Swimming and writing and stuff

I have an essay up over at Vela called "The Purest Form of Play", on swimming, time, practice, play, artistic/athletic discipline, and other things. There's also an interview with me on their blog, where I talk about my book, what I'm reading, and the eternal pre-tweet question: "am I doing this as an academic or a writer or just a girl sitting in the pub with her boyfriend, Instagramming her burger?" Here's an excerpt from the essay!

I’m fascinated by the act of swimming. I use that word act deliberately, in the hope that it connotes the theatrical; I’m interested in the performance, the pool as setting, the costume, the rituals, superstitions, repetitions. Swimming laps, maybe, is like learning lines. Sometimes, when I’m swimming, I slide out of the role of participant and into the role of spectator. If I’m resting at the wall I’ll rest too long, just watching. When the dogged university swimmers are doing their laps, jaded but youthfully energetic, or when there’s someone in the next lane over who’s just really good, who wears years of hard practice particularly well: I admire the fluidity and fluency of their bodies in water. I strive for this fluency myself, even though I suspect I’m past the point of ever being able to attain it.

I like the mask, too. It’s odd to feel that wearing practically nothing–a tight black suit, cut high at the leg, a silicone cap that hugs the head close, goggles that press rings around the eyes–is a protection, a way of preserving anonymity, but it’s true: no one can see me when I swim, at least not the way they can see me elsewhere. I think some people are self-conscious about squeezing into swimwear, flattening their hair and ears, showing skin usually reserved only for lovers or doctors. But I like it. I like the way I look in costume: which is to say, not entirely like myself, or rather not entirely like the myself I’m accustomed to seeing every day, the myself I’m constantly, vainly giving sideways glances to in mirrors and darkened windows on half-empty streets. I look like–someone. Just someone, someone who might be anything at all: renowned or habitually ignored, rich or poor or whatever. There are no particular clues to identity. The face, washed clean, is left to speak for itself; you don’t know the color of my hair or that I only ever wear lipstick if it’s red and expensive (Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent), even though I can barely afford to buy groceries most weeks. You don’t know what I do or don’t do for a living or a not-quite-living, who I’m with or not with, where I spend weeknights drinking after I’ve been swimming, where I come from, what my visa status is. You might intuit certain things from the fact of my being here at all, but you can’t see those things, or any evidence of them on my person. And I can’t see you.

You stand shoulder-to-shoulder with people that you may see in other contexts every day, but how would you know? I wouldn’t recognize anybody that I see regularly at the pool outside of the pool–I only know them from the color of their caps, their distinctive or admirable strokes. Out of water the stroke means nothing–it’s like a tattoo that disappears when exposed to air. But this is how I know these people, this is how we know each other.

Read the full piece here...