I went for a kayak over the weekend and it was very fulfilling. The sea was so clam, as if it were liquid glass suspended on either end by imaginary glass blowers. I paddled to this spit of land that is only accessible when the tide’s out (it’s a deft scramble over rocks when the tide is in) and watched this huge cloud city trundle across the sky, the sun lost in its mass and feathering its edges, and the blue sky rinsed and rubbed like a kid’s wellie. For a split second, I didn’t want to go home. I wanted to make this small peninsula my home like Crusoe. But then I realized I had no books, no paper, no pen, and that a quick walk and the place was explored.
No fiction there. So I paddled back and left a more simpler me behind, strolling the surf in silence.
There are similarities between writing and kayaking. For one, both expect you to be fixed in a small space with expansive vistas before you. Both require a rhythm, but not one that is too forced or calculated. Wandering freely in both is preferred to explicit destinations. And you don’t need that many extra tools: paddle, life jacket, and water bottle for one, a room of one’s own (or a table in the corner of the living room), a computer, and uninterrupted time for the other. That’s the hardest part for a writer but not for the kayaker. Once you’re out on the water there’s no urgency to return to land until you are ready. You are completely unreachable. Time is the ripple in your wake, the unending drops of water that slide off your paddle, the slap of waves, and the sun smashed into liquid gold.
The meniscus that separates you as a writer from the world of time is more immediate and tenuous. It breathes there at your shoulder. And the world of time and responsibility is always close at hand, especially if you have a young family. There is more of a force field that needs to be generated as a writer in order to finish what is needed.
Kayaking, then, is more of an escape.
Writing is an attempt at escape that ends in you becoming even deeper entrenched into the world of time.
George Herbert’s “The Collar”
I struck the board, and cry’d, No more.
I will abroad.
What? shall I ever sigh and pine?
My lines and life are free; free as the rode,
Loose as the winde, as large as store.
Shall I be still in suit?
Have I no harvest but a thorn
To let me bloud, and not restore
What I have lost with cordiall fruit?
Sure there was wine
Before my sighs did drie it: there was corn
Before my tears did drown it.
Is the yeare onely lost to me?
Have I no bayes to crown it?
No flowers, no garlands gay? all blasted?
Not so, my heart: but there is fruit,
And thou hast hands.