This post is frivolous. Please take the time, if you’ve clicked here, to donate to the Red Cross  helping those who are still without heat or power because of Hurricane Sandy. And now, read on.
I’ve asked my students this week to write about Ethos, or their credibility and trustworthiness, both when they write, but also how they present themselves in many different situations. Being on the academic job market, I am acutely aware this year about how I represent myself, especially given how present I am in social media (and here, blogging). I also just recently made a misstep over email that has reminded me that everything I write has an audience and impacts my ethos.
But my biggest challenge right now is when I swim. Contrary to just about every aspect of my life, swimming is the one thing that never grew up along with me. While I’m not “on” all the time, even though I live in a small town and run into my students, I am usually out and about with my husband and kids, thus projecting a certain “grown-up” ethos. And yes, even when I run out some nights in my sweats to buy medicine for the kids, I try to project a certain maturity.
When I swim, however, it’s like I never progressed beyond a 17-year-old. I get stubbornly competitive, driven, and impatient, both with myself and everyone around me who gets in my way. I find myself swearing like a trucker, both in my head and (sometimes) out loud. There is nothing I can do about it, but I get red-faced, Speedo-clad, and just generally turn back into a monster.
I stopped swimming when I started college. I went back to Master’s swimming when I was doing my PhD, but saw it as an opportunity to let go and relax, in the strange no-man’s land of still being a student and yet at the same time, a professional. With all of the pressures and drama that came with my PhD, swimming was a way to re-connect with parts of myself I felt like I’d lost over the years, the part that remembered how to have fun, interact with people, be social, healthy, etc.
But that’s not so much the case anymore. I prefer to be left alone now when I swim. I still love to get into the water, but for much different reasons (at least to me); it still brings out a completely different side of me, and it isn’t pretty a lot of the time
Swimmer Me is the antithesis of Professional Me.
Maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe it’s ok that I allow myself to be an anti-social, swearing, aggressive monster two or three times a week. I find myself both repulsed by and drawn to these moments. I wonder, is this my “true” self, but I have somehow repressed or at least controlled it, coming occasionally to life, activated by the chlorine? Or maybe it’s just that side of me that doesn’t want to grow up, stubbornly resisting adulthood and all of its trappings. But it’s also a side that is less passive, more confident and sure, stronger. I am in the pool who I can’t be in real life, achieving a measure of control that remains elusive.
When I find myself longing to get back into the water, is it because I love to swim, or is it because I love the swimmer I turn into?