A body in motion tends to stay in motion--but how to get a body at rest to move again? My usual answer is to leave the country, but there has to be another way to jump-start my life. Last Sunday I was reading Seattle's mediocre paper, more as an eye-muscle exercise than anything else, when I came across a feature story about an aquaphobic man learning to swim.
At first I approached this as a horror story. I grew up in Alaska where the survival rate in any body of water was estimated at no more than three minutes. This isn't a fact that gives a child the desire to learn to swim. Much later, when I was grown and gone, the local high school got a swimming pool, prompted largely by the number of deaths by drowning in an area filled with rivers, lakes, and salt water. Unfortunately that was too late for me--or so I always thought until I read how a man in his 30s had learned to believe that his body was buoyant.
Now I was approaching the realm of fantasy--but what if this could be true? What if I could become as comfortable in the water as I was on it? That question stops me every time I think of it. And I've thought of it often in the past few days.
Water is my favorite element--I never see a boat of any kind without wanting to get on it and sun sparkling on water is one of the most beautiful sights I know. In Bangkok the Chao Phraya river was my quick fix for malaise--in Seattle I get on a ferry. The idea of moving through water is as seductive to me as it is deeply terrifying. I look at pictures taken underwater and long to see this for myself. One of my favorite books is The Fragile Edge by Julia Whitty. Snorkeling, friends have told me, is complete delight. So what's the problem?
Quite simple--water in my ears makes me feel as though I'm being buried alive. I can't remember a time when having my hair washed didn't send me into a screaming frenzy, long before I could talk. Past life horrors? Perhaps. Hypnosis needed? Probably.
Or a very good teacher--and they seem to be out there. Apparently I'm not the only adult who has this terror. The Seattle Times reporter says it is common among many people of color; I tend to think it's more a matter of social and economic class. Parents with leisure take their children to swimming lessons; both of my own children can swim. My parents were far too busy feeding, clothing, and sheltering five children to worry about instruction in swimming, piano, the ballet--and the parents in my small community who could have taught such things were similarly occupied.
But I have time now, I have some spare cash, and oh god do I have an impetus. My life in Seattle, as I've said to the point of nausea, is comfortable enough to verge on the comatose. Challenging a deep-rooted fear is certainly one way to wake up. Another way? Learning to speak Mandarin--I really don't have to move to Beijing to do that, although I love the Gong Li pouting accent of the women who live there. And come to think of it, the year's more than half over and my resolution to read Moby Dick still goes unfulfilled.
Travel will always be my favorite antidote to boredom, but there are ways to circumvent that while staying in one place. Surf's up!