Sunday, February 17, 2008

notes toward an autobiography by others

Once in awhile in my reading I come across a passage that I might have written. This is what I think! That happened to me! It leads me to suppose one could write an autobiography via collage, the source texts all written by someone else but arranged so they tell one’s own story.

The following short piece from Barbara Tomash’s Flying in Water sounds much like my own experience with warm surf:

She had learned how to meet the waves. How to wait for them to grow large, to leap into the swell at the deepest point when it is massive yet gentle, like a giantess mother who takes you in her arms and swings you over the kitchen chair. Sometimes her timing was off – the wave crashed on top of her head, spun her around in the storm of salt and sand. The directionless confusion, the disintegration even of gravity, she liked these, almost as much as being held and rocked. The terrific impact of the water rendered her weightless and limp. When she could see sunlight through the murky swirl, or when her knees crashed into the sandy floor, and it was evident where top was and where was bottom, she propelled herself upwards kicking.

The ocean I grew up with was cold, nothing one would swim in, closest I’d gotten was wading barefoot, and then only till my feet got numb. I would retreat to dry sand warmed by the sun until my toes shook off the chill. When I was about 12 my brother and I joined my dad’s family for a vacation in Hawaii. On that trip I learned the delights of walking out beyond the breakers and bobbing, the rollers lifting me from the sandy bottom, and gently dropping me back.

I would also lie down where the surf foamed up onto the beach. Waves would pull my body out, then push it back in. When the water abandoned me, I was surprised at first, then scared to see it had rushed away only to regroup in a big wave that would smash down on me and carry me, tumbling, out of control, much as Tomash describes it. After the scare faded I decided I liked it. I spent a whole day doing that. (So it seems in my memory.)

In this next excerpt from Flying in Water the woman is older, with children of her own, and she needs to feel in control:

Now she would hate the sensation of tumbling, of being flung and pushed out of control. She feels, looking out at the ocean, how much of her girlhood she has lost. In Mexico she swam again in the Pacific. The waves were warm and calm. She swam parallel to the beach so she could judge the distance between herself and her son and husband on dry land. As lovely as the water felt, she couldn’t rest in it. The edgelessness bothered her. She has grown used to swimming pools. Most of the earth is covered by oceans, she thinks – like it or not, we are always at sea.

This one wouldn’t fit in my autobiography, not having kids, but I understand unease at the sea’s great expanse, one little body lost in it.

2 comments:

David Lee said...

We certainly spent a lot of time letting the waves smash us into the beach. That was the part I remember enjoying - the getting picked up, tossed and rolled in the sand.

I also remember the first experience with undertow when Tony or Dion got dragged out by the water on one of the steep beaches we visited. We grabbed him and held him until the wave let go. And then we found things to do away from the water. That was the only beach I remember having a scary undertow.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

Every so often you hear about somebody being dragged out on one of our beaches -- SF's Ocean Beach, SoCo's Goat Rock -- and it seems like the person dying was attempting a rescue. That Hawaiian beach gave me a healthy fear of undertows.