From the author:
In Chapter 4 of THE UNDERWATER WINDOW, readers get to meet Molly, a second potential love interest for Doyle Wilson. Doyle is not smooth with women. Swimming contributes to his awkwardness. It looms like a chaperone over all his potential romances. It also pushes him outside the social norms. The introduction to Chapter 4 talks about some of the counter-cultural aspects of swimming.
---Dan Stephenson, author of THE UNDERWATER WINDOW.
Swimming is counter-cultural. Swimmers are misfits in the world at large. Our culture says “if it feels good, do it.” Swimming does not feel good. The very purpose of swim practice is to make it hurt. Races are largely about pain management.
Our culture says “gratify yourself now.” Swimming involves delayed gratification. You peak for two meets a year. Every practice is geared toward the next big meet, which may be months away. Swimmers know they have to do the work today, day after day, in order to reap the reward tomorrow. For Olympic swimmers, the training strategy may have a two-to-three-year timeline.
Our culture says “make things easier on yourself”—buy fast food at drive-throughs; use the remote control so you don’t have to get off the couch. Swimming is inconvenient. Swimmers take the hard road. We wear baggy suits and paddles to increase resistance. We do no-breathers. We swim butterfly.
Our culture says “entertain yourself constantly.” Entertainment is a huge industry; being bored is a drag. Swimming is institutionalized boredom. It numbs the mind. You force yourself to do hard, boring things over and over. There is no scenery. There’s no chance to socialize with your head underwater.
Our culture says “it doesn’t matter who you are, it’s how you look.” Swimmers have hair that gets bleached and frizzed, then they shave it all off and look like cancer patients. Their teeth get discolored by the chemicals in the water. Swimmers develop monstrous shoulders, which is okay for guys, but female swimmers think the shoulders make them look unfeminine. Swimmers don’t have time to make themselves look pretty.
Our culture says “celebrity is everything.” We’re fascinated by celebrities. We want to know what they do in private, what’s in their trash cans. In swimming, there is maybe one celebrity per generation. It’s not enough to win an Olympic gold medal. You have to win more than four gold medals to be remembered by anyone outside of swimming circles by the time of the next Olympics. Do any non-swimmers remember Matt Biondi? Five golds, a silver and a bronze at the 1988 Olympics. Or John Naber? Four golds and a silver in 1976. If you want to be famous, swimming is not the most rational route. And celebrities don’t attend swim meets.
Our culture says “show me the money.” There’s hardly any money in swimming. The rare swimmer may make some money in endorsements, but there is no professional league and little prize money. Swimming takes up so much time, most swimmers can’t hold regular jobs while they train. In almost every swimming family, it costs a lot of money to swim when you add up swim club dues and travel expenses, not to mention the extra food.
The countercultural aspect of swimming is one of the things I dig about it.
Excerpted from THE UNDERWATER WINDOW © 2012 by Dan Stephenson. Excerpted with permission from the author. All Rights Reserved.
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