When I was a student and in love with the dream of being a writer, I picked up Andrew Greig’s 2001 collection Into You at Edinburgh Book Festival and opened it at a poem called ‘D. Swimming’. The enigmatic, arresting first stanza made me want to leap into the whole collection:
She jumped from bed and ran
(we’d been arguing too long)
along the jetty, dived.
Silence rippled out and swam…
I remember people with satchels and important conversations bustling past me while I stood, held by the poem – four short stanzas, an ending I had to keep going back to:
…Perhaps I think too much of sex
that garment we’re left holding
while pale and furious love
dives away from us in the dark.
Something about that garment / diving image – how it brought back the ‘she’ of the first stanza, plunging into the water, how love could be both ‘pale’ and ‘furious’ at once – wouldn’t let me go. I think of it every time I stand on a jetty, or even on a shoreline, looking at the moving water.
Like many poets, I’m inherently and unhelpfully superstitious. I’m particularly superstitious about New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, believing that whatever happens in that surreal period sets the tone for all the next twelve months will bring. I don’t believe in artificial new beginnings. I’m not nearly optimistic enough.
In 2017, I will not finally conquer my anxiety, I won’t kick my caffeine habit or turn my body into a temple instead of a passing place. I won’t be significantly kinder, funnier or less sensitive. I won’t realise any of my ‘life goals’ and I may not even figure out what they are. But on January 1st this year, I went out into freezing, unknown water with someone I trust and swam without fear, and that’s as good a start as I could hope for. Sunlight on a loch. Two sheep against the hillside who looked like wolves for a second. Calm weather and no sound. Cold skin. Full lungs. It’s enough.
Returning to my ‘normal’ life – where the water always seems deeper – I read a brilliant article by Alexandra Heminsley on Saturday about wild swimming, IVF and the different ways we approach difficulty. It’s a fine piece of writing and I commend the piece (which you can read here) to anyone, wild swimmer or not.
2017 has arrived. Happy paddling, everyone.