A Wild Patience: Laps in Longhand

“Elegant, humble.” Dr Martin Shaw, mythologist and story-teller

“I look at the people in the pool and get a feeling akin to the bends: The pressure of so many lives in a patch of blue just 150ft by 75. Their loves and losses.” Outdoor Swimming Society, April 17

 The Project

A wild patience has carried me this far / as if I had to bring to shore / a boat with a spasmodic outboard motor  (‘Integrity’ by Adrienne Rich)

Throughout the Pells Pool 2016 season, I did regular laps of longhand on paper scrolls the length of the pool (50 yards/150 feet). The work moves between: memory and desire; the here and now; commonplace passages collected for motivation or courage; things seen and told.

To reach a mile of longhand I will need to complete 35 laps/lines over five scrolls. This will be the equivalent of a novel: some 100,000 words.

Two scrolls were completed within the 2016 season. Another has been in progress through winter and spring (as fishermen spend shore-leave mending their nets). The fourth will be written poolside in the Pells 2017 season, with the mile being completed beside Lake Geneva as a resident at the Jan Michalski Foundation for Writing and Literature.

As with swum laps of the pool, I may only become capable of this length, this endurance, through regular, daily practice, and by paying no mind to how I feel about this: the boredom, my discomfort. I will show up, simply, and let the practice teach me. Play a confidence trick on myself.

“Moved by Tanya’s readings from #WildPatience scrolls and by them as physical objects, in/of time/place. Quietly inspirational.”

Take part

Freedom. It isn’t once, to walk out / under the Milky Way, feeling the rivers / of light, the fields of dark — / freedom is daily, prose-bound, routine / remembering. Putting together, inch by inch / the starry worlds / From all the lost collections.  (‘For Memory’ by Adrienne Rich)

I will be working in silence on the edges of the day, and as a visitor to Pells Pool you are warmly invited to keep me company in my labour, and in any way that feels interesting for you to do. You may choose to share my silent time and the noises that come to us. Or you might talk and I will listen: What you say may then go into the work itself.  There will be a Japanese folding album beside me upon which you are welcome to make your own marks: Tell me: When did you feel most wild and free? In body? Your mind? When did you last write at length? Did you ever? For whom? How does it feel – you, in your swim-clothes, out of doors, with a pen, in this communal here and now? I will have books beside me: With these too you are welcome to sit and be quiet – or read to me.

“The scrolls are a thing of beauty.”

Artist statement

Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them. (Thoreau)

Following a sudden near-death experience a decade ago, I began a slow journey: To live in my skin more vividly and to use my own end-of-life perspective — and a wide and deep reading got from long training in English Literature — to help others give voice to their song, their story.

I began first by working in a self-created role as a life-story scribe for my local hospice. At bedsides and in clients’ homes, I would arrive a stranger and leave charged with what mattered most to people as they prepared to die: Letters to family; stories of childhood memories; books read aloud and recorded to leave for their children; notes made on photos and other personal items they would be leaving behind.

My writing life developed out of this work (and my counter-balancing laps of Pells Pool during the same period) into themes which are unashamedly close and local: Stewardship, husbandry, neighbourliness, soul-tending. My first published piece — There Are No Unsacred Places — told the story of how I spent a year painting the railings that run beside my long street as a response to an act of vandalism.

In short, I write about place, about routine, about rootedness — things to be treasured in a time when so many thousands are being torn from these — and this is reflected in my physical practice: I am humble, down low. I write largely out of doors, close to the ground. I look up to the world.

During my two-season residency at Pells Pool, I will be extending these ideas — and risking tension with others who are made uncomfortable by them perhaps. I am inviting pool-goers to join me in my routines and, in so doing, to think about their own.

 “It was the simplicity of your presentation that profoundly affected me.”

 A note on content

What I write is hidden from me during the day, as each arms’ width section filled is immediately rolled away to the left to release more blank paper from the right. But each evening (feeling myself a modern version of Penelope, that most patient of women, unpicking what she weaves) I unwind the scroll to transcribe the material.

