march 13/SWIMRUN

swim: 1.25 miles
ywca pool

I love to swim. Today felt really good, relaxed. I didn’t even care that my latest vision problem happened again. Walking on the pool deck, staring intently at the lanes, trying to see if the lane I’m looking at is as empty as I think it is. I checked at least 3 times, staring at the water. It seemed empty. Then I put my stuff down and was about to get in when I noticed someone in the lane. Very frustrating and unsettling to look closely, for a long time, and still not see what is right there. But really, it’s not that big of a deal. I didn’t jump in on top of anyone or cause a swimmer to mess up their rhythm. I just need to get used to it and accept that it will continue to happen.

Lots of friends in the water with me today: weird white, almost translucent, bits near the bottom, a balled up bandaid in one lane over, and perhaps the most disturbing, a fuzzy brown ball floating halfway up to the surface, slowly making it’s way to below me. Would I accidentally suck it up? Yuck! Must have gotten distracted because I lost track of it.

Noticed the sloshing sound of water as my hands broke the surface.

Everything was blue underwater. Blue tiles, a blue lower-cased t on the wall, blue-tinted water. Dark blue shadows below, cast by the trees outside the window, making the pool floor look alive.

Lots of breaststroke around me, some backstroke, an occasional freestyle. One woman was using a kick board. I used a pull buoy for a set.

run: 3.1 miles
under ford bridge and back
29 degrees
95% clear path

Ran in the afternoon, which is always harder than running in the morning for me. I feel more tired, heavier. My legs don’t want to move as much. No headphones on the way south, Beyoncé’s Renaissance on the way back north. The sky was mostly blue, with a few clusters of clouds. I felt a shadow cross over me as I started my run. Hello bird! I think I looked at the river, and I think it was open. Heard the drumming of a woodpecker. Admired the wide open view near Folwell and the Rachel Dow memorial bench. Now I remember seeing the river! Right there by that bench — brownish-gray and open. Encountered walkers, dogs, a runner with a stroller.

Down below, in a discussion of a gray line in Schuyler’s poem, I wonder if I could write about silver. I noticed it today, out on the trail. The blazing bright reflection off a car’s hood, the sun shining on wet pavement.

Schuyler, Hymn to Life, Page 4

Begins with Bring no pleasure and ends with As one strokes a cat.

And if you thought March was bad
Consider April, early April, wet snow falling into blue squills
That underneath a beech make an illusory lake, a haze of blue
With depth to it.

I love his illusory lake and the haze of blue with depth to it. Squills = a sea onion, a plant in the lily family with slender, strap-like leaves and blue flowers. Until I looked up squills, I didn’t get that the illusory lake was really a cluster of spring flowers. Maybe that’s because April in Minneapolis creates a different kind of fake lake: the giant puddle!

That is like pain, ordinary household pain,
Like piles, or bumping against a hernia.

First reaction: recognition. I am struggling through an extended bout of unexplained constipation that has resulted in piles. Nothing big or overly painful, ordinary, a part of the daily routine. Unsettling. Annoying. A low-lying worry that the ordinary could become something more.

Second reaction: In his episode for VS, Jericho Brown says this:

in any poem, anytime you write something down, one of the things that I’m always doing is I’m trying to make sure it’s opposite soon gets there. Soon as I write something down, I’m like, well, the opposite needs to be there too. The sound opposite, the sense opposite, the image opposite. How do you get the opposites in the poem? Because you want the poem to be like your life.

Jericho Brown VS The Process of Elimination

I’m thinking about how just as the ordinary includes the comfort of the mundane and routine, it includes the discomfort — the steady aches and pains that are nothing special, just always present, a part of the day.

And in the sitting room people sit
And rest their feet and talk of where they’ve been, motels and Monticello,
Dinner in the Fiji Room.

I love this plain, ordinary image of people in a sitting room doing what you do in a sitting room: sitting. There’s something magical about the sitting and talking and not doing anything grander, resting.

Someone forgets a camera. Each day forgetting:
What is there so striking to remember?

Each day forgetting.

The rain stops. April shines,
A Little

Gray descends.
An illuminous penetration of unbright light that seeps and coats
The ragged lawn and spells out bare spots and winter fallen branches.


