It occurred to me recently, not for the first time, that my swimming reminds me of my writing process. I’m a lap swimmer in a community pool. I swim very long distances. My pool is not part of a fancy gym. The locker room is way too small. Sometimes it’s as crowded in there as a subway at rush hour. There’s a grungy gang shower too, with cracks in the tile and some broken fixtures. Hot water is more a hope than a reality. You have to bring your own towel to this place and last week someone pried open my combination lock and stole the money from my wallet while I was doing my laps. I was grateful they left the wallet though, and figured maybe they needed the $22 more than I did. Actually, I love this gym and I love the pool, which, unlike the locker room, is clean and well-maintained. The lifeguards are friendly. Now, writing has its challenges too. Sometimes the water isn’t hot and the fixtures are broken. And the most obvious comparison between the two is that lap swimming is this solitary effort, where you literally throw yourself into the deep end and just take off. Most writers understand that part. Personally, I’m not the flashiest swimmer or the fastest. My technique isn’t the prettiest either, but I do keep at it. That’s like my writing. And like writing, the benefits of swimming work best when you stick to a regular schedule or routine. You increase your stamina over time. Writing a short story is like a long swim for me. It’s tough to get started sometimes. You can struggle at first. You flail away. And then you eventually find a rhythm and you pace yourself. You don’t stop. You try not to lose steam before the finish. (If writing a short story is like a long swim for me, then working on my unpublished novel was more like running a marathon at a high altitude – but that’s another topic entirely.) I don’t think of lap swimming as only a metaphor. It has become part of my writing process too. Sometimes a swim will clear my head and get me back into a space where I can work. But I’ve also tackled plot problems, created back stories for characters and tried out dialogue as I thrash around in the pool, sometimes losing count of my laps as a result. I’m grateful for my time in the water and for my time at the computer too, when things come together and I have enough momentum to carry me through. I think my writing and lap swimming have become somewhat linked in my mind, the endurance part anyway, the personal challenge, the dogged persistence. As with anything, it comes down to commitment — that happy dedication to something that will eventually become part of who you really are, at any moment, on any particular day.
Writing poetry is a strange addiction. I have never been able to explain it: this strange desire to sit alone in a room for hours with nothing but a pen and pencil to entertain me. I have friends and family members who simply do not understand it. Sometimes they resent it. Or regard me with suspicion. One friend suspected me of having an affair, or perhaps a series of affairs. As she put it, why else would I disappear for hours at a time and not answer my door, my phone, or my email. Why else would I look so exhausted at the end of a day, as if I had had a disagreement with a lover? Why else would I have no appetite, and want to sip wine and brood, my mood sour, my mind distracted.
But most who know me know the sad truth: I lead a truly boring life. Whatever affair that exists is between me and poetry. And it makes no sense. Why? my mother used to ask me every summer, would anyone spend her spare time inside when she could be hiking or swimming or having fun with friends? My father nodded. Is there any money in this hobby? he asked. My friend, a yoga teacher, chimed in, Is there some kind of glory one feels, or enlightenment one attains after writing a great poem?
No, I answered. I rarely finish a poem. Eventually, I just feel finished.
Sometimes I, too, wonder. I think of all the invitations, especially morning invitations, I have turned down. When pressed for an explanation, I say that the muse might stop in for a visit. And she usually visits in the morning. I simply can’t take the chance that I might miss her.
Muse? Really? they ask, and I nod.
I don’t explain that it’s not just one muse. Actually there is an entire alphabet of muses who visit, and they change over time, from the alpha muse, or the first muse I ever met, to the zed of muses, or the end of all muses, and the one who will be end of me. The zed keeps me stuck in my desk chair, hours at a time, with my neck burning, my head aching, my mind blurring. Just one more try, she whispers.
But the best are the 24 muses in between the alpha and the zed, from the blond muse, also known as the bitch, with her long flowing hair, red boots and fuck-you smirk, to the cartographer-muse who keeps a map of my soul in her pocket, to the deceptive muse who tells me only a lie can save me.
There is also the ethereal muse, who offers glimpses of immortality, the feline muse who purrs when she likes me but suddenly bites, sinking her teeth in my skin, and the ghostly muse who hangs out with the dead.
There is the happy muse who likes to quote Camus: One must imagine Sisyphus happy.
