Penitentiary

Waking in the morning is a rebooting of my memory and leads me to see that I am here. It tells me it’s the same place I was located yesterday with all its problems and intrinsic challenges. And as the day passes in a rather surreal sense, I wonder why I bother and when I can press pause, or stop…  And have the decreasing energy I feel cease to flow like a river from my soul.

When you live your dream it’s supposed to mean that each day is an effort towards a goal that has meaning, something more than trudging hopelessly uphill through scorching sand.  Where is the sense of satisfaction and achievement? When do I become accomplished and confident? When do I feel strong and wise?

Each day that passes my energy saps.  My body fails a little at a time, my songs are shorter, my limbs are weaker.  And I wonder, when it stops will I be afraid? Or will I be grateful to finally be at peace, no longer required to struggle and work.  I’m tired.  I think I’ll go lie down.

The Boat Of the Moment

Sometimes life gets so crazy you just want to curl up in a ball and wait for everything to blow over.  I know it will pass and that my current demands will recede, but in the moment life feels rather overwhelming.  In spite of all that, I feel I’m able to maintain a mostly positive demeanor and I really appreciate that.  Over the years, I have gained more patience for challenges, with life, among my children, and even just facing things that are hard.

So what’s hard about life right now?  Well, during a recent trip to Florida, we fell in love with a beautiful boat.  We’re hoping that this will be the boat that becomes ours and is not just another “boat of them moment.”  There have been many boats that have caught our eyes over the years – so much so that I started calling whatever boat had our attention the “Boat of the moment” (BOTM) because feelings for the boat were always so strong.  We would find a boat and focus on some attribute that made us feel that no other boat could possibly equal the fine points that the BOTM had.  They were infatuations and they lasted only until another boat came along which spoke to us in a different way that overwhelmed the previous boat’s attractions.

I can’t say for certain if this boat is the one, because that has changed far too many times.  But what I will say is we came back home and put our house back on the market.  Within days we had a cash offer and today, we made an offer on our current BOTM.  I hope everything works out, I’m excited at the prospect of taking one more step towards the life we want to live.  I appreciate our ability to make an offer on this boat.

Finally – I want to say I am also happy that I found a name for BOTM.  As we’ve been boat hunting for a long time now, I have never found a boat name that really suited us or a boat we’d found.  Nothing resonated or seemed anywhere near as cool as the name I found for our current boat – “On A Whim.”  It seemed terrible to christen our new, larger fancier, more permanent boat with a name that was anything less awesome than the name of our first boat.

It was yesterday morning when the name finally came to me.  I was half asleep and trying to think about how the story of finding our boat would play out in a boat name.  I’d figured out that it would be appropriate to call it something like “Lemonade” because it was the only positive outcome of our misbegotten trip to Florida.  That trip seemed to epitomize the concept that if something can go wrong, it will.  Finding the boat, was the one bright spot on a horrible experience.  And that was when it occurred to me – as I rejected “Lemonade”, and “Silver Lining” that the boat should be named “On the Bright Side”.  I immediately knew it was the right name – that it fit the boat like a missing glove.  I sat up from my jumbled half sleep and called to Rusty, urgently.

“Rusty!  Rusty!!! I thought of the name of our new boat!”

And he thought the name was perfect; as did all three of my children.  Since I finally found a fitting name, does this mean the boat is destined to be ours?  I don’t know, but if one believes in signs, this seems like a good one.

Adrenaline

To Verlee Louise – I love you still

“It’s really nice out here mom.”  My 15 year old daughter is sitting on the porch steps, looking out over our barren but now very tidy garden.  She’s right, it is very lovely out.  And as much as she attributes it to the garden – I think more of it comes from the golden orb above.  The sun has been shining so spectacularly this week.  Even as I sit here typing on my computer, my back is warmed by the sun beaming through a large window.  It has been such a rainy winter and these warm days of early spring sunshine are a welcome beam into my soul.  I know it’s supposed to rain later this week, but for now I will enjoy the delight of crisp days and the scent of fresh blooming flowers.

