Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
How a pandemic, a public pool and an obsession with the British Royal family inspired one writer to claim her spot on the book shelves
The trick is getting to the pool early enough to claim the best lane. I want the one with the long wire running lengthwise above the water, or else I’ll crash. Not like car crash crash, more like beginning backstroke crash — I need the visual aid of the wire above me to keep from hitting the hard plastic lane dividers. My backstroke resembles a drunk toddler careening from side to side unless I track the wire, and I jam more than one finger when I don’t get the right lane. So I’m diligent about lining up early, six feet from my fellow swimmer, so that when pool manager James calls out in his deep baritone, “Head on in, and remember, I love you all,” I make a beeline for one of the two lanes with the wire above it.
Pushing off the wall, I feel the whoosh of water behind my bright orange swim cap. At five meters out, I pass the horizontal wire with little blue flags running down the length, signaling my ascent into deeper water. From there I follow the vertical wire, strung above me like a tightrope. Thwack. Thwack. Thwack — I windmill my arms and remind myself to relax my shoulders. Soon the vertical wire is my only visual marker, a silhouette against the sky. At this point I have no reference for my progress, and my mind plays a trick on me. Despite my body straining and my heart pumping, the illusion makes me feel suspended in place, time and sound cease to exist. I’m travelling down the lane but feel like I’m swimming in place, my mind blissfully blank. Suddenly, the second set of flags appear over my head, signaling the approaching wall, and the world snaps back into focus with a sharp whoosh. Suddenly, my physical exertion matches my mind’s eye and I’m hyper aware of my breathing, my movement, my thoughts.
I took up swimming during the pandemic. With the gyms closed, my living room failing as a makeshift yoga studio, and my driveway a poor substitute for Zoom fitness classes, I started swimming laps. My neighborhood municipal pool stayed open during lockdown and gave everyone their own lane, which in crowded Los Angeles is a little slice of heaven. Besides the grocery store and the occasional can’t-put-it-off doctor’s appointment, the pool became one of the few places I ventured to during quarantine.
The last 400 days have felt like one long trip down the wire, without any markers, unable to judge any progress.
I stared at the wire, at the sky, but couldn’t figure out how far or how fast my life was moving. The days bleeding into each other, the dishes, my work desk crowding the living room, the halfhearted way I ask my daughter “how was school?” even though I knew Zoom classes suck. But then suddenly I would see a flag in my peripheral vision and feel a flush of progress. Like when I finished a draft of my first novel.
My obsession, at least since 2017, is the British Royal Family. I started following them like some people follow the Kardashians, mostly to divert my attention from the news and fractious political environment. The Crown on Netflix was my gateway drug. When Meghan Markle married Prince Harry in a storybook Windsor wedding in 2018, I was all in. Here was a bi-racial, American divorcee joining the family that invented the stiff upper lip. She was a breath of fresh air, no, a gust, the likes of which the world hasn’t seen since Diana. Could Harry, Meghan, William, and Kate live up to their new nickname “The Fab Four?”
Alas, no. Harry and Meghan’s break up with “The Firm” fascinated me. It became the inspiration for my forthcoming book.
In my fictionalized version of the very public Royal drama, the exiled Duke and Duchess are summoned back to London to find the missing heir, only to uncover shocking family secrets along the way. It’s juicy, it’s lavish, and it’s fun — and exactly what I needed to get through 2020.
As the COVID-19 pandemic bore down on me, on the world, I was consumed by anxiety and confusion. I woke up every morning at 6am with my mind racing. So instead of just lying there spinning, I wrapped myself in a warm housecoat, opened my laptop, and wrote pages, grateful for the quiet respite from my thoughts. My encyclopedic Royal knowledge was actually the foundation I needed to craft the world of my novel. I found an amazing book coach — I’m a former athlete who responds super well to coaching — and completed a first draft in twelve weeks. Since then, I’ve been revising, taking writing classes, and wondering when to call it done (never finished, just done).
I get my best ideas while swimming. Something about the pool puts me in the right headspace. There’s no phone buzzing, no email pinging, no family to look after. It’s just the water, my controlled breath, and deep thoughts. After each workout, I stand just outside the pool gates, dripping wet, furiously dictating voice memos into my phone, my swim ruminations becoming future pages.
The other day I gazed across the concrete pool deck, bare and charmless as only a city run facility can be. This sure doesn’t look like a place to find my creative spirit, I thought. But yet, I found inspiration in the little blue flags that fluttered above me like butterfly wings. I came to crave the sudden rush when I ceased to be weightless and lost, and instead feel catapulted forward by my own power. Late at night, when I’m writing in the makeshift office/pandemic school room off the garage, I often feel stuck. So, I close my eyes and transport myself back into the pool. I follow the wire and spot the flags, and my squeaky desk chair jolts forward as if powered by an unseen hand. That’s salvation. That’s my muse.
You may also enjoy reading Swimming for Strength, Injury Recover, Positivity and Overall Health, by Jane Sandwood