I am swimming though, not unusually, I am not thinking about swimming. There is a slow rippling out from aquatic leisure activity and head placement to: as soon as I get home I will work on this, and then on that, and then I will have a good, long rest. Actually, before I have a good rest I will need to do a b c d e f g. Shit. My day evaporates. Water sluices by me. I feel weightless and stupid. Brain buzzes. I am listening to Max Richter’s recomposed Vivaldi Four Seasons Suite with my waterproof headphones. I cannot be left alone with my thoughts for thirty minutes, 900 metres. I’m not a very good swimmer, but I’m trying to enjoy things and not think about how good I am at them. Which is, I guess, another kind of test. I listen to the violins soar above the water like there is a quartet alongside me. We bathe in cool water and restrained melody as we wait for the Titanic to sink. Like all classical music it is supposed to make me feel smarter, like a much older and boobier Baby Mozart, but instead I can’t cling onto thoughts, they swish by like… like… I forget.
Today I need to finish that painting someone commissioned. Tomorrow I need to work on my book. But actually I can’t work on the book because I need to write an essay about my body to impress people and to be vulnerable and for them to go, oh wow look you have such a complicated relationship to your body, you are so naked, you are a special girl. When I don’t even know if my relationship to my body is that complicated. When I don’t even know if I am a girl. Maybe I will get no reaction at all, and then I will simply feel bad for whanging my beating heart on the table again. To be paid 100 dollars for it. But I am very lucky. I am very very lucky. I love being asked for things. I love giving things over. Chipping off pieces of myself like splinters of tiny violins. I am grateful. Bzz bzz bzz.
I am writing about swimming but actually now I am sitting in a hotel room with my partner. This writing exists in an ephemeral space, somewhere in-between and not-quite-there like a dog in a spaceship with no radio signal. Poor lil old Laika. Poor lil old me. Poor lil me in a hotel room in paradise exploiting the wealth disparities between me and the local people in order to have a good time that I would be unable to afford in a home context. Do ya think I’m smart? Do ya think I’m sexy? Does my writing appeal to you? Does this persona piss you off? or is it relatable?
Every Thursday at the pool I used to swim at in Footscray, a foggy steamed up hangar on the hill above the river, women practiced synchronised swimming to pop hits of the present and the past, and those which transcend those time boundaries.
OK, only Madonna transcends these boundaries. Their legs pierced the water like powerful chopsticks, straight and perfect. Their coach, an old Russian woman in a tracksuit, would clap, and scream, and screech at them to do it better. But often she would just sit to the side and watch captivated at her winning students. Recently, after being accused of doping and then winning a gold medal, Sun Yang, hyped up on being proven right, on pushing himself, on winning, yelled in the face of an opponent, “I win, I win, you lose!” We are always pushing ourselves to be better, stronger, faster. The goal posts move. My feet hurt. My hamstrings strain as I swish through the water. Miles Teller in Whiplash performs at the big concert after a car accident, dripping blood. He pushes himself to collapse. I find it sexy. I am part of the problem. I am so grateful for the opportunity. Is there a medal I can get for how grateful I feel?
When I was a teenager I would be reduced to a ball of nerves any time I had to do a presentation. I would push myself and push myself until there was nothing left. In university I would leave assignments to the last minute, and presentations, and then just not show up for them, too afraid of losing face, of failing, and I would say that my cat had died. I don’t know how many cats I went through.
Is there a grant I can get for working so hard, for being so willing to spray personal secrets like aesthetic vomit? My limbs feel like tightly coiled snakes. My brain is soggy spaghetti. The light jumps out of the sun and pours down like tequila sunrise, bounces off my skin like bouncy balls… no. I cannot write anything without imagining an audience. Hello…you. How many times can I write about myself before it gets old and ugly? How many times will I throw myself off the end of the pier before I will learn to swim? Just kidding, I’m swimming right now. Just kidding, I’m writing this.
Hello, you. Tell me I’m a good girl. Now: mean it.
Eloise Grills is an award-winning essayist, comics artist and poet living in Melbourne. They were recently shortlisted for the 2019 Cosmonauts Avenue Non-Fiction Prize. In 2018 they won the Woollahra Digital Literary award for Non-Fiction, the Lifted Brow Experimental Non-Fiction Prize, and they were nominated for a Walkley for their illustrated criticism. Their first poetry collection, If you’re sexy and you know it slap your hams, is out now with Subbed In. They tweet and gram as @grillzoid.