Swimming Sideways

I believe that when anyone gets into a new relationship, they are, in a sense, learning a new language. They are learning to speak that other person. This likely happens on a spectrum. One of my roommates learned Spanish when she started dating her boyfriend; it’s now a marvel to me to listen to her go from speaking English with me, to speaking fast, graceful Spanish on the phone with him.

I have often felt that, dating my girlfriend, I have begun to not only learn to speak Amanda, but also to speak Navy. Do you know how many acronyms they use? More than once, I’ve playfully accused her of using words that aren’t actually real. When we first started dating, I had to ask her over and over again what things meant. I’ve gotten better, though when it comes to identifying insignia on uniforms, I’m hopeless. I’ll get there. One thing at a time.

But sometimes, Amanda will use lingo, or metaphors, that just seem to click with me. The metaphor of either staying in the plane and crashing it, or pushing the eject button and saving myself, particularly resonated with me at one time. Today, her matphor had to do with swimming.

I have complained to her (and my roommates) lately about being in a bit of a funk. This is nothing new; it’s mid-semester, I’m tired, the weather is changing, and I want to be free to sit and write and drink French press coffee and listen to Joss Stone (or whatever) and make art and cook. But even on the days when I have the time to engage in (at least) some of these activities, I end up refreshing my Twitter feed, and my FB news feed, and blogging (a worthwhile endeavor, but not one I can send out to publishers). I eat junk food and stay in my pajamas too long.

Not all of this is bad. The Twitter feed has gotten my name out there, as well as yielded some new projects for me to work on.

More projects. In addition to the old ones I haven’t even finished yet.

Which is where swimming comes in. I told Amanda, several times this weekend, that I feel like I’m teetering on the edge of total creative freedom and output. “What’s stopping you?” she asked.

Me. I’m stopping myself. I’m getting in my own way, as usual, and with each click of the Refresh button, I’m losing more time. But it’s not just about distraction; it’s about self-doubt.

My friend Auzelle once made me a picture with a Sylvia Plath quote that I like:

The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.

No matter where I’ve lived, I carry that picture with me and hang it up on my bulletin board. It reminds me that sometimes, the greatest obstacle we have to fight is ourselves.

When I told Amanda that I felt I was getting in my own way, she told me to make myself some swim lanes. It took me a moment to visualize, but I could see what she was saying.

And what she was saying is that you don’t win a race by jumping from lane to lane. Nor do you get anywhere by swimming sideways. You have to jump straight in, stay in a lane, and swim as fast as you can for the finish line.

This made sense to me. I swam in middle school. I get what she’s saying.

I perpetually jump from lane to lane. I like to lay sideways, stretching myself across as many lanes as possible, effectively over-extending myself. Getting nowhere fast.

Thank you, Auzelle.

Perhaps it’s because we, as a society, value multi-tasking. My friend Heather shared a Harvard Business Review article the other day that cautions against multi-tasking when the end result is getting jammed up on a lot of things rather than giving full attention to just one. We’re conditioned to do this; to check Twitter and read HuffPo and check Facebook and work and text and daydream and eat and make plans and on, and on, into a Portlandia-style technology loop.

I’m fortunate to have a lot of projects in the works. I’m working on a collaborative project with one of the funniest (and naughtiest) writers in Norfolk; I’m working on writing fiction; on writing a food memoir; on teaching; on a proposal for next year’s AWP; on food articles. But instead of throwing myself head first into the water and swimming directly towards the finish line on one of these projects, I’ve stretched myself across a few lanes of the pool, and I’m stuck.

What do I do to fix this? Practically, I’m not sure. But I’m thinking that visually organizing myself in terms of actual lanes might not be a bad idea. It’ll be like Frogger; finish one row, cut to the next one, on down the ladder, until I’ve swum each of my lanes, to completion, and then start again.

Side note:  all of this talk of swimming reminds me of a story. A guy on my swim team, George, used to rap “Ice Ice Baby” as he did the 100 meter back stroke in swim meets. Good times. (And what’s that? License to embed Vanilla Ice into this post. Enjoy!)

2 thoughts on “Swimming Sideways

  1. Um, this post is so amazing. So me. In so many ways. Especially the Navy lingo. It’s so fun, but I have absolutely accused T of making up words on a regular basis. Still do it just for fun, for the same reason I still call her uniform an outfit to make her smile:)

    Swim each lane first! Well, sheesh. It sounds so simple.

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