Saturday evening at Crave Fishbar. Every writer (I like to think anyway) needs a bar to write in. A friendly, neighborhood bar that is not too loud or crowded. Where you know the staff and they know you and they know what wine you like and what food you want and most of all, they know that you write. They make it easy for you to come in, set up shop at one end of the bar, and write, undisturbed. Crave Fishbar is that place for me. It is where I can be found most Saturday evenings when I am in NYC and tonight it is where I have set up shop to get a few thoughts down before they slip away into some subterranean place in my mind.
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First up. We are in the midst of a heat wave here in NYC. This is the topic du jour: the expected high temperature (95 degrees), the expected high temperature with the heat index (over 100 degrees); how disgusting this is (gross is the other word that people are using); how awful it feels (pretty awful); how to stay cool (movies and malls); and how else to beat the heat (drink lots of water, eat lots of bananas, stay indoors in air-conditioning etc etc etc…).
Since I have been spending more and more time in Florida especially in the summer, I have developed the view that 95 degrees in NYC is not the same as 95 degrees in Florida. In spite of the fact that the thermometer reads 95 degrees in both places, 95 degrees in Florida is much, much hotter than 95 degrees in NY. I can’t explain it to my NY friends because they can’t stop talking about how hot it is. And how disgusting it feels.
I, on the other hand, feel great! It’s 95 degrees but it’s not really 95 degrees. I love this weather! Yes, I know I am biased. I hate the cold. I love the sun. I’d take this any day over a cold wind and 25 degrees. But still, I ask my New Yorker friends, it is necessary to complain this much about the heat?
It has occurred to me that the Mason-Dixon boundary line is still alive and intact, and remains the great dividing line, certainly in weather temperament (if not everything else!). If anyone south of the Mason Dixon line can’t deal with snow, then it seems that anyone north of it can’t deal with heat. So there you have it: North and South are even. Though I don’t think that is of any comfort to my northern friends who are sweltering and melting and feeling like they are being gypped out of precious summer days because all they can do to beat the heat is to stay indoors. To this I would respond: head south, go way down south below the Mason Dixon line. In fact, head to south Florida, or Miami at 25 degrees latitude to be precise. Spend a few days there, and then head back north to NYC at 41 degrees latitude and revel in our glorious summer!
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Speaking of summer, one of the things that I love about summer is the switch to crazily fun nail polish colors, colors that can hold their own against a brash, hot, summer sun. This summer I found a delicious sparkly blue-green teal. Essie makes it and what I love about it is that it immediately transports me to some paradisal tropical island. (On this island, btw, it also really hot. Maybe even 15 degrees latitude hot!) I am lying on a white sand beach and being lulled by the gentle waves of the clear, blue-green sparkling waters, the same color as the color on my nails. For a nail polish color to do that. Wow!
Of course nothing is perfect. What I don’t love about the color is its name: Trophy Wife.
I didn’t notice it when I bought it because I was buying for the color. I only took note later because a friend of mine saw it and loved it and then when we both figured out that Essie had decided to call it “Trophy Wife,” we were horrified. I guess that there are women out there who want to be trophy wives, but it is a repugnant idea to me. Certainly and definitively, she and I are not among them. Neither of us could imagine wearing anything promoting the idea of a trophy wife.
So I am happy to report that we have taken the initiative and re-named it “Mermaid Goddess.” We can’t yet report that we have triumphed over Trophy Wife, but we are very hopeful, working with Mermaid Goddess, to turn any Trophy Wife into a real, thinking, and strong woman. Now that is and would truly be a very powerful nail polish color!
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Speaking of strong women, can we move to strong girls? I am so excited to report that my children’s book, Erica from America: Swimming from Europe to Africa is close to being finished! (For a sneak peak at the cover, visit the tab The Children’s Book on my website.) I have been working with my illustrator and designer and publisher very intensely for the past two months and we think, we hope, that Erica from America will be ready for sale before the Olympics!
I am terrifically excited because this has been a project long in the making. The manuscript has been sitting on my bookshelf for over eleven years. The little girls and boys I read it to eleven years ago are now in college! I suspect they won’t remember me reading it to them or remember the story, but it is my hope that some good memory of the book broke off and has remained in them, even if only in their subconscious. And even if not, then I am still excited to finally bring this story out, with its beautiful illustrations, to a whole new group of children. These children, after all, are our legacy. These are the people who will be here after we are gone. May we give them great stories to remember and worthy goals to aspire to.
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And on the topic of good stories, I am proud to say that I have finished all four of the Neapolitan novels by the elusive and anonymous Elena Ferrante. All 1,716 pages on my iPad Apple books. It was an interesting read, but it started out slowly. So slowly, in fact, that it took me three wks to read the first 250 pages and I was dubious that I was ever going to finish it. But boy, did I underestimate Elena Ferrante. By Saturday evening of last wkend, I had gotten up to page seven hundred and change, and I was trying to figure out whether I could finish the remaining two and a half books before I had to go back to work on Monday.