What a wonderful description of gray light! It shines a little, an unbright light that seeps and coats and exposes (spells out) the worn spots and the ordinary work needed to be done every spring. Lately, when I think of gray, I think of the opposite — not how it makes everything look shabby, worn, tired, but that it softens everything, making it mysterious and more gentle, relaxed.

It seems like Schuyler could be writing against one classic image of luminous gray light or, it made me think of this at least: the silver lining. Wondering about the origins of the phrase, I looked it up. John Milton’s poem, Comus:

That he, the Supreme good t’ whom all all things ill
are but as slavish officers of vengeance,
Would send a glistring Guardian if need were
To keep my life and homour unassail’d.
Was I deceiv’d, or did a sable cloud
Turn forth her silver lining on the night?
I did not err, there does a sable cloud
Turn forth her silver lining on the night,
And casts a gleam over this tufted Grove.

Thinking about my color poems, and my interest in gray, I wonder how I could write about silver? For me, silver is the color that burns and shines when concentrated on the iced-over river, too bright for my eyes. Silver is also the color of the path when ice is present — it’s a warning sign, a whisper, Watch Out! Slippery.

And now the yardwork is over (it is never over), today’s
Stint anyway. Odd jobs, that stretch ahead, wide and mindless as
Pennsylvania Avenue or the bridge to Arlington, crossed and recrossed

I like wide and mindless, mundane tasks. Well, mostly I do. Tasks that can help me to shift into a different mental space where I wander and day dream. Mowing the lawn, pulling the weeds, doing the dishes.

And there the Lincoln Memorial crumbles. It looks so solid: it won’t
Last. The impermanence of permanence, is that all there is?

I’m reminded of an ED poem with Schuyler’s use of crumbling:

Crumbling is not an instant’s Act (1010)/ EMILY DICKINSON

Crumbling is not an instant’s Act
A fundamental pause
Dilapidation’s processes
Are organized Decays —

‘Tis first a Cobweb on the Soul
A Cuticle of Dust
A Borer in the Axis
An Elemental Rust —

Ruin is formal — Devil’s work
Consecutive and slow —
Fail in an instant, no man did
Slipping — is Crashe’s law —

Crumbling is routine, everyday life. Slow and steady, nothing special, ordinary. Not Ruin.

is that all there is? To look
And see the plane tree.

What an awesome enjambment! Sometimes all we need (or all we have) is that tree outside the window.

For this is spring, this mud and swelling fruit tree buds, furred
On the apple trees. And yet it still might snow: it’s been known

This poem is about D.C.. Here in Minneapolis, it almost always snows — a big storm — in April.

march 4/SWIM

1.75 miles
ywca pool

Went swimming with my daughter this morning at the y. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go, but she needed to for her gym class. So glad I went! Swimming is magic. Felt strong and relaxed. Lost track of time. Forgot about everything but counting my strokes between breaths — 123 or 1234 or 12345 or 123456.

Swam 122 laps. Had an idea for a possible goal this month: 200 laps

Admired the beautiful bodies underwater. The swimmer next to me had something on his feet — not fins, but? — and was alternating between running in place and sliding his feet out in a half split. When he ran he lifted his knees high up in the water. When he slid his feet, I wonder how that felt on his legs.

Kept noticing a brown thing on the pool bottom one lane over. It stayed where it was until someone — the swimmer I mentioned in the last paragraph — started swimming in that lane. Slowly, it drifted over. First on the edge of my lane, then just below me, then over to the next lane. Had to ask my daughter what it was: a bandaid. Hello gross friend. As I swam above it, I had an idea for a poem/series of poems about my pool friends — the strange white thing stuck on the edge of the slanted floor, the brown speck, the fuzzy clump of hair, this bandaid. All of us together in the water.

I tried to pay attention to the shadows on the pool floor, but they were difficult to see. Was it because I was so far away from the windows?

Found this poem in Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room. Wanted to think about it as I swam, but got distracted by my effort or my counting or the brown bandaid.

I Try to Plagiarize Moonlight/ Kelli Agodon Russell

If you could sign your name to the moonlight,
that is the thing!
-Mark Tobey

Sometimes waves scribble their initials
over a path of moonlight. This is the closest
to a signature I’ve ever seen. Maybe,
or maybe it’s the clouds with their C-curves
crossing in front of the O—mouth open,
head thrown back and singing.
I cannot steal words if they’re kept
unspoken, but who wants to live that quietly?
Instead, I want to swim in the dark
sea across paper, climb the barges
and docks that float there. Moonlight invites itself
to my desk and I try to nail its beam
to my paper. I’ve been swimming here
for years, trying to steal what hasn’t been
written, diving to the bottom of an unread sea.

