My father was an avid swimmer when he was younger, competing at the college level and running the waterfront of an overnight camp. So it should come as no surprise that I spent most of my childhood at a swim club.
“What are you doing?” he asked as I splashed around in the pool, my pink ruffled bathing suit bottom halfway up my ass.
“Sidestroke,” I said as I gurgled some water and glided diagonally.
“That isn’t a stroke. Do the Breast Stroke or Crawl. And why don’t you get in a lane?”
“The rope is itchy. Plus it’s no fun going straight,” I argued before swirling my legs beneath me and spitting a stream of water like an Italian fountain.
After treading water for a second I started flipping somersaults, never popping up in a way that indicated a straight rotation. My father threw his arms up in the air and walked away.
I write the same way I swim. I guess most writers are like this. You can’t be very creative if you’re required to stay within the lines. You can’t reach your maximum potential if you’re following a uniform format or style. Beautiful prose comes from pushing the limits, doing the unexpected. Just read something by Lydia Davis and you will know what I mean.
Yesterday afternoon, with the office quiet thanks to the forty-two inches of snow piled up on the sidewalks and streets, I sat down and wrote a snippet from the point of view of a dog. Yes, a dog.
It was slow going at first. I mean, I sometimes struggle to tell an entertaining story from a human’s point of view, forget a canine’s perspective. But I kept at it, typing and deleting and typing some more. When I had three pages, I fell back into my desk chair and read it all the way through. I was pleasantly surprised by what I had created. In fact, I liked it enough to cut and paste the pages into my thesis, though I’m still uncertain if it will make the final cut.
Rereading that dog snippet, I do get a little hesitant. I’m not sure how well a story written from the point of view of a Golden Retriever tripping on discarded human medication fits into the rest of the collection. Is it brilliant or silly? Does it work with everything else or stand out, and not in a good way? I spent a moment or two considering the possible answers. Then I gave up. I know I need to figure it all out. I realize that at a certain point, I need to play by the rules. But for now? Yeah, I’d rather get back to splashing about and flipping sideways somersaults.