Words to open the launch of Watermarks: Writing by Lido Lovers & Wild Swimmers (a Frogmore Press & Pells Pool collaboration), spoken by Tanya Shadrick, Watermarks co-editor & Pells Pool writer-in-residence.
Because this book sprang from deep sources during my residency at Pells Pool — & because I feel so entirely at home among you who love words & water & community as I do — I’m going to risk for a few minutes a difficult thing for the British: I want to be very simple & quite serious.
The following lines have been precious to me since I discovered them in my early twenties: a bad, land-locked, overpaid & under-employed time in TV, when I was farthest in spirit & miles from my childhood by the wild Cornish sea. And those of you who know my work already will guess that this will be from Henry David Thoreau:
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life.”
Now in my twenties, I still believed in magic. The lazy, contagious kind. That to read enough about a thing would have me become it. That if I read Thoreau, or Scott of the Antarctic, or Lynne Cox describing her swim across the freezing Bering Strait, that I would somehow acquire their qualities.
It took my own near-death — an arterial haemorrhage that happened without pain or warning one Sunday afternoon — and four years after that as a hospice lifestory scribe listening to the urgent regrets & few (too few) luminous memories of those in their last months and days— before I understood finally what I had to do.
As Thoreau went to the woods, I went to water. I wrote & swam at Pells Pools and — like the selkie reinhabiting her lost sealskin — I let life teach me, body instead of head for the first time since childhood.
I learnt that the art of living requires us first to make fools of ourselves.
We need to swim badly at the public pool so we can one day swim alone, with confidence, in wild and open waters. To be seen out of our clothes looking shamefully pale & soft so we may become sturdy & strong. To write on tiny private notepads with the effort of engravers on glass so that we might find ourselves writing a mile in public or being published for the first time in midlife and later as some of our Watermarks contributors are.
So my Wild Patience at Pells Pool — & the call for submissions to Watermarks — was all about this. A sort of whale song. Or a message in a bottle. It was me admitting that although I love & am loved, there is still in me a yearning to be more silly & more serious & with more people than my daily life before now would ever have allowed me to meet.
It was me following my intuition that I’d find more of my kind through writing & water. And so I just knelt down in the grass, like Mary Oliver in her beautiful Summer Day poem, because, like her, I wanted to feel idle and blessed and ask people, as she did, perhaps the only question that matters: Tell me, what is it you have done, what is it you plan to do, with your one wild & precious life?
I began to sing finally, late in the day. And you — pool-goers & Watermarks writers alike — you sang back. And, oh, I do like the way you sound.
To close the evening, Tanya read ‘Why I Am Happy’ by William Stafford: ‘…There is a lake somewhere/so blue and far nobody owns it…’