Discover more from Cruel Summer Book Club
When in doubt, just jump in
How my personal mantra helps me be brave, and what it feels like to see yourself grow up
Before we begin: My newest Cosmo story is live! In the article I report on the option of background checking your online dates—which is now built-in to several top dating apps—and the complicated ethics around that. And I explore the state of women’s safety while dating in general, which continues to be…not great!
The messy promise of background checking your Tinder Date — Cosmopolitan
Here’s a paragraph from the story synthesizing some of my own thoughts:
There are also more existential questions of how one should ethically and intellectually use the information that might be unearthed by a background check. Should it matter that a potential date was arrested for shoplifting when they were financially desperate in another stage of their life? Does a DUI charge make someone an undesirable partner? What if that was a catalyst for positive change, as huge missteps often are? Should we forever socially punish those who served their time and are now trying to move forward? The information background checks yield provide little nuance for life’s many mistakes and bad choices, from which none of us are immune.
Read on for today’s essay.
I jumped in and took the first swims of spring, in two bodies of water I’d never touched before.
I went on a six-day road trip to celebrate my upcoming birthday and see West Texas for the first time. I’d been dying to get to Big Bend National Park (an 8-hour drive from Austin) ever since I moved here almost two years ago. So I set a date, invited friends, and soon enough, we were off.
We spent two nights glamping at El Cosmico in Marfa, a town that was even smaller than I expected. Barely anyone was out on the streets. We rented bikes and saw Donald Judd’s large-scale art and ate delicious Italian sandwiches at Bordo. Then we drove to Terlingua where we set up camp, sat by the fire, and listened to coyotes howling at the swelling moon. They seemed very near.
My friend Tanzia drove with me into Big Bend National Park, which I finally got to check off my list. (I’ve been to at least 15 National Parks in my life, and nine of those were in the last three years alone.) We spent the morning hiking up Lost Mine Trail, catching views and admiring the ancient mountains, much greener than we’d expected. A gas station attendant advised us to try out the Santa Elena Canyon hike along the Rio Grande River next, and that’s how we ended up in the perfect swimming spot on a 92-degree day. Surprise!
We had to wade through waist-deep water to get to the trail, then we hiked in, admiring blooming fuschia Pitaya and sunny Prickly Pear cacti, and ocotillos still hydrated from recent rains, reaching ever upward, greeting god, like needy dancers against the blue sky.
About a half-mile in the river stretched wide and brown before us, splitting the same path of rock sheet—hundreds of feet tall on either side and layered with visible slabs of history—that it has for millions of years. I didn’t have a swimsuit or a change of clothes, but I had to get in. In my sports bra and my workout pants, I squirmed over the muddy ground to the middle of the basin. I dunked, instantly satiated and relaxed, then lay on my back floating, reveling in my insignificance.
I love to be reminded of how small I am.
As I stared up at those canyon walls, holding so much knowledge humans will never fully unpack, I remembered: I am but a speck of dust on a rock floating in space. My lifetime is the blink of an eye in the lifetime of the universe. Nothing matters, and I find so much comfort in that. Because maybe all that matters is that I spend time laughing and crying with the people I love, commune with the trees, notice the color of the sky, read a lot of books, tell my mom I love her every day. I think that might be enough. No one is likely to know my name in less than 100 years. How extraordinary! I am free!
Two days later, I had another chance to swim and feel the freedom that water offers my body and mind. But I was more hesitant.
My friends had gone back home to Austin, and I drove on my own to Balmorhea State Park. One of the highlights of moving to Texas has been discovering the many cheap and free pools, natural springs, and rivers the state offers. There’s not much I love more than a hot day spent tanning and reading by the water (bonus points if I’m topless) so I’ve been steadily exploring Texas’ best dipping spots one by one.
But it was a hazy 68-degree day. I had my swimsuit on, but also a hoodie. Plus, I was alone. I posted up in a chair and ate snacks and read a book, content to watch the few people there that day slowly swim by in their dorky snorkels, checking out the snapping turtles and pupfish in the fresh spring waters below. But then, about an hour before closing, the park emptied out. I was the only one there, and I started to have a familiar conversation with myself.
A voice deep inside—young, vital, adventurous, the purest essence of my inner child—said, “You should go swimming! Come on. You know you’ll love it. And you’ll regret it if you don’t!” She was right.
I took off my clothes and sat on the slimy pool stairs, watching the tiny fish gather around my legs and take turns nibbling on my skin. I tried to get in slowly, but I slipped, and the water overtook my belly button. But it was much warmer than I anticipated! I slipped in, inch by inch, until I dunked under, opening my eyes underwater to try to see the algae-covered floor or a turtle floating by. When my head popped up, I found myself in sweet, silent solitude. I had the entire pool—1.3 acres and three diving boards—all to myself.
I knew I would likely never experience this again. I moved slowly from one end of the pool to the other, meditating on the clouds during a backstroke, connecting to the power of my own body during a breaststroke. When I reached the diving board, ten feet in the sky, the little voice said, “Climb up there! Jump off! Come on, it will be sooooo fun!” So I did. I stood at the top and gazed around my kingdom, queen of Balmorhea State Park. Then, I leapt.
It’s become something of a guiding light for me to Just Jump In. There are a lot of reasons I haven’t wanted to get in the water in my life: it’s too cold, it’s too hot, the jump is too high, I’m ashamed of my body, I don’t have a towel. Reasons that don’t matter because, well, nothing matters.
But the burst of joy I get from being in the water does matter. Swimming makes my life more enjoyable in small but important rushes, makes my existence more bearable on hot Texas days, make me revel in the wonder of the crashing ocean waves. I feel exhilarated when a wave’s moon-bound energy careens over my face, pushing my hair back, cooling me to my core, leaving me gasping for another earthly breath.
So I choose to jump in, almost every time. And I never regret it.
As I turned 35 on Saturday, surrounded by the wonderful group of friends I’ve made in less than two years here in Austin, I reflected on how far I’ve come during the last four tumultuous years. I got laid off three years ago, just before I turned 32. Now I’m a successful freelance writer and editor (something I wasn’t at all sure I could pull off), with more big dreams coming into focus all the time. I moved to a brand new city and that saying—”You have yet to meet all of the people you will love who will love you in return”—came true in the most beautiful, surprising ways. I spent my last two birthdays exploring new National Parks. I see more wonder in my daily life than ever before.
I am much more of the person I once desperately wished to be. I choose to just jump in, over and over again. That’s worth celebrating.