Tough Girl by Carolyn Wood

91PlUgF7FoLAugust swelters, but afternoon shadows lengthen, the days noticeably shorter. For sixty-three years I lived the school year, from kindergarten through college and on into teaching.  Onrushing September meant excitement:  new crayons, a cloth-bound notebook, a metal-edged ruler; browsing course catalogues, scanning university bookstore shelves; and then the annual anticipation of new students, new readings, unexpected discussions.

On this hot August morning, September just around the corner, the urge to buy supplies, yellow legal pads, boxes of fine-tipped pens, manila folders, a school-year calendar, cannot be suppressed.  Now, years into retirement, the coming fall season begins with anticipation of writing, of filling new yellow pads with ideas and stories, pens running out of ink, of mornings tapping onto the computer, editing, cutting, adding.  It’s August, but the rains are coming, the short, dark days and long nights for memory and dreams.

A rhythm beats through each school year:  fall build-up of reading and writing, winter hunkered down with books and papers interrupted only in short bursts of intensity to prepare for midterms or finals, and then spring and the sprint to June and summer.  It didn’t matter whether I was a student or a teacher, the pattern felt as familiar as heartbeat.

When I was young and swam competitively, the swim year reflected the design of the school year.  We accumulated yard after yard of indoor mileage in the fall and winter, tapering down for the occasional swim meet test, then building up again outdoors for the long-course season and the grand championships of summer.  I love the undulations of seasons, of training and racing, of study and testing, of intensity and relaxation, the swing of a year.

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Our lives often repeat variations on a theme or wander along a spiral returning again and again to the familiar.   I followed the school year, the swim year when I wrote my memoir Tough Girl, my memoir of those years training and then competing in the 1960 Olympics. The pattern felt well known and appreciated ­– a buildup of words and ideas, yellow pads covered in scrawl throughout the dark and rainy season.  Periodic “tests,” a sample read aloud or shared with a friend.  Then the tapering, cutting and editing, tightening the prose, until a time in the spring when a piece, a chapter, a poem or essay was ready to share with an audience.  But come summer, when the skies cleared and the garden exploded in green, I set the yellow pads aside and by the time trails cleared of snow and mud, I escaped.

Along the Camino de Santiago, that pilgrimage trail that crosses France and Spain, each pilgrim finds her pace.  So too a writer comes to know her seasons, her rhythm, her beat.  It’s August – the new year lies ahead.  Time to lay in supplies and get ready to work.

Author Bio: Carolyn Wood, born and raised in Portland, Oregon, still lives in her original family home. She is a retired English teacher who spent more than thirty years encouraging students to write and is now taking her own advice, although often she’d rather be practicing yoga, outdoors tending her bees and garden, or hiking backroads and mountain trails. Ms. Wood’s work has appeared in Teachers as Writers and Elohi Gadugi Journal. Tough Girl is her first book.





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