In the pool

When we’re in the water, we’re not in this world.

–Gertrude Ederle

I’ll always be grateful for the swimming lessons that allowed me to feel at home in the water from the age of 4 or 5.  I can’t imagine my life without the hours and hours (and hours) I’ve spent in the water, be it pools, Long Island Sound, the Atlantic Ocean surf off of Long Beach Island, New Jersey or South Beach on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts ponds (Walden and Great Tisbury), or the impossibly blue waters off the Turks and Caicos.

I’ve been a devoted–read fanatical–lap swimmer for 30 years now, since third year of medical school, when I realized that it behooved a physician-in-training to ‘walk the walk’–or, rather, erm, ‘swim the swim’–and commit to some form of regular exercise.  Beyond the physical benefits, friends and colleagues have heard me say many times over the years that I do some of my best thinking while in the pool.  My head clears; thoughts flow more freely.  Sometimes I feel like Benjamin Braddock in a classic scene from The Graduate, and don’t want to get out; parking oneself at the bottom and postponing the drudgery that awaits would be just fine, thank you.

I love the aesthetics of being in a pool: the shades of blue and green, the play of light on the surface of the water, the all-encompassing silence underneath.  I can think of few things more pleasing than swimming in an outdoor pool late in the afternoon, at a time approaching the so-called golden hour I wrote about in an earlier post; one of my most memorable such experiences was at a hotel in Cairo, where the pyramids were in view every time I took a breath swimming in one direction.

pyramid pool

For me, I think it would be difficult for a camera–even a high-quality, waterproofed apparatus–to adequately capture the visual experience(s) of being in the water; in many ways, I think paintings are better able to do so.

Carol-Bennett-1
“Suspense (Green Flash)”, by Carol Bennett.  Acrylic and oil on wood panel.
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“Summer White” by Carol Bennett.  Acrylic and oil on wood panel.
Ana-Terez-Fernandez-2
Untitled.  Ana Teresa Fernandez.  Oil on canvas.
2012_upfrombelow
“Up From Below”, by Samantha French.  Oil on canvas.
samantha french
“Mid Morning Light”, by Samantha French.  Oil on canvas.
swimmer
“Swimmer”, by Carol Carter.  Watercolor.
moving_through_54x662010_web-800x659
“Moving Through”, by Eric Zener.  Oil on canvas.
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No post about pool-themed art would be complete without something by David Hockney.  “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)”; acrylic on canvas.

I agree with Gertrude Ederle’s quote that opened this post.  (Among other aquatic accomplishments, she was the first woman to successfully swim the English Channel.)  The water is another world.  Other metaphors abound.  For Benjamin Braddock in that scene from The Graduate, it’s akin to the womb: fresh out of college, Benjamin is unable and/or unwilling to face adult life and the burden of his parents’ expectations.

And then there’s Kafka’s take:

The truth is always an abyss.  One must–as in a swimming pool–dare to dive from the quivering springboard of trivial everyday experience and sink into the depths, in order to later rise again–laughing and fighting for breath–to the now doubly illuminated surface of things.

This is something I’ll continue to do…descend into beautiful, blue, sun-dappled water–like the swimmers depicted above–and rise again…for as long as I’m able.


The painting at the top of this post, “Swimmer Underwater” (oil on canvas), is by Andrea Cook.

10 comments

  • I love those paintings! They made me think of a quilt I like — http://www.modernquiltingbyb.com/2015/05/margarita-man.html That quilt is based on an illustration which is linked in that blog post. Art inspires art inspires art…

    I wish I liked to swim — it’s so good for you. It’s just not something I like to do. I’ve been walking a few miles each school morning, though. I walk Scott to the bus stop and go from there. By 7:45 AM, I have some exercise under my belt. No matter what happens the rest of the day, at least I’ve gotten some exercise.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love that quilt, Melanie, though I’m not sure why its creator has called it “Margarita Man”…perhaps the figure whose head is obscured by the umbrella is sipping one…? 🙂

      FYI: it’s never too late to learn to love being in the water….!

      Like

  • Some of those really get at what I love best about water, that silky suspension of time and gravity while in a pool. Thank you for this blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, and I think the one by Ana Fernandez is particularly evocative.

      Thank YOU for being an interested reader!

      Like

  • This reminded of an evening I spent with a friend a few years ago. I knew he liked to swim but I didn’t know he was a swimmer: a real swimmer. That evening, after a few beers, in the middle of the conversation about his swim around Manhattan he said “in a way it was more challenging than when I swan the English Channel.” I said YOU SWAM THE ENGLISH CHANNEL?” “Yep…twice.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good man, him!

      One of the guys I see now and then at the Y where I do my laps also swam the Channel. I like to imagine his karma diffusing through the water in my direction.

      Thanks, as always, for stopping by, Ray…

      Like

    • No, doesn’t lower the tone at all, Bruce! My post definitely emphasized the more contemplative aspect(s) of being in the pool, but I will say that I’m waiting for someone to develop *the* perfect way of listening to music–be it about swimming or not–while doing laps. Many years ago, I bought a small radio, made by Speedo, that clipped to the straps of my goggles. I was able to enjoy it for exactly one workout before it failed. (Speedo should stick to swimwear….)

      Liked by 1 person

  • Hackman – augenblick

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