I’m thinking about my brown bandaid again as something at the bottom of the pool. What stories does it have to tell? Who, but me, would want to read them?

I want to swim in the dark sea/across paper. I like the idea of imaging the blank page as a pool. Maybe not an empty pool, but a pool with a wide, clear lane just for me. This image reminds me of Linda Pastan’s poem for William Stafford, “At My Desk,” and her lines,

I think of you
miles west
floating on the tide of language
so easily, giving only
a scissor kick now and then,
coming to shore
some unexpected
but hospitable place.

In a different direction, I like Russell’s line:

Moonlight invites itself
to my desk and I try to nail its beam
to my paper.

I like the bit, I try to nail its beam/to my paper — the image it conjures for me. I also like the idea of the moonlight inviting itself on her desk. When I sit at my desk, which has a piece of glass on top, recycled from an old IKEA coffee table, shadows and reflections often invite themselves to my desk. Reflections of tree branches from the neighbor’s tree, the form of a bird flying across the glass. I love watching the birds fly on my desk — usually a graceful soar, sometimes the quick, awkward flutter of wings in early flight. There’s a poem there…

march 1/WALKSWIM

walk: 35 minutes
neighborhood with Delia
36 degrees / wintry mix

Took Delia on a walk on a gray, wet day. Puddles everywhere. No ice, just water. Dripping, pooling, seeping. With my boots on, I didn’t mind it, but Delia did. I could tell by the end of the walk, she was over it. Instead of wagging vigorously when I called her name, her tail was stiff and bent at the end.

I’m working on a series of cento poems using Linda Pastan’s poetry. Before I went out, I was playing with a line from “The Ordinary:” “it is the ordinary that comes to save you.” I was thinking about the ordinary as I walked — the sharp, staccato drips of the water through one gutter, the gurgling of some other drops as the missed a different gutter. Someone’s shuffling footsteps. The feel of the cold, but not too cold, air in my nose. The reflection of trees, then the flutter of wings, in a puddle on the sidewalk. The singing birds.

Inspired by the beauty of the ordinary all around me, I stopped to record some sound and a thought:

ordinary birdsong / 1 march

it is the ordinary things that save us
the reprieve of birdsong
the flip side of sadness

A little later in the walk, I encountered yet another lone black glove. I walked by, then double-checked to make sure it was, in fact, black. Yes. It’s always black. This made me wonder which is more satisfying exciting desired:

seeing a lone black glove and having my view of the world — that it will always be a black glove — affirmed/confirmed, or

seeing a glove of another color and having my view of the world interrupted disrupted changed?

I want to say, a glove of another color, and I think it is, but not every time. Sometimes I want it to always be black.

swim: 1.8 miles
ywca pool

Finally, another swim! My last swim was on February 19th. It felt good to be back in the water, and a little strange. After watching a video last week on flip turns, I tried to focus on them more. Maybe it was a bad idea, or maybe it wouldn’t have mattered, but my knees started to feel sore about a mile into the swim.

The coolest thing about the swim was watching the shadows from the trees outside the window shift and shimmer on the pool floor. I was in the lane closest to the windows, which made the shadows more vivid. Swimming in the shallow end, I wondered if I’d still see them as vividly when I reached the deep end. I did! Very cool.

Not so cool: I noticed a little brown speck (very small) of something floating in the water near my face. What was it? No idea, and I didn’t see it again. I hope I didn’t accidentally swallow it. Gross.

I know February is over which means my month with Linda Pastan is over, but last night I read more of her poems while I listened the South High Community Jazz band rehearse, and I feel compelled to post this delightful one. Besides, it mentions Emily Dickinson who is my topic for March.

Q and A/Linda Pastan

I thought I couldn’t be surprised:
“Do you write on a computer?” someone
asks, and “Who are your favorite poets?”
and “How much do you revise?”

But when the very young woman
in the fourth row lifted her hand
and without irony inquired:
“Did you write

your Emily Dickinson poem
because you like her work,
or did you know her personally?”
I entered another territory.

