Welcome to our Young Writer in the City stories! The works in this series were written by young writers who sourced inspiration from Launceston’s prominent sites and buildings during their 2016 residency.

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About Grace Kenyon, 2016 Young Writer in the City

I am 17 years old, in year 11 at Launceston College. I am an avid advocate of mental illness and eating disorders especially, and I want to dedicate my life to, amongst other things, promoting awareness and understanding of mental disorders. I am a passionate animal rights supporter and environmentalist, and I live a vegan lifestyle so I can put my beliefs in to actions. My greatest love is writing. I truly believe that the written word is incalculably more powerful than anything spoken aloud; writing, I believe, lets one express the true interpretation of one’s external surroundings and internal emotions. The overwhelming power of literature to change lives by reaching minds astounds me. I plan to study a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne and do postgraduate study in psychology, but I also have a love for journalism and my career role model is Leigh Sales.

I have written inspired by the water at the Launceston Aquatic Center. Although initially it was a really challenging venue to take inspiration from, I eventually became infatuated with how beautifully water can be written about, and even more so how beautifully human movement in water can be written about.

 

And by the Water I have been Humbled

By Grace Kenyon

 

What does the water mean to me?

I was provided with the task of observing a public pool and instructed to draw from that inspiration to write.

And what hit me was the sheer ignorance I, like the vast majority of the people on this planet, show towards water.

Roughly 70% of an adult’s body is water. How astounding and humbling to consider that what appears to be the most innocent element – the dripping of a tap, the slow stream of sweat on a hot summer’s day – is, in fact, to be thanked for the entirety of our existence.

Perhaps sitting watching children stomp and splash their way through chlorinated pools (that are actually oceans where mermaids dive and Neptune rules) has played with my brain – but I consider the sheer lack of wonderment and awe enjoyed in this life to be utterly dismal.

Who truly stops to think about the fact that one salty tear falling from a single eye may be composed of the same molecules that a prehistoric dinosaur chugged down thirstily 50 billion years ago? That the water streaming from a showerhead is the same water an ancient Greek civilian sweated out under the unforgiving sun in 200 B.C.?

No, there is not enough wonderment in this life. I want to embrace more wonder – how exceptional that we are even here at all. How exceptional that a beautiful young girl can live in a society where her special needs no longer prevent her from experiencing the bliss of floating in warm water; how exceptional that the human race has somehow been so perfectly manufactured and constructed in such a way that our lungs know to absorb air and our throats know to swallow and the membranes of our cells know which molecules to let pass through; how exceptional that an aquatic center can evoke all these thoughts.

I am watching mothers bounce their babies and I am watching preschoolers learn to swim, and all the while I am sensing, with greater feeling than ever, the constant flowing of water through my body. Listen, so carefully, place your ear to your shoulder and you can feel it too: the course of water as it rushes under your skin.

Over 70% of the entire earth’s surface is water. Do you know what that means? Human life exists in much under half of the world that we are choosing to destroy. The oceans; they are the real power. As people, we are fooling ourselves to believe we are of any great significance. The ships that brought the greats to the land that we live on; Columbus and Marco Polo and Captain Cook – they were all carried by the roaring, swelling waves of the sea. To the sea they owe their discoveries; to the sea we are thus indebted.

Each sip of water we swallow; that water is dispersed to the multitude of systems we depend on to breathe and move and smile and blink and dance and swallow and laugh and sleep and live.

In this tiny city of Launceston that exists on this tiny island of Tasmania (which is more often than not left off the map) in a power-crazed and upside-down world, I am truly overwhelmed by the insight that a swimming pool has given me. My entire life, and the life of everyone around me, depends on the existence of water. And by water I have been humbled.

 

The Boy Who Was Born In The Water

 

Only a year older than myself, a young man named Kyle Chalmers took home gold in the 2016 Olympic swimming pool just three weeks ago. He depended on the water for his championship – as we all do. Whilst the world watched the underdog pound through the water to claim victory over the other Olympians that everyone had trained their eyes on, hungry and desperate for gold, my mind wandered through mazes and paths and stories of Kyle’s life; of how a boy, barely a man, could have wound up representing this land-down-under on the world stage; a boy who broke the 48-year Australian drought for a gold in his race.

Perhaps he was born in the water, and he came to live in the water. The way his heart would beat boom boom boom, ricocheting off his rib bones as he pushed through the resistance, became a way of his life. He swam like he breathed, with ease and without thinking; he gulped down fresh air, quickly, to minimize the time he spent with his head above the surface; he preferred to open his eyes under the water, where everything was bright and blurry and the edges of his vision would glow, than open them above it. He swam like each stroke would be his last; every movement he made was so perfectly executed; his body was nothing more than a floating temple of muscles that rippled and pulsed with each shift.

