Artistic discipline and athletic discipline


"Artistic discipline and athletic discipline are kissing cousins, they require the same thing, an unspecial practice: tedious and pitch-black invisible, private as guts, but always sacred."
- from "Practice" in Swimming Studies, by Leanne Shapton

I loved this book. I bought it for my new Kobo, which my two eldest got me for Christmas -- their own idea, their own money, their own surprise. I hope to use it to buy more of the books that I might not quite make the leap for in the bookstore. But I've now learned that it might inspire me to buy certain books twice, because having read Swimming Studies as an ebook, I long for the actual physical artifact of this particular book, so that I can share it, and so that I can leaf through its pages.

I was sad to reach the end of Swimming Studies. It is a memoir written in a style that I found both affecting and aesthetically serene. Shapton shares a series of moments, linked by their connection to her own life, and to swimming. She resists the impulse to analyze (I admire this, being compulsively analytical myself). She draws scenes that are coloured with very specific detail, that open the possibility of a story the way clues do. It gave me the sensation of looking at old photographs, and wondering about the people captured there. It gave me the sensation of disturbing a private scene, almost, and not fully grasping the significance of everything going on.

I find myself wondering over certain small scenes, like one early on: Why did the women behind the counter at the coffee shop rebuff her mother's friendliness, in the early dark of morning, and why did her mother keep trying to be friendly? Or even just resonating with a familiar sound I have never paid attention to: the clanging of a frozen rope against a flag pole.

I like that the book seemed to belong to no established genre, nor to care. It didn't need to fit easily into a category. I did not find myself becoming impatient with some parts that I imagine others might find indulgent: the minute descriptions of pools she remembers swimming in, or her collection of swim suits. I kind of just loved the whole thing.

I can't imagine growing up with an athletic discipline and routine underpinning my daily life. But I know all about artistic discipline. I find it fascinating to glimpse the mind and experience of someone who has lived both. And I wonder if I could find some lesson, some inspiration here, some ease with the small; the ordinary transformed by attention; the possibility for forward motion within a scene that looks set and still. If ever I were to write a book based on my blog, I think this is where I would begin.

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