Expecting To Fly-13 / by Lorraine García-Nakata

My New Water Specks

Water and creative process are both fluid. As an artist that “navigates between three artistic disciplines” I’ve also taken up swimming laps. Well, actually I’m pushing myself to finally stroke properly so I can eventually do laps, many of them. I guess that has some relationship to navigating. I never really learned to swim on the water's surface on my belly. Instead, I'd flip over on my back. Yet, I loved holding my breath and diving into the deep end of the pool or quiet ponds. Right now my water surface swimming form is pitiful, but just the same I rose at 4:30 this morning and headed to my local 24 Hour Fitness, that stopped being open 24 hours years ago. I figured if I got there when it opened at 5:00 a.m. that I’d get the pool pretty much to myself. This way if I exhibited questionable swimming form or now and then gasped loudly for air, I could do it in the privacy of my own panicked world without good swimmers rolling their goggle-covered eyes. I figured wrong.

The sun not yet around the bend and a sliver of a moon stationed above, I arrived to see one other person already there and waiting in the car. The still empty Ingleside K-line tram sped by, cutting between my view of the gym and where I also sat inside my VW Bug. It was chilly at that time of the morning. As the last minutes ticked toward opening I jumped out of the car and headed toward the still locked front door. Men and women, who had migrated there, stood acknowledging each other as if they’d been coming to this gym for some time. I received a warm, who’s-this-new-early-bird, greeting. Doors opening, folks clipped toward their respective gym areas and I was swept along not having yet figured out why the hurry. Entering the women’s dressing area, it didn’t take long to rip off my outerwear and slap on my white Speedo skullcap and blue tinted goggles. However, as I entered the pool area, I realized I'd taken just long enough to discover the four lap lanes were already taken. I learned later that these folks come every morning. So much for peace, quiet, and avoidance of embarrassing moments on my part.

Geared up, I walked over to the hot tub located to one side of the pool and dipped my legs to keep warm. Standing, my brain played back last night’s viewing of instructional swimming Youtube videos. I revisited the need to keep the head down in the water so your butt lifts and stays close to the surface, breathing out air at that time, and only slightly tilting the head to grab a breath in the natural trench that’s created as you propel forward. Lifting your head causes your hips to drop and drag. I guess not wanting your butt to drop and drag also applies here. Then, there’s keeping your head center to your body mass and mentally thinking about cutting “through molecules” instead of just going up against water to grab and pull it. It’s a lot to think about. It reminds me of when I learned to drive a clutch. Eventually it became second nature, which I’m also counting on to kick in with swimming.

Still waiting, I stay loose by shaking my arms and legs to loosen them. Then, I realize I’m behaving as if I’m a real swimmer and don’t want to raise anyone's expectations only to have viewers visibly repulsed as they actually see what I can’t yet do.

A lap lane finally vacates as a tall elder man, with a heavy Russian accent, steps out of the pool. I kick off my “professional” looking lime colored pool shoes accented with three very corny rhinestones. Entering the pool I chat up a lady in the next lane who’s taking a very quick break. She lets me know she swims on her back because she doesn’t know how to swim on her belly. That makes me feel a little more like I could belong here. No more stalling, I push off and start. Face down, my arms and legs extend as my brain is working to calm me down. It says, “Remember to breathe out when your head is in water.”

You see, I tend to be a person that holds my breath, so I have to very earnestly “intend” breathing out at as I’m actively swimming. Breathing properly while swimming is everything since we aren’t fish. My Speedo-capped brain still working to calm me says, “Cut through molecules, instead of working the water." My hands do as told and slice, turning and then going flat to keep that forward motion going. “Roll the head with only one goggle out of the water to take a breath,” my brain continues. I intend it, but obviously still have to work on this to even have rudimentary timing of my breath and head turn. My brain also says, “Focus on you, not anyone else in the room.” So, as I fully-intend myself from one end of the pool to the other, I realize that this is the first time I’ve managed to do one full lap on my belly, break, then another, and another, as funky and raggedy as they are right now.

Yesterday, I had one lesson with a young woman named Lynette who gave me some pointers. I've scheduled three sessions with Lynette. Now and then, I'd “loose it” mid-lane and flip onto my back to breathe full, settle down, then flip back over and continue. And, I did continue because I’m stubborn that way. I was tempted to stay longer, but realized I could easily burn out all this good intention if I over did it. Instead, I'd note the progress each time I entered this chlorine and saline-saturated H20. As a germ-a-fob, I also had to blank out any thought about all the stuff that swam with me in this artificial pond. 

Today, I found that instead of taking a breath every third stroke, or every stroke like some folks do, I am a little better off taking a breath every fifth or sixth stroke. It seems to reconcile with me since I’m used to being under for longer periods of time. Yet, stamina is another challenge, especially since I’m burning up so much energy thrashing. Once the timing of everything comes automatically and I’m not thinking so hard, I’ll be more efficient with my energy.  We’ll see how it pans out as I go along. Key thing right now is to show up and swim. 