Perhaps he was born a water baby: perhaps he swam out from the womb and in to the world, so that no one was surprised when he took to pedaling his plump little legs with great exertion through the pool water before he was old enough even to speak. In his mother’s arms perhaps he would kick and splash; and one day maybe he simply pushed himself away from the concerned woman, and there was nothing she could do to stop him, and she shrieked and every single person at that pool drew in their breath and threw their hand over their mouth and the clock hands ticked in slow-motion and God readied himself to welcome a new child to his Kingdom: and then whoosh, his little head popped up above the surface and they had all witnessed a miracle.

Perhaps from then on he never again took to the water in the clutches of his mother’s arms; instead, a squirming and challenging little boy, perhaps he would throw himself off the edge of the pool and cause all adults to double over with fear and drop their glasses, smash on the ground at his third birthday pool party, and then four meters away he’d reveal himself, a toothy grin the sign that everything was alright.

Towels became his clothing of choice; he felt strange when his hair wasn’t dripping. He preferred the muffled silence that engulfed his brain when he streaked through the water to any clear sound. The lifeguards became his best friends.

Faster and faster he would surge through the water; perhaps he arranged the entirety of his life around when he would be swimming. He got high off the feeling of elation that filled him when he pulled himself from the pool.

The water surged through his ears. Those two hydrogen molecules bound by an oxygen completely dominated his life, and that was just how he liked it. He knew there were no words to explain how he felt in the water; he knew it was an experience that could never be appropriately described; but still perhaps he attempted every day as he left the water dripping.

A freezing of my heart but a burning of my mind… How can I be literally floating yet feel more grounded than ever before? I am an eagle, a cheetah, a great white shark; I hover on the indescribable edge between reality and romanticism; my body may be strong but the strength of my mind is infinite.

Perhaps he was shocked by a tap on his shoulder; a glance. “The world junior swimming championships, next year.”

Perhaps always in the back of his mind had sat the idea; perhaps not. But now the prospect of a medal slung around his neck made his spine tingle with exhilaration; a cold sweat broke out upon the hair of his arms when he imagined his hand slapping the end of the lane; the screams and cheers as he let the water rush past him and surged forward.

Perhaps then he learned that his purpose in life was to swim. Perhaps then he looked back on his previous years spent wasting time with scorn. Perhaps then his life was fully dedicated to the pool: he was a fish, he didn’t need air. Breathe and stroke and breathe and stroke and push and pull and breathe. He came to shiver with anticipation for the click of that timer; racing against himself, he would peer at the results of his previous attempts with amusement and kick his legs through the water as if he were physically pushing away those elevated numbers.

In 2015, the lights shone down upon him: outside hundreds stood on the crowded streets of Singapore as his heart beat to burst inside his chest. Tiny bumps traversed the length of his entire body; his left foot wouldn’t stop shaking. Breathe. Kicking his legs from side to side, pulling goggles over his face and snapping them again to sit upon his forehead. The whistle blew and a hush fell over the entire stadium.

Go.

Although the screams of his family reached levels of volume previously unheard by man, all he could hear was the rhythm of his heart inside his chest. Boom-boom boom-boom. Slap the water as though it’s concrete, kick your legs like you’ll never move again, your arms are nothing but feathers jutting out from your shoulders. Eyes forward, eyes closed, eyes open. Move faster. His entire body tingled with the release of hundreds of molecules of energy; his muscles pulsed and shuddered and shook. His chest heaved but there was no time to breathe: just move faster. The rush of the water in his ears, the muffled cheers, his head was spinning and his body was moving involuntarily. Like a dolphin he streamlined; like a shark he attacked, and then the brick flashed in front of him and without thinking his fingertip struck the cool, smooth tile and in a state of euphoria his eyes rose and there, upon the screen: 47.86: the lowest number of them all. World junior champion. That was he; a champion, in every sense of the word: a person who has surpassed all rivals… who vigorously supports or defends… With a thumping chest and shaking hands, his spinning head gradually began to comprehend the almighty feat he had just achieved. The screams of the spectators became louder and louder; his ears began to unblock and the piercing pitch of the stadium nearly bowled him over, back underneath the water. He lifted a trembling fist and pounded it through the air.

His 18th birthday deemed him an adult; he looked down on Singapore as a teacher looks down on a student. Of course he held pride deep in his heart for that young, naïve, 17-year-old child: but now, he knew, it was the time for aiming towards the greatest goal of them all.

Australians all let us rejoice, for we are young and free… he was as free as a bird and as young as his heart let him be. He stood in green and gold under the gaze of hundreds of thousands of expectant faces. He was the representation of Australia, he was a statistic, a lane number, a surname; but he knew in his heart that in reality he was a soul who held greater respect for the power of water than he held for anyone or anything else. The pool had founded his championship and thus to the pool he was eternally grateful.

