Sunday, April 30, 2017

Who Me, Bitter?


“Are you bitter?”
I laugh, slightly embarrassed, slightly amused. Is it that obvious? How the hell did the conversation go from casual pool post laps chit chat to my deepest darkest psychological insecurities?

The chat had begun innocuously enough. “Is that a new suit?” Handsome Swimmer Man had asked.
“Nope, just one that’s been resurrected. I haven’t had a chance to get online to check out that site you told me about last week.”
He had nodded, shrugging, “Yeah….”
“I mean, the time gets away from me, you know? What with all these different jobs I’m juggling.”
“How many jobs do you have?”
“Three….four…depends on how you count them up…”
He shakes his head, “What do you do?”
“I teach writing….”
“You teach Montessori?”
Where the hell did he get that? I blame water in the ears. “No, I teach college level. At a couple of universities. Mostly grad students.”
“Cool, where?”
I feel a little under the gun at this point. Why is he interrogating me so? I mean, it’s a lot of questions, right? I’m game though, mostly cuz of his eyelashes.
“WWU….FFU….”
“My wife got her MBA at FFU.”
“Ah….” Suddenly I know a lot about him. An MBA wife. From FFU. She’s businessy and crisp. “What kind of work do you do?” I ask him.
He sighs, lowly. “Software….” Then something I don’t understand.
“Computers?”
“Yes.”
“I know only how to use computers, not how they work,” I joke.
“Your tool is only as good as the person using it.”

It sounds like he’s said this a zillion times. I just grin. Feeling a little chilly, I stretch my leg up onto the deck lean my head toward my knee.
“So, if you teach writing you must be a writer,” he asserts, staring me down.
“Yes….”
“What do you write?”
“Novels, short stories.”
“Under what pseudonym?”
I wonder why he thinks I’d write under another name? He’s just after that question people always ask when they find out you’re a writer: Are you published? And this is where the bitterness shows through I guess. Cuz I bristle at this query. Why must I be published? Why must I have a broad readership? Why don’t I? I’m such a failure.
Blah blah blah…..

And so, yes, I am bitter and I tell him so. With a teasing tone, of course. Hell, I don’t even know him, right?
“You’re bitter, really?” he asks.
“Yup,” I laugh.
“Really?”
“No…well…yeah….well…..” I hesitate.
He jumps in, “I’m bitter too!” he exclaims.
“You are?”
“Yeah!”
“For me?”
“Sure, why not?” he grins.

“Are you a writer too?” I ask. “Is that why you know that bitter taste?”
He chuckles. “No, I’m not a writer. Maybe I should take one of your classes.”
“Uh….well, you’d have to be a student.”
He shrugs, “True….”
“I do have private clients….” Why did I mention this?

“What kind of novels do you write?” he asks.
“I’m working on a novel about an artist, one of the later Surrealists, and his three muses.”
“Who? Breton?”
Damn, he knows Breton? How did he read my mind? This was getting to be a surreal poolside chat.
“Yes…” I answer, "but actually I just made most of it up…”
“Did Breton have 3 muses?” he ignores my assertion round the imaginative narrative.
“I have no idea,” I laugh. “It’s fiction.”
“Ah, of course,” he nods.

I can tell he’d keep talking if I did, and now I really was getting cold. “I have to get out,” I say, “getting cold.”
“Oh, yeah…sure…I’d love to read your novel.”
I laugh. “If I finish it, I’ll send it to you.”
He starts to call out his email address as I climb out of the pool, shivering now. I’ll never remember it and tell him so.

“That’s okay,” he nods.

He dives back underwater, falls into his smooth rhythm like he’d never been the interrogator of an unpublished bitter writer.
Yet am I really I bitter? Oh, sure sometimes. Who wouldn’t be? But most of the time, I don’t care. Esp. when I’m actually writing. Like right now. No bitterness in sight. Just words and more words and stories and dialogue and yes, the pool…..my first love and inspiration….

Monday, April 24, 2017

I'm So Small!

“He chose your lane cuz you’re a really good swimmer so when he gets into trouble you can haul his sorry ass out.” Sandy shakes her head in swimmer sympathy as DL and I crack up. I want to say that I wouldn’t haul his ass out, no matter how much trouble he was in. He was just too gross. I’d been telling Sandy and DL about the ‘splash sandwich’ that I’d had to endure at the Oakland Y for, fortunately, only a short while.
When I spied him lurking on deck, standing in front of My Lane, his blobby white belly spilling out over his too small blue Speedo, I prayed silently to myself that he wouldn’t choose my lane.

