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(Almost) Everything I know I Picked Up at the Pool

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(Almost) Everything I know I picked up at the pool

by Joan Brunwasser, Voting Integrity Editor, OpEdNews March 23. 2007

I admit it. This article is doubling as a creative, if desperate, end run around a bad case of writer's block. Have you ever desperately tried to dredge up a name from the past, only to find it hanging back, tantalizingly out of reach? Once you stop trying so hard, it inevitably pops into your mind, as if by magic. I don't understand how or why this works; I only know it does. I'm applying that principle to the movie review I have been trying to write, but which stubbornly refuses to be born. I'm referring to my review of the must-see documentary "The Right to Count: Democracy v. Electronic Voting." You'll have to stay tuned for that one. It's in the pipeline with no particular ETA. I'm cautiously optimistic that putting the article aside will give it the time it needs to do its thing – like dough left undisturbed to rise at its own pace. Hurrying it along accomplishes little, however frustrating that might be for someone eager for a slice of fresh-baked bread.

I never really gave much thought to what middle age would be like. I sort of assumed that I would just keep going down the path I'd been moving along until now. It never occurred to me that at this late-ish point in my life, I would still be a work in progress. And yet, over the last several years, I have branched out in numerous and surprising new directions, acquiring new skills and learning more about myself in the process. It's been a fascinating and unexpected ride.

I love to swim, and the high it gives me borders on an addiction. For many years, my swimming was limited to our summer treks to Sleepy Hollow in South Haven, Michigan. For one week almost every year, I would tumble out of bed and head sleepily to the pool. Sleepy Hollow's pool has a unique feature that greatly enhances the experience. It's enclosed by a clear, Plexiglas shield that welcomes the warming rays of the sun but keeps the wind at bay. There was never a good excuse not to swim, unless it was stormy. Every morning of that week, I would enjoy the sun sparkling on the water, the bright blue bottom of the pool, the camaraderie of those, like me, there for their 'fix,' the amiable chats or nods in complete, unspoken understanding. Like Cinderella at the ball, for a brief time, I donned the persona of serious swimmer, racking up 50, 60, 70 or more laps before they turned the pool back over to the hordes of pre-schoolers and teenagers.

For this one week each year, it felt terrific to swim – I felt terrific. And every year, upon our return home, I would pack up my suit and cap until the following summer. It was my routine. I didn't stop to think about it. About four years ago, it belatedly dawned on me that I didn't have to restrict myself to such part-time pleasure. I could join a local indoor pool and swim year round. Don't ask why it took me so long to figure this out. It's embarrassingly obvious now, needless to say.

Joining a swimming facility here at home opened up a new chapter in my life. I now enjoy getting my ya-yas out three or four times a week, regardless of the season. I am, by no means, a natural athlete or jock. Yet, I have a magical affinity for this watery form of exercise. On a good day, there is something transcendent about the experience. Since I have been swimming regularly, I have learned a surprising amount about life and myself, and I wanted to share some of these observations. Let me know if any of them speak to you as well.

It was not a foregone conclusion that I would return to swimming as an adult. I went to summer camp for many years where swimming was an integral part of the activities. It never did anything for me; the water was always too cold or the lake too choppy, leaving me a little queasy. And parading around in skimpy, unflattering attire was not my idea of a good time. There's something humbling about the childbirth experience - exposing your very most private parts to virtual strangers - that makes putting on a bathing suit now simply no big deal, in the larger scheme of things.

My education through swimming can be divided into several categories – advice/consultation, self-discoveries, and side benefits. The most dramatically helpful advice I've received was the recommendation to invest in a good pair of goggles. I didn't realize that I had a choice about looking like a very frightened raccoon for several hours after leaving the pool. My new Barracudas were such an improvement that it's hard to believe I deliberated so long before laying out the extra money for them. Other than the telltale chlorine smell, I emerge from the locker room looking, more or less, like a normal person.

