Creation and Re-Creation

Yet another 750 Words.

I have this challenge going with myself in terms of daily practice. I’m trying to write 750 words a day every day for a year. I may or may not wind up doing it, but I figure if I fail, I will still have regularly and consistently practiced my writing more than if I had not set this little goal for myself. So, there’s no real down-side to it.

However, a year is way the heck too much to face. I’m breaking it down month by month, and the site I use to track my words makes it very easy with monthly challenges. Each month you can sign up or not for it. If you do it, you get your name on the Wall of Awesomeness. If you fail, you have your name put on the Wall of Shame.

My name has been on both walls before 🙂

As an additional little spur, when you sign up, you can set a reward and a punishment for it. Mine for this month:

•    If I succeed, I will… treat myself to a new bathing suit

•    If I miss a day or more, I will… swim 4000 yards in one session.

In retrospect the failure one is a little dumb. My next Really Long Swim is probably going to be 4,000 yards whether I succeed in writing every day this month or not. And the reward is also kinda silly. I own one good workout bathing suit and I really should own two — just to switch out between workouts and make them last longer, ya know.

I am very happy with how I spent yesterday evening. I spent about an hour knitting. It was wonderful.

So, all this doing, doing, and doing I’m doing. Goodness me, why is this such a big deal?

I think it is at least in part because I’ve become more keenly aware that I am not immortal. For all that I take pleasure in video games, I’d rather leave behind a sweater and written material than I would hours of playing a video game.

It’s not that I think pleasure doesn’t count or have its place. I do. My general make-up is probably more pleasure seeking than most (You guys do realize I swim because it’s one of the few exercises I find fun, yes?) and I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing. But I think that, for me at least, when the pleasure intersects with the productive, it seems like a better way to spend a limited life.

Productive is a funny thing, though. Think of the term “recreation.” You break down that term and it’s re-creation. You’re re-creating something (probably your physical and emotional center) and if you don’t do that, you’re not maintaining your SELF very well.

In thinking about it, I wonder if “fun” is even a good term for when I am actually joyfully in the moment. I find those moments when I am teaching a class, or writing a piece, or when I get a new client as much as when I am knitting a sweater, swimming or sitting on the deck of a cruise ship watching the sun come up.

And except for when I am sitting on my butt staring out over big water (something I do love to do immensely) most of what I’m talking about is less about re-creating than about creating. I’m sure if I were a fictional character, that my fondness for creating and my pleasure in sunrises would be some sort of metaphor the author would use to indicate character traits.

Speaking of doing and creating, I have a busy day today. Need to get all dressed up to see a client, do some shopping, and write some articles for another blog I do. But, of course, I need to get in those seven hundred fifty words, and I’m still about a hundred words short.

Word count, I think, might be great for getting you to sit your butt down and write substantial work, but I also think that trying to hit word count can make you write a fair amount of drivel as well. Then again, the drivel can be edited out, and you can’t edit unwritten words. So writing volume has to count as well. Right?

How do you re-create? Does it involve creating something? Or does re-creation for you require stillness? I expect my frantic need to be doing and making would be the despair of a Zen master!

Knitting and Daily Words

wctpsocksAgain, to write my words.

I am wearing a pair of socks that I knit almost two years ago. And dammit, they’re slipping down my legs because I am losing weight, so they don’t quite fit right any more. This makes me a little sad because they’re some amazing socks. Skulls of my Enemies, they’re called, and based on a pattern called We Call Them Pirates.

Now, of course, the cool thing about being able to knit well is that I can make these socks again any time I care to, no matter how much smaller or larger my body gets. I like that skill, though these socks do take a long time to knit.

I am also thinking I need another sweater. I’m currently working on a pair of socks that I may wind up giving to someone, as they’re really pretty, a sweater for my son, and a scarf for one of my oldest friends.

I had forgotten, but she reminded me this Christmas that she actually had a scarf that I’d knitted for her back in high school. (I didn’t get seriously into knitting until I was in my thirties, but Mom taught me the garter stitch when I was a kid. That scarf has long since gone where good scarves go, so I agreed to make her another one. This will be a much, MUCH better scarf, as I’m a considerably more skilled knitter. I’m taking the idea from the Big Bad Baby Blanket and using a seed stitch border so that the stockingette body doesn’t curl. But, that’s about as fancy as it will get. Much fancier than the garter stitch scarf I made for her when I was in my teens, but a simple knit for me now.