I felt bad for my teacher first thing this morning.  She was about 5 minutes late to class, which isn’t like her – you can tell she’s the sort who attempts to maintain a good level of organization and responsibility. She croaked her welcome with a very froggy voice, hardly recognizable from the enthusiastic, if slightly awkward way she usually greats us.  I wondered why she’d even bothered to come to class and said as much – but she assured us we would be much too far behind if she had given in to her virus’s cruel efforts.

It made me appreciate that in the past 4 years, I’ve only been dreadfully ill with some sort of cold, twice.  I used to be the sort of person who caught every illness that drifted my way.  And when I caught it, I would be far more impacted than anyone else who had born it before me.  I had been this way since I was a child and wondered when my immune system would learn enough about the world I live in to exact a more moderating impact on my body.  I’m so grateful that my time seems to have come and I watch the children come and go with sniffles that rarely seem to impact me anymore.  It was with empathy and consternation that I watched my instructor futilely spraying Lysol on everything she touched, choking on the thick perfumed scent congesting my nose.   Hopefully my good fortune will hold and her attempts at disinfection are unnecessary.

For my psychopathology class, I decided to write a paper on my experience growing up with someone who had schizophrenia.  My stepmother Lee was a very important part of my life.  I valued her contributions to my well being and stability as a young child.  But as time passed, she slipped deeper into her own hallucinations and horrifying visions.  Initially, I didn’t know how to respond to her disease or her, but with time and understanding I continued our relationship and grew more supportive in what small ways I could.  Writing that paper describing her impact on my life and the reverse, made me remember how much I value what she gave me in life.  And so my final appreciation for today is Verlee.  She passed on 14 years ago, but I still think of her and miss her greatly.  She was a person who affected me deeply.

mom lee and baroo

My stepmother “Lee” (Verlee) – who was immensely important to me during my childhood. This picture was taken not long after we’d first met and she gave me the little dog you see – Baroo.

 

#3simplethings

changing perceptions; what is barren? What is pain?

Sometimes it’s hard to be grateful when you are suffering from chronic pain.  I don’t like to think of myself that way – it sounds so debilitating and it’s not a label I want to take on.  But I realize it doesn’t matter how much I ignore it, struggle through it or try to find ways around it, chronic pain is a part of my life right now.  I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me, as my mother has been debilitated with back problems for almost as long as I can remember.  But I find, that I prefer to live in a world that ignores the things that are trying to hold me back, like my pain.

I’ve been trying physical therapy, exercise, massage, cold packs and now, I’m trying a cortisol shot.  I really didn’t want to go there, but the doctor felt it would allow things to calm enough that I could then stretch and exercise the area to allow recovery into a point without pain.  Well, that sounds lovely – I hope it works.  Today, I did the injection.  They tell me it will take about 3 days or so to really kick in – though it feels alright now, because the injected some numbing stuff in with the cortisone.  I’m still stiff though – which may mean it wasn’t the right spot.

What I really want to say about this, is that even though I struggle with stiffness and hurt a lot, I’m so grateful that I do feel pain.  That I am able to walk.  That this is not so debilitating that I can’t go forward and do what I dream.  I am grateful to be boat shopping and experiencing this life.  I may not be as lucky as some, but I am more lucky than others and I appreciate that.

I’m also so appreciative of Rich – again.  We’ve hired him to do some of the weeding and getting things done around our yard.  I look outside and it looks barren, but organized again.  The garden is ready – ready for me to plant more squash and tomatoes and maybe some flowers.  I want the yard to look beautiful this summer for when we put the house up for sale.  So, this is the year to plant all those lovely annuals that really make the yard charming.  It will become an asset, “curb appeal” will be a positive factor in our favor.  For right now, I’m grateful that the yard is cleaned up, edged and weeded.  Those chores take me for ever and can be quite overwhelming.

20150223_153654

The front yard may seem bare – but it’s like a blank canvas ready for spring perennials and the careful placement of some new annuals. The center of bare dirt will hold another garden of fresh squash, tomatoes and whatever else piques my interest this year.

