my 52-minute life lesson
a writing prompt + a collaboration question + July Writing Hour
Welcome to new subscribers to Writing in Company. I’m glad you are here! Each week I share some words and a writing prompt. They are meant to be jumping-off points for you to write on your own about what matters. Use the prompts however you like—to journal, to draft thoughts for your own writing project, as meditation or prayer ideas, or for another creative endeavor. If this prompt doesn’t resonate, take a look back through the archive for one that does. Grab your pen and paper, and let your words loose on the page.
If you want to skip right to the prompt, without any preliminaries or wordy words from me, scroll on down to the heading: a writing prompt.
“How much to take a kayak out?” I asked at the city marina, confident in my water shoes and bucket hat.
“Do you have your own, or want to rent one?” the staff person asked me.
“I’m renting today, but tell me about launching my own as well,” I said like I had one, which I don’t, but aren’t I the kind of person who might?
“Kayak rentals are $4 an hour. You pay for the first hour now, and we’ll settle up whenever you return.”
I checked the bills I’d stashed in my new water-resistant day pack. I had $12—just enough cash for three hours. Three hours of glorious water, sun, and solitude.
I lasted 52 minutes.
The 52 minutes includes the time it took to choose a damp life jacket from the equipment closet, walk halfway down the path to where the kayaks are beached, go back for the paddle I forgot, walk back down the path, take the kayak out on the lake, paddle around a bit, drain my water bottle, bumpily beach the boat in front of some other renters, chat with a fisherman about catfish, and then return the even-damper life jacket and paddle to the office.
I spent more time applying sunscreen and driving to the marina than I spent kayaking.
Maybe it was the oppressive heat that cut my lake time short. Maybe it was because I tweaked my back dragging the sturdy rental into the water. Maybe it was how, with every stroke of the paddle, my arms ached—the good kind of ache, but still. I think it was mostly the heat. But wouldn’t a real kayaker last longer?
I’ve been a wannabe kayaker for years: taking short paddles here and there on vacations, reading up on inflatable and foldable kayaks, browsing the sporty ones at the outdoor store and the used market nearby, buying myself clearance paddling shorts, declaring aloud that kayaking is my next hobby, and planning how I’ll transport all my gear once I acquire it any minute now.
I’ve established with myself that I want to kayak. But then I kayaked for just 52 minutes. And in all honesty, I spent a good bit of that time trying to act like a kayaker instead of enjoying kayaking.
Does that mean I’m not a real kayaker?
Nope. I kayaked and I loved it! In the middle of the day, simply because I wanted to.
Just as William Stafford said: “A writer is someone who writes,” so too “a kayaker is someone who kayaks.” Those 52 minutes were enough.
Enough to see the absolute bargain in a $4/hour rental, and let go of my need to own my own boat.
Enough to enjoy some quiet floating, spot a few birds (and a dog in its own dinghy), and take deep breaths.
Enough to realize that I can kayak again even if it’s not on a regular schedule or for hours at a time.
And 52 minutes were enough to see that I don’t need to pretend to be an expert when I’m still basically a beginner.
In 52 minutes, I reframed what it means for me to be a kayaker. Perhaps I’m just someone who sometimes likes to kayak. Next time, instead of trying to project proficiency, I’m claiming curiosity and pleasure instead. That’s a life lesson I’ll be learning for a while, and not just about boats. I’ll keep paddling, and writing about it, and see what happens.
a writing prompt
What’s something you want to learn to do, but haven’t yet let yourself try? 1
What’s an activity you enjoy, even if you will never be an expert?
Make a list, if you like. Then pick an item on your list and write more about it.
Write about being a beginner.
a bonus prompt
How Paddleboarding is a Bit Like Writing
The more you relax your body the easier it is
It’s good for the soul
Emailing in the middle of it spoils the experience
Surprisingly little technique is needed to have a good time.
It’s usually better with snacks.
Sometimes going somewhere is the adventure. Sometimes just drifting is bliss.
When people ask you what you’ve been doing and you tell them, they usually have one of two reactions. They smile and then their eyes soon glaze over, or they love it too and ask you about the conditions, if the sea was clear, and what you found out there…
You can be completely aware of every movement one minute, then the next you can look up and realise you have traveled to the other end of the beach on the power of a current that had nothing to do with you.
Sometimes you just have to let the wind take you
a collaboration question
I posted a note on a Substack thread last week, asking to connect with others who use writing prompts, or write as a way to heal. I’m considering hosting a few guest posts or prompts in the upcoming months. I’ve had 20 Substack writers respond so far—most I didn’t know! They are fascinating writers, and I am enjoying reading their newsletters to find places of overlap in our work. Stay tuned for what happens.
In the meantime, I know many of you readers use writing and prompts as a healing practice. So I’m opening up the question to you: Would you be interested in providing a guest prompt someday? You wouldn’t have to write a whole essay. You could share just a poem or quote or idea that you have found helpful in your writing practice. If you are interested, respond to this email and let me know, or drop a comment below. I’ll start a list and may reach out to explore more, once I figure out how collaboration could work. If there are more opportunities, I’ll ask again.
July Writing Hour - this Saturday, July 15 at 4 pm Eastern
My next live writing hour on Zoom for paid subscribers is on Saturday, July 15 at 4 pm Eastern. If you want to write in company with others, you are welcome to join us. You can upgrade your subscription for a month ($7) just to try it. A separate email to paid subscribers will go out with the link, or you can find it on my Substack tab called Writing Hours. Let’s write together.
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Let me know what you think about the prompt, or come back and add some of what you write in the comments. Know someone who might enjoy this prompt or others? Please share!
My current list of new things to try includes: playing the banjo, shape-note singing, and making fresh pasta. And more kayaking… What’s on your list?