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LJ Idol Season 8 - Week 15: Laps

This is my entry this week for therealljidol. I invite you to read and vote for the many fine entries. This week's topic is "Preoccupied."

I am swimming laps, between two women much faster than I. Between their lanes, in our section between two ropes of buoys, I splash slowly along. My breath into the water bubbles and chuffs. Chuff is what the trains do in my son's favorite video, "Thomas the Tank Engine." The faster swimmers pass me, and their wakes toss me like a toy boat, or like a bad special effects sequence in a 1950s movie about a naval battle. What was that movie with the Viking ships with the red-and-white striped sails? They showed it on TBS the other week, I think. It looked like it was shot in a bathtub.

For the first time, I wear goggles in the water. Through this miracle, I can swim in proper position: head down, eyes open. I have not swum this way for years, ever since my eyes grew sensitive to chlorine. Do they put more in the water than they did when I was young? My eyes grow weaker: I need to take my glasses off to read the thermostat. I have not seen an eye doctor since my son was born, nearly two years ago. I need to set an appointment, but first I must find an eye doctor in this area (since it's no longer practical, with my toddler, to travel to my hometown once a year for my appointment). But I lost the list of doctors suggested by my ophthalmologist, and I've been too embarrassed to call her again and ask for new recommendations.

The woman on my left laps me again. I sputter. Focus, I tell myself.

How does that Maxine Kumin poem go? "I take the lake between my legs"? That line invades my psyche every time I swim. And how she hummed a hymn: "Abide with Me." The words abide with me. I should wear my new swimmer's ear plugs next time, to keep the invading water out. Water doesn't hum inside the ear: it hisses. The sounds I hear in the pool: breath, bubbles, hands sweeping through water, splashing feet, echoes of voices. It is a sort of hymn. And, inside my head alone, a number, repeated with each stroke: seven, seven, seven, seven. This is my seventh lap. I have no better way to keep count.

My poetry instructor in grad school used to tell us a story. He said that too many people live in the future or live in the past. They are dead to the present. Eight, eight, eight, eight. Such words conjure quotes: "Never his mind on where he was, what he was doing." Or so Yoda said about Luke (not to be confused with my kitty, Luke, although he was, indeed, named after the "Star Wars" hero, by his foster mom). In the future, there will be a society where people only speak in quotes from other sources. Wasn't there a "Star Trek: Next Generation" episode like that? Eight, eight, eight.

The woman on the left is finally getting out. I exhilarate with the thought of spreading out, perhaps swimming a few laps on my back. But no, the peach-and-black blur at poolside turns out to be a pregnant woman with a splendiferous stomach. She asks if I mind if she swims in our section. I tell her that's fine. Placing what must be a water-proof music device on the tiles, she climbs in. Nine, nine, nine.

We both prefer the breast stroke, which always reminds me of a frog. All the strokes that I prefer involve a variation of the frog kick: breast stroke, side stroke, elementary back stroke. I have always hated the frenzied feel of the crawl, turning my head and gulping air, plunging my arms in the water, one after the other, like paddles that barely keep me aloft. Unlike the graceful palm-prayer movements of the breast stroke, the crawl feels merely a defense against drowning.

Ten, ten, ten. The pregnant woman laps me. I will concentrate on where I am, what I am doing. I am halfway done. My breath chuffs, the hum in my ears abides with me. Ten, ten, ten. Head down, eyes open. I take the pool between my legs and kick like a frog.

