august 23/RUNSWIM

run: 4 miles
minnehaha falls and back
66 degrees / humidity: 79%
8:30 am

As (almost) always, another good run. Was lulled into a dreamy state by the gentle whooshing of the cars as I ran south on the river road trail without headphones. Then ran a minute faster per mile while listening to Taylor Swift on the way back. Do I remember any of my thoughts? Not really.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. a metal shovel scraping the bare pavement
  2. a regular I haven’t seen in a while: the woman in a skirt and sandals that I used to see when I ran south last year. Not sure if I ever gave her a name
  3. an older couple with a dog, spread out across the entire walking path
  4. Mr. Morning! — Good morning!
  5. the loud crash of an acorn falling to the ground, then the crack of another as a squirrel opened it
  6. the falls, rushing over the limestone ledge
  7. my shadow, below me in the trees, getting a closer look of the creek below the falls. At one point, she waved to me
  8. the bugs! Just past the south end of the ford bridge, after Locks and Dam no 1, thee’s a field with tall grass and lots of bugs: crickets, cicadas…maybe some frogs too?
  9. no surreys out yet at the falls
  10. a roller skier in the parking lot of locks and dam no 1

Have I posted this poem before? I don’t think so, but I definitely read it and thought about the idea of being of use. I like the water/swimming metaphors throughout.

to be of use :: marge piercy

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

I’m not sure how I feel about it, or how often I manage to achieve, but I am drawn to the idea of being useful, doing something useful. A problem: I am also drawn to things that might not immediately seem useful (or practical), but are essential and necessary. What does that mean? I’ll have to think about that some more.

addendum, 25 august: Thinking more about what is useful and useless, partly inspired by Jenny Odell’s How To Do Nothing (among others) and her critique of productivity and who it serves. The version of useful that Odell and others are critiquing is about being used/exploited and serving/feeding the interests of the most powerful. That it not what Marge Piercy is talking about, and yet, the terms work and usefulness are so tethered to capitalism, sometimes it’s hard for me to read them otherwise. My efforts to do so, and to rethink/reclaim work, is another one of my ongoing projects.

Today I started reading Julie Otsuka’s The Swimmers. I LOVED the first chapter (which is as far as I’ve gotten) and her description of the various types of people who are drawn to swimming regularly in a basement pool. I could really relate to her descriptions of the different types of people and their quirks.

I love this description of why swimming matters:

And for a brief interlude we are at home in the world. Bad moods lift, tics disappear, memories reawaken, migraines dissolve, and slowly, slowly the chatter in our minds begins to subside as stroke after stroke, length after length, we swim. And when we are finished with our laps we hoist outselves up out of the pool, dripping and refreshed, our equilibrium restored, ready to face another day on land.

I also enjoy her description of how people are categorized “down below.” Up above, in their “real lives,” people have a variety of jobs, character quirks, relationship struggles, illnesses, “but down below, at the pool, we are only one of three things: fast-lane people, medium-lane people or the slow.”

I feel like I could type up this entire chapter; there are so many details that resonate. Since that would be too much, I think I’ll just make a list of the various lists she has (which in the book aren’t in list form, but in descriptive paragraphs):

Lists in Julie Otsuka’s Chapter, “The Underground Pool”

  • the reasons why regular swimmers come to the underground pool
  • how the swimmers leave their troubles behind in the pool
  • what the swimmers are escaping “up above”
  • the rules at the pool
  • hobbies/mistakes/conditions/occupations up above, in the “real world”
  • the three types down below
  • how swimming restores the aging swimmers
  • people to watch out for
  • the locker room regulars who don’t swim
  • the rotating lifeguards
  • what the swimmers dream about when they dream about swimming (which is every night)
  • the various rituals the swimmers must complete as part of the swimming
  • things found at the bottom of the pool

Oh, I’m so happy I found this book! I checked it out of the library, but I might need to buy it.

updated, 23 september: If you’ve read this book, you know I’m in for a shock, and I was. Honestly, I will need to come back to the rest of the chapters, which never return to swimming again, sometime in the future. As I read about the main character being admitted to a care facility, I was dealing with my beloved mother-in-law being hospitalized and then needing a nursing home (and now in hospice and days? weeks? from dying).

swim: 3 loops
lake nokomis open swim
83 degrees
5:30 pm

Made it to my 100th loop tonight! It was too crowded — on the beach and in the water, but it was a great swim. If I had had time, I could have done a loop or two more. Maybe on Thursday? The water was warm and a little choppy. I couldn’t see where I was going on the way back from the little beach, but it didn’t matter because I knew where to swim. A few menancing swans.

favorite thing about tonight’s swim? the light, especially what the light did to the water. A late summer light, softer, making the water look soft too. I could tell the sun would be setting earlier than it had in July.

an image I’ll remember in February: rounding the green buoy, swimming parallel to the big beach, heading towards the first orange buoy to start another loop. I see the orange buoy way off in the distance, looking impossibly far away and small. Such a strange vision: the buoy so far away, this part of the loop looking extra long. I imagine myself visualizing that stretch of water with the far off orange dot sometime this winter when I’m missing the water.