Archives for posts with tag: swimming

Rob Cox in Reuters argues that ‘China Does It’ is a bad antitrust argument (6-minute read). But before I get into the arguments the biggest companies in the US and Europe make for maintaining their monopolies, I want to talk about how we are able and not able to occupy space in society.

I’ve had two discussions in the last few days that I want to connect. In one, my friend was complaining about nudity at Dutch spas. Nudity is generally the norm at spas in the Netherlands unless it’s a rare kledingsdag (clothing day). My friend complained that one should be able to wear a swimsuit or not. The issue is not one of prudishness, but that my friend has a surgical scar that a swimsuit hides. It’s not even that the scar is problematic. It’s the threat of unwanted intrusion in what should be a relaxing space that gets tiresome.

Another friend is an expert in her field and occasionally gives free practical courses associated with it to the public. And what is the first question raised in a recent class? Something about how and where she gained her expertise, or her interest in the subject at hand? No. It was ‘Where are you from?’ The adult child of Japanese immigrants born and raised in Los Angeles. Not that that part matters. Again, it’s the impertinence – and the unspoken question of whether my friend had a right to occupy the space at the front of that classroom.

These two experiences play into a larger narrative of how the spaces occupied by people are no longer personal. They probably haven’t ever been, really, but we had a couple of decades where it seemed that they might be. If one wasn’t paying very close attention.

Where to I fit into this narrative? As a cisgender, adult, heterosexual presenting (I’m out as bisexual in most areas of my life, but you can’t necessarily tell that by looking at me) white male, my right to occupy space is rarely questioned. Nor is most expertise I claim. I’m also Jewish which you can probably tell from my physical profile. I’m somewhat removed from the racism I’m about to discuss, but only just. It’s a topic for another entry.

On a good day, however, I might classify as an ally to those who face harassment and verbal and physical violence simply for being.

The right to occupy space. I read a tweet sometime in the last few days that read something like ‘A survey of transgender people asked “What is the one thing you would do if you had a day during which no one would judge or comment on your appearance?” The majority of respondents said “Go swimming.”‘ This Vox article (approx. 5-minute read) on a 2016 survey doesn’t have that nugget, but it tells quite a lot about how difficult it is to be trans and occupy space.

All of this is leading up to a connection I want to make to that Reuters article on big business in the west and China, but I’m going to toss in one more thing about swimming and occupying space. About twenty years ago I dated a black man who grew up in Detroit in the 70s. In response to a suggestion we go to the beach, he laughed me off, saying “Negroes don’t swim.” He didn’t share any of the history of the difficult efforts to integrate swimming facilities that continues. The New York Times ran a long article on the subject just last summer. In short, the right to occupy space unharassed in America is tenuous, and far more extensive than even some close followers of the news guess.

I could stop here and say, ‘look how enlightened I am for acknowledging my privilege’ and all the blah blah blah attendant to such a claim.

The Reuters editorial linked at the top of this entry has nothing to do with occupying space, except insofar as Facebook policies turn a continuing blind eye to the racism on its platform – not within the editorial’s scope. It has nothing to do with how we as a society address or don’t address our responsibilities to each other. It has nothing, really, to do with respecting the privacy and autonomy of people in their private and professional spheres. What struck me reading the arguments of people like Sheryl Sandberg (CEO, Facebook) and European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager is the distance between how we look at business and how we look at humans. Both of these people argue competition policy as it relates to the Chinese.

It might be that financial reporting is always like this. If I read Reuters’ Breakingviews and the Economist as assiduously as I do popular news assessments of social policy, this wouldn’t surprise me. But reading Cox’s look at how large corporations address competition got me thinking about how to decrease concern with monopoly power and increase respect for each other in our common spaces. More to the point, I started thinking, again, how little discussions of monopoly power have to do with how humans interoperate in the world. I’m not arguing anything here that five millennia of (mostly privileged white male) philosophers and teachers (not to mention three seasons of The Good Place) haven’t argued better. But the question remains:

How do we get where we need to be?

