but myself.
Yeah, so, maybe I didn’t almost drown. (So, umm, if you could hold off on the accusations against my dad, I’d really appreciate it. Attempted murder charges always make for awkward visits home, you know.)
Despite not actually being close to death, those few seconds underwater were just enough for me to think that I was near death. I came up spluttering and crying and ran out of the water in hysterics. I swore off swimming that day. I also became wary of sprinklers and Slip ‘n Slides and really anything that forced me into a swimming suit. (A wariness that holds to this day.)
My parents claimed I was blowing things out of proportion. What can I say? One person’s “near death experience”, is another person’s “over-reaction.” Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto, if you ask me.While I didn’t learn how to swim in deep water that day, I did learn one important lesson: I’m a sinker.
Some people can be thrown into the deep end of life and come up doing the breaststroke, but I just sink.
Not that sinking is entirely a bad thing. Sinking gives you time to think – about how you got to where you are and how you can go about getting to where you need to be (and, you know, what picture they’ll use of you for the obituary and how you really hope it’s not your school picture from last year when your hair kind of looked like a mullet).
If you always come up swimming, you don’t have time to think about these things because you’re too busy thinking about what an awesome swimmer you are, right? (Well, to be honest, I don’t really know what swimmer people think about. I imagine they think about their awesome swimming skills and how cute they look in Lycra. Obviously, swimmers and I don’t have a whole lot in common.)Years later, I would finally learn how to swim in deep water. (Which is a good thing because you just can’t find water wings to fit a sixteen-year-old. Trust me on this. And, apparently, swimming is, in fact, a handy life skill. Who knew?)
I was spending a week with my friend and her family in Rochester, NY, when my friend decided to appoint herself my very own personal swimming coach. She was an avid swimmer herself and the type who looked endlessly adorable in Lycra. She was also the type who didn’t take no for an answer – I was going to learn how to swim in deep water whether I liked it or not. And, well, I can’t say I was a big fan of this plan.
Every day for the entire week she would force me to go to her neighborhood pool with her. Each day she would make me go a little bit closer to the deep end. I would spend the whole time whining and begging her to just leave me alone already and go let me hang out in the shallow end with the six-year-olds. I would angrily grumble to myself that I didn’t need her and her stupid friendship and her stupid deep end of the pool.
And then I would slowly doggy paddle my way a little bit farther into the deep end if only because I wanted her to get off my case already.
Eventually, I did make it to the deep end of the pool.
I didn’t swim there, mind you.
But I did do a pretty mean doggy paddle to get myself there.My imaginary near-drowning experience was not the first or last time I would be thrown into something that would simply be over my head. It also wouldn’t be the first or last time that I would react to an overwhelming experience by sinking.
I sank when I moved to Japan the first time thirteen years ago. I was overwhelmed at being stared at all the time in the tiny fishing village where I lived. I was frustrated that I couldn’t understand what was going on around me, but I still didn’t bother to learn Japanese. I spent a great deal of time in my apartment, eating cookies and watching movies. Then I quit after one year.
I sank after I moved to Brazil and realized that maybe moving to middle of South America wasn’t going to instantly cure me of my depression no matter what the music videos had told me.
I sank after three years of working at my university job in Japan. I left a year earlier than I expected – burnt out and unsure if I ever really wanted to teach again.After sinking, you have two choices: keep on going down or bob back to the surface.
Luckily, I’ve managed to come afloat every time.
Not, like, Michael Phelps afloat.
But afloat nonetheless.A couple months ago, I decided to use my two-month summer vacation to work on my book. This was, again, me throwing myself into the proverbial deep end of the pool. While I’d toyed with the idea of writing a book before, I’d never seriously attempted to write one. Aside from a few blog posts I’d read about the topic, I knew very little about how one goes about writing a book.
But, hey, how hard could it be? It’s not like I hadn’t written stuff before — a lot of stuff.
I figured all I’d have to do is sit down and write some more stuff. For like seven to eight hours a day. And then, magically at the end of the two-month mark, all that stuff would become a book.
I’d heard stories of other writers doing the same thing. I figured I could do it, too.
What I didn’t realize, though, was that those other writers – the writers who crank out a book in less time than it takes me to decide on breakfast — are swimmers.I, on the other hand, spent six weeks doing a lot of sinking.
I spent one week working on a plan, another week ditching the plan and creating a new plan, and the four weeks after that doing, well, I don’t quite remember what.
But, the sinking hasn’t been all bad. It’s given me a lot of time to think – about what should go in my book and how I should go about writing my book and, admittedly, how I should not go about writing a book. (Hint: watching reality television shows for “inspiration” is really not as helpful as you might think. Especially when the premise of the show goes something like this: “Eight hot men, eight gorgeous ladies, a second chance at love, a quarter of a million dollars at stake… and a lovable zombie!” Okay, so maybe that’s not exactly the premise of The Bachelor Pad, but if you’ve seen that show you know that the addition of a zombie could really make the show worth watching.)I’m glad to say that things have started changing for the better over the past week and a half, though. Last week, I decided my original plan of just sitting at my computer for seven or eight hours a day so I could crank out stuff wasn’t exactly working for me. Rather than resulting in my producing page after page of literary genius, it had resulted in a stiff neck, a few good blog posts and a long list of potential future blog posts, which included such riveting titles as “Top Ten Things I Made in my Toaster Oven this Week” and “Signs My Apartment is Possessed by the Devil.”
So I lowered my expectations and came up with a more reasonable daily goal — one that I can stick to even after I go back to work. Now, I try to write at least a thousand words a day. Sometimes I write more, but I try not to write less. I don’t go back and edit myself. I don’t worry that the stuff I write might be crap. Heck, I don’t even worry about writing complete sentences. I try not to think about whether or not anyone will actually want to read what I’ve written. I just write until I hit my goal. And admittedly, there have been a few times that I’ve thrown in way too many adjectives and adverbs and conjunctions just so I can reach my thousand words and get back to watching reality TV already.
I haven’t made as much progress as I would have liked, but I have made some progress. I’ve edited and revised one chapter, finished the rough draft of another chapter, and started the notes for a few more.
As far as writing goes, I may not be swimming yet.
But I’d like to think I’m doing a pretty mean doggy paddle.