Writer’s Notebook: “Sink or Swim”
Published January 2021, Issue #5
Reader, I need you to understand me, because my co-editors do not: The presentation of a Waterwheel Review issue—the text-boxed excerpts from the three new publications, the companion pieces and background images chosen to appear with each, the quote we hang over them all—is available, in all its homepage-scrolling glory, for one single month only.* The publications remain at the site, of course, and we have archives depicting the original homepage triptychs. But that issue’s presentation, and the homepage experience of it? Gone forever. This is painful for me. It’s why I spend so much time on our homepage. I scroll and scroll and scroll and scroll. And scroll.
For my co-editors this quirk of our publishing model is entirely a source of joy. The coming loss just sweetens the experience of a “live” issue. Yes, sand mandalas. Yes, The Wisdom of Insecurity. I know. I know. Knowing doesn’t erase the strange little pulse of heartache I feel when an issue gets replaced.
The sense of loss limning the almost giddy bloom of happiness that overtakes me when I get the text—We are live!—can only be soothed in two ways. (1) A marathon of new scrolling, of course. (2) A visit to the Archives page to be reminded of former scrolling-love. I start using that second strategy at least a week before the new issue goes up, and always as my thoughts leap from the new pieces about to be published to the ones that live on our site already, one former publication will jump out and demand new attention. That’s the piece I settle on for a Writer’s Notebook.
Heather Diamond’s “Sink or Swim” is the perfect last-season companion to Issue #12. In our editors’ note, we called this issue a meditation on human connection, which is exactly how I feel about “Sink or Swim.” Here’s a note from Heather on her inspiration for the piece, and the process of pulling it together:
“Sink or Swim” did not start as a triptych lyric essay. It grew from fragments and juxtapositions as well as my background in folklore studies. I wrote the last section first, the part about a children’s dilemma game that I remembered playing with other girls. Working with the details in that scene reminded me of a stalled essay I’d written about teaching in which I had described a similar dilemma I’d used as a classroom exercise. When I juxtaposed those scenes, I realized they shared water settings and were both about deciding whether to save a partner or a child. That was when I connected them to a discarded section from my memoir in which my daughter and I argued about life choices and blood ties. From there, the mother/child theme took over through the extended water metaphor as I considered “how water sings to blood” and the what-ifs and consequences of the choices we make when it comes to love. In the final edits, I rearranged the panels to “sink” backward to childhood and linked the sections by adding the subtitles. In writing as in life, some choices choose us.
In my first two Writer’s Notebooks, I included notes on companion pieces we considered but didn’t select for the publication I spotlighted. I won’t do that here because I have to use this opportunity instead to get more eyes on my favorite companions in Season One, a video (see below) that still makes me gasp, and a painting (see above) by Sandra York, a friend of Heather, that captures perfectly the feeling of “Sink or Swim.” Enjoy!
All my thanks to Heather Diamond for helping to soothe this month’s heartache, while adding another layer to the thrill of new work.
*Excepting the May issue—that one was up through our summer hiatus (and I very much enjoyed all the extra scrolling).