Thursday, February 16, 2017

Vulnerability


“I itch.” E shrugs, continues scratching at a large patch of burned and peeling skin on her hip.
I know I must have been staring. I try not to, but can’t help myself. E’s skin is in a miraculous molting phase. And it’s no wonder she itches.

She was in a fire that burned like 99 percent of her body about a year ago? I’m so bad with time, but I remember when she first came back to Utopia, the damage was severe and heartbreaking. How could anyone survive such a trauma? The pain. The terror. The hideousness of it all.

Yet, E seemed characteristically unfazed by it. She acknowledged that it hadn’t been her time to die. And then she went on. With her daughters. And her work. And her time here at Utopia.
I haven’t seen her in the pool for some time. I would imagine that the super chlorinated water would not be a healing salve for her poor damaged skin.

In Utopia, DL and I had found a seat in the crowded scene. I noted that a towel was spread out on the top shelf, taking up valuable space. But whatever, I was too tired from my swim to ask who the towel belonged to so I just plopped down on the shelf below.
Soon the towel’s owner strutted in. I’d not seen her before. She was fit and pale and exuded a naked confidence that some women can. She climbed up to her towel, smiling at me and then lay down, her small firm breasts right at my eye level.
Do I stare?
Yes I do.
But it’s okay. She’s got her eyes closed, right? And besides, what else can I do? Pretend they’re not there?

E ambles in. She’s still scratching. Sits down beside me and sighs deeply. “I itch,” she repeats.
“Yes,” I nod, “I bet.” Cause what else can I say? I mean, I can’t really imagine what it would be like to have your entire body fried to a crisp, so I can only try to quell the slight nausea that rises in me whenever I am too near E.

She launches into a spiel about a concoction she’s made to help soothe the itching. To no one in particular, but everyone’s listening. “I use the olive oil. The ginger. The eucalyptus. The ….” Something else I can’t quite understand cuz of her Utopian accent.
But Naked Confidence Woman understands and joins in, “Aloe vera?”
“Yes, yes, that too,” E nods. I can tell that there is really no communication going on in a literal level, but it certainly is going on in a womanly sense. They understand each other in the talking over of concoctions. I mention that it sounds good enough to eat.

Naked Confidence Woman sits up now, nods emphatically as she positions herself Indian Style. I don’t look back now. Way too intimate.

She proclaims: “They say that anything you put on your body you should be able to put inside it!”
“Ah….” I nod, thinking how no way would I really eat E’s concoction.
“It smells wonderful!” Naked Confidence Woman exclaims.
E nods in agreement. “Yes, yes….” Then she fades into a tired space. I think how tired she must be. To have her body itching like that to the point where the scratching seems to be peeling off the excess layers of skin.

Ewwwww. I do NOT want to think about that.

So I get up and leave. DL’s already gone? When did she leave? I get so immersed in the Utopian Conversation Situation that I missed her exit. Damn. I wonder if she heard the concoction exchange?


Later, DL and I are dressing and I’m yammering on and on about I don’t even know what, and Naked Confidence Woman, dressed now, leans around the corner and blurts out, “Have you heard of Brene Brown ? She does a Ted Talk about Vulnerability?”

“Uh…..” I glance over at DL, whose eyes are wide and mirthful behind her glasses.
“You sound just like her. When I heard you talking….” she explains.
“Oh,” I say, laughing softly. “I guess I could give a Ted Talk on Dreams and Cats.”

No, I didn’t really say that. But wish I had.
Instead, I just mutter some inanity about how I’ll have to check out her Ted Talk when I get a chance. Vulnerability.
That seems about right. E should feel some Vulnerability around her skin and her life. Naked Confidence Woman obviously doesn’t have a Vulnerable Bone in her body.
And me?
I’d been especially vulnerable all day. The traffic in the morning put me near tears. Then late to work which sent me over the vulnerability edge if I hadn’t been at work. I felt raw. Exposed. Traffic and lateness can do that to a person.

And so, yes, I’ll have to check out the Ted Talk. I need to learn about strategies to cope with vulnerability. Is that what it’s about? Or is it about allowing yourself to be more vulnerable?
I’ll let you know.
In the meantime, E is so courageous. To have that itch. And to scratch it.
I hope to see her in the pool again soon!

