January 18, 2008

Swimming as Process, Writing as Process: Part I

It's Friday, the high for the day is 5 degrees (-20 with the windchill), and I just returned from a nine mile bike ride to the pool to swim 3,500 yards. On a day like today, this is what my friend Matt calls a "Not-absolutely-necessary" trip. But as scholars we criticize; it's our life's work, and while we are usually trained on external things, our inner lives receive a lot of critical attention as well. But for an hour and a half every day swimming dulls the self-critical voice. Swimming shoves that voice underwater where it's indecipherable, just bubbles and gurgles. This, I've found, is important. And while I'll swim in a master's meet this weekend, races are not the reason I swim: it's the process. It's sitting silently on the side of the pool pondering which moment is the perfect moment to dive in. It's the first 25 underwater, suddenly silent and muffled. It's the main set, on the clock and focused, no time to talk. It's the breathing, the fast flip turns, and the warmdown, when the swim cap comes off and the water cools my head and I stretch out my stroke.

For the past two and a half years I've scheduled in swimming. It's a daily activity, and I'm committed to it. Since 2006, I've swam 1,128,750 yards, and that's taking four months off to rehabilitate my shoulders. Somedays it's the only thing I feel I really have to do. For a while now I've been telling myself and others that the pool is the only place where I see consistent progress.

But as a PhD student, there is something else I should be doing every day: writing. And it's a part of my life where consistent progress should also be discernible. That is, if I was writing. This week the discrepancy between my swimming practice and my writing practice became starkly obvious. I am not writing. For my own sake, let me say that again: I am not writing. But I am swimming, coldest weekend of the winter and I'm there in the pool, pushing myself and my shoulder harder than ever.

What's wrong with this picture? Where are my priorities? And most importantly, how can I shift the motivation I have for swimming into writing? After all, they're both skills requiring practice, they're both things I value, and they're both things I expect to do and get better at for the rest of my life? So, why aren't I writing?

at January 18, 2008 11:22 PM