“How did you end up here?” It’s what people ask foreigners or people who’ve been through tough times. The grammar offends me. What is the referent for here, exactly? This country? This town? This relationship? This trouble? This chair? On the floor? On the rise? Indefinite antecedents should be a felony.
And—end? I’ve yet to meet mine. I don’t mean to be ugly, but could we at least change the verb to one less terminal? Alight, maybe, or land, though the latter sits heavy. Either trumps the alternative.
Earnest or incredulous, the question in question lays track on my life’s rhythms. I queue my responses to stations where I’ve paused along the way, interrupting, interpreting, and recalibrating tempos that once beat close to the edge of madness. Neither answering nor the answer is for the faint of heart. This is how I do it.
I write early most days, rising at a time that one friend described as “got-an-early-flight-to-catch-early.” At four or sometimes three a.m., I feel sharp and tight like an Olympic diver high on a concrete platform, poised to launch—up, back, down, before splitting the surface twice—a choreographed break and exit. I love how the water keeps its promise to protect the diver from a lethal landing.
First, though, I meditate. Eyes closed, my mind’s ear finds the rhythm, its eye, the pose. I picture myself as a diver posed on tippy-toes ground deep, feet taut, shored by the concrete surface, so still—the pre-launch position is integral to the quality of what comes next. Feel the surge of power that drives me up, back, tuck or pike, twist or turn—it’s my choice—extend, straight, keep the body tight.
Find the rhythm, so visceral, and I imagine myself streaking down, vertical, hard, cutting sharp, through the water’s surface, a brazen aquatic drive-by, taking the sight and sound of the splash underwater, through the hard press, further still until my body finds the end and knows when to let loose, let go, rise, up—there it is!—hand to hand, pen to page, answering the call to the surface in a burst of splash and air. The heart responds, finds its rhythm in the water’s promise and the grace of ascent, and invites the body to breathe again.
I rely on rituals and meditations like this each morning to prepare for a deep dive into my current project, a memoir. On the advice of the nineteenth-century poet, who showed truth through imperfect rhyme, I tell my story slant, allowing truth to lean this way and that; it’s safe if I keep it tight at the core.
Rituals and meditations like visualizing a dive into deep water help me summon the courage to compose stories I wish weren’t mine to tell. They inspire me to write bravely in a spirit of curiosity, often discovering things I didn’t know I knew or felt or understood until they showed up on my page. My warm-up rituals prime me for the adventure of writing, prepare me for the slow, hard work necessary to bring a story to order, and remind me to trust the page to keep its promise of a safe landing.