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Girl Energy in the Pool

Three teenage girls, or maybe preteen, climb into my lane at the Downtown Oakland YMCA. Ohhing, and squealing and wincing: “It’s so cold! No it’s not! Get in! I can’t!”

Then much dramatic shivering, splashing, laughing and frolicking as they do submerge, but one of them keeps her head out. She’s got on a grey wool cap that isn’t meant for swimming. But no matter, the fun can begin with head out of the water. The girls splash, and giggle and gossip and cajole loudly and with abandon. Their energy is electric and high. I move to the next lane to give them their space, continue swimming my laps.

After a few minutes, I see one of them climb out, scurry to the locker room and return with another wool cap that she gives to Grey Cap Girl. This cap is special though. It’s a lion’s head! Complete with fierce teeth, golden eyes, and tail hanging a little too close to the water.
“Don’t get it wet!” they squeal. And she does. Get it wet. And it doesn’t matter. The lion’s energy is part of their girl energy. It enhances and enlarges it. Gives them power and play. I love it!



Later after my swim, Utopia and Sandy Time, DL and I slog out of the locker room. The girls are gathered in a little rumpled circle in the lobby. I ask them about the lion’s head.

“OH no! Did you leave it, Kayla?" "No you have it." "I think it’s in her gym bag!" "I’m gonna run back and check the locker room!”

And one of them scurries back. “I’m glad I asked,” I say as DL and I move past them. “Oh, yeah, thanks,” one of them says.

And there’s a moment of connection here that I didn’t quite have in the pool. The exchange is charged with a tinge of girlish panic, but it’s fleeting. I hear the one come running back, “Here it is!” and they all convulse into giggles and punches.

Girl energy. It’s everywhere. And it’s part of the feminine instinct, I think of collective caring and observation.

Go girls. Go pink. Go lions!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Out of the pool, into the politics

(photo by Chris McGinnis)

“Speechless, but focused.”

This sign caught my attention during the Women’s March through downtown Oakland (Saturday, January 21, 2017). Why was this the one I remember first when I think back around the energy of that day? Certainly there were tons of memorable signs: “Warrior Princess”; “Pussy grabs back ”; “It’s so bad, even introverts are marching!”
Yet this sign around a silent and deep attention seemed to mirror the words and meaning on my own sign: “This strains my credulity on so many levels…..”
Or are they opposites? Mine is broad and all encompassing. While the focused one narrows to a pinprick of consciousness. Yet, I can NOT believe what disastrous swipes of his pen Trump has already enacted. No more funding for women’s health care overseas? I can NOT even wrap my brain around this. Another sign echoes in my mind: “If you can take away women’s reproductive rights, can we take away yours?”

If only! There are already ‘little Trumps’ in the world; already they are filling important government positions; already Trump is spreading his seed of evil through his offspring.
Damn.

What can we do? What can I do?

I don’t know. I am a writer. So I will write. And there is a long history of writers protesting repressive regimes: George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Maya Angelou?

Does she count?
More than most, I think. Her writing sings of pain and beauty. I will find a quote of hers to end with:

“A wise woman wishes to be no one's enemy; a wise woman refuses to be anyone's victim.” Maya Angelou
May all the wise women rise up and continue on their quest for women’s rights, civil rights, and humanitarian rights. And whether we are speechless or vocal, we can focus our energy on the task at hand. Defeating Trump and his minions. It won’t be easy. And the path is vague. But yet…..for myself, I won’t be his ‘victim’ and I won’t be cowed. I will use my words to fight the fight. It’s all I have.

For now…..

Thursday, January 05, 2017

What I can do.....


“The boiler’s out at My Club. So, I’ve been swimming here.” Sandy refrains from the wry face that I know is under her noncommittal mug. She’s swimming at the Oakland Y! Wow! In all the years that I’ve been coming here, I’ve never known her to swim at this pool. Why?