“Do I really look that old?”
I wanted to reply, or “Don’t
they teach you anything?”
or “What did you just say?

The laughter that engulfed
the room was partly nervous,
partly simple hilarity.
I won’t forget

that little school, tucked
in a lovely pocket of the South,
or that girl whose face
was slowly reddening.

Surprise, like love, can catch
our better selves unawares.
“I’ve visited her house,” I said.
“I may have met her in my dreams.”

feb 19/SWIM

1.3 miles
ywca pool

Swam with RJP this morning. Only 2 lanes open. The H2O combo class was happening in lanes 3-5. Fun to watch all the bouncing underwater. RJP and I had to circle swim with one more swimmer for a few minutes. I told her that I’ve only circle swum twice in the last 30 years. Wow! That’s a long time.

Had a nice conversation with one of the H2O people in the locker room after we were done. She said she used to swim but couldn’t any more because she injured her rotator cuff. It was fun to talk to her. I love the older women energy in the y locker room.

What do I remember about my swim?

  1. A blue pool noodle was creeping over the edge of the lane line. I felt it first, then saw it, ready to attack me
  2. The guy in the next lane, in red swim trunks, churned up a lot of foam with his kick.
  3. It was calming to watch the H2O people bouncing in the water.
  4. 2 cute little kids in the locker room, fully of weekend energy.
  5. the pool floor had some dark crud on the tiles
  6. the water was clearer than Thursday
  7. the water had faint shadows that danced on the tiles
  8. I forgot to wash out all of the baby shampoo and now my eyes burn

Today’s Pastan poem:

Ethics/ Linda Pastan

In ethics class so many years ago
our teacher asked this question every fall:
If there were a fire in a museum,
which would you save, a Rembrandt painting
or an old woman who hadn’t many
years left anyhow?  Restless on hard chairs
caring little for pictures or old age
we’d opt one year for life, the next for art
and always half-heartedly.  Sometimes
the woman borrowed my grandmother’s face
leaving her usual kitchen to wander
some drafty, half-imagined museum.
One year, feeling clever, I replied
why not let the woman decide herself?
Linda, the teacher would report, eschews
the burdens of responsibility.
This fall in a real museum I stand
before a real Rembrandt, old woman,
or nearly so, myself.  The colors
within this frame are darker than autumn,
darker even than winter — the browns of earth,
though earth’s most radiant elements burn
through the canvas. I know now that woman
and painting and season are almost one
and all beyond the saving of children.

I like the idea of asking the old woman what she wants, but wish it could have taken that idea somewhere other than to the inevitable conclusion of death. I really like Pastan’s poems, but it does seem that so many of her poems end with death. Aging seems to be reduced to dying/getting closer to death.

feb 16/SWIM

1.5 miles
ywca pool

A swim! The last time I swam was 10 days ago. How has it been that long? The water was the cloudiest I ever remember it being. Was it that cloudy, or was it my vision or my loose googles? Swam alone for 30 minutes, then my daughter joined me.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. the water was so cloudy I couldn’t see to the other end
  2. starting out, swimming just above the bottom, I heard some kicking noises and worried that I had picked a lane that someone was already swimming in (I hadn’t)
  3. something brown, looking suspiciously like a band-aide, was stuck to the floor as it sloped down to the deep bottom. It stared back at me every time I swam above it
  4. in the next lane, someone was swimming an exaggerated breast stroke, kicking their legs way out, taking up most of the lane, possibly stretching over into my lane. I was a little irritated, but more enchanted by the wide swing of their legs and their froggy look
  5. I could see a small circle of light in the far corner
  6. trying to look more closely at the band-aide, I noticed some other white things stuck to the sloped floor too. What were they?
  7. as I flipped at the wall and looked up at the ceiling from below the water, I noticed that at the wall closer to the windows the light was yellow, and at the wall that was farther, the light was a pinkish-orange
  8. my nose plug squeaked once — a high-pitched squeak
  9. in the next lane a swimmer waited at the wall. Right as I flipped then pushed off, he started swimming. Was he trying to race me? Probably not
  10. I don’t think I saw anything floating in the pool today

Another good swim. For reasons I can’t quite pinpoint, I was agitated before my swim. It took some time, but the swimming helped calm me down.

Today’s Linda Pastan poem reminds me of something I was just writing about for my week five lecture for my class: gnarled branches.

