Last week I was having a chat with my Dad and we realised we had both basically lived the same experience, at the same place, many years apart.
His story went like this. He was at Portarlington Beach, a place our family went to every summer holidays thanks to the hospitality of some family friends, The Mansers. Dad was busy relaxing, or possibly watching us kids, or possibly a third unconfirmed thing (it’s really not important) while my Mum and Rosemary (Manser Mum) were swimming in the ocean.
These two were having a relaxing time of it; chatting while also slowly drifting and doing the occasional bit of backstroke. This chilled swimming style managed to get them out to a buoy that was located near the end of the pier.
They drifted back to Dad and told him what they had done.
Answering a challenge that had never been put forth to him Dad decided he better swim out there and back. Prove he was as good as any man (or woman in this case). So he did. Except he didn’t use a relaxed and easy swimming style, he gunned it freestyle as fast as his body would take him. It wasn’t until he got to the buoy that he realised just how exhausted he was. The two woman watched, concern starting to creep in, as Dad clung to that muscle encrusted buoy trying vainly to get his energy back.
It didn’t work.
As he attempted to swim back his weary body couldn’t keep up with the freestyle that got him there, and the terrifying reality of trying to stay afloat when your body has nothing left while meters out into the ocean set in. He realised he was in real trouble. Finally he also realised humans are capable of floating. Adopting the breezy style of swimming Mum and Rosemary used he managed to get himself back to shore undrowned…apart from his pride, he left that at the buoy.
My story goes like this. I was at Portarlington beach, possibly a decade later, thanks once again to the hospitality of the Mansers. I was there with my cousin Dom, who is, and always will be, an athlete. The kind of person that has a permanent six pack, and would have even were he to eat donuts for breakfast for a month.
He decided he would swim out to the buoy. I decided I would do the same. This was a mistake as I am not the athlete he is and definitely not a strong swimmer. And so, I repeated my Father’s mistake. I made it out there, much like my Dad, but on the way back I was struggling mightily and seriously wondering how I was going to stop myself from drowning. I similarly realised our ability to float, and once again a less frantic backstroke saved the day. I also left my pride somewhere in the ocean.
I tell you all this not just to point out the apparent inherent stupidity of my family but also to tell you something I learned about story. Writers often get told “write what you know”. For a long time that annoyed me. What if what I know isn’t all that interesting? Or worthy of a story? What if I’m a accountant? Does that mean I can only write stories about accountants? I finally realised it’s not about writing only about things you have an educated knowledge of. It’s about embedding real life people, experiences, and details from your life into a story in order to give it authenticity.
Which makes perfect sense because let’s say I wanted to write a story about some fictional family living on a distant made up world set in the future. Obviously I wouldn’t be able to experience that in order to write about it. But if I included in there the tale of a Father and son living a parallel experience due to their shared traits of a competitive nature and stubborn ego, that would add authenticity, as well as characters that feel real, mostly because they are.
They’re also both idiots.
Turns out that’s what I know.