In this way, I shall be building up a land-locked, schoolrun-bounded version of an explorer’s logbook (like so many people who live a routine life in a country with mild climate, I read over and again the journals of Scott and other explorers of harsh terrain: the scrolls are my way of feeling a distant kinship with their tough and tenacious habits of mind).

Extracts will be made available in Summer 2017 in a range of formats: online, at Pells Pool, in an artist’s book of the project, and through posts on the Laps/Line blog.

Your thoughts

If you spend time with me during the making of A Wild Patience, you are invited to add comments to this section.

11 thoughts on “A Wild Patience: Laps in Longhand

  1. Dear Tanya

    I found our exchange at the poolside deeply meaningful. Thank you for being there and holding the space that for me, giving me the opportunity to drop down more deeply within myself authentically.

    Today I came to the Pells Pool to discover it completely empty. I found myself immediately entering an inner place of self doubt asking myself if I was allowed to swim, is all this space for me, is this possible? I had to check with several lifeguards before I felt I had permission to take the plunge.

    After my ritual of sitting at poolside, and splashing water on my legs and arms to move through any psychological resistance to entering a cold pool, I found myself swimming towards you at the other end quietly kneeling at a low table completely absorbed in your process of writing. It was the simplicity of your presentation that profoundly affected me. I saw your quiet ability to be totally with your own involvement. Your presence allowed me to consider more deeply my own process of being in the water, which after all is, I realised, your invitation to us all: to experiment with what it might be to take the time to really be with ourselves…

    So your presence, your holding of a space of quiet involvement, communicated to me the possibility of joining in. What I asked, do I notice about my experience in the water, what am I feeling, thinking? I began to pay attention to the movement of the water, the myriad colours that began to emerge on closer observation and presence of being, rather than a more shallow, generalised aquamarine. At one point I lost count of the number of lengths I was at. I usually set myself a twenty minute swim in which I am currently able to achieve 16 lengths. Yet when I lost count I began to wonder what 16 lengths meant to me as an identity. What would I be I wondered if I was 12 instead, or 18 lengths. Would I feel better or worse about myself? What would it be like to let go and just enjoy the process rather than stay fixed on the outcome.

    As my thoughts moved within me, sometimes disturbing me, sometimes bringing me to a greater connection, there you were, dressed in a way that enabled me to imagine you as a woman from a more ancient time, some older being who knew what it was to focus on something important, something that I am able to meet at times in myself, but that can feel slippery and hard to stay hold of.

    You looked so steadfast and I felt held by your presence, so that the young part in me that may feel lost at times, was enabled to grow and mature into a deeper essence of being, by what I experienced as an embodiment of the ancient lineage of mothers in you.

    There was a sequence of words that came to me as I swam, that I am not sure I am able to articulate the full meaning of, but that gives me a sense of something deeply profound and meaningful: ‘There is only ever the blue line’, which is what came to me as I swam the blue line painted at the bottom of the swimming pool.

    You helped me to step into a space I often don’t give myself permission to occupy. Thank you Tanya. I received so much from you being by the pool today. May you continue to spread your alchemy. With love and blessings.


    1. I love your idea ‘There is only ever the blue line’. If you experiment with that in your art practice, I’d be interested to see what comes. On that idea, do you know this poem by William Stafford? (Along with Adrienne Rich, his work informs a lot of my practice):

      The Way It Is

      There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
      things that change. But it doesn’t change.
      People wonder about what you are pursuing.
      You have to explain about the thread.
      But it is hard for others to see.
      While you hold it you can’t get lost.
      Tragedies happen; people get hurt
      or die; and you suffer and get old.
      Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
      You don’t ever let go of the thread.


