Monday, January 12, 2009
the fish and the indigo sea
It was dark and quiet as I cycled home from the studio, looking at all the darkened houses, pedalling through puddles of shadow through streets emptied of cars. The light in the park at the end of the street is still flickering: it flicks on as I ride by. Everything is still and quiet.
I arrived home and realised that it was after midnight. I was covered in paint, floating in another world.
The studio at the moment is like a birthing room of sorts. There is a vat of indigo dye waiting to transform Miss Boat’s woven silk, the Threads of Infinity. She is weaving a silk cloak, to be worn in a desert, and it will be dyed with the indigo.
My indigo paint is less romantic in origin, but I hope that the images it reveals are transportive also. Last year during holy week I was using indigo pigment which stained my hands and floated into my lungs. I remember also the heat and the sound of cockatoos, the purple night sky and Miserere flowing into the night.
So I parked my bike. I fell into bed at 1am, blue and tired.
In the morning I woke. It was the day of the Avalon Ocean swim. I like to swim with other fish, the solidarity of the pack, the roar of the water as we thunder out onto the open sea. I love the rush from pushing myself, of racing. Of going fast.
I have never missed an Avalon race. I rang around to see if someone would pick me up, and found some kind friends to collect me. I hadn’t eaten, I threw some things in a bag, and off we went. Up the peninsula, into the morning.
Typical Sydney summer day: the nor’easter was causing the ocean no small worry, its surface ruffled with the threat of stingers. Bluebottles. The day before I had walked along the edge of the sea and noted with disgust at leat four fish hurled by the sea onto the sand. A trigger fish, sunken in its jacket of black velvet, lay there gawking blindly among scraps of ribbon weed.
I hate when you do that, I said to the sea.
The sea hissed and growled, so I swam in the rockpool where nasty fingers of brine couldn’t cause me a mischief: the sea rocked and muttered beyond the wall. This day it seemed in no better a mood, dark and ruffled.
Still with my head in the indigo place, speaking seemed strange and foreign. Sentences got stuck in my mouth, reminding me of this week’s solitude and labour. I idly reminded myself that I was just here to swim. That no, I had not prepared, and hadn’t seriously trained. A large group of State Age champions stood nearby, with their pale bendy legs and silvered pool-hair, talking about their times. Friends stood around and I did my best to fool them into thinking I was normal. I stretched a bit, stiff from the cycling and standing endlessly at my easel. The large canvases make my arms ache after a while.
Suddenly the wind stops, and I notice a dark bruise of weather trying to make its way north east. It is still: a standoff between the sea and the storm. Light floods in. The surface of the sea becomes calm. Shoulders of swell gleam in the light.
The race begins: below me a swarm of tiny whiting wriggle and dart. I am thick amongst bodies, the surface of the sea white and boiling, and head for the depths, careful to surface away from thrashing limbs. I daydream. I am careful not to go too hard, because it is a long race, and I am not prepared.
The pack drags you along: it is an exciting, exhilarating feeling to be in a pack, all of us together. Close by is a girl in fuschia pink swimmers, which flicker and sparkle. I concentrate on my pull-through, on my body rotation, on becoming a fish. First my tail, then my fins, and then I am flying out in the open sea, straight as a whiting, slick as a seal, over the shark nets, past the headland.
I turn the first marker. Something strange is happening.
I’m out in the indigo, and the strange swell is heaving and rolling, there is no ocean floor. Nets of silver air flutter up and hover on the underside of my body. The sea sings like a cello, and lifts me up. Propels me.
The sea lifts me. The sea is carrying me.
It is singing, deep notes, and I am flying past all the others. I’m so high in the water that the rolling swell throws me forwards, and I am something today I’ve never been, some dark and effortless fish with headful of beautiful thoughts. The sea is with me, a quiet sensation of the world telling me, everything is good. I continue to dream.
The sea tells me: love as much as you can. I promise it I will, and we swim on together, the sea and I.
I finish the long reach, here is the last turning point. The girl in pink is still nearby, and I am seized an overwhelming desire to absolutely sprint the last 800 meters, to let go of everything, to go as fast as I have ever gone. My hands are pulling , all fish tricks are brought into play as my face begins to burn. The girl in pink disappears, I am full speed, no longer floating, but entirely in my body, and I am roaring.
The sea, with uncharacteristic grace, places me back upon land gently. I burst from the water and sprint up the sand.
I’ve medalled. Broken my times: two minutes faster.
In the land of swimming, two minutes is rather a long time. I’m not even tired.
I have been competing in these Ocean swims for seventeen years, and have a basket full of medals to which I will add this one. But never before have I experienced such a state of…of what?
A state of being? Of belovedness? I am still trying to articulate the strangeness and wonder of it all.
Of strange indigo swells carrying me? Of peacefulness, of strength, of effortless exhilaration? That everything will be alright?
I return to the studio.
I resume painting, and the late light slopes in the door. When I turn to look, a thunderstorm is approaching and I watch it, leaning on the doorframe with my brush in hand. I wonder idly if the sea will still love me tomorrow. I smell the coming rain and think about love, and blue, and poetry and light. I feel blessed.
I return to the canvas then, and spread indigo across it with my brush. Fat raindrops are just beginning to fall.