Thursday, August 25, 2005

What pebbles we treasure!

Em's brother and nephew left on Monday, and after a whirlwind few days of enjoying the beaches, the promenades, the good food and all the wonderful bounties of LA summer, I slid down into reflection on the BIG task. Here's an incident that serves as an analogy.

Till about two years ago, I couldn't swim. So when I visited Greece for the first time about three years ago, I was apprehensive about being on a sailing trip for three days. S had insisted that I wear a life vest at all times on board, and even with the vest, at times the very strong night winds had me scared. And then, after a morning of sailing, we anchored near the most gorgeous secluded beach in the afternoon. Even at the spot where we anchored, the bottom of the sea was clearly visible, starfish refracted through masses of shimmering blue-green, squiggling across the sea bed.And S insisted that I should try and wade across to the beach, with my vest strapped on of course. I was tempted, I wondered how it would be to be enveloped by this blue-green creature, that seemed to sparkle and frolick at every quiver.

I stepped into the water, still holding on to the boat step ladder. And then S said, "Let go, and lie down"! Suddenly, terrible rush of panic, my head stubbornly refusing to make contact with water, my hand tenaciously holding on to the ladder. S, not noticing my terror, tried to pull me into the water, and hold my body afloat. But at that moment, the blue-green acquired monstrous qualities, enguling me with menace on all side, and all I could think of was escape. I gripped the step ladder with all my strength and tried to clamber back on, screaming out to S to let me go. Back on the boat, I tried to regain composure, convinced that I had escaped certain death, while S consoled me, trying to cajole me to give a swim to the beach another try. I looked at the sea, again, the undulating happy prism of a thousand shades of dichroma. I stepped into the water a second time, gently lowered by S, and this time, when he asked me to assume floating position and dip my head in the water, the panic was not so intense, although there was residual familiar fear. I manages to flail my arms enough to reach the beach, and how beautiful it was, with it's mix of sand and many-hued pebbles, forever smoothened by the caresses of water that was almost clear and colourless at this point.

Lately grappling with my dissertation has at times brought on visions of that primaeval panic, the breathlessness and anxiety of it all. The enormity of the blue-green composed of a multitude of tasks, work that needs to be assembled bit by bit, finessed, painstakingly and then defended against the bored contempt of those who have seen too many nervous faces. I guess I hope for a beautiful beach at the end of it, metaphorically, but literally as well, a beach to lie down on and rest after my labors. But that's a distant dream, and for now what I have are several months of research to look forward to.

Em, Matt and I had gone to Zuma beach last Saturday, a quieter sort of beach almost on the outer rim of LA county, on the edge of Malibu. I sat on the beach as Em and Matt went off for a swim. The waves here tend to be fairly big, so of course a few surfers are always to be seen, keeping an eye on the next wave, positioning themselves for the few moments of glorious balance. I wondered if I could ride a surfboard, only for a few seconds, before being knocked off by a massive wave and my own clumsy feet. She didn't know how to swim, and now she wants to surf! I also felt a wee bit of sadness at another summer drawing to a close, and realization that some sources of anxiety need to be met head on over the next few months. As my advisor never fails to remind me, "You should think of graduating this year". Talk about understatement!

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