OPEN WATER…swim

Over the last year, my wife has developed an addiction to sport. Initially it was running, but we all know that’s just a gateway drug. Now it’s the hard stuff: swimming, biking…running, again. Triathlons, they call it on the street.

My hobbies are less pressing. Today I bought a used paperback science fiction book for a dollar and fifty cents. Later this afternoon, I will most likely doodle in a notebook instead of writing my thousand words of the day. Perhaps I will eat lunch.

Comparatively, Holly went on a four hour bike ride. Maybe she ran for an additional hour. I’m not even sure anymore.

Like any good addict wife, she wants to bring me along. We’ve started swimming together once a week. I go at a languid halfspeed while Holly continually laps me using only her arms. I did buy a pair of jammers, though. Completing unflattering. However, I will say this for swimming: it may be the most private workout you can achieve. No one can watch you contemplate a choice between the ten and twenty-five pound barbell (I really think the gym has permanently lost the fifteen and twenty pounders). In the pool, it’s only you. And your wife, who is smoking you.

On Memorial Day, Holly participated in an open water swim. I’ve ran 5k’s, obstacle courses and even a disastrous half-marathon with her before. We had been swimming together for several weeks at this point. Thus, when she asked me to compete with her, I saw it as the shortest, most painless opportunity to join Holly in her hobby before the distances got overly complicated. Woe to him who thinks such thoughts.

The swim was early that Monday morning at an under-used beach on our lake. There were perhaps one hundred participants, an even mix of high school swim teams, triathlon clubs, and Holly’s friends. A great, inflatable green gate had been erected at the water’s edge. Beyond that, four enormous buoys floated in a straight line, each 250 meters from the next. Holly would end up swimming to the furthest and back again, for 2000 meters. Some people that day did the same loop twice, for 4000. I swam halfway and turned around for a complete kilometer.

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The group that swam my length was released last. Even then, I tried to leave the green gate last, not out of trepidation but in an effort to set a slow pace, uninfluenced by other swimmers. I had swam more than a thousand meters before, but I realized that some things were different in open water. Little did I know.

First, the obvious – there are no walls. I could not take an easy breath every twenty-five yards and reset myself before pushing – really, with my lanky legs, rocketing – myself a quarter of the pool distance simply by kicking off the wall. Add this element to the dark, murky water (I have written elsewhere about my unhealthy, adolescent fear of dark water) and the fact that this water surges occasionally as if it were alive, and you have created a lethal scenario. After my first 200 meters, it ceased to be a competition and instead became survival.

I have never before participated in an athletic event that had the potential to kill me (unless you count the egg games – man that’s like three hyperlinks in this post). The lake was angry that day, my friends. By the time I reached the 500 meter turn-around, I had used all the swim strokes I knew and then created two more. I was asked three times by volunteer kayakers if I needed to grab ahold of their boats and rest a bit. I began to be passed by different color swim caps, indicating that the other distance racers were destined to finish before I.

I made it back to shore. I didn’t throw up. Instead, I thought about all the promises I had made to God, if He allowed me to live, and if I was going to fulfill them now that I was back on dry land. I waited for Holly, who was close behind, ready to comfort her.  Because, of course, she was bound to have a similar, shocking experience. However, she came out of the water laughing, raising the roof with her hands and hugging other competitors.

Afterwards, I got third place in my age division. There were only three of us. I still got a medal.

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Look at me, I’m an e-book!

The act of writing isn’t hard – well, isn’t always hard – but telling your relatives that you like to write is. Most often, the easiest way to relate with that tidbit is to come back with an acknowledgement that someone else also writes. “You know, Mary Anne also likes to write.” You have a book? they ask rhetorically. Mary Anne has five.

Or better, I also have an idea for a  book. Let me tell you the saga of its people.

I lead with this not as a complaint, but to frame my reservation to announcing my publication. Because publishing a book carries two very distinct stereotypes – that a gatekeeper in New York is FedExing me money for my young adult novel, or that I wrote a story about a dog detective in three days and haven’t yet used spell check. To most people, I am Mary Anne, an anecdote in conversation without real context.

TLLG-Cover-Draft-3I started writing my book, The Late Lord Glass, in 2011. The previous year I had written a novel for my undergraduate thesis, featuring time travel and absolutely no plot. It was atrocious and I highly doubt my thesis committee read it in it’s entirety. I would not. In fact, if time travel were possible, I would use it to stop that committee from ever forming.

After college, I was teaching English in Turkey, isolated in the southeastern part of the country. I spent several months overhauling my thesis (adding things like, say, a plot) and began fiddling with a story about someone coming home after being away a long time. You can see a connection to real life: in Turkey, part of me was becoming afraid that because of my separate, bizarre experiences – and because I was missing all the experiences shared by my old community – that I wouldn’t fit in when I came back. That’s where The Late Lord Glass came in.

Obviously, presenting only the existential experience is boring. So I added things I liked: pirates, princes, swordfights, conspiracies, more pirates. I wrote the book I wanted to read, one that stole from other books like Captain Blood and The Count of Monte Cristo and Princess Bride (it was a book first).

Over the next three years, the book came off and went back on a shelf as I learned things about life and how women think (the early version of the female lead was not very accurate). The book was also read, front to back, by a dozen people, each with grammatical and thematic suggestions. Finally, a few months ago, the book seemed whole to me.

It’s on Amazon now, for ninety-nine cents. I earn thirty-five cents for every one sold – so, this will never make me any money. However, it’s not the exercise of a whim, either. It’s just something I’m passionate about and it felt sad to never share it, like the story never existed in the first place. So judge for yourself. Don’t let yourself hear it first from your uncle.