My son’s sweater is going to be a golden yellow raglan knit in the round with hemmed sleeves and bottom. It’s an incredibly simple knit, but it’s his favorite style. He likes simple, I think.

After that, I think I am going to knit something for myself. I think it’s been at least two years since I’ve knit a sweater for myself and my sweater collection is getting a little ragged. I have sweaters I’d knitted for myself in 2007, 2008 and 2009, and I think I’ve about worn them to death. Not that they’re not still good for warmth, but as far as something “nice” I’d wear to work, these have passed their time for that. Also, they were knit with Lion Brand Wool-ease and that just doesn’t hold up to frequent wear (I live in Northern New England and it’s COLD up here) the way that a 100% wool sweater does.

I have a couple of ideas. I’d like an Aran, but standard Arans are a bit bulky for me. I have a round, deep body (always will!) and need something with a bit more drape. I was thinking maybe a finer gauge and sport weight rather than worsted weight yarn should give me about what I want. I’m going to have to dig out my book of cable patterns and see what I can come up with for that. I think I’m going to want smaller and more graceful cables with possibly something more intricate down the center. That actually works pretty well. I knitted a sweater for my father like that for Christmas and it suits him.

But there is also another sweater I’ve wanted for YEARS that I am just going to have to suck it up and make. You know those Norwegian sweaters with the silver clasps and the red neckband? I want to make one, though I freely admit steeking scares the bajesus out of me. But the one I want to make is so outrageously awesome that I am just going to have to suck it up. It’ll be the classic black and white, but it’ll incorporate the We Call Them Pirates skull pattern. I love stuff like that, ’cause it looks all normal, then you blink and realize that the person is wearing something quirky.

In fact, I am wearing a pair of earrings like that right now. They look like sparkly silver earrings, then you blink and realize they’re Mickey Mouse.

So, yeah, lots of knitting plans. The thing is, I have more knitting planned than I have knitting time. I have been screwing around and not getting in good knitting time when I am on my lunch break or am at work. I mean, these 750 word entries don’t write themselves, and I am dedicating a lot of time to swimming.

But the beauty of knitting is how it fills in the little minutes you have to spare, then you come out with this big body of work that seems all impressive, and no-one knows you were just filling in time on the bus, or watching a TV show.

Another Jelly Bean

This is totally going to be a rambling piece to get my words in.

I was reading an interesting article about training for an event. The metaphor the author use was a jelly bean and a jar. Each workout, each training session, no matter how good, bad, short, long, successful or not, was one jelly bean. The idea was that to be prepared to participate in an event, you needed to put a certain number of jelly beans in the jar.

I am definitely doing that swimming. Sure, sure, I have my epic swims like last weekend, and oh my word was it fun, but the more usual swim is the 5:30 am one where the most exciting thing I can say was that it was done. And that’s cool.

I think it also applies to other endeavors. We love flow when we are working on something we enjoy or want to improve, yes. We love to get into that zone where the words are flowing, or the sculpture we’re creating just soars. And those moments are wonderful and godlike. But unless we come to the practice of what we are doing often enough to fill our jelly bean jars, we’re not going to invite flow, nor are we going to improve.

It comes to me very strongly as I am writing these words. Honestly, I had intended to write some drivel about housework, my swimming and how I love my new coffee maker. And I was going to be a little contemptuous of it.

My practice of writing a certain amount each day as a free-write is no more worthy of contempt, though, than any swim I do, no matter how clumsy or awkward I feel as I am doing it. Both are a jelly bean in the jar — another practice session that needs to be done that not only helps to refine technique or skill, but also is another opportunity to invite flow.

So, as I am doing this free-write, I am now stuck for more to fill in those words. I hate running out of gas or running out of an idea before I hit those seven hundred fifty words, and yet it does happen a lot.

What I want to write and want to do is fill in this space with something really profound and interesting. It suits the vanity better. It’s hard to remember that to keep writing has a value in and of itself. Just like keeping swimming does when I am working out.

I think we get the idea that working out is like a Rocky or Karate Kid training montage. Those movies are fun, exciting and even inspiring, which is cool. They’re also misleading about what daily practice, the really IMPORTANT stuff, looks like. That jelly bean in the jar might very well be licorice, just saying. But it’s a jelly bean nonetheless and it takes up its proper space in the jar just as well as the orange. (Yeah, I like the citrus-flavored jelly beans best. You got me)

I’m slowly learning that dailyness might not look brilliant in the experience, but it is that very dailyness of effort or creation that does make for a body of work that looks awfully impressive when taken over time.

