I’m a mess of contradictions and contrast.
The greatest of them are these:
I grew up at the beach and yet I cannot swim.
I love boats and yet I am terrified of the water.
At night I dream of gliding through still seas and yet upon the break of day, I struggle to submerge my head.
Growing up at the beach and being unable to swim (and there are lots of reasons why I never learnt, but this is not a tale about them) meant that I was always jealous of those who could race from the shore and hurl themselves into the churn of the ocean without battering an eyelid. On torturously hot days though, I’d stand on the water’s edge, calculating my risk. How far might I wander out before I would be lost?
As I get ready to begin another year as an academic, part of me is standing here on the shore, wondering the same thing.
This summer I began to face my fears and learn to swim.
This is not a tale about that either.
But, when learning to swim, I’ve had to learn a few things. If I want to float, I have to relax. Each time I tense my body, I begin to sink like a stone. It’s only when I lay back and relax, eyes open that I can begin to take in my surroundings and to enjoy the feeling of floating, a world of blue above and below me, and me, weightless, suspended between the two.
If I want to move forward, I have to relax. If I’m all froth and bubble, arms and legs flailing wildly, I make no progress, it’s only when I breathe, when I think about the relationship between my arms, my legs and the stroke that I can begin to find the power to glide me smoothly and almost effortlessly through the water. Anything else is sound, fury, but it does indeed signify nothing.
So how can my swimming lessons inform my academic life this year?
I’m standing here on the shore and around me, people are racing to the edge and plunging in, I’ve been reading blogs where people write about the way they’re going to tackle 2015, the writing they will do and the lessons they learned in 2014. Some of them write about the need to find balance and yet to me, they still seem like the carefree adolescents I was jealous of at the beach. They are brash, confident, sure footed enough to believe that the ocean of academia won’t throw them up and under. Me? I’m not so sure. Much like the sea, I love academic life, but also, like the sea, I’m wary of it. If I turn my back, will it wash over me to the point where I’m frantically trying to swim against the tide?
And so, I stand on the shore and wonder, how far I can go into academia before I am lost?