Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Swimming While Sleeping

Lake Wingra, Madison: Sky in Water, July 2013

This is a student writing from late last spring. It keeps haunting me. The prompt was about "elements" - which of the four main elements (earth water fire air) do you relate to most?

This student had really been struggling with her writing, but this came out, well, like water.
It is unedited here, just as it came out of her pen on paper.


She is swimming, always swimming, even when not swimming.  Even when sleeping.  No, that’s not right.  She sleeps and dreams of swimming.  Keep the pen on the paper.  Don’t stop.  Don’t look out the window.  Don’t listen to the trucks rumbling by.  No; let the sounds in, but don’t hold onto them; let them float by, as do the tiny sea creatures, down deep, that the swimmer swims through, in the deepest part of a dream.  Everything is slower in the depths, in the ocean, in the murky but strangely light fluid that is filled with life.  She doesn’t need to breathe, at least breathing is not an issue, and she can see everything, but is not aware of her eyes.  She can’t name what she sees, cannot hear, cannot touch, but she is aware of it all and knows it by heart.  This is the ocean, or is it sleep?  Or wakefulness?

She jumps into the clear, sparkling water of the Olympic-size pool, adjusts her goggles and swims freestyle to the end and back, once, twice, three times and more.  The air is warm, the water holds the blue of the sky and crystals of light, and the sun shines with enough power to propel her through the water.  She is smiling, even as she breathes out bubbles of air, turning her head to the side and capturing the sunlight on her face as she takes another breath.  This is what she has waited all winter for: the twelve weeks when she can have it all – the warm air, the bright sun, the sparkling water, the countless gallons of water holding her aloft, weightless, as she moves herself down the lane, back and forth from end to end, free from every single thing. 

In the water her mind is free.  Her thoughts float as she would float in the surf at the ocean, buoyed by the salty infinity that reaches around the globe.  And when her hands are in the water, washing dishes, her mind wanders then, too, and she is free to be anywhere, anything.  As she fills the dog’s water bowl, as she rinses off her dirty feet after gardening barefoot, as she stands under the shower letting streams and beads and bullets of water run over her head and down across her shoulders, as she points the hose at the thirsty plants, holding her thumb over the nozzle to make the water spray far and wide, and the sun catches drops and makes colors and translucent mist, as she watches the rain come in sheets and run in little rivers down the gutters in the street, she is at home in the universe.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

How Was Your Trip?

side of a truck that's been graffitied, paris, june 2013
It's the first question I get upon returning from Europe each summer.
Sometimes I get it when I take smaller teaching trips - Toronto, Chicago, even.
But there's nothing quite like being gone for five weeks to Europe.

It's a fair question to ask. A kind one. And one I often don't want to answer. Here's why.