In the Orchard/ Linda Pastan

Why are these old, gnarled trees
so beautiful, while I am merely
old and gnarled?

If I had leaves, perhaps, or apples . . .
if I had bark instead
of this lined skin,

maybe the wind would wind itself
around my limbs
in its old sinuous dance.

I shall bite into an apple
and swallow the seeds.
I shall come back as a tree.

This idea of coming back as a tree also reminds me of a poem I found the other day on twitter by Czesław Miłosz:

Longing/ Czesław Miłosz

Not that I want to be a god or a hero.
Just to change into a tree, grow for ages, not hurt anyone.

feb 6/SWIM

2 miles
ywca pool

Met RJP at the pool again after she was done with her classes. Added in about 1000 yards of swimming with the pull buoy. I tried reciting the poem I memorized yesterday — Linda Pastan’s “Vertical” — while I swam, but it was difficult. I couldn’t sync up the lines with my breathing rhythms. I don’t think I was ever able to recite the whole thing, only the first bit: “Perhaps the purpose of leaves is to conceal the verticality of trees which we notice in December as if for the first time: row after row of dark forms yearning upwards.”

10 Things

  1. cloudy water, at least as much, maybe more?, crud than the last time I swam: floating hairballs, some strange stain on the wall tiles in my lane
  2. when I got in the pool, there was only one other swimmer. More people came, then left. At one point, most of the lanes were filled, but it was never too crowded
  3. I could see that a storm was moving in by how the pool floor kept getting darker then lighter as the thickening clouds moved past the sun
  4. heard a click underwater several times. Decided it was caused by the swimmer next to me — her knee of elbow clicking as she did the breaststroke
  5. watching my daughter swimming freestyle underwater — looking strong and serious. Once as I passed her, I kept my head below looking over at her until she looked back
  6. doing my starting ritual of pushing off and them swimming underwater until I reached the blue line and the end of the shallow water, I held my arms out straight in front of me, almost squeezing my ears. I felt like I could have stayed underwater until I reached the wall
  7. the muscle I felt most while I was swimming today was my calf, and especially as I kicked harder during my first lap. It wasn’t sore, and it didn’t hurt, I just felt it more
  8. following behind my daughter, trying to stay slow and never pass her, I started my flip turn then stayed at the wall, suspended underwater
  9. worked on my flip turn, trying to flip with my core, and not my arms
  10. every so often, when the sun came out from behind the clouds, I saw a circle of light on the pool floor

Yesterday I posted a poem from Linda Pastan that describes a sparrow as “brief as a haiku.” That made me think of the first poem in her final collection, Almost an Elegy:

Memory of a Bird/ Linda Pastan

Paul Klee, watercolor and pencil on paper

What is left is a beak,
a wing,
a sense of feathers,

the rest lost
in a pointillist blur of tiny

The bird has flown,
leaving behind
an absence.

This is the very
of flight—a bird

so swift
that only memory
can capture it.

All of this quick movement and the brevity of the bird in flight, also made me think of another poem by Pastan I discovered today:

The Birds/ Linda Pastan

are heading south, pulled
by a compass in the genes.
They are not fooled
by this odd November summer,
though we stand in our doorways
wearing cotton dresses.
We are watching them

as they swoop and gather—
the shadow of wings
falls over the heart.
When they rustle among
the empty branches, the trees
must think their lost leaves
have come back.

The birds are heading south,
instinct is the oldest story.
They fly over their doubles,
the mute weathervanes,
teaching all of us
with their tailfeathers
the true north.

Because of my interest in peripheral vision and what it means to see movement (as opposed to sharp, fixed details), I’m always trying to find poems that offer details and descriptions of movement. I love how much Pastan focuses on how the birds move — they swoop and gather, cast wing shadows, rustle like leaves. She doesn’t offer any descriptions of their color, size, or sound. She doesn’t even name them. I don’t miss those details. The description of their movement is enough.

I love all of this poem, but today, especially this:

They fly over their doubles,
the mute weathervanes,
teaching all of us
with their tailfeathers
the true north.