It was in the pool that I first admired the yellow split fins that a fellow swimmer was using. In that wonderful way that athletes and hobbyists have of sharing their experiences, I got to try them out and liked them immediately. They gave my legs a much more thorough workout than the Zoomers that I had been using. I rushed out and got a pair. I used them faithfully until my chiropractor told me that they were aggravating my chronic heel injury. I've had to put them aside for the time being, but I'm hopeful that I'll be able to take them up again at some point.

In the fall, I spent three months in forced exile, banned from swimming and sport walking with the hope that my chronic injury would sufficiently heal in a way that constant exercise did not permit. It was a difficult time for me, and I missed the companionship as well as the swimming itself. When I finally got a clean bill of health, I not only had to get back into shape, but I had to learn how to swim unaided. My familiar routine, now sans fins, made me feel like I was propelling myself through molasses. It was very disheartening. I tried alternating breast and sidestroke with an occasional crawl every ten laps. Suddenly, I had a new problem - water going up my nose, causing me to choke and sputter. In stepped Lifeguard Mary, who taught me to hum or blow bubbles while exhaling, and my problem was stopped in its tracks.

The time I spend in the pool is intensely private and precious to me. I take off my trifocals and the world looks completely different. My goggles almost immediately fog up, which allows me to more easily get into the groove, focusing on my movement through the water and the act of breathing. My awareness of those on either side of me fades away, and for a short time I am able to live in the present moment. This lasts from the time I get into the pool through brief stints in the sauna and steam. As soon as I hit the shower, my pace picks up, and the respite has officially ended. I don't know why the shower marks the outer limits of my time out, but it just does. My 'bubble in time' has burst and real-life comes flooding back in. Life's many obligations start pulling on me and I'm no longer relaxed like I was just a few minutes before.

Sometimes, the soothing monotony of laps lets me work through thorny passages of an article I'm working on, or helps me plan the day. I've written speeches, grocery lists, and just given deep, uninterrupted thought to things on my mind. It's wonderful quality time spent with myself.

A bonus of swimming at the Y is the camaraderie in the ladies' locker room. Since most of us are creatures of habit, I tend to meet the same group every time I go. We are genuinely glad to see one another. We greet each other warmly, trading book recommendations and swapping stories about childrearing, aging parents, and health issues. Yesterday, I was chatting with Sharon and telling her how the day before I had found myself locked in the bathroom after my Feldenkreis class. As usual, I had been in a hurry and was looking ahead to getting to work and the particularly busy week that awaited me. My inability to get the door open broke my stride and pushed me close to a panic attack. I don't do well in enclosed places, which is not an uncommon fear. But, for me it's backed up by cold, hard experience. I was trapped in a locker once when I was in grammar school. We were goofing around, but I'm the only one who managed to get stuck. The custodian had to liberate me after what felt like hours, and I was really shaken up. When I finished telling my story, Sharon quietly related how she had gotten locked out of her car yesterday, had to take a taxi home to retrieve a key, and was two-and-a-half hours late for work. Talking to others is so helpful in giving perspective. Our issues are personal but not unique and there's comfort in that.

Hanging out at the pool, I can't help but notice that we females are a wide assortment of sizes and shapes. I love our collection of laugh lines, stretch marks, and various other battle scars that attest to the fact that we have embraced life and have given life. Aren't mothers marvelous? None of us would be here without one.

I was chatting with Sharon today and she remarked on how quickly I shower and get ready for work. It was a timely comment because now that I have entered the world of hair driers and make-up, I feel like everything takes so much longer. I can't slide by like I used to on my fresh face, good genes and clean living. Gravity and life have taken their toll. I used to pride myself on being able to shower and have one foot out the door in 15 minutes flat. It stems from my home life, where I was the baby and the only girl. My brothers were the pokiest dressers ever. I would be ready and waiting for them for half an hour as they pulled themselves together so that we could go out for dinner or whatever activity was planned. Finally, because I am impatient by nature, I started testing my speed by waiting until they were almost ready and then dashing into the shower. I had it down to around 12 minutes, occasionally even 10. It was supremely satisfying, and one of the few avenues for one-ups-manship that was available to me. Those finely honed skills stood me in good stead, and I was able to get away with minimal preparation time for many, many years.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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