This morning when I went in for my injection, I was scared.  I’ve heard many times how a cortisone injection is one of the most painful shots you can have.  So, having it in my spine definitely gave me trepidation.  But the people who helped me, the nurses and aids were so kind.  And as they gave me magazines to entertain myself I found these shoes with springs in the heels.  They claim to lesson the impact of walking on your joints and your spine.  That got me so excited!  Maybe whether or not I get the shot will matter less than getting the shoes.  I do think a lot of my problem has to do with impact – and I hope this helps.  I came home and ordered a pair.  It will be interesting to see how they feel, and even more so, how I feel.

The zone of “flow”

Tonight, I cooked a creamed spinach with bites of chicken and mushroom which I put over pasta for me and steamed cauliflower for him.  You would expect that creamed spinach would be creamy, being as it’s doused in a creamy sauce that includes… cream.  But somehow baby spinach itself gains a silken texture that enhances the dish so that each bite feels like a soft velvet in your mouth and full of rich flavors that were moderated only by the soft noodles underneath.

I value that I am able to envision what I want to cook – and if It’s something different that I’ve either never made, or haven’t made in a long time – I can surf a few recipe sites to get an idea of the general way the ingredients are put together to then create my own inventions.  Cooking isn’t something I really love doing, but eating always has been and it’s nice to be able to make tasty things that I enjoy.

When you work at something long enough, you gain a level of skill that is above average – there is a certain flow to completion.  That flow feels good.  It’s interesting because I never used to think of myself as a writer.  When I would try to put down words, things felt awkward.  As I would try to describe what I wanted to say – the words were either stilted and slamming down like a mallet or they would twist and squirm into something so unrecognizable I’d realize I was completely failing to get my meaning across.  Because of the frustration, I avoided essays or things that required a certain form.  It was only in personal letters written to particular individuals that my words and stories would flow.

I’m not sure when I realized that I am able to tell stories that aren’t just letters and have the stories build the same way as when I’m talking to one particular person.  When the words are flowing well, it is that same high of being in a state of “flow” that carries me along.  I appreciate that writing comes easier for me now – but I appreciate even more that it has led to better editing.

Today I had to work on cruising reports for the sailing club newsletter.  I’m in charge of gathering and compiling all the reports from people who are out sailing on their boats.  What is given to me varies greatly in length and content, but all of it needs editing.  Sometimes it’s to improve the flow, other times it’s to shorten and pick out the most relevant and interesting details.  But I’ve notice that I am now able to see grammatical errors, or even simple ways to improve the sound of even the professional writers who submit works to us.  It is another ability to flow into something with a passion and turn words into a story that feels very good.

I’m glad for the skills that I have grown over time – they certainly weren’t talents I inherited from birth and have taken a great deal of time and attention to build into something resembling a professional competence.

Daughters

Fiona Sings – she is a little bird chirping with words and tunes that evolve in her mind.  I remember doing that when I was a child, I used to sing – random bits of songs I invented.  Usually, there was no particular refrain, or tune even.  I just liked singing.  Fiona does too – we’re alike in many ways, and this is one I really relate to.  It hurts my heart a little when  someone tells her to be quiet and stop singing.  She’s just expressing her internal sunshine, and it’s lovely.

Annika is amazing.  She makes friends so easily – but not shallowly.  She cares deeply for the people who come into her circle, encouraging them and nurturing them with her boundless energy and self confidence.  She’s warm, considerate, funny and empathetic.  That’s not to say she doesn’t have moments of her own insecurity, but that probably is what keeps her human instead of ascending to the heavens in pure divinity.  It might seem like I’m exaggerating – but really I’m not.  She’s amazing.

Linnea is so sweet to small things.  She notices the tiny creatures who are helpless and loves them.  I noticed it with the turtle at school – how she doted on it, and became responsible for its care.  It was amazing how the turtle responded.  I don’t usually think of reptiles as being that interactive with their people.  But the turtle definitely differentiates Linnea from other people and saves a special excited shuffle just for her.  It’s also been amazing to watch Linnea with Rachel’s new baby.  Not only is she fascinated by his cuteness (because he is adorable)… but she loves him and pays attention to his needs.  She looks at the subtle cues that he needs space, or attention and he reflects back to her the same sort of exuberant wiggling I see in the turtle.

