My brother-in-law is frequently amazed when water works – not water so much as indoor plumbing, how a faucet functions. I’ve known him for more than two decades, he’s a cardiologist and a scientist. To this day, every couple years, he’ll be standing at a running sink in a kitchen, incredulous, he’ll say with wonder, “Can you believe this? Look at how this works!”
I enjoy indoor plumbing, too, but it’s water itself I find mesmerizing: its softness, its mobility, how quickly it escapes containment. “An inorganic, transparent, tasteless, odorless, and nearly colorless chemical substance,” as Wikipedia would have it, but could they be more gray? I probably take more joy from water than any other substance. Streams, tides, swishing and swilling, the sound of lapping waves, the silence of snow. Is a wave in the ocean just a breeze in liquid? Then again, ask a surfer what it feels like to get brained by a crashing ten-foot wall. I once heard a firefighter say that moving water six inches deep can knock down a person, twelve inches can lift a car, twenty-four inches can float a truck. It’s remarkable to think how little water you need to kill someone. (I’ve been reading Patricia Highsmith again.)
A month ago, I heard someone compare life to water, that the sea is the universe and each of us a wave, each of us shaped a little bit different from the rest but looking and behaving pretty similarly – propelled across time, rising up at moments perhaps to make a brief impression, then returned to the greater whole. There’s a Ralph Waldo Emerson poem that begins, “The water understands civilization well,” and one by Anne Sexton that says, “all day long we are in love with water.” The former, which I don’t quite get, is probably how I think about water, but the latter, which I know quite well, is how I feel.
Sidebar: My weird new nonfiction book, Everything Now, is available for pre-order via Amazon, Bookshop, or your favorite local store. The book will be published in June by MCD x FSG (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Nice people have said nice things about it. I'm told that pre-ordering is the single most important thing you can do to help a book succeed, so I'd really appreciate it if you gave it a shot! And hold onto your receipt, at the very least I’ll send out some signed bookplates to newsletter subscribers. Thanks!