This was the calculation that was going through the the back of my mind: with 1,000 pages left, if I read 100 pages an hour, then I can finish this in 10 hours. But I need to allow for some slower reading to savor the books, the language, the story, and, most of all, the friendship between Lenu and Lila. So let’s allow 12-14 hours. So yes, I can finish it all before Monday. But in order to do so, the rest of wkend has to be dedicated to reading it. No eating, no working out, no working (which I did need to do), no swimming, no errands, no cleaning up the apartment, no doing laundry, and no watching the last open of the British Open (which was universally acknowledged to be one of the greatest last rounds in a major ever).
In the end, I was ok with all of that. I was completely mesmerized with Lenu and Lila and their little Italy. I read until I fell asleep on Saturday. I woke up at 6:30a on Sunday and immediately started to read, in bed. I read all day. Mostly in bed and on the sofa. I didn’t get dressed. I didn’t even go out to get my coffee from Starbucks! As I expected, I did nothing of the things that I had planned or needed to do. But I was successful. I finished the quartet of novels around five o’clock on Sunday. Thank god, enough time to get to the gym and get a run in.
I felt a great sense of satisfaction when done. And not just from finishing the books. But mainly because Elena Ferrante drew me in. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Lenu and Lila and Nino and Rino and Enzo and the lost child and all the other great characters in the story. About Naples and Italy and growing up in a poor Italian family. Afterwards I felt (as is typical of the way I feel after binging on a book or a TV series) completely spent and empty and wondering how I was going to build a bridge back from their wonderful, fantastical world to my own reality. I have never done drugs, but now I wonder if it isn’t a similar feeling: having to come down from an intense high and realizing that your own life is still going on and you’ve now got to figure out a way to jump back in and get back to normal.
Just about a wk has passed since I finished the books. Today I did all the errands that I meant to do last wkend. I am back, thoroughly, into my life.
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And so I come around to my life. That means that I am back in the pool again. Finally.
It is hard to believe, but it has been over a month since I have been in the pool. Most of it was due to being away and vacation and then being busy. However, procrastination also contributed. I was going to swim on Monday, but had to stay late at work, so no go. Tuesday I was meeting a friend for drinks, so that was out. Wednesday, I was going to go but I was tired and just wanted to go home after work. And I did. Thursday I was late at work and also another friend had come into town so I met him for drinks instead of the pool. I thought about going on Friday, but I never swim on Friday in NYC, so that didn’t happen. And finally it was Saturday. Five whole days of procrastination and no swimming. I told myself I had to get into the pool.
I was out most of the afternoon running the errands that I hadn’t done last wk. When I was done, I looked at my watch and it was 3:30p. I thought about how easy it would be to go home and take a nap. Or slip into a restaurant and sit at the bar and have a glass of wine and write. Or to head to the nearest Starbucks and order one of their delicious cold brews and read the article about Martha Nussbaum in last wk’s New Yorker. But some little, and silent, but also very powerful, voice, deep inside me, urged me go to the pool before doing anything else. I wondered where this little, silent, powerful voice emanated from. Was it from within me? Or was it instead some higher order voice simply lodged within me? And if so, was its only purpose in life to get me to the pool? I didn’t have the answer, but wherever it came from, I couldn’t quiet it. In a concession to myself and to the voice, I hailed a cab and told the driver to take me to 91st and York, to Asphalt Green. To the pool.
This is the longest period of time I have been out of the water in a very long time. At least in the past five years. In fact, I think the last time I was out of the water for this long of a time was when I was training for Comrades in 2009. Back then, when people asked me if I was swimming, I had the perfectly reasonable excuse of saying, “No. I am not swimming because I am training for a 56-mile run.” But this time, I don’t feel like I have any excuse at all. All I can say this time is that I got busy at work and that I was on vacation and then I came back and was busy at work again. So no, I haven’t been swimming. And wow, would you look at that? Already a month has gone by!
I have mellowed though in the past five years. Because today, all this sounds so reasonable. So normal. Whereas five years ago, I would have felt lazy and incompetent if I had to admit that I hadn’t been swimming month without any Herculean explanation. But now, the answer is, “No, I haven’t been swimming.” And it’s not because I have been training for a 100-mile trail race or that I’m training for another Ironman triathlon. It’s simply that I’ve been busy. I think, for once in my life, I am beginning to understand that that is life.
Nevertheless, I was happy to be back in the water. I miss swimming when I’m not swimming. I miss the horizontal-ness. I miss the weightlessness. I miss the rotation of the body. I miss the dedicated effort to breathing. I miss the feeling of gliding in the water. The feeling of stretching out and the ability to participate in a 3-D world. I miss, so much, the water itself.
I definitely felt the effect of not swimming for over 30 days. That was not such a happy feeling. But I was happy, even if I was slow.
Outside it was hot. It was summer! I was back in the water, wearing my Mermaid Goddess nail polish, and, if not quite mermaid or goddess, definitely swimming and well on my way to being normal.