June 25, 2024

Cold water

There was a morning last week when everything was so still, it was as if the world was on pause, frozen in time, waiting for us to hit play so that the hubbub could start again and the roar of the world could return.

It was among this stillness that we entered the lake. There was no surf, no waves in the water; walking in from the shore was like disturbing a blank canvas, causing small ripples to emanate around us as we waded into the shallows. At the horizon, the waterline melded into the skyline so that you could not tell where one ended and the other started—just a massive expanse of blue as far as the eye could see. There were no birds flying above us, no people around us, no boats in the lake just yet. Even the bugs, which were perilous for most of the week, seemed to be lying in wait for some kind of sign that their frenzy could recommence.

The three of us took in the stillness, and then broke it: we played in the water and laughed and swam and made sandcastles on the beach. We sang songs and danced and splashed and let the world know that in all its calm, there was life being lived, life being enjoyed.


We spent every single day of our trip up to Lake Huron in the water. It helped that the cottage where we were staying had a staircase that led down directly into the lake, and that a small beach had been exposed by the low water levels so Zoya could make sandcastles while we waded into the shallows. It was almost too easy to decide to spend a morning or an afternoon in the water, especially when the heat outside felt oppressive and we lacked the energy to do anything more strenuous.

On the days when the lake was a little choppier and the surf a little stronger, we ventured out to the small beach nearby which had more space for us to sprawl out, more room for Zoya to play in the sand. Even on the windiest days, the water was still swimmable and extremely shallow: we could walk out for over a hundred feet before the level passed our waists.

Lake Huron is large—it is only by the lack of salt water that you are reminded that you are on a lake instead of the sea—and the part of it we explored was minuscule, but for a week, we felt like the lake was ours, our own space to connect and play and be recklessly joyful.


If you would have told me that I would be swimming in a lake in June, I’d say you were out of your mind. I do not like cold water at all, and generally only enter our pool at home when the water is over 28°. Lake water is definitely colder than that, even in the warmest of the summer, and I am usually averse to doing more than submerging my feet whenever we are at the beach.

This year, however, a change has come over me. I was swimming in our pool in late May when the temperature was barely above 24° (the perils of having a solar heater is that you can’t quickly warm up your pool like you could with a gas heater), and was slowly getting acclimated to the colder plunges. (The pool temperature now is much above 30°, so the worry is now that it might be too warm.) When we started planning to go to the cottage, I was determined that, this year, I would do more than just dip my feet into the lake, no matter how cold it might be.

The lake water was a balmy 21° the week that we were there, much warmer than it usually is at this time of year. Part of that was because the shallowness of the coast—there was less water for the sun to warm up—and part of that was because of the incredible heat wave that descended upon this part of the world during the same week. The world was telling me that this was the year to get over my aversion to the cold, and the warmer-than-usual water was the world’s way of easing me in.

And so, I plunged into the lake.


I’ve been thinking about truths” I tell myself, about the narrative I construct about the things I like and do not like, the things I do and do not do, the way I am and am not. I have always told myself I do not like, and do not swim in, cold water, but this past week, I found myself relishing the swims in the lake, looking forward to being in and under the water, no matter what the temperature.

I wonder what other things I tell myself about myself are malleable; what are the parts of me that I haven’t embraced because of the story I have told about who I am. Maybe it is time to challenge some of the notions I have of myself—maybe it is time to plunge in.

A poem

Ego Tripping (there may be a reason why)
Nikki Giovanni

I was born in the congo
I walked to the fertile crescent and built
      the sphinx
I designed a pyramid so tough that a star
      that only glows every one hundred years falls
      into the center giving divine perfect light
I am bad

I sat on the throne
      drinking nectar with allah
I got hot and sent an ice age to europe
      to cool my thirst
My oldest daughter is nefertiti
      the tears from my birth pains
      created the nile
I am a beautiful woman

I gazed on the forest and burned
      out the sahara desert
      with a packet of goat’s meat
      and a change of clothes
I crossed it in two hours
I am a gazelle so swift
      so swift you can’t catch me