There’s a collision of autonomy and respect and privacy and intrusion from so many different areas that any conclusions I draw are either meaningless, or pablum. The social media waters that we swim in constantly invite – and foster – invasion and misunderstanding. And outright hostility. Note again my generally unchallenged white male expertise. I know that I can step up and say that the status quo is untenable and quietly slip back into enjoying my position with respect to it. In my What If Future, the status quo is that no one is challenged in their right to occupy space, but gracious, that future is bloody far away.


And entirely unrelated: The one-two punch of The Talking Drum and Larks’ Tongues In Aspic Part Two on King Crimson’s Meltdown: Live in Mexico (Spotify link) is superb. To be played at maximum volume.

In the dream, I wake from a dream of swimming thinking of the story as I walk down streets paved with large rocks. It’s one of those dreams in which I’m in wide canals as the water gets higher and the current and waves throw me in the air and I come back into the water and float or swim some more. In this revery, I’m walking through the boulders thinking of another story about swimming. Both the town in the dream and the town I wake in have old crooked buildings. But the town I wake into is hotter and arid. I look at a ceramic display on a street corner with words from prayers in Hebrew and English and possibly other languages, and continue walking towards my flat thinking of writing about swimming, about learning to swim, and about water.

Canal-Walk-Foot-BridgeA man, thin, wizened, about 55, stops me and asks if I have money. He wears shorts that are a little baggy on him and a faded t-shirt, though he doesn’t seem like a bum. I think of the small wallet in my pocket which contains maybe 40 euros. He speaks to me immediately in English, which is odd. Tells me I’m brave for admitting about the money, and ask if I mind talking with him. The small avenues are paved like something out of Gaudi or Hundertwasser. As I would in waking life, I do talk to him even though I’d rather be walking home and thinking about writing and thinking about swimming.

We sit on a bench for a bit and he tells me that he makes naambords (signs that go next to the front door of Dutch houses with the family name and house number) – that he makes them just with street names and post codes for the city. He shows me a catalogue printed in colour on cheap paper. In it there’s a picture of very young him – maybe 20 wearing big glasses with plastic frames. It looks like an early 1980s photo of a radio shack geek. His parents encouraged him to do woodwork, as he had a passion for it. I tell him we’ve only this year bought a naambord, and I think of the slate one we actually have. He tells me it doesn’t matter. His name is something like Garry Barr.

I walk back home, thinking I want to write this story down. About the swimming dream and learning to swim and about meeting Garry Barr. The place I arrive at has a cave-like entrance that reminds me now of Tim Dedopulos’ place up from Nerudova (near Prague Castle). There’s a shop just inside and I ask after some chocolates, half-distracted because I want to go inside and write. I’m thinking of a ream of paper I’ve recently bought and of my typewriter. The shop is tiny and I ask if he has chocolate – the proprietor takes down a shoebox from a high shelf – there are white kit-kat bars that come in double packs with eight sticks. I know I don’t want that many, but they’re only a euro so I buy one. Whatever I’m carrying is bulky and I pass Jeff Rubinoff (an American friend of mine from Prague) who asks after the chocolate and I point him to the shopkeeper, instead of giving him half of what I’ve just bought. Even in my dreams, I’m greedy.

I’m a little anxious to start writing – I don’t want to lose the content of the dream and the discussion with Garry Barr. I have images still of swimming down wide canals with waves that toss me in the air and make me fear just a little bit breaking my legs as I hit the bottom, but that never happens in these dreams – the water is never too cold, and I never fear drowning more than just a little – it’s too exhilarating.

Down a short low corridor that feels a little like a cave, I enter a very small apartment, ready to eat a little of my chocolate bar and start typing. The room I enter is small, crowded and dark. My wife┬áis ironing, and points to a bed on top of which a skinny girl of indeterminate age sleeps, wearing only a pair of panties. I’m disappointed because the noise of getting out the typewriter and the paper, even though I know where they are, will wake the girl. At this moment, I wake myself, needing to write.