What’s up, Cocoa Puff?
Before I was out of grade school, I’d set 3 goals for my life. I wanted:
- A house with a second floor
- A two-car garage
- An in-ground swimming pool
If I had all three of those things, I thought to myself, I’d be rich! Rolling in it! A success! In every way!
The pool especially.
I imagined myself working it into my grown-up conversations: Might you enjoy a swim right now?
Or: I’d be delighted to bring your drink out to the pool if you’d like to make yourself comfortable there.
Why I spoke like a hostess at a country club... I don’t know.
But that’s the voice I used when I imagined grown-up me entertaining in a house with a second floor, a garage, and in-ground swimming pool.
Eventually I grew up. My goals went beyond second floors and garages. But somehow the pool thing persisted.
* * *
I grew up the youngest in a family of 6, in a small rectangle of a ranch house with a minuscule, flat backyard.
Three bedrooms. One bathroom. For 6 people.
I repeated the 6-people detail because you can imagine the fights. The banging on the door. COME ON YOU’VE BEEN IN THERE FOREVER.
It’s not an exaggeration to call it a shoebox: It was literally shaped like one. We lived snug as a pair of new shoes nestled in tissue paper, two to a bedroom.
I visited friends who lived in Capes and colonials and split-levels... places I thought palaces compared with our shoebox house.
They had room to move. Second floors that weren’t basements. Garages that housed cars and bikes and sleds for the winter.
Back home, I’d sometimes squint at the profile of our little house and imagine it with a second floor. I’d look at the head of the driveway and frame a pretend garage with pretend 2x4s. I parked my bike against the far garage wall, as if there were actually a garage wall there.
Then I’d pretend-dig an imaginary in-ground pool in the flat backyard—which wasn’t anywhere near large enough to hold a pool. But I’d plot it out anyway, laying sticks in the grass.
The pool was the showpiece—the most important part of my imaginary renovations.
Others might have garages and second floors. But hardly anyone in my suburban town had an in-ground pool.
* * *
And guess what...? A zillion years ago, I did it! I bought a house with an in-ground swimming pool! It has a second floor and a garage, too. But the pool! There was a POOL.
It didn’t matter that the pool was already old—a deep hole in the ground with crumbling decking and a filter that... kind of worked?
That’s okay. The renovations were real this time. New decking. New filter. The buzz of chainsaws pruning the trees that kept dropping their tree trash (acorns, dead leaves) into the deep end.
We bought the house in September. And by April the kids were jumping off the diving board.
That proved to be a dumb move—April was waaaay too early for swimming in greater Boston, where spring weather is an unreliable jerk. Days later I watched snow blanketing the new decking.
Whatever. I had a pool at last.
It filled me with joy and accomplishment. It was fun to think of myself as a person who owned a swimming pool. (I can bring your drink out to the pool if you’d like to make yourself comfortable there.)
* * *
At least it did that first spring. Filled me with joy, I mean.
But then something started to snuff that joy out. Maybe it was the pool itself, pouring all of its 10 thousand gallons directly onto Joy, dousing Joy until there was none at all. (The work. The maintenance. What a pain in the patootie the pool turned out to be.)
Maybe it was the morning I pulled a mangled baby bunny out of the filter.
Maybe it was the crazy-short pool season in Boston.
Maybe it's because I slowly realized how much I don't like to swim.
But I’m making excuses. The problem wasn’t the work, the bunny, the weather, or my lack of love for swimming.
The problem was once I reached a goal... I couldn’t remember why I wanted it in the first place.
* * *
What do you do when the goal you set for yourself turns out to be all wrong?
Do you keep going... hoping you’ll settle into your goal, your wish, your dream?
Do you push onward... because it's too late to course-correct? Because it's too expensive to undo? Or because you're in too deep? (<-- Pool reference LOL)
Do you ignore the nagging feeling that this isn't right, because isn’t this what you wanted? Isn’t this who you are?
Said another way:
You spend a lot of time in pursuit of something you're certain will fill you up. But at what point do you acknowledge that you really hate swimming?
* * *
A few weeks ago a backhoe drove over the lawn, positioning its massive claw over the massive hole, and tore the pool out of the ground as precisely as an escargot fork lifts a snail.
It was violent. But also quicker than I expected it would be. By that afternoon, dump trucks were already bringing in the final loads of dirt to fill the hole.
To fill or not to fill. I’d agonized for more than a year. My imagination again: Not a yard with a pool, but a yard without one.
* * *
It sounds dumb now, how much I agonized about a stupid swimming pool.
But this wasn’t just letting go of a pool. I was letting go of something I’d defined myself by for decades.
How do you finally know when the dream job you worked for isn’t what you thought it would be?
>> When the dream relationship no longer feeds you?
>> When the anticipation doesn’t match the outcome?
>> How do you have the courage to admit it to yourself?
Filling in a pool doesn’t exactly require “courage.”
Or does it? Doesn’t it take courage to let go of what’s not working, so you can make room for what might?
To acknowledge a truth (I really do hate swimming), so that you can bury it for good and realize that it opens up possibilities you didn’t realize were there.
* * *
Late August always makes me a little melancholy. Time is closing in on the year. It's the "night of the year," as Thoreau wrote, "full of warnings of its lateness, as is life."
So depressing. But also: A reminder to fix what's not working for you anymore. And permission to let it go. August is perfect for that. (Way better than January.)
By the next day, the place where the swimming pool had been could have been anything: A garden. A bocce pit. A dog park. (Augie
suggested that one.)
I had thought the filled-in pool would look like blight. A scar from something that once was vibrant and alive.
But it looks neither blighted nor scarred.
It looks instead like new possibility.
* * * * *
EVERYBODY WRITES WRITING TIP OF THE FORTNIGHT
Write people and their stories directly into your copy and content:
▶Use you. (Count the number of yous in a piece. If you run out of fingers... you're doing great.)
▶Quote people directly, using their actual words.
▶Help your readers recognize themselves in your writing: People don't care about "scaling customer interactions"; they do care about "getting the exact kind of real-time insights."
on writing humans into your work and eliminating “selfish sentences” here.
👉👉👉 It’s been six months.
What’s happened since then? An update
from the agency itself.