Monday, September 2, 2013

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Swimmer

 A few minutes ago Diana Nyad completed a 110 miles, fifty hour swim from Cuba to Key West.  Without a shark cage.  It was her fifth attempt, her first being 35 years ago at the age of 29.  Now she is 64 and she said this would be her last.  Well, she made it. 
When asked by a reporter what advice she'd give to others, she said "Never give up.  Follow your dream."  And something else that CNN managed to loose.

I've pretty much been a swimmer all my life.  I'm not very good or very strong, but if you put me in water, I'll just stay there all day.  I'm closer to a dolphin than a human at times.  I don't swim so much as dive up and down.

I've tried to do distance swimming, but the problem is I'm also a writer.  Writing is very solitary as we know.  And swimming is about as solitary a sport as you can find.  Not only are you alone, but you aren't even really in this world.  And yet I love it. 

But not laps.  I don't like to swim laps so much.  I don't like to count.  I just like to move in water.  It is hard to go from one solitude to the next.

Many years ago I was incredibly moved by the book and then the film of Alan Sillitoe's The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.  I can still see the montage that runs through the boy's mind as he runs through the woods at the reformatory where he has been sent to pay for his crimes.  The solitude of the boy with his conscience and his running, with the swimmer and the writer (or any artist really) it is all the same, isn't it.  A montage floats through our minds.  We see images one after the other.

In the end despite its solitude only swimming can soothe me after a long day of writing.  It is Philip Roth's chosen sport as well.  I read once that the best way to relieve anxiety is to exhale.  And swimming is all about the exhale.

So we soldier on in our solitude, searching, swimming, trying to accomplish what we never thought we'd do.  And I don't think any of us - whatever sea we're swimming in - has the safety of a shark cage.  To paraphrase, rather badly I'm afraid, Henry James, we swim in the dark, we do what we can. 

And the rest if the madness of art.  Or swimming if you will.

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