Rendered Fat Content


Fernand Siméon: Gazette du Bon Ton,
1921 - No. 6, Pl. 41:
La leçon de natation /
Costume et chale, pour le bain
[The Swimming Lesson /
Suit and shawl, for the bath] (1921)

"We all engage in SwimmingLessons which we'll never master."

I do not yet consider myself a competent practitioner of whatever it is that I do. I falsely claim to be a writer because I write, not because I consider my writing to demonstrate my competence. I no longer believe that practice might one day render me capable. I engage in a paranoid fashion, not merely as an imposter fearful of discovery, but as if I work on probation, subject to immediate dismissal at the whim of any uncaring overseer. I consider everyone competent to pass judgment on my production, their opinion, their own, and outside my direct influence. I no longer believe that I might one day manage to master my profession, but I will forever aspire to enter journeyman status from apprentice. Rather than practice, I work as if engaging in lessons, SwimmingLessons.

The ocean has never once been conquered.
A fortunate few somehow managed to survive their encounters with it, but many more were eventually overwhelmed and lost. No number of prior SwimmingLessons could ever guarantee safe passage, for swimming solves nothing. It merely delays an inevitable. If swimmers leave the water before it overwhelms them, they survive but never mistake such survival as resolving the fundamental inequality of power. The water was always the master and the swimmer, the struggling interloper. No amount of swimming could have, would have, ever rendered the water subdued.

Same story with everything I've ever attempted to engage with, every job, every profession. Each seemed vast in comparison with my capabilities. Each relied upon me to over-reach my competencies every day, just as if I might have already proven able to perform those tasks. I hadn't. Or, if I had, I'd practiced them only in wildly different contexts, like in a pool rather than on an open ocean. I'd experienced something entirely different than I had ever encountered in practice. I survived by mostly refusing to dwell on the apparent differences. I  was never once not in over my head. I survived due to the intervention of powers I never once understood, apparently by a mysterious emergent competence not supported by any concrete evidence of its presence. I'm well aware that, despite my ongoing lessons, I do not really know how to swim, yet I seem to have survived my encounters with the water so far, but most certainly will not survive forever. Any encounter could prove to be my fatal one.

I see little evidence that anyone lives very differently. We live with perhaps unreasonable expectations that we might somehow prove competent enough in practice. Fortunately, most of us prove not quite skilled enough to even believably fake actual competence. It works better if we choose to avoid dwelling on the obvious and if we somehow manage to forget how impromptu our engagements are and how sloppy and inexperienced we must seem. We derisively insist instead that our skills might just about qualify us for government work, which we seem to hold just beneath contempt. We are, in many ways, fortunate. We might live in an authentic dog-eat-dog culture, but our neighbors almost always leave us to lie, probably because they're at least as vulnerable and as in need of kindness as everybody else. We all engage in SwimmingLessons, which we'll never master. Be generous.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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