      For a birthday present when he was three
I gave my son hannibal an elephant
      He gave me rome for mother’s day
My strength flows ever on

My son noah built new/ark and
I stood proudly at the helm
      as we sailed on a soft summer day
I turned myself into myself and was
      men intone my loving name
      All praises All praises
I am the one who would save

I sowed diamonds in my back yard
My bowels deliver uranium
      the filings from my fingernails ars
      semi-precious jewels
      On a trip north
I caught a cold and blew
My nose giving oil to the arab world
I am so hip even my errors are correct
I sailed west to reach east and had to round off
      the earth as I went
      The hair from my head thinned and gold was laid
      across three continents

I am so perfect so divine so ethereal so surreal
I cannot be comprehended
      except by my permission

I mean … I … can fly
      like a bird in the sky …

I’ve got Jonathan Haidt’s The Anxious Generation on my hold list at the library, so I can’t say much about it, but I’ve been hearing him on podcasts recently and have been torn between wholeheartedly accepting his thesis on how technology has worsened the mental health of our children, and thinking that there are larger systemic issues that we need to grapple with first. This critique from Courtney Tenz captures the latter quite succinctly:

It is easier to blame a shiny inanimate object and ineffectual parenting for our individual ills than to admit that policy mistakes have been made and targeted moderation could limit some of this harm — and that arrayed in opposition to systemic change are the people profiting off the flood of shit streaming onto those devices at all times. Laying the responsibility at the feet of overburdened parents (let’s be real, mothers) and suggesting that we should be the ones to resolve it is not only insulting, it’s pushing conservative notions of individual responsibility while ignoring the broader societal structures at play. One doesn’t have to strain to imagine a phone-free childhood becoming yet another marker of intensive parenting and breaking down along class lines. To actually help all children, not only would a not insignificant portion of the American families have to agree to this shift away from smartphones, we would have to repave the well-worn roads of modern socialization all while neglecting corporate responsibility measures to rein it all in. […]

As parents, there is only so much we can do individually without greater societal support. We aren’t handing off phones to our kids because we prefer spending our leisurely summer days indoors in front of a screen; we’re doing it because camps cost upward of our entire salaries and we don’t have 12 weeks of paid vacation. Our kids aren’t choosing to play Minecraft instead of hitting the swimming pool during yet another record-breaking heatwave — the pool’s closed because there’s no funding for lifeguards, and anyways, the air quality index is off the charts again because the oil companies won’t stop pumping or adhere to emissions limits. After all, kids can’t pass a math test if there are no math classes taking place. What are they supposed to do: log in to Khan Academy and take lessons on their phone?

Another good take on the screen time for kids discussion: what if they are just modeling adult behavior, and how can we fix that?

This whole societal catastrophe of excessive screen time eroding real-life interactions and experiences has very little to do with kids and everything to do with the adults who raise them. This is an adult problem, not a kid problem–because if the adults didn’t have trouble putting down their phones for prolonged periods of time, it’s less likely that the kids would.

I worry that our suburban life has me participating less in public systems: sure, we will send our child to public school and we use city-run recreation programs and my wife works at a public hospital, but we drive almost everywhere now and have a pool in the backyard, both things that are inherently private and not supporting public community infrastructure. I’m reflecting upon this passage by Hamilton Nolan as I evaluate my life these days:

Rich kids should go to public schools. The mayor should ride the subway to work. When wealthy people get sick, they should be sent to public hospitals. Business executives should have to stand in the same airport security lines as everyone else. The very fact that people want to buy their way out of all of these experiences points to the reason why they shouldn’t be able to.

Really fascinated by the changes happening in post-secondary education recently, and the deepening criticisms of academia as it currently exists. I loved my time in university because it was focused on deep reading and analysis instead of the memorization of facts; it seems like that is not common for most students. This piece on the importance of reflection and conversation in education had some interesting ideas:

Not everything in the world is a problem, and to see the world as a series of problems is to limit the potential of both world and self. What problem does a song address? What problem will reading Voltaire help you solve, in any predictable way? The problem” approach—the engagement” approach, the save-the-world approach—leaves out, finally, what I’d call learning.