This is merging into a fourth, but I can’t leave out Lara, though she’s no longer a child.  She has always been a very tender soul, bright like the sun, but easily overwhelmed.  Sometimes it can be hard to find her, as she hides like a sweet morsel afraid of being consumed by the vicious world around her.  But her voice shines through loud and strong if you are fortunate to find some of her writing.  It is there she expresses herself so completely and with passion that you see the strength that is deep inside her.

My girls are amazing in a myriad of different ways – like facets of a jewel.  I adore them.  I’m so fortunate to be a part of their lives.  I appreciate them all, every day – I love them, very much.

My three things

I’m always looking for ways to improve my life.  Sometimes I find really big things, but sometimes it’s smaller.  It’s not that my life isn’t good enough – it’s just sometimes I think maybe I’m not grateful enough – or fail to appreciate the here and now enough.

A while ago I was tagged on facebook to write three things I appreciated every day for 7 days or some such, and then I was supposed to tag a bunch of people.  Most of the people I knew had already done the exercise… but I also thought it was kind of sad that we all did this for seven days and then stopped.  Why did we stop?  I loved reading other people’s stories, and I wanted to keep sharing mine.  So, I made this big pronouncement that I wasn’t going to tag anyone, but that I would continue to write what I appreciated and everyone else should too.

It was amazing how no one took my advice… not even myself.  I did not continue to write about all the things I appreciated, instead I shared articles and liked people’s posts and occasionally made noisy statements about things that made me passionate.  But the daily appreciation fell to the wayside.  A few days ago, I read another one of the articles in my newsfeed – and it spoke about how to really be happy, in the here and now, we should write, every day – every morning ideally – three things that we appreciate.

I remembered my decision to do so – and how it had fallen to the wayside almost immediately (did i even make one post beyond the requisite 7?  I don’t think I did…)  And I felt inspired, to take up what I had so casually set aside.  So, for a couple of days, I posted three things.  I didn’t make any sort of big pronouncement about it… I just started doing it.  A few people have liked it, including myself.  Maybe most importantly, myself.  But I realized that I would rather do this someplace where I could share it with people who aren’t on facebook.  And I wanted someplace to keep these memories of things that happen day in and day out that are important, and that I’m thankful for.  So, I’m going to start writing them here.  And hopefully – I’ll do it daily – or at least most days.

To start – I’m grateful for word press.  It makes a cool place, to keep my writing and allows me to share it with others.  It’s really easy to publish to facebook, linked-in and probably other places I don’t really frequent, but maybe other people I know do.  I enjoy typing my thoughts and I’m happy I have this place.

Secondly – I’m really really grateful that Rusty’s surgery went well.  It was a minor surgery, but any sort of invasive procedure is scary.  He’s sitting here patiently waiting for me to write this, while his eye is covered in ice to keep the swelling down.  I love him so much – it would be scary for me, if something happened to him.  So I really appreciate that the surgery went well.

Finally, I’m grateful to Chloe.  It’s kind of silly, but I have this class I’ve really been enjoying.  The professor is so thoughtful and interesting and he has a lot of insights about psychology and theory and politics.  But he’s old.  And he’s come through a very bad bout with cancer.  He lost his wife.  He’s only just returned to teaching and there is definitely some cognitive decline.  Tomorrow, is his birthday.  Chloe is a sweet girl in my class.  The one who asks a lot of questions, but also asks who you are, and introduces her self in a friendly and forthright manner.  Chloe, decided that we should celebrate our professors birthday – because even though he tends to meander in thoughts, he is a real treasure and we are lucky to be learning from him.  She made a card, and had us sign it.  She asked us to bring in cupcakes, but when no one volunteered – she made a cake herself (actually – 4 people brought in goodies, so it turned into a potluck of sweets.)  And when we played the song that Nick had picked out for his shabbatz birthday – he cried as he blew out the candles, so touched was he that we cared.  So yes, I’m grateful to Chloe, for orchestrating and organizing that.  It mattered.