I bet it’s not as nice as her Club! That’s why! And, yup, sure enough, details are forthcoming. “I’ve never slid off the wall at My Club like I do here.” She leans toward me, conspiratorially, quiet not to bother anyone else in Utopia. DL is on the bottom shelf, zoned out? Can she hear us? I bet not. And why would she care? Tonight, it’s all about swimming!
“What do you mean?” I ask now about the sliding off the wall phenomenon. I can’t fathom her meaning whatsoever.
“When I turn at the wall with my fins, there’s this oily slickness to the wall. The fins slide off….”
“Oh….” I have no clue what she’s talking about. But I believe her that there’s some sort of slick film on the walls of the Oakland pool. I don’t want to think about it too much though. It’s kinda gross, right?
“And this is the first pool I’ve swam in where I can’t see the end of it from one side to the other,” she harrumphs.

This I know. The water is a murky mess here. I assume it’s from all the chemicals they have to put in it for you know what, which is what Sandy brings up next.
“I told a friend of mine that the kids all pee in the pool here and when she didn’t believe me, I said ‘Yup, believe it. The parents take their kids into the pool, tell them not to pee, but as soon as the kid hits the water, out it gushes.’”
She nods authoritatively.
“That’s why there are so many chemicals,” I offer. “To counteract the pee production.”
“You got it,” she agrees. Then continues with her Oakland Pool analysis: “I was swimming here and someone just jumped in without cluing me and hell, I almost had a head on collision.”
Cluing me in---I love this term! And the swimmers here at Oakland are so clueless! Perfect word choice, Sandy!
“Yeah, I’ve had a few collisions in this pool.”
Sandy shakes her head at the travesty of it all. DL gets up and wobbles out. I know she’s okay; she just gets hot before I do and has to exit. Pronto.

“When will they fix the boiler in your pool?” I ask.
“You know, I don’t know. My Sugar, he’s in Boiler Distribution, and I told the folks at My Club I could hook them up with him. Get them a good deal. But I haven’t heard back. They probably can’t get their shit together to take advantage.”
“Yeah…” Only Sandy would have a channel to boiler repair price reductions. The rest of us, if the pool’s boiler breaks, we just whine and then swim somewhere else till it’s fixed.

“You could swim up at Hilltop,” I suggest.
“No. Too far. I’d have to get on the freeway.”
Does she not drive on the freeway? This is a revelation. I know people who don’t like driving on the freeway. I get that. They're hellacious! My friend JL says the speed makes her nervous. But still, I think she will drive on the freeway if necessary.
I guess swimming at Hilltop isn’t a necessity for Sandy. Or the freeway is too much of an impediment? She doesn’t seem like the type to let a freeway stop her from the pool. But I’m learning so much about her tonight that I can’t contain my glee.

“Besides, I need to get in the pool by 3 and that won’t work,” she continues.
I nod. I wonder what happens after 3? Does she have to be home in time to field the calls about the Boiler?
“Well, it’s 20 to,” she rises, picking up her soggy towel, not wrapping it round herself. She’s completely at ease here, naked, in Utopia. Her kingdom.
But the pool?
Not so much.

I wish I could coordinate a swim with her here at the Oakland Y. I bet she’s serious.

“See you out there,” she ambles out, the towel slung over her shoulder, her swimmer’s legs carrying her to the showers.
I follow, thinking about boilers, slickness and cluelessness.

And, for a moment, Sandy has helped me to forget my earlier distress over the imminent installment of Trump. I’m even out of adjectives to describe his heinousness. But earlier, with DL, I was in a tailspin. Bemoaning to her my fear of losing my healthcare, getting sick, going to emergency rooms, wages being garnished till they’re used up, losing my house…..
Damn.
I’m feeling very very scared. And I know that I’m not alone. Others feel this way too. Yet what can we do?
DL says do what I can. Sign petitions. Talk to friends. We can make a difference.

Yet, I can’t shake the horror of what’s to come. And so, I will sign petitions. I will talk to friends. I will write my blog.
What else can I do?
Swim, Carol, swim.
This I can do……

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Light....

It’d been a cold swim. A hard swim. But now, a done swim. Whew! Here at the Encinitas YMCA they keep the pool a frigid ‘competitive’ temp. I am NOT competitive! I need warmth. And so, I plop down in the sauna, the heat a welcome embrace after my non-competitive swim.