Their doubles, the mute weathervanes? Tailfeathers as teachers? So good!

feb 2/SWIM

1.2 miles
ywca pool

Met my almost 17 year-old daughter at the pool and then we swam together. She’s swimming for online gym. I love swimming with my kids. This summer I swam at the lake with my 19 year-old son, now I get to swim at the pool with my daughter. I try to stay chill and not scare them with my enthusiasm, but it’s difficult.

Tried using a pull buoy for the first time in a few years. So much easier to breath when my body is higher up on the water. I should probably find some more drills to help with keeping me higher.

A few laps in I noticed an oval of bright light on the pool floor, not near the windowed wall, but the windowless one. A strange, beautiful thing to see.

I pushed off the wall underwater for my first lap ritual and swam just above the pool bottom. Noticed a black thread or hair floating right below my nose. A strange, ugly thing to see. Lots of crud in the water this afternoon. Nothing big or too gross, but small bits of something that made the water cloudy.

Later in the swim, I noticed lines of light on the bottom close to the window. Remembered to look up above the water as I flipped at the wall. Today above the surface looked pink to me. Forgot to notice the moving shadows on the pool floor.

At the beginning of the swim, when there was only one other person in the water, I heard some splashing or sloshing underwater. Was it from me? I don’t think so.

Later, after the swim, in the hot tub with Scott, I noticed another woman sitting in the corner, miming freestyle strokes in the hot water.

Also in the hot tub: crouching down, my chin just above the surface, I watched the light catch the spray of water made by one of the jets, making the spray look like fizz from my favorite grapefruit seltzer. Below, the jet made the water look like swirling smoke.

not a cabinet of curiosities

Talked to Scott about my class and my week on wonder as curiosity, which is coming up in a few weeks. There’s a quote by Thoreau that I’m interested in challenging. Well, maybe not challenging, but imagining curiosity against?

[24] In winter, nature is a cabinet of curiosities, full of dried specimens, in their natural order and position.

A Winter Walk/ Thoreau

Thoreau is describing a particular type of western scientific attention: study the natural world as individual things (specimens) to be isolated, classified, and categorized. To learn about, not from. To see non-human beings only as objects, never subjects.

I want to contrast this cabinet of curiosities with Robin Wall Kimmerer and her expanded understanding of knowing:

I would describe my journey as a circle, moving out into academia but coming back to the way that I knew plants as a child. I grew up in a rural area much like where we’re sitting today, and I was interacting every day with plants in the garden, the woods, or the wetlands. I couldn’t go outside without being surprised and amazed by some small green life. I suppose it was their great diversity of form that first drew my interest: that on a small patch of ground there could be so many different ways to exist. Each plant seemed to have its own sense of self, yet they fit together as a community. And each had a home, a place where I knew I could find it. This inspired my curiosity.

From as far back as I can remember, I had this notion of plants as companions and teachers, neighbors and friends. Then, when I went to college, a shift occurred for me. As an aspiring botany major, I was pressured to adopt the scientific worldview; to conceive of these living beings as mere objects; to ask not, “Who are you?” but, “How does it work?” This was a real challenge for me. But I was madly in love with plants, so I worked hard to accommodate myself to this new approach.

Later in my career, after I’d gotten my PhD and started teaching, I was invited to sit among indigenous knowledge holders who understood plants as beings with their own songs and sensibilities. In their presence, and in the presence of the plants themselves, I woke from the sleep I’d fallen into. I was reminded of what I’d always known in my core: that my primary relationship with plants was one of apprenticeship. I’m learning from plants, as opposed to only learning about them.

I was especially moved by an elderly Diné woman who told the biographies of each plant in her valley: its gifts, its responsibilities, its history, and its relationships — both friendships and animosities. As a scientist I had learned only about plants’ physical attributes. Her stories reminded me of how I had encountered plants as a young person. That’s why I say I’m coming full circle after all these years — because I’m able to stop speaking of plants as objects.

2 Ways of Knowing/ Robin Wall Kimmerer

I’m struggling to turn all of my thoughts about curiosity and wonder into a pithy, coherent statement for a lecture. So much time spent circling around these ideas. Frustrating.

jan 29/SWIM

2 miles
ywca pool

Was planning to run on the track, but when we got to the y I realized I had forgotten my shoes and a running shirt. Oops. Luckily I remembered my swimming stuff and that the pool wasn’t too crowded. I’m fine sharing a lane with someone, but it’s difficult for me to circle swim. Sometimes, it’s hard to see other people when I have to pass them because of my vision.

