who the heck knows anything, anyway

Thursday, September 28, 2023

sept 28

My local pool, Columbia, was officially closed--condemned--in 2022. I still haven't gotten over it. As a person who suffers from a chronically bad case of nostalgia, I don't know if I'll ever get over it. 

I spent my very early childhood going to swim lessons there, spent afternoons at open swim with my mom and siblings when we were being homeschooled (middle-school), spent a few high-school mornings trying to swim a mile before having to sit my butt down in a chair for seven hours*, and spent my summers on the city's youth swim team from age eleven (if not earlier) to seventeen, repping Columbia every year but the last**. I got really, really good at swimming there.

I was basically raised in that pool. The main place of my childhood joy, and the only place I ever did sports. The only place where my body has ever exceeded expectations.

I'm much, much older now (nearly twenty years, jeezus). College was busy (and there was no swim team), I moved away for a while, and it wasn't easy to get back to the pool when I returned. I should have tried harder. I should have found time for it. I should have given them more money. I suppose my cumulative ~$300 wouldn't have made much difference when the cost to survive was $5,000,000, but I would have appreciated her more if I knew our time was limited. Almost like a grandparent, I suppose. Now that I've finally gotten back into swimming, she's gone. I've been going to a pool I never liked that's three times farther from me. It's now the only pool in two city quadrants, and the lanes are apparently packed all day. (Believe me--I've tried many different times.) 

And here's the thing, the real thing: I don't really swim for exercise. I mean, I do--it's the best kind for my body--but I'd say that's only 30% of the reason. If exercise was the main point, I could just up the use of my exercise bike and the weights that are basically light enough for babies. I wouldn't drag myself to a shitty pool a couple times a week. So, why? It turns out that there are few--if any--things I find spiritually satisfying these days. I got back into the pool, and every inch of me remembered: The water is it. Swimming is it. But sharing a lane with 2+ people takes the holiness out and just makes it exercise.

Unless you're on a team, swimming is a solitary activity; one to which the entire body contributes.*** And my body remembers that perfect feeling, when the stroke is just right and there's barely a splash. I can't think of anything so grounded in the present as that feeling of cutting through the water with speed and softness. There's no thinking of anything but the angles of your joints, the counting of your breaths, the estimation of your distance to the edge where you can flip and push off the wall like a bullet for nearly half a length. No worrying about meetings, groceries, dinner, work, schedules, the overwhelming week's-worth of plans. Maybe this is what meditation is supposed to feel like.

Sometimes I like to yell into the water when I push off from the wall. Just a little bit. I know the sound carries, but no one has ever paused to see what was happening (they're busy in their own present, I think), and it feels really good. You should try it: keep your mouth closed, and let the sound come straight out of your chest. No letting your breath out through your nose, either; let the air out when you get close to the surface. Stronger than humming, not so high-pitched that it's a scream. Not a scared sound, but a release of frustration. Trust me. It feels really good. 

I'm realizing now, at this exact moment, that this true story could be read as a metaphor for my relationship with writing fiction and making comics. I suppose I feel like that part of my life--the free and joyful part--is gone, too. Sometimes I find myself with a brief burst of clarity and excitement--but the feeling passes quickly, and I give up. I'm incapable of doing things if they only feel like exercise. It hasn't felt the way it used to for a very long time.

When I'm at this other pool, I yell. Every time. I yell for Columbia, I yell for solitude, I yell for the feeling of yelling. All these weeks, I didn't know I could be keening for something else, too. What a wild revelation.

*Admittedly, this was not often. Waking up at 6am has never been particularly fun/easy for me.
**Our scrappy little North Portland team even won the city-wide meet a few times! That last year was at Peninsula's outdoor pool, though; we followed our long-time coaches over there. Not a great pool for swimming laps, sadly.
***It's also the best form of exercise for people with joint issues. This means I sometimes have to swim more slowly, but sometimes I like to go fast, just to know that I can. Not great for sharing the "slow" or "fast" lanes.