Women and the space we take up (or are barred from, or concede, or reclaim): Reading back through the first week of my Wild Patience project, I see already how much this preoccupies. The coast and its cold water was the site from which my glorious girlhood sense of self-sovereignty sprang; in mid-life, the spring-fed pool in my small Sussex town has returned it me.
This short extract from Scroll 1, Line 1 is all about this: Self-love, self-sufficiency. I’ve had old Ladybird fairytale, The Princess and the Frog, beside me as I write this week. The girl in it is by the water’s edge, happy to play alone before the world of marriage and obligation inserts itself. This is how it was for me:
At nine I was in love with myself in my body in a way I missed ever after. I loved the soft fluff on my legs that went gold in the sun so I looked, to myself, spellbound. Even my bruises and plasters pleased me: I counted them like coins; my treasure. Status symbols. I was brownest, the most hardy. And when we went each evening through summer to the freezing sea at Widemouth, just along the jagged black coast from Bude, I would throw myself against the waves, holding up my heavy home-made surfboard like a shield.
Although I was by the sea every summer (until my studies took me inland and then to this milder, stonier coast), the joy receded fast after that age: I had begun to shave my legs and dislike the result; in this and countless other cosmetic ways, I allowed others’ ideas about me – voiced and imagined – to constrain and change how I lived in my skin. Only now, thirty-three years later, is that self-sufficiency come back. I’m kneeling here to write with the calloused feet of all but the most careful middle-aged women, have green and ropey varicose veins on the calf of my left leg (legacy of pregnancy), & the skin on the back of my hand stays raised and wrinkled long after I pinch it. And yet. Like Whitman, who returned in mid-life to joy, I am begun here to celebrate. To sing, like him, the song of myself. To spin new stories. To swim a new shape.
[The first lap/line ends]