Because I like making note of my vision challenges, both to share them with others and to document them for myself, I’ll offer three from today at the Y:

one: checking for an open lane. I looked as carefully as I could to see if there was an empty lane. When I saw what I thought was one, I checked it twice more to be sure. It looked empty to me. I got in, was adjusting my goggles, and suddenly a swimmer came from behind in my lane and pushed off the wall. This lane was not empty. It was no big deal, and the swimmer was happy to share a lane, but it’s frustrating to try carefully to see something and not be able to. Of course, this could happen to anyone when you’re not paying attention, but I was paying attention and this isn’t the first time this has happened. I’m getting better at not letting it bother me too much or remind me of what I’m losing.

two: finding my locker. I don’t always use the same locker in the locker room, and sometimes I don’t stop to memorize where it is. Luckily the Y switched from locks, where you bring your own combination lock, to keys with a shiny safety pin and the number of the locker attached. When I’m done swimming and I head to my locker, I stop for a minute to stand still and study the key, slowly making out the number on it. Then I carefully scan the lockers until I find mine. Like the empty lane that wasn’t, my need to study my locker key isn’t that big of a deal. But, it has been an adjustment, to slow down this much, and to look to others like I don’t know what I’m doing or that I need help. I don’t mind asking for help when I need it, but I find it stressful to be offered help when I don’t.

three: feeling older than I am. At the sink before swimming, I heard a grandmother talking with a young kid (her granddaughter, I assume): can you be my eyes for me and get that? My eyes aren’t working well today. I say these words to my daughter at least several times a week, which doesn’t bother me. I’m glad to have the help, but I’m 48, which is really young to have the eyes of someone in their late 70s or 80s.

All three of these challenges aren’t big, but they’ve required lots of adjustments and accommodations and extra effort. I don’t mind doing them as long as I can swim. And what a great swim it was! I felt strong and relaxed and almost in a dream floating above the pool floor shimmering with shadows. The mysterious white thing that I’d wondered about a few days ago was gone. Now, in another lane, something else — a string? strands of hair? — were hovering a foot above the bottom. The woman I was sharing a lane with alternated between freestyle, backstroke, and an extra froggy breaststroke. Near the end of the swim, a very fast swimmer arrived in the lane next to me. So much fun to watch him fly by and shoot like a rocket off the wall after a flip turn! Once as he approached, after lapping me at least twice, I kept my head underwater longer so I could watch his fast flip turn.

a moment of sound

Sometimes when it’s this cold outside (feels like -8), it’s harder to get outside for a walk. So instead, I go outside for a minute or two — a moment — and record a moment of sound. Today’s moment was at 1:30 pm in my sunny backyard. My favorite part: the wind chimes, the chirping bird, and that crunchy snow!

jan 29, 2023 / 1 pm / backyard

jan 26/SWIM

1.5 miles
ywca pool
outdoor temp: 14 degrees

Swim! I wouldn’t have minded running in the cold today. It’s sunny and bright. But I’m trying to swim at least once a week. Partly because I love swimming, partly because it feels good after a few hard runs on the rough paths. Today’s swim was wonderful. Only one other person in the pool. The sun was streaming in the big windows and making the whole pool floor dance with shadows.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. the woman next to me was wearing a swim cap that looked like it was from open swim. I wanted to ask her, but we were never stopped at the same time
  2. she was in a black suit — I think it was a tri suit. She swam breaststroke and freestyle and also ran in the deep end, her legs pedaling under the water
  3. there was something big and white on the pool floor, right on the part that slants down — what was it? I couldn’t tell*
  4. after the woman next to me left, I was alone in the pool for most of the time
  5. shadows on the pool floor, 1: faint, from the trees outside, flickering gently
  6. shadows on the pool floor, 2: a sharp, long cylinder of darkness — the lane line
  7. shadows on the pool floor, 3: the sun brightened and more dancing shadows with a long strip of light
  8. shadows on the pool floor, 4: in the lane next to me, a small ball of light — the opposite of a shadow, glowing. In the shallow end of the pool. I could see it from the far end after finishing my flip turn
  9. colors noticed: orange (of course), blue, a little green, yellow (maybe?) near the door to the locker room
  10. not always, but sometimes, I noticed the small bubbles my hands made as they pierced the water

*the white thing on the bottom was very distracting. What is it? I kept looking down, trying to study it, but with my bad eyes, I didn’t have a chance. It was almost the size of my fist. I thought about swimming down and picking it up. Gross! I decided one of the kids on the Otter’s swim team would probably pick it up during practice this afternoon.