*grin* My husband and I are watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy this week. One of the things we sometimes do is joke during walking sequences about how it reminds us of a Dexter’s Laboratory cartoon where the ditzy sister DeeDee is the Dungeonmaster and is constantly telling the characters, “We’re walking; we’re walking; we’re walking.”

And yet, that’s exactly how Frodo got to Mount Doom. Walking, walking, walking. Walking, step by step, not always making brilliant progress, but always making at least some, and never stopping. Each day brought the Ring closer to its destruction, even though the process was hardly glorious or exciting.

And that’s something I like about what I’m doing. No, my days are not gloriously impressive. That’s not the point. The point is to keep going. The point is to make some progress, even a little. Because each time one makes progress, it’s another jelly bean for the jar.

I’m halfway tempted to buy a jar and each time I do a swim, put a jelly bean in it. *Grin* then I’ll EAT those jelly beans as part of my feeds for a long swim. Swimmers eat jelly-like candy on long swims all the time, so it would be appropriate.

The idea is oddly appealing and happy.

Swimming and Snowballing

Me: I think it’s time for me to write a blog post.
The Prince: I guess it’s going to be about swimming.
Me: What in the world makes you think that?

Yes, it’s going to be about swimming. And it’s going to be about how things can snowball.

So, I’d had this Life-Eating Project for about a year, and I’d been quite ill for a few months before that. Between the two, I had not exercised much in about eighteen months. Once the LEP was over, and I took care of important family business (like getting my son off to college), I decided I needed to get a little more active.

Now my husband and I love to walk, and when it’s nice, we do. We also live in Northern New England where the weather is often not very nice. And, we can be good at finding excuses not to work out after a long day. But both of us are good at morning exercise, and what with our empty nest stuff going on, we decided that we’d start going to a local gym — him to do whatever weird people who like ellipticals and stuff do, and me to get in the pool like anyone who has good sense.

As I started swimming (my usual swim being about 900 yards because I was out of shape), I made a crack to my husband about swimming from Alcatraz. He really wants to take a trip to San Francisco, so in an effort to get me interested, he commented, “Okay, let’s do it in 2016!” (Our travel money for 2015 is kinda already committed to other trips).

I said yes. Then I realized that while it might only be a mile an a half from Alcatraz Island to Aquatic Park, I might want to do some research to find out what might make this a little bit of a challenging swim.

Remember, this started out as training for a mile and a half open water swim two years hence. This gets important later.

So I start reading. I read about tides and currents and cold water and hypothermia and the cold water goddess Lynne Cox. Then I start reading blogs of other open water swimmers and I discover that marathon swimming is actually a sport. In fact, and this is the cool part, it’s a sport you don’t have to get skinny to do.


Then I get to thinking that I need something to keep me committed for the interim (two years is a long time to hold interest for what is a somewhat modest goal) and I signed up to swim the Boston Sharkfest. I signed up to do it without a wetsuit mostly because finding one I could afford in my size ainta happenin’. So fine, I’ll learn cold water.

The recommendation is that you can swim a mile in 40 minutes. My best time on a mile is about 48:30, and when I started it was more like 56:00. So, speed goal. Yes, I’ll get there in time for the swim.

In looking for open water advice, I also signed on to a marathon swimmer’s board, and found myself interested in some open water swims about an hour and a half north of me. So, in another fit of insanity, and also to keep my training interest, I signed up for one of the shorter swims — a two miler.

One of the people on the board recommended that I try at some point this winter to swim that two miles in a pool to see if I could do it. My training schedule is such that I tend to do my “long” swim on a weekend morning. And it was only 2000 yards. A mile is 1740, so I tend to mentally tag 1800 yards as a mile for my pool training purposes. So we’re looking at a little under twice the distance I have ever swum in my life.

Figuring this morning would be a good time, I decided to make the attempt. I had a standard swimmer breakfast of a big ole bowl of oatmeal (with apples, ’cause that’s what I like) and a mug of coffee because I am a caffeine addict.

When I got in the pool, I was questioning the wisdom of this. I mean, I normally do my swim before breakfast, so I’m not used to swimming with anything in my stomach. (Not to mention the fact that my normal breakfast is bacon and eggs, so not as carb heavy as what I’d had this morning) I felt weighed down and sluggish for the first 300 yards or so, wondering if I was even going to be able to do my normal swim.

After that, I guess my body was pulling on that oatmeal for fuel because I felt better and was just cruising along. I had to share a lane for about half an hour, but after that, had a whole lane to myself. I love having a lane to myself.

