Water (Odd Socks #1)
Essential liquid, this clear stuff: born in it, recreate in and on it, bath luxuriously in it... the latter my focus in this inaugural newsletter issue.
Welcome to Odd Socks Issue #1!
You may be thinking, “Odd Socks?” It’s a phrase I’ve loved since those innocent (ha!) teenage years. Been waiting for a meaningful moment to use it, and guess this is it. Sounds like a title for a newsletter not sure of what it is, and may never be sure.
In this and subsequent issues, I’ll share a few articles on stuff I think about, put a smile on my face, or could use some clarity amid our current culture’s noise.
Hope you enjoy it. If not subscribed, please do so for a free biweekly newsletter delivered to your inbox every other Wedsnesday!
Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner – Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Coleridge’s famous poem portends days ahead, with the irony of ocean water around us rising, yet safe drinking water becoming scarcer or even nonexistent.
The word “water” conjures up many cultural references and societal challenges. It also makes me think of that haunting dream, crawling in the desert toward a watery oasis, only to taste the bitter disappointment of a mirage. Water is the essence of life, liquid therapy, yet sadly, a dwindling essential resource with a bleak future.
On the list of things humanity takes (has taken) for granted, water seems now at or near the top. Our obsession with bottled water has, in one west coast case, hastened the decline of availability from a certain company pulling massive amounts from underground (and likely similar cause and effect in other places around the world). In other areas, the challenge’s simply basic math: increasing population outpacing existing water resource plus increasing evaporation.
As I write this from southeast Michigan, with nary a sign of water shortage or local hints of that future calamity here, I’m well aware of the dire water conditions elsewhere. Some global spots are past the tipping point and dry, whereas other places perch at the edge of no return. Around the world, in more temperate climates, others are living the start of likely irreversible rising oceans.
Hope is waning, yet thinking about water triggers me to relive moments of cooling or warming waters from past times. Not contributing to a solution, but celebrating memories to lock them into remembrance.
A recent article by a Brit visiting America remarked on our differences in the art of bathing. Although not based on scientific data, he concluded a lack of baths and a preference for showers supports his perception of American tendencies to be in a hurry, always going somewhere, and thus the quicker shower reigns. With a wry comment, he thinks we’re willing to pay therapists and meditation classes to help physical and invisible woes instead of using a healthy habit of hot baths.
The practice of tub bathing is one of preparation, patience, and technique. Lost is the art of turning the hot water knob with deft toes, extending time for supine hot water relaxation. I remember gaining those skills once, although years ago those old four-to-five spoke faucet knobs gave way to plastic crystal knobs, where even expert toe gymnastics could not stick this trick. No worries, one can sit up to re-adjust the skillfully placed washcloth overlaying the tub overflow then turn the knob to refresh the hot water.
There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them. … Whenever I’m sad I’m going to die, or so nervous I can’t sleep, or in love with someone I won’t be seeing for a week, I slump down just so far and then say: ‘I’ll go take a hot bath.’ ”
– Sylvia Plath
Being a medieval ages buff, I had to laugh reading these 15th century servant instructions on properly preparing a bath. I wonder if a marketing opportunity exists to bring back this decadent practice in a members-only bathhouse. Seems excessive (but oddly delightful), and certainly exceeded my own indulgent bath preparations (I neither affirm nor deny using bubble bath):
Hang sheets, round the roof, every one full of flowers and sweet green herbs.
Have five or six sponges to sit or lean upon, a sponge for under the feet, and one big sponge to sit upon, with a sheet over so master may bathe for awhile.
Always be careful to shut the door.
Have a basin full of hot fresh herbs and wash his body with a soft sponge, rinse him with fair warm rose-water, and throw it over him.
I’m a lifelong fan of deep hot baths, and credit those during a rough time as self-therapy to manage anxiety issues. Long, deep hot bath soaks were part of my recovery, not only for the physical relaxation but as a safe, quiet place to work through thoughts and learn how to recognize the start of anxiousness and divert it away safely.
Typically though, my aqua relaxation came from long hot showers via a marvelous shower head sans the flow restrictor. During a six-month stay at a furnished apartment several years ago, the huge shower stall offered not one, but FOUR shower heads (main, back, two in the ceiling). Fun to play with yet a silly indulgence, but certainly made for nice meditative aqua therapy moments.
Showers can be a delightful luxury (and bathtub soaking decadent), but usually showers are brief and utilitarian. After I retired and as I’ve aged, the need for frequent showering reduced to a few times a week. After gym workouts or long hikes in hot weather, or pained “What’s that smell?” looks from those around me, then I might have added a shower in between. My current fitness gym shower time is nice, primarily because it includes time in the whirlpool, sauna, and steambath. Water-related therapy for sure, but often with a tinge of first-world-privilege guilt.
