Anna Shinoda

Behind the Book: Learning Not to Drown

Behind the Book: Learning Not to Drown

Originally published on March 31, 2014

Where I grew up, there was both a swamp and a lake. I remember the lake as being icy cold but everyone spent the summers swimming there anyway.

The swamp was across town: a low area that every spring would become a small pond of thick mud and sharp reeds that smelt like rot. When it was wet, I was afraid of going near it. I was sure I’d get sucked in, and I’d slowly die as I inhaled breath after breath of silty water.

But by the end of summer the swamp became the perfect place to explore.

One year, I was playing “war” with a group of boys I babysat and their neighbors. We were running through the dry swamp with our squirt guns. It was hot and humid, and the lowest areas of the ground were still thick with algae and mosquito-filled mud, but we raced through the growth and the muck and didn’t care that our clothes got dirty and our shoes turned brown and swishy. It was war, and we needed to shoot the enemy with as many rounds of water as possible.

I crawled out of the undergrowth looking for the boys, getting shot squarely in the face by the enemy as I did so. Before I could shoot him back, I heard the scream of one of my boys.

Tearing through the thicket, I found the younger brother in a thick cave of branches, still screaming, pointing at a long, dirty bone.

I nudged it with my toe until it flipped over. The youngest boy suggested it was a human bone. It was long enough. The shape was right. One of them plucked the bandana off his head and we used that to pick it up and pass it around, the buzz of mosquitos filling the silence. There were scrape marks and we debated, then decided it was a bear that had been chewing on it. The bone was tossed down and we ran to the kids’ house.

We didn’t play much in the swamp after that. We blamed the bugs, or the possibility of bears. But we all knew it was because of the bone. It was human enough for us to believe it was, but not enough human for any of us to tell an adult. I may very well have told one of my brothers. I have a vague recollection of the two of us crouching in the small cave of bushes, gazing at the bone and him dismissing it as a dog treat and me as an idiot.

I’m not 100% sure if it all happened, and if I were to ask my brother, he may or may not remember. That’s the tricky thing about memories: they don’t come as a complete story, they implant in each person’s head differently, and can flee at any given moment. I know for sure there was a swamp and I know for sure there was a lake. And I know they both had a profound affect on my childhood.

When I was writing Learning Not to Drown I knew the lake was not just a setting – it was a character. It was complex, not just the lake that I spent lazy summer days swimming in, but also the swamp that I became so terrified of.

In the same way I combined the lake and swamp into one, I took my own memories of having an incarcerated brother and mixed them up with my imagination and with stories I had heard from many different sources – friends with incarcerated family members, people with loved ones who had addiction problems, and strangers who wrote their stories on message boards. I ground it all up until it no longer represented any one person, but a multitude that came together to create Clare, Luke, and Peter.





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4 thoughts on “Behind the Book: Learning Not to Drown

  1. Saw an interview with you and Mike…..have been a fan of LP for 20 years …got your book and loved it…please write more.
    I fight the Black Dog daily….I’m an ex teacher, 70 yrs and live at the end of the world….Tasmania. I thought I couldn’t relate to my new Psychiatrist but one day whilst waiting for my appointment I was reading the lyrics of a LP CD he saw that and we both got animated about how wonderful the lyrics are…urban poetry…much closer to him now…we always discuss the music…..
    Keep well…love your book….have ordered Mike’s new CD..x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, Shinoda! I just wanted to touch base with you anyway I could figure out how. Some friends of mine wanted to start a small publishing company that helps writers self publish and find the tools they need. I stumbled across your site and I just want to say your writing comes across as very personal and touching. You can see the care and love in your craft. Even more so, you can see how it connects you to the world around you. I was wondering if you would be interested in blogging on another site potentially? Perhaps even get involved in helping others grow like you did?


  3. I want to tell you how happy I am to have discovered your blog. I’ve always been a fan of LP, I’ve always died of love for Mike and consequently, I’ve always been a little jealous of / envy / jealous of you, especially in adolescence (I’m sorry). I grew up, married and let things in my life distract me from the band. Chester brought me back to you and now has a lot of mixed feelings. The sensation is of reuniting childhood friends, every discovery that I make about you moves with me. At the time of my passion / madness it was so difficult to have any kind of contact with you, now that it is possible I am so excited! There’s so much I wanted to tell Mike … and there I found you. And all this technology brought me closer to you and made me see Anna as well as the wife I wanted to kill (I’m really sorry). And I wanted you to know that I’m shocked about how incredible you are! Its texts, its history … all this turned that envy into an admiration without size. And I wanted you to know that you got a super fan here in Brazil.

    I left some messages for you and Mike on Instagram Direct. I was so helped and so embraced in my adolescence by the LP that I feel obliged to return the love at this difficult time. They do not even know I exist and have no idea how important they were to me. I know I’m just another fan scattered in this world, but I wanted my words to come to them and comfort them as they once did with me.

    And I think that’s it. Once again you forgive me for all the bad feelings I had for you, for believing that I deserved you more than you (teenage thing, you really forgive me). I really respect you and I admire you. And I have prayed for all of you and asked God to be present in each other’s lives, touching their hearts (and also for Talinda and the children, I can not imagine the size of the pain).

    With love.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Great creativity 😊


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