OriginalCulture: Swimming

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In 2013, OriginalTitle will be presenting her interpretations of contemporary short stories in whatever way such interpretations happen to emerge as a result of the inspiration on Writer’s ClubKL

This week’s featured short story is “The Swimmer” by John Cheever and can be read here at Story of the Week

You start with a small pool in midsummer.  You see, the smaller it is, the faster it will heat up under high summer sun.  The surface glitters placid, unrippled by any recent turbulence.  But they all start out that way.  You’ll splash in and rise to the top.  Then you’ll graduate to a larger pool and there the water isn’t as warm.  People have gathered by the ledge, just dipping their legs in and some have the luxury of renting that cabana in the corner, but then there are those who tread in the middle trying to hold their drink and keep their head above water.  They wave a half-extended hand to those listlessly watching the water gather tiny ripples around them, the floating human-like buoey in the middle.    Inexplicably, they can’t seem to come closer to the ledge and you whisper to a friend, “I never want to be that person.”  No one goes out to join them or offers a hand.

Swimming.  Well, that’s what we do at these things isn’t it?  We drop the appropriate number of pounds and don the most flattering suit for our most flattering features.  Then, with toes curled round the concrete ledge of society’s best, we find the most appealing corner in which to dive in.  The water is frigid, but everyone else is wading, keeping their heads above water just so everyone can see they’re smiling.  The lazy susan spins round with drinks and business cards and we take one and show the other as if it might grant us access to what seems so impossible, so fickle.  Yet, it only ever seems to feel difficult for us to get in.  Everyone else’s eyes glitter with mouths open in laughter and you think-there, they’ve got it, they’re in.  From the crisp crystal brim of your glass, your heart stops.  You realize the drink has aglittered your own eyes and your own mouth is open in laughter to a joke you don’t fully understand.  Now you’re in and you’re treading water with the rest of them.  And it seems like only moments ago you were watching the others keep their head above water, wondering how they got there, but now you know it’s so much more difficult to smile when you’re barely able to keep your head above the water ready to take you in at your weakest moment.

We grow up watching our elders take careers they don’t want so they can buy things they won’t have time to use and host parties for people they don’t want to talk to.  There’s some sort of strange glamour in it.  These parents of yours who scold you and tell you what to do are in a moment on a screen, when the neighborhood attendees arrive.  They are all as watchable as a movie, playing their best part.  You watch these alien creatures, these adult-like robots put on costumes for each other and smile when they don’t want to as they pass out drinks and food they can’t afford to give away.  That’s the catch.  You never get to see the outtakes and the backstory is lacking.  They act as if the clock will never reach tomorrow, telling themselves that they’ll teach you better, they’ll make sure you don’t make the same mistakes and but you’re growing each day.   They hack away at themselves, run marathons, starve to death, take better jobs all in an attempt to reach some ideal that doesn’t exist.  They want, but what they think they want will never cover what they need-even if they get it, which they most often don’t.

We see it, but when it’s time to play our part, we act it out as we’ve seen it done before, sometimes with slight improvement.  As we read the script though, we start to understand that we’re playing our parts without the backstory.  We don’t understand why we’re in whatever career we’re in or why the way that one person treats us makes us feel so bad and where is the time going?  It’s moving too fast!  We try to figure it out.  We ask our parents, the original stars, but they don’t want to tell us because they know they should have done it earlier, but they didn’t know how!   But, you just never know what the temperature of the water will be.  Some people can swim back to the edge and others flail around at the center unable to reach the concrete ledge of the suburban shore.  And Suburbia’s all striving to live the same life and thinking if they live the same way as everyone else does then they won’t be the one to drown, but inexplicably some still do.

This random prose-essay was inspired by the short story of the week.  Read OriginalTitle’s interpretation of “The Swimmer,” by John Cheever at Writer’s Club KL!

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3 responses to “OriginalCulture: Swimming

  1. I wish I had more commentary to make on your pieces, but I know so little about prose. Just reading your work teaches me more, and I thank you for that.

    I see a recurring theme amongst some of these: a disenfranchisement with the adult world, be it the way adults sweep things under the rug or the way they create artifice to “keep up with the Joneses.” I’m interested to see if this repeats in other places.

  2. Thanks so much for reading this. I think I’m actually going to start going back and rewriting these pieces to make them more clear. There’s a few bits I like here and there, but I can see the theme you’ve picked out and I think I could probably communicate it a lot better! I appreciate you taking the time to comment!

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