Thoughts on solitude by Joseph Epstein:

Aging can in itself be an agent of solitude. When young, I made it my business to know the top 10 songs. Now I know no top songs or even the names of popular singers beyond those of Beyoncé, Adele, and Taylor Swift. I once saw every new movie and knew the names not only of the stars but of most character actors. Now, in the checkout line at the supermarket, I read a headline in our version of the gutter press, Jen Leaves Justin,” and after wondering briefly if Jen is Jennifer Aniston and Justin is Justin Timberlake, remind myself that in any case I could not care less.

When do we stop finding new music? I think I do a good job of keeping up with current pop hits, but I do often just revert to listening to 90s r&b and hip hop (and Prince and CRJ, of course).

Survey research from European streaming service Deezer indicates that music discovery peaks at 24, with survey respondents reporting increased variety in their music rotation during this time. However, after this age, our ability to keep up with music trends typically declines, with respondents reporting significantly lower levels of discovery in their early thirties. Ultimately,the Deezer study pinpoints 31 as the age when musical tastes start to stagnate.

Resonant and true: Douglas Adams’ on reactions to technology, by age:

  1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
  2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
  3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

We went to a botanical garden in Martinique and the entrance was swarming with hummingbirds. I don’t often think too much about them, but after reading this ode to hummingbirds by Zito Madu, I know they will be on my mind more often:

Often, when we encounter a presence in the world, it goes from a singular physical reality to a memory, and then eventually a meaning. An idea. When I was with the green hummingbird, it became the company I didn’t know I needed. We spent our mornings together, and after it went its way, I read and wrote.

Related: I’m not a birder, but when I read ruminations on birding I always feel like it’s a hobby (not a hobby, but a lifestyle?) I should take up:

When I step out my door in the morning, I take an aural census of the neighborhood, tuning in to the chatter of creatures that were always there and that I might have previously overlooked. The passing of the seasons feels more granular, marked by the arrival and disappearance of particular species instead of much slower changes in day length, temperature and greenery. I find myself noticing small shifts in the weather and small differences in habitat. I think about the tides.

What if, when you took a photo, a poem came out instead of an image? That’s what happens when you engage with this art piece by Kelin Carolyn Zhang and Ryan Mather, and I would love to try it out.

It’s no secret that I’m in love with mangoes (biting into the flesh of a Gujarati kesar is one of the joys of life), so this piece about a Chicago warehouse being the mango capital of the world has me thinking about planning a visit.

I used to keep a commonplace journal, and this newsletter by Ingrid Burrington collecting perfect sentences” has me wondering if I should start keeping one again.

A delightful read about the most mundane of objects: the drinking fountain button.

Some amazing news on the medical front: NHS patients in England to be offered trials for world-first cancer vaccine, and results from a large clinical trial in Africa showed that a twice-yearly injection of a new antiviral drug gave young women total protection from the virus.”

The Idea of You was perhaps not a very good movie, but I’d watch Anne Hathaway in almost anything. This interview with her in the NYTimes is entertaining and excellent.

So many gems in this piece on how to help someone use a computer, but this one stands out for me: Your primary goal is not to solve their problem. Your primary goal is to help them become one notch more capable of solving their problem on their own.”

The excellent CBC podcast, Spark, just aired its last episode. It’s worth a listen — on reasons to be hopeful about the future of tech — and it’s worth diving into back episodes if you haven’t heard the show before. Kudos to Nora Young and her team for making an excellent show over 17 years.

A few Tiny Desk concerts that have had me riveted these past few weeks:

Chaka Khan:

Tierra Whack:

Nelly Furtado:

Yasser Tejeda:




Get weekend reading posts in your inbox: subscribe to the when-I-have-something-to-say newsletter.

→ weekend reading → links → poetry → reflection