Years ago, before my mom started working outside the home, she took my brother and me (and sometimes her little brother) to swimming lessons at a local high school.
We did this for a number of years. We went from clinging to the side of the pool to being confident swimmers. We never did take the lessons to become junior lifeguards. (Which is would have suited my brother well. I wore glasses, so I wouldn’t have been able to see someone drowning.)
We took lessons at Don Lugo High School, where the pool was about 15 feet deep in The Deep End. Hovering over the Deep End were three long diving boards that rose to different heights.
Over the course of several summers of lessons, I learned to dive, not quite up to Olympic standards, but at least I could hit the water without belly-flopping.
First, we learned how to jump into the pool from the side. We learned how to “dive” from the side of the pool, our little hands arched in sharp angles over our heads. Then, our instructors taught us how to launch ourselves off the little slanted boards at the ends of lanes. Each summer, we spent some time on the lower real diving boards, learning to simply walk off, then jump, then dive.
Then, there was the High Dive.
It was very high. I was very scared of being up there.
I still recall the taste of terror, a metallic sort of taste, as I stood at the end of that board, probably eight feet or taller, above the hazy blueness below me. The very deep hazy blueness.
I chickened out a few times. I insisted on climbing down, backing away from the edge of the board with tears in my eyes.
But one day something pushed me to try it: the encouraging words of an instructor, watching the other kids do it, or something else.
I think it was the time when one of the instructors reminded us that we didn’t have to dive, per se, but we could “walk” off the board. We needed to cross our arms over our chests and wrap our feet together, so we’d hit the water like human missile.
I can do that, I thought, I can walk off the end of the board.
And I did.
It was exhilarating and terrifying.
I got back in line to do it again.
I eventually tried diving properly from the high dive, but didn’t have the same control over my body as I did when I stepped off the edge, my body held as straight as could be.
Conquering my fear of the High Dive was essential to my development. At some point, I tried it. I did it. I did it again. I did it until I felt confident walking along that narrow board by myself. I did it until I felt confident enough to take a moment at the edge of the board and look out over the pool, even though the view was unfocused.
Some time last year, I stood at the edge of a different sort of diving board. I stood and looked – yet again – into the deep hazy pool of my own desire to be a writer. I have talked about writing for years. I have dabbled in writing for years. I have stacks of unfinished stories, piles of little notes and ideas, countless journals full of longing.
Over the years, I’ve dipped my feet in. I even got into the water at some point, joining a writers’ group with a few fellow undergrads. I splashed around a bit but convinced myself that I wasn’t ready, that I’m an amateur with little to offer the world.
Well, I’m still an amateur. An amateur diver, a recreational swimmer, but I am fairly convinced that – with practice – I can be more than an amateur writer. The only way to make progress from amateur to professional anything is to practice. I won’t be any kind of writer if I’m not writing.
So this blog is my jump into the pool, a commitment to get into the pool and stay in the pool.