  2. As someone who has particular associations with water that are quite sad in terms of personal loss and having had a sci fi imaginary explorer’s log book (with handwritten diagram entries) published, I am fascinated by your work. The scroll writing is also something I also find interesting. Best wishes, Ian Pyper

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dear Tanya, I found the meeting with you deeply interesting. It’s a very rare thing to meet an artist working outside in public. You made me question myself, my view of reality and my lack of art in my life. Your work should be applauded and supported, as we need to question ourselves more and the reality around us. Keep writing forever. Kind Regards, Simon Brodrick-Ward.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Whilst sunbathing over the summer at Pells Pool, I noticed a lady sitting in the corner unrolling what seemed to be scrolls on her table. Scarf tied neatly around her head. My first thoughts were great, a creative lady, maybe a painter, painting life at Pells Pool. My curiosity got the better of me and I decided to pluck up the courage to ask her what she was doing. At the same time wondering if I was disturbing her peace and purpose.

    A few shared words exchanged and I understood her presence and purpose at the pool. Interesting I thought and returned to my lazy day in the sun.

    My real affinity and connection with Tanya came through her great selection of books that she had put by the pool as part of her residency for people to read. Quite a variety of books that had a central theme: being amongst nature and the love of water. From London Lidos to Wild swimming in Spain, the list goes on. All themes close to my heart.

    So: Enjoying the summer days at Pells. I have read so many new books and feel I have been on a great adventure without leaving my sun lounger. Although I am an avid reader it was great to be inspired by new books that had not crossed my path before.

    The one book that offered me some invaluable inspiration was called The Artist’s Way, a book that suggests you write every morning to awaken the dormant artist. I am an artist but sometimes life gets in the way and you put your creativity on the back burner.

    After a few weeks of writing the morning pages I experienced a shift in my expression. And I decided I was not going to let life get in the way of my creativity.

    So my Saxaphone Lessons are booked for September and a new avenue of study has also opened up starting in September.

    Although I don’t know Tanya on a personal level I actually feel she has made a big impact on my life through her residency at Pells. So a heart felt thank you to Tanya for sharing and caring.

    I wrote this for Tanya but also to share how important it is to support artists and artists in residence. It is the job of the artist to communicate and tell a story that allows people to connect and communities to evolve and as the above story/stories have all expressed. What a great role Tanya has played at Pells Pool this Summer.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It has been a real joy for me to see you reading your way through the swimming-pool library this season, and to hear about your changes. Thank you for taking this time to add your story to the project log. I will need to get some more books for you!


  6. I’ve really enjoyed following this project from afar, and it actively encouraged me to make the trip to swim at Pells myself. I’ve seen the diverse way Tanya and her project have inspired so many people, and I feel lucky to have known about it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What a great idea – a writer-in-residence at Pells Pool. I have loved turning up, swimming and then exploring your swimming pool library, revisiting some old favourites, exploring some new authors and wandering off on new reading adventures. Thank you for inviting me to contribute to the laps blog as well, daunting though it was to put something of my own out into the digital world. It has also been great to find out that there are so many other lido lovers out there – I have found out about so many new places to swim. There have been news reports in recent months that fewer people are swimming than ever before and I think that projects like yours could maybe encourage more people to enjoy swimming by seeing it in a different, perhaps more liberating and creative way. Finally, I hope that something bigger and longer-lasting can grow from your work this summer, not only here in Lewes, but at pools and lidos across the country as well.


  8. Completely brilliant to have (a) a writer in residence at the Pells this year, and (b) that it was Tanya. Inspirational, engaging, reaching out to a broad community – including slow swimmers (but fast writers!) like me. Proof positive you don’t *HAVE* to be a wet-suit-clad lap-churner to have a legitimate voice on issues aquatic. Totally positive experience in interacting and working with Tanya, and can’t wait to see continued fruits of her – and her ‘new’ community’s – engagement. Can’t think why the pool didn’t have a writer in residence before, but it’s really added to the season. The scrolls are a thing of beauty. Can’t wait to see how they’re used …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Sam. I loved your Laps of Pells blog post for us – so many pool-goers told me that what you said was true for them too. Like your idea of a pool party next season for all who have been involved in the blog, the poolside poems, readers of the library & so on. I will make it happen.

      Liked by 1 person

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