Catching up #3
Another blog that would have been posted last year, before our internet provider decided temporarily to put a stop to it all.
Out of My Depth: Learning how to Tumble Turn.
I wondered what it must be like to learn something new. By this I mean something physical, rather than cerebral - I have a 'Learn Spanish' app on my iPad which I've used twice. Kinaesthetic learning is what our son does every day. As his ballet training progresses, he has to learn increasingly complicated techniques and sequences. It becomes more demanding at every(literal) turn. I cannot imagine what this must be like; I've not really succeeded in learning anything physical since learning to ride a bike as a child.
Ballroom dancing was out of the question - I'd only worry about the tightly fitting sparkly shirts - so I decided instead to learn how to tumble turn. This is what some swimmers do when they reach the end of the lane. Instead of huffing and puffing and doing an awkward restart, they gracefully turn in the water and push off again in one fluid movement. It's a much more elegant way to continue swimming, and it looks a bit like a dolphin. I've seen a couple of people do it in the pool. They are dynamic, accomplished and efficient - a higher type of being. I want to be one of them.
I had no idea of the mechanics of how to do this - but that is the point. I wanted to engage with a physical skill which presented itself as initially impossible so that I could experience the stages of incompetence, competence and then hopefully mastery. The journey of the unknown unknown passing through the known unknown and becoming the known known - as Donald Rumsfeld or the managements experts refer to it.
It might have been a good idea to pick a incompetency which didn't involve the sensation of drowning in the early stages of development. The YouTube video that I watched made it look like a simple and natural movement - like skipping or jumping. This is not the case. I learned two things immediately. The first was that when you actually do the turn, you lose all sense of where you are, and which way is up. The second is that water goes up your nose and painfully hits the back of your throat. Counteracting the first of these difficulties involved preparing for the turn by visualising the position I would be in, and then initially doing it with my eyes closed. Combatting the second was easier - I just had to remember to breathe out through my nose as the turn was taking place.
I began to dread getting to the end of the lane. I would challenge myself to do it this time, and if I attempted it just twice on any day, I would feel a sense of exhaustion mixed with fulfilment. It took a week before I could execute the move without coughing and spluttering and feeling a burning sensation somewhere in my pharynx. I was always hesitant and many times I terminated performing the turn seconds before it was due to occur through no other reason than fear.
Over a period of about a month this is what I learned:
- You have to be mid-breath or at the top of the breath in order to turn. The feeling of running out of air in the middle of a turn induces a primal sense of panic.
- If you start the turn too far away from the wall, you have nothing to kick of against, so you just lie there under the water - excuse the pun - floundering
- Only push off from the wall when you are certain that you are aiming your body in the right direction. Launching yourself across someone else's lane, or towards the bottom of the pool results in embarrassment
- Flip back over onto your front as soon as possible after the turn. The videos that show people gliding effortlessly on their backs are all clearly CGI. My own long glides have always ended in a spluttery and ungainly gasping for air.
The most interesting element about this adventure involved a point in time about three weeks in. As I was becoming more familiar, and my confidence was burgeoning, I began to start making mistakes and having to stop mid turn. In fact at some points I had to re-remember the technique that I had learned initially. Habits were creeping in or I was forgetting the strict order of the sequence of moves which meant it felt like I was back at the beginning all over again. This was the most frustrating stage, and the one that made me most angry with myself. However, after a month of work, my tumble turns are now graceful and precise. It is my preferred method for turning around at the end of the pool. I do it almost automatically. It is the nearest I am ever going to get to feeling like a fish, or an astronaut ... or a ballet dancer.
I have two final thoughts:
- If our son has such a rich inner dialogue for every new technique he is mastering, his life must be exhausting.
- I bought some cheap mask-style goggles a while ago. They are fluorescent yellow. They were reduced. No one else wanted them in that colour, I presume. I also always wear a swimming hat. It occurred to me a couple of days ago that, even though my tumble turns are magic, I must look like a minion splashing around in the water.
Sink or Swim
This summer I realised that I am not as immune as I has previously thought to the effects of ageing; I had not made the link between the greying hair, the permanent frown lines, the need to calorie count and now being in my mid-forties. I have been engaging in self-deception ... again. The summer holidays were so blissful, because we nearly forgot all about ballet - except for one slight nuisance. Our son needed to maintain his cardio-vascular fitness. The normal running around of a twelve year old is not sufficient apparently for someone in full time vocational ballet training. So, we went swimming. Especially towards the end of the holiday, we went nearly every day. We assumed the unnecessary habit of swimming together in the same lane - a watery convoy. He's a strong and elegant swimmer; efficient, sleek and graceful. And, I would swim behind.
Aside from swimming lengths, we would also play racing games and diving games, hiding plastic clam shells for one another under the water and then racing to find them. I'm not ashamed to admit that it gives me a tremendous sense of pride to be able to announce that I am the stronger swimmer. Even at 45, I am faster, more agile and I can hold my breath for far longer which gives me an unfair advantage in the diving competitions. This makes me want to punch the air, clench my back teeth and shout, 'Yessss!'
There is a reason behind this child-like celebration of a Pyrrhic victory. Before the father and son underwater Olympics commence, we would swim lengths in the way described. He would swim first and I would follow. He set the pace and I fell into line. He decided how many lengths we would swim, and I would. This swimming of lengths is what gave rise to the sense of time passing and my own mortality. I may be the faster and more experienced swimmer, but he is the the more resilient. After about twenty minutes or so of ploughing along the lane, I would begin to tire. As the end of each length approached, I would think, 'This is it. This has to be the last one.' And then, with the mechanical precision of a well tempered machine, he would begin the next. Each time, I would react as much as it is possible to breathe a sigh of regret when swimming front crawl. Every time I caught sight of him kicking off to continue our marathon of lengths, I'd silently plead, 'Please let this be the last one.' And so it would continue: the son effortless and steadily gliding along, length after length; the father hoping that each length would be the last.
Eventually he would stop. He'd turn to me with an exhausted expression and say, 'Sorry, Daddy, but I think I've had enough now.'
'That's fine, Son.' I would say. 'You're only young, of course that's enough.' I would be nonchalant, casual, deliberately patronising, and hope that he didn't notice every pore in my body exhaling with relief. We'd have a few minutes' rest, and then I'd beat him in all the games.
I'm impressed by the way he swims; tenacious, systematic and resolute. And once again, our son challenges me as he sets an example. My rhythm of swimming is different. I swim in bursts that are powerful and direct, but hard to sustain for longer than ten or at most fifteen minutes. Perhaps this applies to the way I live my life. I am very efficient at fulfilling the short-term needs of myself and those around me, but I neglect the long-term. My patterns of behaviour involve short sharp bursts of energy that get stuff done but leave me exhausted. Swimming in the pillion position has given me new knowledge of what it feels like to just keep going. This is perhaps the mind-set which makes him want to excel at something so difficult, and why my talent seems to lie in finding immediate solutions, and initiating flurries of activity. The thought of long-term projects make me gasp and splutter - almost as if drowning in panic. I need to learn how to keep going, inexhaustibly. For me, the concern has never been about whether I sink or swim, or about the distance that I can complete, but for how long I can keep afloat while simply treading water.