Perhaps he was born in the water and it all had come to that moment, poised on the world stage as a representative of his Great Southern Land. He breathed the same air of the Olympic Greats; his own cells were being energized with the same oxygen as those of the stars ready on blocks next to him.

Perhaps he was born in the water and at 18 years old he felt greater love for the water than for anything else in the world. He was born in the water and he knew his life was to be lived in the water. He was born in the water and he knew that now, on the world stage, with the eyes of thousands trained on the experienced men next to them that he, a boy, barely a man, could reach just as far and breathe just as fast and glide and dive and pull and push and kick and move just as marvelously as any other world great.

So he did.

Perhaps he was born in the water and at 18 years old he was a champion of the water; the water was his addiction and his healer. His muscles quivered, submerged in the sweet, sweet element that let him float, eyes cast towards the ceiling, ears immersed under the surface so that all that he could hear were muffled sounds that didn’t mean a thing.

Where will he be in 4, 10, 20 years’ time? He will be in the water; because he was born in the water and he will prove to the world that the water is where he will live.

 

The Girl who Died in the Water

 

It’s deadly, too, the water. As surely as it gives life, it destroys it; waves that crash and tumble down upon houses and people and dreams. Like the girl that walked into the waves because the way they wash peacefully upon a beach could never have prepared her for the strength they held in the darkness of night…

You didn’t realize just how strongly the water could hold you.

You’d watched it sprint its way on to the billions of grains of sand outside your home; you’d let it steam and burn your fingers on an icy winter’s day, your hands thrust under the tap and the inability to pull away despite the redness that crept like ivy over your fingers as they thawed.

But you didn’t realize just how strongly the water could hold you.

You had felt it trickle down your cheekbones, salty and full of sorrow; you had stood with your gaze fixed outside the window on the night when four roofs went flying and hundreds of people turned to the hills – you knew the danger of the water.

But you didn’t realize just how strongly the water could hold you.

You were always obsessed with fire. The most dangerous element in the entire world, you used to say. Did you know most house fires start in the kitchen?

Endless trivial harrowing facts: grinning ear-to-ear with enthusiasm and wonder you’d declare the number of deaths by fire per year; relay the stories of human stupidity in which John left the electric blanket on and was never seen again.

Did you know that arson is the third most common cause of home fires? Did you know more people die from smoke inhalation than flames? Did you know it takes less than 30 seconds for a fire to become out of control?

You knew everything about flames… you were fascinated by the melting of skin and the loss of eyesight caused by uncontrolled sparks.

But you didn’t realize just how strongly the water could hold you.

How did it feel, the first touch of ocean on your toenails? You’d watched it lap upon the sand for years; through wary eyes you’d examined the waves as they jumped to the forefront of the vast sea, tumbling and falling over the surface of the water as if they were exhausted dancers in a never-ending performance. How did it feel? Was it cathartic? Were you scared? Did you feel anything?

You were the girl who played with fire, but you didn’t realize just how strongly the water could hold you.

You were inexperienced. It rose too fast. You couldn’t see properly in the darkness of midnight and before you knew it the waves were bowling you over and you realized you couldn’t feel the sand beneath your feet anymore; the water was beginning to feel as thick as tar; you understood truly what it meant to float, to be truly unattached from any crumb of earth and instead to be tossed about by the forces that are the great sea.

You didn’t realize just how strongly the water could hold you.

It took hold of you like a murderer with his hands around your throat: you were no freer than had you been pulled down a dark alleyway and your hands tied behind your back. Whipped back and forth like a kite in the air during a blizzard; did you scream? Did the water rush in to your cheeks and down your lungs and was the horrific taste of salt inhabiting your mouth all you could think about?

You didn’t realize just how strongly the water could hold you, because you spent your entire life with your forehead pressed against the window and your breath making pictures out of condensation on the glass, watching the waves, and you believed that was enough to understand how water can turn on you in an instant; you believed you had taught yourself through observation how to keep afloat, with your head above the surface?

You took to the dark night, the girl who played with fire, and you peeled off your clothes and you stood in the shallows of the ocean and you let the waves wash over you, higher and higher and higher until all of a sudden they were just too high.

You were the girl who played with fire and you never struck a match too hard; but you took to the waves for the first time and you drowned.

A sad story… the tears that might well and drip from your eyelashes are tears consisting of water…

I thank the water. I thank the pools and the puddles and the raindrops and the oceans and the ponds and the drains. I thank the heavens when they open for flooding us with the deliciousness that fresh water brings and for the smell of rain: a damp, green, mossy smell.

I thank the water for its presence; and so does every person who obliviously dives in to the chlorinated, sickly sweet water of this little place in a little town called Launceston.