The last post here was partly about the spaces between swims. Well, I’m in a space now, a prolonged, doctor-ordered space. She told me not to swim for at least another two weeks or so and then said, “I’m a swimmer too, I’d hate it if someone told me that.” This is the longest I’ve gone without a swim in - well, in years, probably, though I only started recording my swims a year ago, so I can only say for certain that it’s the longest I’ve gone without a swim in a year. It’s been two weeks and change, though it feels longer.
The thing I miss partly is the comfort of it, the grounded-ness I feel after even a frustrating morning swim, and partly the physical sensation. And the physical implications, too: I miss what it does to my body both in terms of how it feels and how it looks. My shoulders are weakening, and even if no one else can see that, I can. Swimming is a lot about vanity, for me, I guess. And I guess I feel disconnected a little from a part of myself. Not that I’m not still the same person or can’t be again but that for a while I and some other part of me are not quite coinciding.
The one sort of good thing about this situation is that you don’t really see people out swimming in the same way you see people out running or cycling, or even carrying yoga mats or wearing football boots and a layer of sweat. I had never really thought about this before, but the swimmer is almost completely invisible until she’s actually swimming: maybe she’s wearing a swimming costume underneath street clothes, or carrying a towel in her rucksack, but how would you know? And because the activity has, by definition, to be confined to a body of water, you never see a body out of water swimming. Which makes me think of that Miranda July story, where the narrator teaches people to swim on dry land, “because of course there are no bodies of water near Belvedere and no pools.”
"It actually takes a huge amount of upper-body strength to swim on land," July writes.
So it’s not like I’m tormented by the sight of all the early morning or post-work swimmers as I’m wandering down the street to pick up groceries. I haven’t got a clue which of the other people I see are actually bracing themselves for the cold plunge, or luxuriating in the post-swim warmth that follows you around for awhile. Like the doctor: I would never have known, except for that she volunteered the information. Which in a way makes it weirder – like it doesn’t really exist, as an activity, like maybe I imagined its great importance, except that the importance is implied in its absence.