The only one in the pool, nearly submerged for 45 minutes, I felt alone and not alone:

Alone and Not Alone/ Carl Sandburg

There must be a place
a room and a sanctuary
set apart for silence
for shadows and roses
holding aware in walls
the sea and its secrets
gong clamor gone still
in a long deep sea-wash
aware always of gongs
vanishing before shadows
of roses repeating themes
of ferns standing still
till wind blows over them:
great hunger may bring these
into one little room
set apart for silence

I found this poem last week and have been wondering when to post it. Today was the day. I like Carl Sandburg and his space for shadows, his sea and its secrets, his one little room set apart for silence!

jan 19/SWIM

1.6 miles
ywca pool
outside: snowing (2+ inches)
31 degrees

Hooray for another swim. Such a good feeling to be moving through the water. Maybe it was because it was still snowing, but the pool was almost empty. Excellent. Mostly, I swam continuous 200s, breathing 3/4/5/6 by 50s. Starting the second mile, I tried something new, partly as a way to stretch my legs/bend my knees without stopping: I added in an occasional 25 of breaststroke. It seemed to work well.

dancing shadows

About 1000 yards in, I noticed the pool floor was moving slightly. I think it was the faint shadows of the snowflakes falling* on the other side of the big windows that stretch across the one side of the building. It made everything feel magical and dreamy and strange.

*Actually, when I was swimming, I thought the shadows were from the trees. It wasn’t until I was writing this entry, right now, that I realized it was probably the falling snow making the dancing shadows. Very cool. I think if I had realized that it was the snow, the whole experience of swimming would have felt even stranger and dreamier.

In addition to the moving shadows, I saw one solid shadow line stretching the length of the pool — a shadow of the lane line. Where was that shadow coming from? The bright ceiling light or the light from the snowy sky?

Seeing these shadows and continuing to pay attention to them, shifted me into a different state of being, one that was dreamier and surreal, and where I rethought what was possible or impossible. I imagined the water as air that I was swimming through. When I reached the deep end and looked down at the pool floor below me, I imagined that I was flying high above the ground through empty space. How fun and distracting. I forgot how many flip turns I had done, how many laps I still wanted to do.

Some other things I noticed:

  1. the sloshing of the water (below)
  2. the loud voices of some women talking and joking (above)
  3. the water running guy, doing running drills in the shallow end, then pushing off and vigorously kicking in the deep end, then finishing with some freestyle
  4. everything seemed blue below
  5. everything orange above
  6. the water was not completely clear, but wasn’t that cloudy either
  7. no harsh chlorine feeling
  8. I swam in lane 2, no one ever swam in lane 3, running dude was in lane 5
  9. nothing floating in the water, only random bits of something on the pool floor
  10. little bubbles in front of me as I sliced through the water and a slight spray as I lifted my elbow up into the air

Remembered reading a description of swim practice and the pool early in the morning, thick with a chlorine haze, in Leanne Shapton’s Swimming Lessons. Thought it might be nice to collect a few pool descriptions. Also thought about composing some more swimming breathing poems, where syllables match my breaths: 3/4/5/6.

Happy Birthday, Edgar Allen Poe (b. Jan 19, 1809)

I randomly searched, “Edgar Allen Poe swimming” and discovered that he was a swimmer! I had no idea. I founded a promising article, “Edgar Allen Poe — Exercise Enthusiast,” but it was beyond a paywall so I couldn’t read it. Then I found this bit of information on a listicle about him:

Poe was a big fan of the long walk. He took many solitary strolls over High Bridge in the Bronx in 1847, after his wife Virginia died. There, staring up at the stars, he would conceive his lengthy cosmic prose poem, Eureka. But he also liked rowing and swimming: as a young lad, he was renowned among his friends for swimming six miles upriver in the Charles River in Virginia, and when he moved to New York City (for the second time) in 1844, one of his first acts was to row a skiff up the East River, all the way up past Roosevelt Island.

sidenote: I want to write a poem titled, “Edgar Allen Poe — Exercise Enthusiast”!