I close my eyes. The talk of the two women with me in the sauna floats in the heat. Something about India. Something about holidays. Something about celebrations.
It’s that post-Christmas lament. Is that what I mean? Do they want more holidays here?
I open my eyes. They both smile over at me in the close quarters. Then continue on with their discussion. “In India, every week is a holiday.”
“Yes, I know what you mean.”
“Not like here where we have this big holiday and then bam. No holidays till when?”
“Valentine’s day?”
“Is that a holiday?”
They both crack up. I grin. Decide to join in. “The same was true in China,” I venture. “There was always a celebration. Parades. Balloons. Fireworks.”
“Yes, India too.”
I nod. Is one of the women Indian? I can’t tell in the dark. And frankly it doesn’t matter. I don’t know either of them. I’ll never see them again. There’s something freeing about this. I can say what I want without worrying about future interactions. Not like I really worry about this anyway in the Bay Area.

“Lots of fanfare and bright lights,” I continue.

One of the women nods, suddenly serious, “We need light. Especially now…..”
Her voice trails off and we all sit silent for a moment. I don’t answer. Know that she’s referring to the darkness that has overtaken our country since the King of Bigotry and Hatred has been elected. And now his reign is only a few weeks away.
We do need light!
But how?
I am thankful for these two women, voicing this wish. And here in San Diego, I am pleasantly surprised. I had the impression that there was a large percentage of the populace here that may have voted for the King of Hatred. Trumpland. It is here in San Diego?

Evidently, it’s everywhere. He did ‘win’ the election.

But for a moment, I can revel in a small sanctuary of this Encinitas YMCA sauna. No Trumpland here.
There’s light in the darkness here.

And for this I am so very grateful.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christmas shopping, Poolphoria and Breathing.....

“Have you finished your Christmas shopping?”
Sandy guffaws in classic Sandy fashion, “You mean, have I started it?”
DL laughs softly, relaxing on the bottom shelf of Utopia. I grin, positioned next to Sandy on the top shelf. A silent Asian woman lies on the other side of me. I don’t gauge any reaction from her. Maybe she’s asleep? Maybe we’re disturbing her? Maybe she’s in the Utopia sphere of floating heat?

“I mean, I don’t do much shopping anymore,” Sandy continues. “Christmas is for the little ones, right? And if people get me stuff, well, I don’t regift it, but I do give it away. I don’t need any more stuff, you know? Though if my Sugar got me one thing, it better be 3 karats ---he can afford it!”
Not knowing what 1 karat looked like, I couldn’t comment on 3, but it sounded like a lot. And the number 3 is a good one!
“How was your swim?” Sandy asks me.
“Oh! Another Poolphoria,” I exclaim.
She nods even though I’m sure she’s never heard my made up word before.
“You had your own lane?” she asks.
“Yup! And the water was a toasty 83.5 and the lifeguard let me swim an extra lap after the 9:30 whistle.”

“Excellent! I’m glad.” Sandy always is so affirming. When she says ‘I’m glad,’ she really means it!

“Thanks,” I say. “I didn’t think I was gonna even make it here tonight. The parking! It’s from hell! If it hadn’t been for Neesie hailing a hipster dad in his Subaru station wagon to see if he was leaving his space, I woulda left.”

“I understand,” Sandy nods. “I did get a space, but I had to be aggressive. It’s good you’re leaving on a high note.”
So much here, I think. The aggressiveness of getting parking places lately just wears me out. I get so frustrated. Last week, I drove around for 20 minutes and finally someone left and I went to back into the spot and someone behind me tried to drive in it front ways and I had to just keep backing up, nearly hitting him, before he left.

It’s exhausting!

But the idea of leaving on a High Note—this is vital! I had left work today on a Low Note—no need to bore you with the details—and so leaving the Y on a High Note, and, of course it’s cuz of the pool, well, it revitalizes me. I am hopeful again. Anything is possible.

Even Christmas shopping!