My very patient instructor also suggested working out on the rowing machine. I need to build stamina. I’ve always enjoyed rowing, canoes in particular, so the idea of this machine works for me. Also, once finishing with the pool, I spend time in the dry sauna and cook there for a while. In the sauna I settle down, then my lime green flip flops make their way back to the women’s locker area to shower off all the saline, chlorine, and questionable micro-organisms and dress for gym-floor-success. I’m more an outdoor exercise person, but since San Francisco isn’t an outdoor-pool-climate-kind-of-place, 24 Hour Fitness is the next option. 

Walking out onto the gym floor, a sea of well-kept equipment gives off a collective sound, as if there were large metal insects clicking and rubbing their legs together. Working my way over to Lynette, my patient instructor, I follow her to various machines I need in order to build strength. I commit to one of only two rowing machines that sit in the center of a huge room surrounded by arms and legs working over fifty stair masters and jogging machines, some of which have built in TV monitors. High above, on the wall, five or more flat screens snag attention and memorize viewers so that they work out longer.

The rowing machine sits low, facing away from the flat screens, which is fine with me. I like the smooth sliding motion of the seat because it allows my legs to fully extend then come in tight so my heals meet the seat. The arm piece, linked to a counter-resistance chain, provides as much resistance as I want. I like that. I fool with the settings until my particular carrot comes up. This carrot measures how long I’ve rowed and how many calories I’ve burned. It’s simple. It’s an incentive. I close my eyes and begin picturing a huge lake and imagine that the industrial-sized fan nearby is a strong breeze blowing in my face. Taking a peek at the machine settings now and then, I track progress toward a goal of forty minutes that Lynette suggested. So, I make that goal and this machine also shares happy news that it’s deleted, dismissed from my physical person, three hundred calories. That works for me, along with the idea that muscles needed for swimming are on their way to better strength.

So, this is a proposed a new regiment. Swimming, the dry sauna, then the rowing machine for forty minutes. All in all, it’s about two hours in the gym. The plan is two or three times a week. Now, what does any of this have to do with navigation between music, visual art, or writing? I’m not entirely clear. Increasing stamina can’t hurt. To draw large drawings requires climbing up and down ladders, and generally is very physical. Singing definitely requires good breath support and control. Writing requires a clear uninhibited brain. So, as the kind of artist who creates by entering into unfamiliar territory and being outside my comfort factor, I believe this swimming business fits that bill and will have some benefit. At the very least, I’m looking forward to eventually doing laps without struggle as it can provide another way to clear my head, leaving room for creative stuff to blurt out. 

Jean Paul Gualtier's Swimsuit Creation
On a related art and swimming vein, I made my way back to the Jean Paul Gaultier fashion retrospect exhibit at the S.F. De Young Museum. Loved a good part of his work. So, quirky. When I came upon this swimsuit with attached head cover, arm length gloves, and rubber high heel flippers, I swore he'd channeled me and my fashion sense. I wanted to take the whole getup for my pool time. But, since I couldn't do that without ending up reported to folks I know that work there or my colleague Dede Wilsey who's a primary donor on the Museum Board, I decided instead to take this now-museum-legal-flash-free photo to share with you. Those of you that know me well, will see the connection. Imagine the time I could save and get into the pool sooner without having to fool or struggle placing that swim cap on my head. One zip and I'd be good to go. 

The gloves, well, guess they could deflect unwanted micro-organisms, but I'd have to give substantial thought to the material so they don't create drag, slip off, or inhibit movement. Also, gloves and/or high heel rubber flippers might be a bit over dressed for our local 24 Hour Fitness gym unless I planned it as an art performance piece. I'll have to chat with my art friends Réne Yañez or Guillermo Gomez Peña for some T.A. on this. Either way, I got a kick seeing this Gaultier design given my current swimming activity.

So, I’m relearning the timing of my breathing, in and out, as I swim. Timing of breath is critical in swimming and also important as one moves through life in general. I have to master this. Recalibrating the timing of my breath also seems a good metaphor for this period in my life where I’m initiating several changes. Since small, I learned to hold my breath so I could dive into the water and swim around beneath where only legs, rocks, or sand lurked. I could stay under a long time. It’s quiet down there. However, since I’m not a fish, and instead human, I'm coming to terms with that by learning to breathe and take regular breaths at the water's surface. It's also a kind of affirmation–-one that allows me to imagine counting on things to be there when needed, instead of holding my breath and storing up air. Counting on things can also include mercurial things such as inspiration and people....and some fun, stylish, effective swim gear.

I am an artist relearning to navigate in water with the intention of regular breathing, while also creating, and planning to enjoy life much, much more. Go dive or dip into something mercurial or fun today.

I’ll leave you with that for now,


blog: lorrainegarcianakata.blogspot.com
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