Day 2

My second day at Sea Semester was pretty illuminating.  I realized that one of the reasons I wanted to come here – had nothing to do with the ocean, or sailing on a ship.  I’m excited to be here, because of the intense academic expectations.
This has been something that both excites and scares me, because I have not always found intense academic expectations to be something I succeed at.  In fact, just last term I failed a course for the first time in my life.  This definitely shook my confidence that I can do anything.  I don’t feel like I ought to have failed, but I know it’s that I’m not applying myself correctly.
The reason why I feel being at Sea Semester will help me, is not just the expectations, but the fact that I’m living here and surrounded by others who are in the same circumstances as I.  It gives me an opportunity to see how others apply themselves and emulate their behavior.

The main Lecture Hall

The main Lecture Hall

However, I’m even luckier than that.  This term there is a researcher who is observing our class because he is interested in improving the way that courses are taught.  He’s here to try and learn himself and to give advice to Sea Semester on ways they can improve what they do to teach their students.  My good luck is that he has a plethora of experience in teaching study skills and ways to be successful in school.  He started us off with a piece of advice that I already feel will make a huge difference in my success at doing my school work and retaining the lessons on what I’ve done.
He advocated that the instructor is there, to try and impart some particular knowledge to you.  And that the student comes in pretty much open but without an agenda.  By aligning yourself with the place that your instructor is, you can increase your ability to understand and retain information.  And this can be accomplished by doing a summarization of what was covered in the class immediately after the class is over, taking 5 or 10 minutes to write out a review.  Immediately prior to the next class, read the summary.
It seems obvious – but sometimes the obvious is easily overlooked.  I think the part that had not occurred to me before, was doing this so immediately after the class had ended, while the material was still fresh in my mind.  This allows me to be able to summarize more effectively and it doesn’t feel like such a stumbling block to do.
The rest of the day went pretty much the way you’d expect the second day of a new course to go.  A bit more introductions and orientations – including a trip to Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institute library and the start of some actual coursework.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute

Amazing Art at the Institute

Amazing Art at the Institute

Library at Woods Hole

Library at Woods Hole

The Library is multiple floors - look down between the shelves

The Library is multiple floors – look down between the shelves

We reviewed the way that the ocean currents create gyres, including the corialus affect.  It was a much better explanation than I’d ever received before, and I have a vague hope of being able to retain a more comprehensive understanding of why the patterns move in the directions they do.
I’m also enjoying getting to know my classmates more.  It’s so awesome to be surrounded by people who are driven, intelligent, motivated and interested.  We all come from such diverse backgrounds – but yet in many ways have some of the same motivations.

Amazing art photos in the library at Wood's Hole

Amazing art photos in the library at Wood’s Hole

The Start of Sea Semester

The journey to Sea Semester started last fall when I first found the program. I jumped through all kinds of hoops to make it happen. I was very surprised that it all worked and so it was with shock that I packed for my trip that Sunday night. The odyssey to get here was challenging in it’s own right, with a red eye flight leaving at 11 pm, arriving at 7 am and a bus to Falmouth at 9:30. We were picked up by a Sea Semester van and as we rolled through the small town, I recognized the salt boxes and feel of a New England town. Still, it was a thrill to see the beautiful stone buildings that comprise our campus as we rolled up the drive past the sweeping lawns.

Maddin Building

Maddin Building

Our cottages are cute in a “Frat house” kind of decor, with 9 of us assigned to each. The first day was composed of introductions, to each other, staff and the buildings we’ll be occupying for the next four weeks. It was so fun to finally meet the people I’d been vaguely introduced to via a Facebook Group created by Sea. Everyone seems so positive, excited and fun – we are all convinced that we’ll have a great class experience together.

B House (Bellatrix)

B House (Bellatrix)

We have a lot to learn though – about working together and completing a goal. The first night we had to go shopping, with our budget for food for the week of $412. It turned into quite the adventure when we reached our budget after only half the carts were empty. This resulted in a lot of restocking work for the checkers at the grocery (who informed us they would take care of it) and gave us a rather strange variety of food to live on for the next week.

