I thought I was just too early for Master swim when all I saw were four bright orange rescue rings floating on the surface of the pool. It turned out the absence of lane markers was on purpose. Today’s workout would be free-form. “Choose a direction and swim outside the rings. Pull a few, kick a few, swim a few, whatever you feel like.”
Today we were doing the pool imitation of an “open water swim.”
Actual open water events are pretty much free-for-alls, with every swimmer fending for him or herself. There’s climbing and clawing and a sprint to the front in order to avoid the same. And if the dark, choppy water doesn’t provide ample challenge, there’s the matter of keeping your bearings… and contending with cramps, hypothermia, injury or exhaustion. Of course, for those swimmers who cannot continue, rescue boats are close at hand.
None of this happened at the neighborhood swimming pool today.
At least not to me. Because, after jumping in, swimming a few strokes, looking up every two or three to be sure I wasn’t gonna clobber another swimmer, then taking extra irregular breaths to gauge my bearings per the buoys, then preferentially stroking with right arm to navigate the turning radius, I completed one lap and climbed out.
“This just isn’t my thing,” I apologized to the guy who set up the course. “I come here more for the Zen.”
But what I really meant was, “This is totally nuts!” There’s no way I voluntarily subject myself to an hour of dizzily circling the pool while hyperventilating in fear of ramming somebody. All that just because nobody set up the lane lines…
One of the guys called to me as I was leaving, “What’s the matter? Don’t like the waves?”
Nope. It wasn’t the waves. Effort I am okay with. It was the tight turns and uncertainty I objected to. It felt… debilitating.
Wow. As soon as I named the feeling, it all made sense. This open-water swim felt like the year and a half we’ve been living. Our orange buoys — pandemic, climate change, injustice and cultural division — have set us a-spin. They’ve changed all our rules. Boundaries we thought were fixed have now moved. Truth may not be true. Our friend may not be our friend. The system we thought was fair, isn’t. Temperatures trending upward may not be temporary.
What we thought was unchangeable isn’t; the world can change in a minute.
Life right now feels like an open water swim, and even if you’re a good swimmer, it’s disconcerting and dizzying. Our opportunities for collective Zen have gone missing.
I need to inject more of my life with stuff like organized Master Swim. I need lane lines, a planned workout, the right equipment, a clean, well-kept space and some hearty companions. Because in that space, even and especially after supplying maximum effort, I find peace — the peace that settles my mind and clears my head, the peace that trains my heart and uplifts my soul.
How I am longing for structure, discipline, order and clear expectations where I can be free to supply my effort, my skills and my talents to contribute to my world as it is and make it better. To find a bit of good news and amplify it. To uncover a good idea and inspire a group to pursue it. To lift up the work of others who are on track toward something great. And to lend a hand where I can.
Because this head-spinning time needs a-righting. And getting out of the pool isn’t an option.
I’m a writer.
We operate in silence. in solitary. in fact, we like this. because as soon as someone interrupts us, we are done. Have to start ALL over again. from the beginning.
We are self starters. i mean, who is gonna start us? we, the people, who are here by ourselves.
Lonely? not us. we like it this way. usually. but it’s not as easy as it seems. have you noticed?
Creating a structure for yourself is a monumental effort. Not a soul in the house to tell you, “GET to WORK!” Nobody holding you accountable. No one demanding billable hours.
Just you. and the screen. or rather you and your thoughts before a screen.
So many have said, “you’re so lucky! You have no one telling you what to do!” no annoyance. no interruption. Pure, you-time. Well, now we all have you-time. Whatchu doing with your you-time?
I’m constantly looking for mine. Not kidding, it’s a 24 hour search.
And all that unstructured time you used to envy me for? all that time that I was free to spend however I wished?
Ah, now we’re all in this together. you and me and every we.
How’s that structure coming? now that we have to supply it. No structure, no problem?
No structure, big problem.
Ask a writer. we specialize in long, empty days that we fill with whatever comes. when it comes.
A lot has come.
Structure is such an interesting thing. Rules, authority, discipline…we rail against is all. Leave us alone! Give us our freedom. Let me do what I want! You’re not the boss of me.
Yet, I look back at the times of real growth for me, times that propelled me toward who I am today, times that were real and tough and took courage. It was there that I sought structure. What do I do here? I have all this bubbling inside me. How do I make sense of it? express it? communicate it?
There I turned to people who did well at what I was trying to do. I asked, what’s your secret? And they didn’t share a secret, but a process or structure they had developed based on years of effort and experience. They helped me put things in their proper order, so I could see the big finish I was building toward. Not as a dream far off in the distance but as a place with stepping stones that would get me there.
The stepping stones were structure, meant to be negotiated one by one. Perhaps that’s why I chose the gravatar I did for the Kinesthetic Christian. Stepping stones across a small creek. Small round pillars showing me the way.
How often I’ve looked with longing across a raging river to the far bank, so lush and green and inviting, and dived right in. I’m a good swimmer after all. I can ford these waves, plow through the miles, endure the frigid water. No problem. I’m strong. I’ve got resources.
But for these successful people – effective, knowledgeable and consistently productive – it wasn’t just about the resources. In fact, just plowing through would have been disastrous. No, they had a method. And they were patient and generous enough to share it with me.
Their way couldn’t be my way, exactly. But their method, their stepping stones, could. These people who looked like they just waved a magic wand and up rose a miracle, actually took things step by step. Just as I needed to. But I was a long way off.
I look back today on the first run of my story. How naive and unguided I was to think it would work to take the reader by the hand and say, “Okay, in chapter one I’m going to teach you this.” “Now in chapter two I’m going to teach you this.”
Yet, my mentors accepted my naivete without chastisement and ushered me behind the magic curtain. There lurks the mess that proves too much for many, perhaps most. But the one meant to create has no choice. The creative is compelled to wade in and impart order and, in doing so, create something so dazzling that no trace of the design process may remain. The first strokes are brushed over. The outlines removed. The sketches tossed. All that is evident is the product – the story, the painting, the outcome – and it is gripping.
These masters of their craft have our allegiance. We’ll follow them anywhere, trust them with everything, even though we have no idea where they’re taking us. Because their track record is impeccable. The process, applied even perhaps in new and different projects, works every time.
I can imagine God working just this way. Laying down the structure and then orchestrating the details so beautifully that no trace remains. We live in the details, but the structure assures we will get to the destination. By this, we’re completely free to step from stone to stone. When we look back, it will look like a life lived out. A story told. Just as it should have been.
It amazes me that I can dive into fiction using the same structured approach I learned writing non-fiction. At least with non-fiction, readers know you’re stating a truth. In fiction, good fiction, only the story line shows; the truth is hidden. Perhaps fiction is the highest form of deception and the most complete version of truth.
Giving thanks today to Tom and Mary Lou for their guidance and belief in me and in something beyond me.