message to cats.

Hello cats. Thank you for visiting my website. I wish I knew how to make animated gifs so I could entertain you. All I can do, really, is write the word “yarn.” Which I have done for you above.

Water

Water

Until I was well into high school, summer meant just two things: 1. It was hot enough that Mom bought Diet Coke to keep around the house (awesome); and 2. THE POOL. The pool was the most significant detail about summer by far. Our neighborhood pool, which was owned by the local high school, was a five minute walk from my house. My sister Alexis and I were even allowed to walk there without an adult. Probably because my parents were thrilled to get rid of us.

As very young children, we mostly went to the pool in the context of swimming lessons. I felt immediately that the hierarchy of swimming lesson levels was askew. The lowest level was "Goldfish" (which are arguably excellent swimmers, whereas they spend every moment from birth to death swimming), and the highest level was "Polar Bear" (which spend time in the water only to eat unsuspecting creatures who swim more than they do). "Penguin" was toward the bottom; "Dolphin" was somewhere near the middle; "Shark" was pretty advanced. This taught me that it didn't matter how good a swimmer you were -- your net worth was ultimately decided by where you landed on the food chain. 

That's a pretty good way of describing going to the pool in middle school, too. At the top of the food chain were the girls whose mothers bought them string bikinis at Victoria's Secret even though they were just twelve -- because these girls had boobs. Boobs indicated superiority. Beneath the bikini girls were the boys who bleached the tips of their hair and terrorized children with inflatable sharks. (The irony of this visual was lost on no one.) Then there were the flat-chested blonde girls, the guys who "played in a band," the early-on stoners, the Christian one-piece wearers, the science nerds ("What is the chlorine content of this pool, do you think?"), and then somewhere below all of them was me.

One year I bought a pink-and-white tankini from a Hawaiian shop called Hilo Hattie's. In it, I looked like a porcupine in a stocking. But I'd always been too fat to wear a two-piece, so I felt like I was making progress here. I had visions about going to the pool in it, waving at my crush, Alex, and watching his jaw drop as he realized in a sweeping moment of truth that I had always been the most beautiful, intelligent, fun-loving tankini-wearer on earth. Then we would get married and have three girls. In real life, I put on the tankini, went to the pool, saw Alex, waved to Alex, and was ignored. "Alex! Hey!" I said to Alex, because surely he had just failed to see me in the chaos of the pool crowd. He looked my way. "I'm sorry, do I know you"? Alex said. Heart: smashed into a million pieces.

But regardless of the problematic social implications of the pool, I never stopped loving to go there. Even way past the age when everyone else had moved on to other, more grownup summer activities (smoking weed in their parents' basement and trying to score beer), I still just wanted to go to the pool. I joined the summer swim team one summer to try to make this desire more acceptable to my peers, but I was woefully unathletic. Everyone else on the team swam like water cheetahs. I swam like a water cheetah on "The Biggest Loser." I went to exactly one swim meet and won a fifth place ribbon for swimming the 1000-yard butterfly. I got a ribbon because there were only five swimmers. I finished a full two laps behind the first four. 

Senior year, I discovered swimming in rivers. Swimming in rivers opened up this whole new world, because I could take people my age, and they could smoke weed and try to score beer while I splashed around for hours on end. Portland is replete with rivers' edges that, while filthy and probably a little radioactive, are cool and calm in the summertime. I honestly feel most at home in or near water. I wait all year for weather to be hot enough to elicit an outdoor swim. 

I am not the only person I know who feels like this. Yesterday I rode in a cab with my co-worker near the Tennessee River on our way to a conference. He said, "Why is it that people are so into being near water? People buy these expensive houses on the water; people say that they 'have to' live by the water... what's that all about?" And that's true: every time (yes, really, every time) I have ever taken anyone on a walk by the bayou near my house, I've heard a variation on the same theme: "It must be so nice to live this close to a waterway. You know, I don't think I could live in a place that didn't have a body of water."

Plenty of us seek it out. I look for water on maps in new cities the way I look for libraries and book stores: with the kind of wild thirst that only a 45-year-old divorcee can truly understand. Last summer, while I traveled the country alone, I became fond of sitting on esplanades for hours by myself, just staring and thinking, like a crazy person. When given the chance to immerse myself in water, I never don't. I don't care how cold it is, or if there is slimy green muck floating like aging vomit on the surface. I like to be in water. Being in water feels right.

I've always believed this had something to do with how our bodies are mostly made of water. I had this notion that there was a scientifically inexplicable magnet that connected human bodies to water. I couldn't get much deeper than that, really. But yesterday, on the plane coming to Knoxville, I happened upon this quote from a Rumi poem called "Story Water" while reading an article in Creative Nonfiction Magazine. Here it is:

Water, stories, the body, 
all the things we do, are mediums 
that hide and show what's hidden.

Study them, 
and enjoy this being washed 
with a secret we sometimes know, 
and then not.

Years ago, living in Hyde Park in Chicago, I liked to walk to Lake Michigan in the icy mornings to look out at the cityscape and the water. Lake Michigan is a good body of water for anyone who feels compelled toward bodies of water: dark black and moody and susceptible to breezes. At first, I watched the horizon. But then, a few days after I started the ritual, I noticed that I wasn't alone. There was a woman who liked to come to the lake at the same time I did, and what was more, she came to swim.

The woman was gray-haired and thin, with a black bathing suit and the sort of daisy-covered bathing cap black-lipped starlets wore in films in the '40s. She'd slip into the water in 35-degree weather like it was the most natural thing in the world, swim out into the lake until she was just a dot from the shore, and then swim back.

Water, stories, the body, 
all the things we do, are mediums 
that hide and show what's hidden.

I never talked to her, or even learned her name. I watched her and made up stories for myself as to why she swam so calmly in such a treacherous lake in the coldest city in the dead of winter. One thing was for sure: she looked like she belonged there. 

Study them, 
and enjoy this being washed 
with a secret we sometimes know, 
and then not.

Telling The Story

Telling The Story

Blueberry Picking

Blueberry Picking