Living area inside my cabin

Living area inside my cabin

I guess I’ve always shopped frugally – so it seemed strange to me, some of the food choices that were made. I think our next plan of action is to implement a budget for the meals we want to prepare as well as what we spend on other supplies. Also, we’ll be making another trip to the grocery, to return the many items we didn’t need, that we purchased in duplicate. Hopefully with this, we can buy a few of the things we had to put back, that really were needed.
In any case, the bonding has started and although chaotic, confusing and sometimes crazy – it’s all good.

The Scuba Challenge

When I was little, I really enjoyed nature shows. One of my favorites was watching the adventures of Jacques Cousteau… and the thought of scuba always seemed so exotic. It never seemed like something that *I* could do. It required swimming skills, money and time that I never had. However, for winter term I saw that scuba was a course offered at PSU. And considering the direction my life is heading, suddenly it seemed like a very real and very good idea. So, I signed up.

The first thing I realized on day one, is that my swimming skills were NOT up to snuff. I could not pass the swim test, which required me to be able to swim a particular distance in a certain amount of time, to be able to glide underwater a certain length, and to dive and retrieve a 15 lb brick. Throughout the term, I tried to spend some time practicing my swimming. Aside from getting a bit stronger at swimming, I made little progress.  The dive instructor actually didn’t really worry so much about my swimming skills, so the fact that I was never actually able to pass those tests did not prohibit me from continuing on to my certification. It was a hard class though. Not hard as in difficult to understand, hard as in challenging myself to do things that were difficult or even beyond my physical capabilities.

taunya and the owlThis picture illustrates how round my face is.  😛  The rest of me reflects this.

One of the things I struggle with in my life, is my weight. And while it is something I am beginning to figure out a way to possibly start to manage it, I’m still at the baby steps stage and the problem is significant. I weigh 235 lbs. While a lot of this is muscle, because I am a naturally muscley person when thin, *a LOT* is just plain fat. This causes a lot of problems in the water.

Because I do have a lot of muscle I used to be so dense, I would sink. It delayed my success in learning to swim when I was a child because I could never get beyond the floating exercises. If I couldn’t float, how could I possibly do any of the rest of it? I managed, through my own mechanisms to figure it out to a certain degree and could get around, but not using proper strokes… I was never an excellent swimmer.

Adding an extra 100 lbs of fat to the body changes the dynamics of how my body behaves in the water, I float. I really float. I had NO problem with the treading water portion of the test… I imagine I could tread water potentially indefinitely. I float like a cork. This seems great, until you’re wanting to dive 10 ft to the bottom of a pool and pick up a 15 lb brick. Then, suddenly it doesn’t seem quite such a benefit.

There’s also the aerodynamics of such excess weight. Creatures in the water that are round in the middle and pointy at their ends, are also extremely narrow. I’m not… I’m just round like a sphere… like a jelly fish. And you know, jelly fish don’t really try to maneuver themselves. They don’t pretend that they are graceful like dolphins, leaping from the water and diving deep. No, they just sit there and pulse, content to let the waves and current bring them where it will. So, if I was a jellyfish, this would all be fine, but indeed, I was really going more for the dolphin.  Kicking, thrusting and the movement of my arms and legs did not bring me graceful strokes of elegance and beauty as the water parted before me. No, it was more like the thrashing of a tangled beast caught in a line who makes some small momentum as she struggles.

All this being said, I managed. The instructors told us that diving is really not about swimming… you go slow.  I got through the pool sessions and honestly I didn’t feel like it was beyond my abilities. I did fine with the tank and the buoyancy control. I had to wear a little more weight than most to help keep me at the bottom, (I wore 10 lbs to the average person’s 4) but it really wasn’t bad. The BC vest and tank were heavy and it was hard for me to handle them, but it was okay and as the course progressed, it became simpler for me to do all the things I needed to do.