After an hour, at about 2100 yards, it hit me. Holy mackerel, I can do this! I’ve got it in me, and I’m not too tired. (And holy mackerel, am I hungry!)

At 3000 yards, I had to have a chat with my left calf. It started cramping up on me.

CALF: Hey, slow down! (CRAMP)
ME: Not a chance. Former ballerina, remember? (FLEX) I am taking no shit from YOU.

So, with my left foot as a sea anchor for a bit, I swam on, then switched to breast stroke to give my pointed feet a change.

At 3200 yards, I started feeling sad. I didn’t want the swim to be over. My shoulders then informed me they were going to hunt down and torture my ego if I did not stop when I’d completed my planned yardage. So, I did.

At 3600, I stopped. I felt good.

I didn’t feel so good for a minute when I got out of the pool, though. both calves decided to cramp at once. While I’m sure the pool did not need to be treated to the sight of my rear end while I stretched that out, I didn’t want to be hobbling to the showers. Being a former dancer, I do know how to deal with calf cramps, and so I took care of it immediately.

I’m still a little wistful that the swim is over. I think…Yeah, I think that while I’ll still be doing Alcatraz in the summer of 2016, it may not be my biggest swim.

New Year's Musings

It’s a new year. I thought about New Year’s resolutions and really the only one I could come up with was to develop the habit of hanging up my swim towel and bathing suit immediately upon returning home after my workout.

But I like that resolution. You see, the resolution presumes that I’m going to be swimming, after all — a habit I’ve developed pretty solidly since the middle of last August or so.

I’ve been looking at my progress. It’s been so-so. I’ve dropped my average mile time down about eight minutes. That’s cool and all, but I need to drop it down another eight before some swims I intend to do this summer.

So, yeah, coaching. I’m lousy at accepting coaching, but in the Rule One* category, I really need to. Open water swimming can be dangerous. The “can be” moves to “is” if you don’t follow Rule One. And that’s going to mean coaching.

I’m eyeing the idea of developing a tolerance for colder water with a bit of despair. I hate cold, and I train in a pool that runs between 78 and 80 degrees. While I’m completely happy to put this off until about May or so, I’m going to have to get in the water then and start building up a tolerance. I signed up for the Sharkfest in the non-wetsuit category.

I did not do this out of any real macho sense. I did it because I’m five-two, and even if my diet goes well, will be weighing over 200 lbs by my swimming events. They simply do not make wetsuits in my size. Sure, sure, they make them for large people, but they make them for people whose size is at least in part due to height. For someone as short as me? Not so much, and certainly not for a price that won’t make me curl into a little ball sucking my thumb. Women my size are not often athletes. It happens, yes, but we’re not typical.

And yeah, I’ve got some pipe dream ideas about swims I’d like to do. But the only way to make a pipe dream a reality is to take daily incremental steps. One of those steps is most certainly developing cold tolerance.

I’ve been reading Loneswimmer a lot because he seems to obey Rule One (except for his habit of swimming alone 😉 ) and has written some detailed material on the biology of cold reaction and hypothermia. I suppose living in Northern New England near a really great hospital might come in handy. One would think they’re moderately expert in dealing with hypothermia.

There are other things I will be doing this year. Not so much resolutions, but things I need to do more, or do less. One of them is simply to create more. I need to knit more, write more blog posts, and sew more. Not want to. Need to. I do think the measure of a life revolves around what one creates. I don’t necessarily mean objects, mind. It could be a home, a family, a piece of software, a community or an idea. But I do think as humans what we do that matters most is in what we create. So much so that if I spend more time consuming than creating, I feel badly both mentally and spiritually.

It’s probably why I rather like cosplayers, the SCA, indie gamers, little bloggers, and all of that. It might be a little hobby, but it’s creating!

So what am I creating as a swimmer? A stronger, healthier body? Yeah. And it’s why I got into it. But to be honest, I keep up with it because I like it, and I’m happy when I am doing it. Probably I need something in my life where I turn off the information input flow and just BE for a bit.

*grin* And if you argue that means that turning off and not creating for a while is important, I’ll point out that most of the ideas for this article came to me while I was face down staring at that black line. I don’t listen to music or anything like that when I swim. I let my mind roam, poke at problems, and use my time in the pool to think. (When I am not trying to do a certain amount of math to quantify my workout, that is!)

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions? If you do, are they guided by a principle in your life? If so, what are they?

* Do not be a fu^h^h^h fornicating idiot.