How someone can revere a basic activity like hot shower or bath shines in this story from my younger son. While serving aboard a U.S. Navy submarine, it docked for liberty at a large Japanese city’s port. He and several mates pooled money to rent a large hotel suite. I expected to hear tales of suite parties, poker games, base of operations as they roamed the Japanese city, etc., to justify this indulgence. Instead, they had one specific purpose in mind: rent a suite where they could take turns showering or bathing in endless hot water for as long as they wished. Made sense, particularly after my tour of his sub based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. There I saw the pantry-size shower used with strict military shower rules (and the erratic hot water: always wet, sometimes warm). Given he was at sea for months before reaching a port, I could understand how these kids chose a hotel suite with endless hot water as a must-do liberty moment.
Other memories come from youthful skinny dipping in the cool waters of Texas Hill Country ponds, water skiing on Lake Travis near Austin on hot summer days, or simple refreshing in backyard kiddie pools with my kids. And who of my age could forget the joys of Dad (or usually Mom) stretching out the slip-and-slide, hooking up the hose, and setting us up to be the favored kids on the block for at least one Californian afternoon?
When I traveled nomadically in camper vans after retiring, finding showers was a challenge. Aligning location with time to shower (often via the old rule of “if you can tell you smell, you’re overdue”). Equal to the can’t-wait-any-longer need, I had to adapt and lower my icky standards, wear flip-flops, and shower QUICKLY. Not all such showers were terrible, just most of them.
During the first year, I had a larger camper van with an onboard shower, but even with that, resources demanded military style (get wet, turn water off, soap up, turn water on, rinse, done). Did the job, but not exactly enjoyable. Sometimes I’d rent a hotel room en route, often not for the air conditioning, but like my son, for the endless hot water and roomy shower and tub.
Remote camping provided another utilitarian shower moment via a solar shower bag hung from a tree, then showering in my birthday suit. Certainly worked, but always on guard in case someone wandered by (the few times a deer strolled through camp didn’t count). In my final year of nomadic vanlife, I smartened up and joined Anytime Fitness, giving me access to a private hot shower at their locations across the U.S. and Canada.
Truth is, our western obsession with showering daily is not always necessary, as I learned from my camper van days. Other places in the civilized world get by with less frequency, and our own history shows people bathing on Saturdays, often one Saturday per month. No doubt such habits helped a boom in the perfume and cologne industries of the time.
As we enter the years and decades ahead, will our water cultures around baths and showers change? Water rationing in the Western U.S. is now common, although not (yet) inside one’s home. Not a far reach to think future water rationing could include showers and baths, prioritizing cooking and drinking over hygiene. When (and if) those days arrive, it may make memories of soothing, therapeutic water immersions just wild tales told by the elders.
Got a favorite shower or bath story to share (one NSFW obviously!)? Drop it in the comments below.
You don’t need any tech, special clothes or shoes, or a tree-umbrelled forest path. You just need you, one foot moving in front of the other.
Can’t think of another free activity that benefits the mind, body, soul, and spirit like walking. If you don’t believe me, then at least believe Albert.
Go Out For a Walk by Albert Camus Find meaning. Distinguish melancholy from sadness. Go out for a walk. It doesn’t have to be a romantic walk in the park, spring at its most spectacular moment, flowers and smells and outstanding poetical imagery smoothly transferring you into another world. It doesn’t have to be a walk during which you’ll have multiple life epiphanies and discover meanings no other brain ever managed to encounter. Do not be afraid of spending quality time by yourself. Find meaning or don’t find meaning but ‘steal’ some time and give it freely and exclusively to your own self. Opt for privacy and solitude. That doesn’t make you antisocial or cause you to reject the rest of the world. But you need to breathe. And you need to be.
Still working my way through Ed Yong’s latest book. Like his previous mind-blowing I Contain Multitudes, An Immense World will radically change your perspective and perception about animal and plant intelligence and senses. We finally see the falacies of prior research based on comparisons to human equivalents, instead of embracing the Umwelt of living things. (Spoiler: we’re not #1 in many categories.) One of the best books I’ve read in recent memory, although a warning that his books are extensively researched and topics thoroughly explored, and can feel like slogging through pages at times.
I listen to podcasts infrequently. When I do find interesting ones, I browse the episodes list, download a few I like, and listen. I rarely stay on as a subscriber. This week I discovered two new ones that may break that behavior. Check them out via your usual podcast fix app or click on images below to listen directly.
Ferguson’s certainly the funniest Scot I know (Billy Connolly, too) and Craig never fails to make me laugh. Clever with a quip and full of energy, it’s a joy to listen to his accented voice. First episode featured Fluffy (Gabriel Iglesias), another fav comedian (who doesn’t love Fluffy?). Podcast plans to focus on interviewing people who’ve figured how to find joy in life. So far, Joy is an uplifting listen in these garbled times.
I rarely find a writing-focused podcast that I like or follow. In fact, I haven’t had one in my podcast app since last year. This one (I hope) will be different and stick. Listened to a few episodes, but the one above with Sarah Manguso landed well with me. Sarah’s command of language, her brevity of thought and word craft create emotionally packed single sentences, making her work a thought-inducing read (at least her 300 Arguments book was for me).
Odd Socks is a free, alternate-Wednesdays newsletter written by Gary Varner. Please consider subscribing for a fresh email of each newly published issue. Past newsletters and single articles (pre-Odd Socks newsletter) available at https://www.garyvarner.com.