But this was just the class. In order to finish it, I had to pay extra money for the certification dive, which was not part of the package offered by the school. I wanted to be certified… after all, I’m going to Saint Croix in about a month and a half. So, I paid the money and traveled up to the Hood Canal in the Washington Olympic Peninsula.  I have to admit that I was nervous about the certification. I knew we’d be going in the icy cold water of the Pacific Northwest. I was going to have to wear a wet suit – that may not keep me as warm as I’d like. But honestly, that’s about all the nervousness I felt. Getting into that cold water was going to suck.

hood canalHood Canal

I really didn’t have a clue. If I’d had any idea exactly how hard it would actually end up being, I don’t think I’d have paid that money and done it. Indeed, after the first day, I wanted to quit so bad. The certification dive was 5 dives over two days. I had done three dives and I really didn’t want to do two more.

The interesting thing was, for me (it was different for other people) the cold was one of the minor problems I ended up dealing with. It was there, and it certainly added to my discomfort – mostly when we had to sit around either under water or above water, several times I got extremely chilled. But the other things I had to deal with (much of which involved my weight) made the experience far more challenging.

The first difficulty was maneuvering my body into the wet suit. I’d no idea it would be so hard, because in the dive shop when I’d tried it on, it was one piece at a time. I didn’t realize how hard all that neoprene makes it to actually move. It was referred to as a Gumby suit, and that’s because it makes you feel like the wire plastic figurine that I lovingly knew as Gumby when I was a child. I could hardly move. How can you put boots on, when you can’t bend over? Not only that, my suit didn’t actually fit me correctly. I had a good extra four inches of length in the arms, the bunched up and pinched and made me awkward and between 8 and 12 inches of extra length on my legs.

gumbyGumby – if only I’d been this flexible

I didn’t think this would really be a problem when I tried it on in the dive shop, I thought it would just roll up and be okay. But actually – because my calves are exceptionally large, and most men’s calves are not (it was a man’s suit) I found it extremely difficult to get the legs up high enough to get the edges of the boots underneath. There was no rolling – only pulling wedges of wrinkles up and down the body. Everything I did required so much effort, I had to stop and catch my breath after every attempt to do anything.

Once I’d maneuvered myself into this giant foam beast, and walked around stiff and barely able to move – I then had to deal with my BC vest, tank, and the weight belt. The weight belt I’d constructed earlier before I was so awkwardly assembled. The rule of thumb was 10 lbs plus 10% of your weight. So, I estimated that I needed about 33 lbs of weights on my belt. I decided to add an extra lb and make it 34. It was heavy. I don’t know why it seemed so heavy – but trying to maneuver that weight belt was an amazing burden. I could hardly lift it. I found the easiest way to carry it was to sling it over my shoulder.

The first dive was not actually a dive. We didn’t bring a tank of air or our respirators. We were to practice and test on skills at the surface of the water, so we only wore our weight belts and BC’s, masks etc. (A BC is a large vest which the air tank attaches to – it inflates with air to help keep you floating and allows you to maintain buoyancy at different depths.) We walked down to the water – until it was about waist deep and then we had to put on our fins. This was hard because my fingers felt like sausages in those gloves. My legs are not as flexible as they were when I was younger, due to some back problems, and now I had this gumby suit on, that made it harder to bend. I managed to get my fins on – and tighten them to a certain extent.

scuba-diverA good view of all the gear I had to wear.

So – we started doing the exercises – and it was okay – except I couldn’t do the pike dive. It was still hard for me to dive down. My mask kept filling up with water and required clearing a lot. It was cold – especially being bounced around on the surface. My BC leaked, so even though I’d inflated it a little, to keep me upright, the air I’d blown in as the waves were splashing in my face and choking me with water – quickly leaked back out, leaving me neck and sometimes nose deep in the water. Midway through the exercises, one of my fins fell off. It floated, so it was easily retrieved, but in the deeper water, I needed help getting it back on. Then my weight belt began to slip off. I tried to tell someone, but in all the splashing it was hard to gain attention. By the time someone finally saw the problem, my weight belt had slipped so that it was around my knees and only held in place by my awkwardly splayed position. One of the instructors put it back on and tightened it well, for me.

