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Jessica Smith
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Hello friends and happy New Year! Thank you all for your thoughts on my last piece. Your feedback was very special to me. Both of my previous columns explored, to a degree, the relationship of relief to writing and fitness - how both of these pursuits are an attempt to alleviate the immense pressure of being alive. This week I wanted to talk more about vanity and its role in sharing your work and in working on your body. This picture is of Lake Lanier Islands Resort in Georgia. Read on to find out what an overcrowded, vaguely trashy summer destination could possibly have to do with fitness and writing. * Growing up in Georgia, I spent many summer days at Lake Lanier. I remember afternoons slick with Coppertone, eating a too-warm apple on my kitten beach towel, contemplating the murky brown water. It was a man-made lake, I knew, and an entire town had been flooded to create it. This both terrified and thrilled me. I also knew Lake Lanier was named for the beloved Georgia poet Sidney Lanier. My mother had read me some of his verse before bed and I would recite the lines (which I understood not at all) as a talisman when I eventually braved the water. Once swimming, though, I became fearless. I even had conversations with an imaginary friend while I floated on my back by the outer buoys. She was a little ghost girl, about my age, whom I pictured still eating dinner and going to school long after the lake was filled in. Can you breathe in the water now? I’d ask her. Do you have a Little Mermaid tail? Is it fun having no Mommy to tell you what to do? I created elaborate tales about my ghost girl and her summer exploits, which I scribbled in my journal on the hour car ride back home. In her book The Faith of a Writer, Joyce Carol Oates explores the strangeness of this temperament, saying “The very act of withdrawing from the world in order to create a so curious, it eludes comprehension...Why have some of us, writers and readers both, made of the ‘counter-world’ a prevailing culture in which, sometimes to the exclusion of the actual world, we can live?” Many of my childhood afternoons were spent withdrawn, reading or writing. I felt so ill-at-ease in the “actual world” that I compulsively created others. I was an intense and very nerdy little girl, prone to dropping truth-bombs on other children whom I considered to be foolish or prone to frivolity (Really, you’re building a sand castle? Did you know there’s an entire town underneath the lake and probably lots of dead bodies?). All those early days at Lake Lanier, when the other kids had told me - understandably - to get lost, I floated around alone, talking to a dead poet or an imaginary drowned girl. And I was totally cool with that. * There are many turns in... Continue reading
Posted Jan 21, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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Dec 12, 2014