In Search of Open Water: An Introduction

I want to be in the expanse that thrills with the feeling of the earth stirring its glass.

In Search of Open Water: An Introduction
Promontory Point in winter

For now, I’m swimming in the pool.

Because the equinox is a few weeks behind us, technically we are in spring. But come on; it’s the upper Midwest, and no one but the crazies goes into the open water just yet.

Still, I have to get ready for when I can slip back into Lake Michigan at my favorite spot, seven miles south of downtown Chicago, just off Promontory Point in Hyde Park, with a view of the big city to one side and a view of the northern Indiana nuclear power plants to the other. Getting ready means reserving a lane at the pool and swimming for a half-mile or mile, depending on my energy.

The lifeguards at the gym must think I have OCD, as I swim up to the wall but then don’t touch it as I turn around. The truth is that I turn around without touching and pushing off not because I’m afraid of contact with the wall, but because getting ready for open water means simulating what it’s really like to swim without the ease of push-offs every 50 meters. It means being ready for a half-mile, or a mile if the mood strikes me or the currents change in the big lake without warning.

I expect it is because I grew up near the Atlantic Ocean, going to Robert Moses State Park on Fire Island all summer long, that I’m drawn to open-water swimming. The chemical smell of a pool, the barriers between the lanes – that all feels at odd with the anatomical sensation of giving my body over to the phase-change of deep water. I want to be in the expanse that thrills with the feeling of the earth stirring its glass.

People who know my work know that I’ve tried in my life intellectually, too, to swim in open water, to go to the places without the lanes, and often without the lifeguards. These days, I feel more drawn to those places than ever, interested in trying to find spaces where we can get beyond the divisions that keep us from deep thought, compassion, wonder.

This newsletter will aim to be in that spirit, of searching for open water.

I’m not interested in using this to build a brand. I’m not looking to be predictable enough to build a tribe or to be recognizable as a pundit on this or that. As with my previous blogs at my personal site, I’m looking to share some experiences and thoughts in an effort to provide others some shared insight, some sympathy, something unexpected.

Why else bother with a newsletter? Some folks I like have asked me to have a way that they can keep up with what I’m doing, and this makes that possible. It also gives me a place to do that kind of writing that isn’t about a polished argument or narrative arc; it’s place to do the kind of writing that feels more like my floats alone.

For a while at least, all the posts here will be free. Then I’ll start providing some that are available only by paid subscription, mostly in an effort to narrow the audience for some pieces that may be a little more raw, a little more personal.

You’re welcome to subscribe to the free version, and if you’d like to subscribe with a payment, you can know those funds will go to help pay my part-time staff who do the work that otherwise distracts me from writing (like accounting, booking of talks, and production of the “thinking podcast” we have coming out soon).

You’re also welcome to just dip in now and then.

Thank you.