02 December 2011

things i think about while swimming

I've recently taken up swimming for a couple of reasons:
  1. I may enjoy running, but running around and around a track through the winter is...exactly what it sounds like. It's like running in circles, a phrase generally applied to "I'm not getting anywhere" situations.

    Sometimes, no matter how many episodes of This American Life or Selected Shorts you listen to while going around the track, you're still acutely aware that you're wearing an oval-shaped hole into the earth. It starts to occur to you that when Dante talked about circles, they related to Hell.
  2. I'm not very good at swimming. I mean, as a girl raised on the banks of the Mississippi, I can swim. It just wouldn't be safe to take your children boating on the Muddy Mississippi if you didn't think they could swim back to the sandbar for safety. Although when it comes to the Mississippi, there are other dangers to consider beyond actually swimming:
    • Clams that can slice your foot open when you step on them, cursing that you didn't see it—but how could you have? Clams burrow into that Mississippi mud and wait for small children's feet to find them.
    • Speaking of mud, the mud from the Mississippi has been associated with wonderful things, ever since it got a pie named after it. But in reality, it smells like dead fish.
    • Many kids, after reading Huckleberry Finn, have dreams of building a raft and floating down the Mississippi. When you live in plain sight of the river, it's that much more tempting, and with driftwood forever floating up on the banks, it's that much more possible.
    So I can do the basics of swimming, but it's not something I've ever excelled at. I prefer the bobbing around a pool and then laying out and reading version of swimming. Doing handstands in the water is also a good way to swim.

    I decided that this winter, I would get better at swimming. I would get through the part where I'm flailing in the pool, coughing, and generally not looking very athletic—self-confidence-crushing though that stage may be. Sometimes, I think, it's good to do things that you're not very good at; it brings healthy humility into your day.
It's only been a couple weeks, and trust me, I'm not out of the flailing stage. But lap by lap, I know I'm getting stronger. Less of a flailure, if you will.

My brain helps me get through the half-mile I can currently swim by keeping me entertained. Thank goodness.

Things I Think about while Swimming

  • How long have I had this swimsuit? High school, when we all had to take yearly swimming lessons so that the school district could feel justified in choosing to build a pool instead of an auditorium?

    It's as if the school board thought, 'Well, even if the band kids have to play all their concerts on the middle school stage—thereby making them feel that they've never actually left that purgatory of middle school—at least they'll all be able to swim. Perhaps even with their French horns if they become strong enough swimmers...'
  • How can I run for close to 2 hours—quite the extended effort—but I can't swim a lap without needing to stop?
  • I kinda hate that old woman in the lane next to me. She will not stop. No pausing. No hanging on the side of the pool to catch her breath. She could probably swim her way off Alcatraz, should the need ever arise.
  • Slow and steady wins the race.
  • But I want to win the race right now. I'm not used to this lagging behind thing. Oh, I see—this swimming thing is supposed to teach me something about life. Way to go, water and old swimsuit.
  • I CAN'T BREATHE. But I have developed a funny, hacking cough.
  • I don't really hate that old woman anymore so much as I want to be her.


  1. I love that you're swimming. I'm also insanely jealous that you had a pool at your high school.

  2. I don't know if you'll see this since I'm responding to a post over a year old, but I'll try anyway.

    Have you given any thought to taking up triathlons, Kamiah? You write about running a lot and swimming occasionally. I find it quite rewarding. The sport develops a great camaraderie amongst the participants, who always welcome new people. For most of us, it is the challenge that retains our interest. I am far from actually being competitive, I am solidly middle-of-the-pack, but that doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm. I ask you to just give it some thought. I think you would be great at it. If you would like I can point you to some good resources to get started.



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