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( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 21st, 2012 04:13 am (UTC)
I really liked this - I swim as well, and you did a great job capturing the sort of mental state I find myself slipping into when doing laps...I find swimming very meditative.
Feb. 21st, 2012 04:26 am (UTC)
Me, too. As you can tell from reading this, I'm decidedly an amateur, but I just love swimming. I tried, as best I could, to actually recall what was going through my brain when I swam laps yesterday.
Feb. 21st, 2012 07:47 am (UTC)
This is really beautiful, and I really appreciate the link to the poem!
Feb. 21st, 2012 10:54 pm (UTC)
I'm glad. That is one of my favorite poems of all time. You would think, with the number of times I've read it, that I'd have it memorized by now!
Feb. 21st, 2012 10:54 pm (UTC)
Pfft, if that were true, I'd have most of Adrienne Rich and Mary Oliver memorized. :P
Feb. 21st, 2012 11:01 pm (UTC)
LOL True, and I'd have almost the complete works of Emily Dickinson and Gwendolyn Brooks, available to call up at any time. I had a professor who could quote entire poems. So jealous. The best I can do is read and reread the book I made where I pasted or copied my favorites.
Feb. 21st, 2012 11:03 pm (UTC)
Yup. I haven't memorized anything since grade school, but my weirder half can quote just about anything he likes. :/
Feb. 21st, 2012 07:10 pm (UTC)
I like the detours into random thoughts-- which is how most solitary exercise goes, I think--and then the attempt to focus on which lap so as not to lose count.

And the goggles (yes, the water stings terribly now!) and the ear plugs (I'm tempted to try them, to keep the spike of too-cold water out of my brain) are just the beginning. Before long, we expect our mind to wander off into areas like the future, there will be a society where people only speak in quotes from other sources.

It's a self-defense against boredom, but it's also a little vacation for the mind. Win-win!
Feb. 21st, 2012 11:00 pm (UTC)
To be honest, I didn't try the ear plugs last time because I was afraid it would shut out all the lovely sounds. :) I truly think that meditative state of mind that occurs during exercise is part of the reason it's such a great stress reliever.
Feb. 21st, 2012 08:52 pm (UTC)
excellent work.
Feb. 21st, 2012 11:00 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
Feb. 21st, 2012 11:38 pm (UTC)
I run instead of swim, but sometimes I have to keep pushing myself like that, too, even when I'm getting lapped (hard). I applaud you for keeping going.
Feb. 23rd, 2012 11:01 pm (UTC)
Thanks! Funny thing is: it usually doesn't bother me, but these women were both soooo serious that I began to feel self-conscious about being between them.
Feb. 22nd, 2012 01:29 am (UTC)
Wow, that woman, or perhaps you, has a lot on her mind. I never think of that much while I'm swimming. LOL Or, any time, to be honest. I did enjoy the stream of consciousness though, a fun read.

Feb. 23rd, 2012 11:00 pm (UTC)
Glad you had fun with it, Dan. I had fun writing it.
Feb. 22nd, 2012 03:46 am (UTC)
I like swimming but I don't do it very often. When I was at the fitness ranch last year, water aerobics was my preferred workout choice!
Feb. 23rd, 2012 11:00 pm (UTC)
Started water aerobics while I was pregnant and I keep going: partly because I made friends in the class and partly because, with my various aches and pains, it's the easiest way to work out without any badness. :)
Feb. 22nd, 2012 10:10 am (UTC)
This is so beautiful - a lovely meditative quality and gorgeous voice here. I swam in high school and this took me back :)
Feb. 23rd, 2012 10:59 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I've always been an amateur swimmer, but I love it.
Feb. 22nd, 2012 07:01 pm (UTC)
Through this miracle, I can swim in proper position: head down, eyes open.

You're supposed to swim with eyes open? Really?

Good entry :)
Feb. 23rd, 2012 10:58 pm (UTC)
Otherwise you run into the wall or something. :) I used to be able to open my eyes in all kinds of water, but my old eyes need protection now.
Feb. 23rd, 2012 01:07 am (UTC)
I hated that Star Trek: TNG episode! I seem to be in the minority on that, though.

I did not hate this post. :). I enjoyed being privy to your semi-meditative state.
Feb. 23rd, 2012 10:57 pm (UTC)
LOL I found that episode amusing because of the idea that people who came from a different culture didn't know the references and couldn't communicate.

Glad you liked the post. I was trying for a meditative feeling.
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Feb. 23rd, 2012 10:56 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I also write poetry, and I've been trying to bring more of that sensibility to my prose lately. Glad to see you picked up on that.
Feb. 23rd, 2012 10:10 pm (UTC)
Fabulous job, I could almost feel myself in the water there.
Feb. 23rd, 2012 10:55 pm (UTC)
Thank you! That's what I was trying for: I actually wrote this in my head as I was swimming.
( 26 comments — Leave a comment )

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