Of course he did.
They always do. Why is that? I think Sandy is being generous in giving them that much of a critical thinking future brain. But I like it that she assumes that I’m a ‘good swimmer’---I don’t think she’s ever seen me swim!
No, I think they choose me cuz I’m small and easy to push around. When they splash in, their massive waves bounce me into the lane line, I gulp large quantities of water or hafta hold my breath when I pass them. It’s hard!
So, tonight, when Gross Belly Man splashed in with his bright yellow Zoomers, I cringed. Why me?
And I know why.
I’m small.
Most of the time I like being small. But this week, for instance, on the most crowded BART since Communist China bus rides, my smallness was a drawback. I was immediately smashed under some hipster’s armpit who was completely oblivious that I was even there with his earbuds in and his smelly flannel shirt.
I had a minor panic attack and was looking for an escape when a nice young woman offered to share the ‘senior seat’—why was she there in the first place? “OH that’s so nice of you!” I had said. “I can just sit on your lap!” She laughed softly, her seatmate moved over too and I perched on the arm of the seat for the 10 minute ride to West Oakland before I climbed out.
I couldn’t do it.
Tonight, fortunately, a lane opened up and I was able to move out of the Splash Sandwich lane after only a few laps.
But even a few laps was too many. With Belly Over Speedo man. Sorry, but some guys should just not sport those suits!
Maybe I should bulk up. Eat more ice cream and Nation’s Pie. Expand my girth. This way I wouldn’t be such a target. Those large belly guys would see me, my wide round expanse filling the lane, and think, ‘Nah, she’s too big. I’ll go swim with someone else......smaller….”
Yet, I don’t think I could really achieve this kind of expansive deterrent. I could swim in the middle of the lane more—lane hog---yes, I do try for this. But I think, cuz I am small, this just isn’t enough to dissuade the large undesirables.
Maybe Sandy is right. I’m too good of a swimmer. So, next time, when I see a Big Belly Man lurking in front of my lane, ready to jump in, I’ll just start swimming really badly. I’ll splash a lot. Wave my arms in inefficient stroke motions. Generally create an image of floundering inexpertise.
That should dissuade them.
I’ll give it a try this week and let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, I’ll eat some pie and ice cream and cookies and M&Ms and….


Hey! I already do that!
Splash on!

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

It's All About the Hair


“Don’t we know each other?” The woman down at the opposite side of the locker room is staring at me, a baffled look on her face from what I can tell from this distance. She does look familiar but…..
“Woo Woo U?” she says as we walk toward each other, meeting in the middle of the locker room here at Hilltopia. DL’s here tonight too, behind me, curious.
“Oh, yes” I exclaim as we are now close to each other, standing face to face. She tells me her name, which I really want to write out cuz it’s so good, but I’ll make something up to protect her WWU anonymity. I’ll just call her Bella Bellisima, or BB for short. “Bella,” she says, “Carol,” I say. We laugh.
And it’s that out of context thing. People look so different in the gym or the pool or at Safeway than they do in their professional situations. I would have known her immediately if I’d seen her in the halls at WWU, but here at Hilltopia, it did take a moment. After I introduce her to DL and we chit chat a bit about our ‘home’ Ys, we head off to our respective workouts. On her way, out, she calls out to me:

“Of course,” she says. “I recognized you from The Hair.”

It’s always about the hair, isn’t it?

Later after my super cold swim, I’m in front of the long mirror frantically trying to dry my hair before going outside in the dark cold before the Y closes. Another swimmer is there, too, pursuing the same endeavor. I notice she has fantastic hair. Big and fluffy and dark with a dramatic grey streak down the side.
She smiles over at me and says, “Wild hair!”
“Oh, yeah,” I nod. “It’s from swimming!”
She laughs, goes back to her stupendous hair drying project. Her hair is more than ‘wild’—it’s another being. It’s got a life of its own. It says, very loudly, ‘Look at me! I’m fabulous and don’t you forget it!’

Yup, in the end, as it is in the beginning, it’s all about the hair.

Just ask DL. She’ll confirm this.
She’s got fabulous hair!

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……