Un-even, February 2017
Near everything in my life is organic - it curves. Excluding this very computer screen, these straight-edge keys, this perfectly rectilinear bed frame, my surroundings bend and breathe with movement. My once factory-pressed sheets, stitched with absolute precision, now fold over themselves and dent with my weight. My words appear in mathematical typography but are created in error and high-school vernacular. Even my flat, boyish figure, begging to be commanded by Polykleitos’ canon, scars and bulges in uneven places.
I was born in the hills of the Ozarks - false mountains with curving drives and a near-consistent, bushy canopy. It isn’t the linear windswept plains of New Mexico or the perfectly boxed farmland of the Midwest. Rather, the geography of the Ozarks is as erratic and carefree as the speech patterns of its inhabitants. No one piece of land is immune to its true nature. Even the concrete cracks and yields imperfect weeds and the boards of my childhood home bend in the moist humidity of Arkansas summers. I grew up accustomed to irregularity, always most comfortable on a winding path.
However, no matter its home, the human brain is apt to control its surroundings. I lived on a plot of land cut into the side of a rocky, infertile hill, but I viewed the world through a 13-in, Retina-display screen. Through it, I absorbed perfection. Somewhere between watching the precise bodies of the women on E! and scrolling through classical sculpture for an art history exam, I discovered a new ideal.
So that’s how I found myself, an artistic and erroneous Ozark girl, five times a week, in the perfectly measured lanes of a swimming pool. I wanted to carve this ideal out of myself. Though most of my days were spent loafing around - my entire schedule being built on creative whim - my time in the pool was always consistent. I swam a length equal to 25 meters. Laps were counted in between two thousands and thirty-two thousands. Each stroke was handled with utmost precision. All of it was in an almost sad attempt to achieve mathematical proportioning within myself, to fix my irregular thighs and muffin top, to fit some sort of aesthetic appeal. I desperately tried to control it all, but similar to the houses of the moist, Southern climate I was so familiar with, everything came out uneven. My arms sometimes lagged or my butterfly kicks skipped a beat. The solid black lines at the bottom of the pool were the only things that remained straight, but even they formed a myopic blur through my eyes.
My skewed vision allowed me to fall more in touch with the numbers in my head. Each lap became, rather than a steady observation of my surroundings, a pure fraction. I focused on being two eighths of the way done with my set rather than on my fellow swimmers. The world around me was but a watery haze. Yet there was always one reliable blob in the leftmost lane and I could blindly sense its human presence every time I swam. It was warm, consistent - it breathed - but unlike the others, this one didn't dive straight in. It’d take a good, long while just standing there, not moving. I’d get through at least 1200 meters before it dove in. Every time, the same steady pulse just waiting and staring into the water.
Of course I got curious, I could only stand a couple of weeks before I needed to see the figure. Who or what it was; if it were more than merely a figment of my imagination - the result of my Ozark-bred mind trying to break the monotony of lap swimming. One day I decided to get out early, dry off and sit at the end of the pool, prescription lenses at the ready. I pretended to be on my phone, scrolling through the same feed over and over in an attempt to look preoccupied. Imagining how awkward I was with the Nylon-Lycra blend clutching my drooping stomach, I tried to relax, get comfortable. I looked even more the fool, legs spread, all the unflattering drawbacks of a swimsuit on display. Even as my suit dried and the minutes passed, I felt uncomfortable and exposed. I was anxious to get into the security of the locker room but unwilling to give up on my stakeout. I continued to stare at my phone as the small battery turned from green, to yellow, to red.
Finally, the revolving door to the pool sucked and turned - chlorine mixed with fresh air in a welcomed whoosh and in its wake stood a stooped old man. He was completely clad in tweed, excluding a pair of freshly polished loafers. He seemed suffocated in such an environment and I could already imagine the mildew forming in every fiber of his jacket. I kept my eyes, still burning from the chlorine/iPhone screen, on him. This had to be the blur.
The old man took off his tweed peaky cap and clasped it in his hands. I expected him to strip down to his trunks then and there, but he didn’t. He started walking the length of the pool, his loafers being repeatedly splashed by passing swimmers. His graying hair bristled against the white bubble cover. It was quite the scene: this haggard man being practically drowned out by the sleek, linear design of his surroundings.
He circled the pool three times before exiting entirely - not having touched the water. I was dismayed. This wasn’t the blur I had been hoping to catch. A glance at my watch confirmed that I would be halfway through my swim by now. Where were they? Right at that thought the revolving door began to suck, creak, whoosh once again. And there was the old man, shockingly, in a cobalt Speedo. I’d half expected him to be wearing a “bathing costume” under all that tweed.
He wobbled over to the nearest lane, the one with the weathered step stool for the overweight and elderly, and stared into the water - much like that familiar blur was want to do. I got a good look at him while he stood there. He slowly came into focus. My eyes traced the knots of his fingers, the puckered veins of his forearms and neck, and onto the deep lines of his forehead that desperately tried to touch, but came out uneven just above his brow. His prominent belly hung above his Speedo, moving in slightly with his labored breathing. He was but a veristic sculpture - grey, still, and heavy - moments from falling in.
And he did. One blink and a quiet splash and he was gone - really, gone. The water in his lane was completely still, not a single break in the surface. The only sign that he hadn’t completely disappeared was the dark mass skimming the bottom of the pool, blurred by the water. He made it all the way across, only coming up for air during his quick turns at the wall. He did eight straight laps of these pure streamlines - my lungs burned just watching him.
When he finally pulled into a stroke my jaw unhinged. So rarely had I been confronted with something I could call beautiful. I spent my days searching for it - in the precision of my sketchbooks, with rulers on chalkboards, calculations and graphed derivatives - but never had I felt beauty before. It was somewhere in my lungs, in the goosebumps up my legs. I felt it as I watched the old man’s sagging, liver spotted arms glide effortlessly lap after lap.
Later I’d be driving back home, the scent of chlorine still lingering around me like a toxic aura. The scene of that old man’s strokes lingered with me as well. I couldn’t stop searching for perfection.
And I remembered my art classes, where I’d taken on this idea of anatomical perfection, I had also learned of Fibonacci. Fibonacci and his golden mean - the idea that nature, despite its seeming chaos, was still built with precision. These very same hills I was winding through contained multitudes of small ratios. There was beauty in these mountains, in the swirls of my fingerprints, deep within my underdeveloped muscles, and in my search for it all. Even within my Ozark-born brain. Somedays, I would find satisfaction in this.