Playful realism

Last week was my birthday, and the one thing I wanted to do was go somewhere with a pool. I am an earth sign, but I love water; I don’t think I fully appreciated how important it was to me, growing up, to be able to just float in water all the time, surrounded by lakes and the Puget Sound. Of course, it was also a lot colder in Seattle than it is in Tucson, so I probably didn’t float that much. But I did sometimes walk to the beach after dark with my friends and go swimming, and I did spend every summer vacation at various lakes, baking on the beach and then jumping into the water with a scream.

The universe, as if committed to dealing in my nostalgia quite literally, put a slight twist on my birthday plans. We had rented a house with a pool in the foothills for a couple of nights, which, at the time that we rented it, seemed like a very safe bet, even though the pool was unheated. It had been in the 80s and 90s for weeks. This is usual for late April in Tucson. In Seattle, my birthdays were lilacs and bluebells and tulips; here, they are saguaro blossoms and oleander and heat. But like I said, the best-laid plans & etc.

We had the house from Tuesday to Thursday, arriving Tuesday afternoon and leaving Thursday morning. And wouldn’t you know it, but Tuesday and Wednesday were glorious desert spring days—in the sense that, after weeks of needing it, we had a sharp temperature drop and some rain. I’m being sincere when I say this felt glorious; true spring and fall weather is my sweet spot. And the rental house’s large backyard had a great view of the mountains and thus the storms; great cracks of thunder broke over our heads, and we could see the veil of rain in the distance, as well as a series of transmogrifying rainbows, which went from stubby and diffuse to giant, classic bands across the sky.

But like, I wanted to go swimming?

I was worried the pool would be too cold, and we didn’t try it on Tuesday. But I did spend many huge chunks of time in the pool on Wednesday, as did Dave, with the result that both of us got a little bit sunburned and now have respectable bathing suit tan lines. I sat by the pool and read a book, I jumped in the pool and swam laps, I stayed in the pool and floated on my back. My left ear, the one with the surgically widened ear canal (it’s medical, but wouldn’t it be funny if that was an elective body modification?), is susceptible to sudden changes in temperature: a sharp wind (or, say, a shock of cold water) can hit my inner ear and discombobulate me, which I had completely forgotten about until I was floating in the chilly pool and started to totally lose my sense of direction. I thought for a moment that I had just been so stressed, had missed swimming so much, that I was experiencing a mild ego death. When in fact, I was just dizzy. But perhaps the feeling is anyhow the same.

Anyway, I love my house and I had a great birthday, but someday I want to have a pool or live near water again, because it is truly one of my happiest states of being.

We also played with Dave’s brother’s VR helmet, a game called Beat Saber, which is basically Dance Dance Revolution for your hands? You have light sabers and have to use them to destroy cubes, to  a beat. It’s a little funny that VR lightsaber games are so so satisfying to me, but I guess it’s the mixture of aimless fun with the feeling of growing expertise—I don’t get that from very many activities. Just pure fun, that you can get better at. Meaningless, tiring, childlike pleasure.

It messed up my knees a bit, but it was worth it.

Now I am fully vaccinated, at full immunity, working on copy edits for my new book, which will be out next April—both a long time away, and a series of months that I know will pass quickly, with many publishing milestones to fret about in between. Tomorrow I have jury duty, which is a kind of hilarious capstone to the pandemic for me. I realize things are not great everywhere (please donate to help those suffering in India’s growing crisis, if you can), but they are changing. For better or worse the world is going to be opening more and more, which will feel strange until it feels normal, just like quarantine itself. We are all different now, as we are after any year of our life I suppose. It just feels, in this case, more collective. Which is not the worst thing.

If you are in the Pacific Northwest, please enjoy the flowers for me. Please eat an almond poppyseed muffin and some strawberries the size of your fist, and I will keep watering my poppies and taking pictures of cactus flowers, and letting my shoulders relax into the intense heat of the coming days.