Writing, Swimming, and Living in the Present
By Jenny Fosket
In 2022 I challenged myself to swim every single day and to write a blog post about it. It will come as no surprise to my fellow writers that the bigger challenge was writing the daily post. 219 of my 365 swims took place at the same little beach. The Albany Bulb is familiar to most East Bay residents with dogs, or those that like places where wildness and decay meet, where it’s okay to make art in the midst of a field. It’s a popular place with the open-water swimming community. A little bay without big waves or unpredictable currents. A good place for a swim.
Writing about swimming every day was hard. The repetitiveness of so many of my swims made it harder. How many different ways can I write about how beautiful the bay is? How this expanse of liquid cradles me along under a big blue sky, birds swooping and dancing above me. How many ways can I think of to write about the experience of immersion in the shocking cold; the way the sting gives way to an inner warmth that feels like being well-fed?
Sometimes when I’m swimming in the bay at the Albany Bulb it’s all so familiar I don’t see it at first; I’m just there, doing what I do; a body moving through space, changing clothes, plunging into cold water, feeling and not feeling the sensations.
Then I remember I have to write about it later and it’s like a switch flips; my senses turn on, and I’m suddenly THERE. At the moment of arriving, the water changes from generic to specific; from cold grayish water to a soft tingle against my skin; rippling movement, reflecting the sun and shifting from gray to blue to green to silver and gold. I feel the energy in the mostly-calm water, the pull on my legs and arms. I hear the sound of the birds, the train, the rhythmic kicking of my fins slapping the surface; my own breathing, strangely amplified by my earplugs. The briny smell of the bay intermingles with baking bread, floating in from one of the bakeries in South Berkeley.
The puzzle of writing the same place and same activity every day for 365 days was a challenge and a gift. For one thing, it was a tiny win in my daily battle to churn out words. When a project wasn’t going well or I was struggling to find the motivation to sit my butt in the chair, the blog post was something to celebrate; a concrete accomplishment. It also pushed me as a writer to think about new ways to describe the same basic activity. Finding a unique angle into a repeating story; fresh vocabulary for the recurring elements of temperature, weather, and movement. It forced me to think harder about what the experience felt like and to dig for new ways of expressing the nuances of what had become routine.
Writing a blog about swimming every day for a year made me a better writer. I can wrestle out words even when I have nothing to say. I am quicker to assess a moment and figure out where the story is. Writing a blog post about swimming every day for a year has also made me better at paying attention. Knowing I am going to have to write about it later reminds me to pay attention. I imagine some people become writers because they are naturally attuned to the world around them, noticers of everything. For me, writing is the thing that saves me from going through life locked inside my head, oblivious to the sights and sounds, the smells and sensations that shape my world. Writing is the thing that makes me stop and notice, pay attention, and relish the here and now.
Jenny Foskett is a writer living in Berkeley with her daughters, husband, and assorted other animals. Her stories are inspired by the intersections of motherhood, gender, bodies, and health. Her short fiction has been published in Menda City Review, Literary Orphans and Forge. She is currently working on a memoir about her year of swimming.