And the illusive muse, who appears only if she wishes, though I am never sure she is really there, and the jealous muse who looks at all the poets who have accomplished more than I. Putting her hands on her hips, she glares at me. Are you ever going to write a real poem?
There is the klepto-muse who steals others’ lines when I am not looking, and the lunar muse who wakes me at night and begins reciting my unwritten poems before I can grab a pen. And the mischievous muse who inspires me to write terrible poems, which I love only while composing them, and afterwards recoil in shame.
There is the Nike muse, with her perfectly toned body and new running shoes, calling out, Let’s go for a run. I keep a pen in hand as we jog together, and once we start moving the poems flow more naturally. (But it’s hard to run and write at the same time!) There is also the orgasmic muse who equates great poems with great sex, and the peaceful muse who is as soothing and memorable as warm milk. And the queen of all muses who dictates exactly what I must write, and I write it, word for word.
There is the red muse who is like the flag bulls charge at, though she disappears just when I arrive, and the sacred muse who prefers prayers to poems and often equates the two. And the tardy muse who arrives when I am about to give up hope.
There is the urgent muse who tells me, you must write this poem now. And the vain muse who thinks she is my raison d’etre, that without her, I am no one. And there is the weeping muse who watches the world from her window in heaven.
There is the xenophobic muse who has no use for those who do not worship her, or those who are not writers or artists or dancers. And there is yesterday’s muse who keeps writing the poems I wrote long ago, especially poems about orgasms. And there is the zed, also known as Zeno’s muse.
Zeno’s muse knows I will never be done with her, though sometimes I imagine an end-point. A life without this kind of suffering. I look forward to that day when I will no longer be sitting at this desk, no longer spellbound by an invisible world, no longer composing words no one will read, no longer imagining a perfect poem, a little sliver of heaven that is not yet swallowed by the dark.
Interview Editor Stacie Fraser is in her senior year at Arizona State University. She is studying English Literature and will be graduating in May. All of the years spent attending classes at ASU she has also been working for Sparky’s Stadium Shop located on the Tempe Campus. After graduating, she hopes to apply her skills learned throughout college and her time at Superstition Review, to a career in editing and publishing. This is her first semester working with Superstition Review.
1. What is your position with Superstition Review and what are your responsibilities?
I am an Interview Editor at Superstition Review. I am responsible for selecting authors to interview for our page. My position has me selecting authors, emailing them and asking them if they would be willing to be interviewed for our magazine. I then create a list of interview questions specifically for that author.
2. Why did you decide to get involved with Superstition Review?
I applied to Superstition Review because it is a great learning opportunity. It also allows me to become more familiar with lesser known authors.
3. How do you like to spend your free time?
I love spending my free time outside in Arizona’s beautiful sunshine, running and swimming. I also love going to the movies with friends and reading novels.
4. What other position(s) for Superstition Review would you like to try out?
I would also like to experience everything that the fiction section editor’s have to do at Superstition Review. I am very interested in editing novels for a career.
5. Describe one of your favorite literary works.
I am a huge fan of Salman Rushdie. His novel The Moor’s Last Sigh is one of his best works. Moraes Zogoiby, also called Moor, is the narrator who ages twice as fast as normal humans. The novel is full of magical realism, hybridity and allegory.
6. What are you currently reading?
I am currently reading Blood on the Forge, by William Attaway, for a Protest Literature course. When school is not in session, I enjoy reading books by Janet Evanovich. Her works are much lighter and easier to read than most of the novels recommended for my college courses. Even though I am an English Literature major, I have not read some great classics. Once I graduate I plan to start at the top of my list and read many famous authors like Emily Dickens and J. D. Salinger.
7. Creatively, what are you currently working on?
I am currently toying with the idea of writing fiction short stories. In the past I have written poetry, but all of my writing has been for personal accomplishments, not publication, and will most likely continue that way for a while longer.
8. What inspires you?
My personal drive for success and happiness is my biggest inspiration. I want to be able to handle whatever life throws at me.
9. What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of my college education. Graduation in May will be the best achievement I have accomplished so far. I cannot wait to continue with life and hope to be on a successful career path.
10. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In 10 years I hope to be working in San Francisco, or some west coast city, for a publishing company as an editor.