To draw. To draw breath. To draw a line. To draw a connection.
When I was twelve a coach remarked I had a ‘feel’ for the water. After basking in the attention for a moment, I understood exactly what he meant. I still do. It’s a knowledge of watery space, being able to sense exactly where my body is and what it’s affecting, an animal empathy for contact with an element - the springing shudder a cat makes when you touch its back. When I’m dry I bump into things, stub toes, miss stairs. I prefer the horizontal, feet up, legs folded over armrests, head propped sideways on my elbow.
I don’t understand how to really draw until a teacher says, ‘Imagine you are running your hand over the surface of what you are drawing.’
- Leanne Shapton, Swimming Studies (pp 210-211)
Here, geography is understood as earth (geo-) drawing (-graphe), that is, a description of the earth and human experience of it, considering issues of orientation, spatial relationship and the character of places. 'Sensuous geography' therefore refers to a study of the geographical understanding which arises out of the stimulation of, or apprehension by, the senses. This is both an individual and a social geography, a physical and a cultural geography.
- Paul Rodaway, Sensuous Geographies (p 5)
I loved drills best, when I could feel the water in centimeters and so understood how tiny adjustments and angles added up and propelled my body more efficiently. We’d move slowly up and down the pool, sculling with only our hands and wrists, or swim backstroke pointing to the ceiling with one hand and pausing for the other hand to catch up. I liked the idea of bodies as hydrodynamic, the eddies and ripples, the repetition, the needlepoints of swimming.
- Leanne Shapton, Swimming Studies (p 9)
Touch literally concerns contact between person and world. It is participation, passive and active, and not mere juxtaposition. The haptic system gives us the ability to discriminate key characteristics of the environment and our place as a separate entity in that environment or world, but it is not just a physical relationship, it is also an emotional bond between ourself and our world. Touch is a kind of communication between person and world, a corporeal situation rather than a cognitive positioning. The gentle touch is always more effective than mere words. Touch is direct and intimate, and perhaps the most truthful sense.
- Paul Rodaway, Sensuous Geographies (p 44)
In water, most of the communication is physical. I like being so close to strangers’ bodies, seeing their clumsiness and vulnerability.
- Leanne Shapton, Swimming Studies (p 296)
To draw a connection:
Swimming is a form of correspondence - between body and world, self and environment, body and body. “A kind of communication between person and world.” Like drawing (“imagine you are running your hand over the surface…”). Like writing, even, which is a physical as well as an intellectual act. A form of labour: “in the ‘work’ of writing, the page becomes a personally invested space, a site to be both revered and feared, one of daily practice and struggle” (Dydia DeLyser and Harriet Hawkins, 2014, p 2). Here, too, there’s a connection between the “work” of writing and the “work” of swimming, the work done in the pool and the daily practice and struggle there: the pool, like the page, becomes a site to be “both revered and feared”.
”Correspondence is neither given nor achieved, but always in the making […] Wherever you find them, humans are humaning. That is to say, they are corresponding – as letter writers do, scribing their thoughts and feelings, waiting for answers – living lives that weave around one another along ever-extending ways” (Tim Ingold, 2014, pp 389-390).