Well, that might be going too far. The powers of Poolphoria only have so much reach!
And then Sandy’s on to the next topic. Something about ‘warming up to a hissy fit’—her Sweetie knows the signs and can head the fit off at the pass if he’s paying attention. (You know, by getting her that 3 karat gem!) And then her enviable ability to ‘cat nap’. “I know. I’m blessed,” she admits. “I can fall asleep when I’m just resting, sitting in a chair, for 20 minutes or so, and then…..my breathing, it can change? You know? I am asleep and then I’m conscious of my breathing and it wakes me.” Her eyes glisten in amazement.
I nod. Of course, it’s all about the breathing. In the pool. In your sleep. In your dreams.

I think if I concentrate on breathing then I can weather the Christmas shopping, the hellish parking, the
bitter job strife.

I’m going to try it now…..breathe in….breathe out…..breathe in…….
Nope. I need to go to the pool. Pronto.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all my readers at the Pool Purrs Blog!


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Forever 30!

I was in a mood.
Still seething after the man (of course it was a man and a tall man!) upstairs at the weight machines refused to let me ‘work in’ to the machine he’d been monopolizing for over 10 minutes. I had asked nicely. He had refused rudely. I stormed away. Dumped my wrath on sympathetic fellow gym woman (“You know, you could have reported him. That’s not what the Y values are about!” she’d harrumphed.) Good to know. But I wasn't in the mood today.
And so, as I prepared for the pool (I really hoped Mean Machine Monopoly Man wouldn’t be in the pool! Or I’d drown him in my territory!), I turned on the shower and damn. It was so cold! Grrrrr…..Brrrrrr!!!!
A stocky Asian woman was down the shower row from me. She nodded, smiled, motioned for me to come to her shower. “Here, you... this one…” she offered, no nonsense.

“Oh thank you!” I murmured gratefully.

The women were starting to restore my faith in the Y as a place to feel safe and work out.
And as I walked out on deck waving at the super nice lifeguard (also a woman), I started to breathe again. A swim would help. The pool was nearly empty except for Shower Sharing Woman and Ian. (Who, granted is a man, but he's a NICE man!)

Everything would be okay.
And it was.

I dove in. Kicked mightily. Swam and swam and swam. 45 minutes later, I’m kicking and notice that Shower Sharing Woman was resting at the wall, watching me. I smiled over at her. She gave me the thumbs up.
I love this!
Laughing, I finished up, resting for a moment at the wall, stretching, chatting to a colleague from work---another blog—and then heading into the sauna.

Shower Sharing woman was there. In the dark, a striped towel ensemble covering her instead of her sack-like swimming costume. (And yes, it was a swimming costume!) She grinned over at me. Gave me another thumbs up. Pantomimed a strong arm like Popeye the sailor-man after he ate his spinach.
“How old are you?” she asked me.
How am I? is what I heard. “I’m fine. How are you doing?”
She looked at me deeply, shaking her head. “How old are you?”
Oh, yes, Chinese culture—the first question is always, “How old are you?"even though in American culture you’d never ask a middle aged woman this. Age is so taboo. We live in a culture of youth equals beauty. But today, I don't care.

“I’m 58.”

Her eyes widened. She shook her head back and forth, amazement spilling out of every pore. “I thought!” she began. “I thought you 30!”
“You thought I was 30 years old when I was swimming?” I asked, incredulous.
“Yes, yes. 30! You strong!”
“Wow! Thanks, you made my day!” I exclaimed.
She cracked up.
“How old are you?” I asked her.
She counted on her fingers. “I... 62…63….” she decided, grinning.
“I thought you were 30 too!” I proclaimed.

Hilarity bursts forth from her. She leans against the sauna wall, the gales of laughter spilling out of her.

“We are both 30 when we are in the pool!” I assert, delighted with this new found revelation. How cool is that? The pool is the fountain of youth. We are forever 30 if we could just stay in the water!
And if I were 30? Damn, I coulda let that Mean Machine Man have it, right? Thirty year old women are more assertive? Aggressive? Or hell, if I'd been 30, maybe he wouldn't have treated me the way he did. Dismissed me the way he did. Or maybe not....maybe he would have been smarmy and ickee.....and sexist and....

Oh, who cares!

I’m just going to stay in the pool, stay 30, keep laughing, and never stop swimming.
Forever 30.
That’s me! And Thumbs Up Asian Woman. Who has the spirit of youth and joy to spare....