This was a troubling start, but the problems didn’t really seem out of the ordinary. Uncomfortable, but to be expected. I changed out the vest for one that did not leak and then we commenced to the second dive, which was actually a dive with an air tank. The cold of the water wasn’t that bad – except that for portions of the dive, we had to sit there while other people did things. Then, I got a bit cold. Early on in this dive, my weight belt began to slip again. I notified the instructor early when I felt it moving. He pushed it back into place a bit… but before we even started moving again, it was down around my knees. He removed it and we replaced it with him tightening it for me, very well.

Add to this, that my mask was now leaking severely. I would have to clear the water from it, and almost immediately it would start to fill again. It was exceptionally distracting and made it hard to focus on other things going on around me. The things I saw under the water, didn’t even seem that cool, because I could hardly look at them, for all the mask clearing I had to do.

By the third dive of the day – I’d given up on my mask and asked for a different one from the instructors. It’s hard for me to find a mask that fits, because none of them do. In other words, to fit a mask you’re supposed to put it on your face, inhale and push and then let go. The mask should stick to your face by the suction. None of them do this for me. Add to this that I am extremely myopic and require a -5 prescription – it’s really really really hard for me to find a mask that works for me. They had another and I tried it. It improved things minutely.  I only needed to clear it every couple of minutes, instead of it immediately filling with water.

The third dive found me still clearing my mask repeatedly. So much so, that I paid little attention to the creatures around me. I’d gotten very chilled in the afternoon waiting for my turn to go in, so the cold now seemed unbearable. I was disheartened by my previous two dives and I just wanted to quit and go in. I didn’t enjoy the dive and it was made worse, when I (for the second time) lost a fin. This time, we were under water and I had to stay with my buddy – who hadn’t noticed and was continuing on with the group. I was afraid to take the time to turn around and look for my lost fin and lose the people important to me… so I left it behind and let people know I’d lost it. It was not retrievable.

My instructor gestured for me to wait at the bottom with the rest of my group while she went to get me a new fin – plus, in the ensuing confusion, my buddy got lost and accidentally joined another group – and one of their group accidentally joined ours – all at once. My instructor came back with a new fin (swum out by one of our shore component) and my buddy. But by this point I’d been sitting so long I was extremely chilled and shivering and constantly clearing water from my mask. I was ready to cry and just wanted to go in. We continued to explore and I didn’t enjoy any of it. As soon as I could get the instructors attention, I notified her I was cold and she shortened the dive and we went in.

Although I did it, I did not feel positive at all, about the first day. I could not imagine why ANYONE would want to dive in cold water. As far as I was concerned it was horrible – nothing but misery and discomfort. Oh – I forgot to mention the part when I tried to dive with my tank for the first time on the second dive, my weights pulled me over and I could not get upright. I was forced into a fish belly position floating at the top of the water, unable to maneuver at all. They added 6 more pounds of weight to clip onto the front of my vest. On the surface skills, they’d checked my buoyancy and decided I needed an additional four added to the back of my BC – all this increased my weight carried to 44 pounds.

Getting out of my wet suit did not improve my disposition any. I needed help to get my arms out – and I tried to take the overalls off without getting my boots off first, because I didn’t think I could get them out from under the wet suit I’d maneuvered over the top of them. After trying unsuccessfully and managing to get my suit completely inside out and all the way off except it was stuck around my ankles, I sat by myself in the gross pool of water in the shower and worked the suit back on enough to get my boots off and finish removing the suit. I brilliantly hadn’t brought any sandals, and walked barefoot over the dirty road, up to the “drying room” for the wet suits, where there was no room left anywhere for mine, aside from in the nasty pool of water on the floor I was slogging through in my bare feet. I decided instead, to double up and put all my stuff on top of someone elses on a plastic chair. Thus ended my first day of scuba certification. Did I really want another?

I debated this all evening. I thought about how utterly miserable I’d been. How hard it had been… how much easier this would be to do, in a tropical place. I wouldn’t need a wet suit, or so much weight. Not only was I less maneuverable with that wet suit, but the combined added weight, plus the BC, plus the weight of the wet suit, plus the weight of the tank meant I was carrying over a 100 pounds in weight. I have a bad back, was this really a good idea? I was not having fun. Wasn’t this supposed to be cool and fun? Why was I even doing this, if I wasn’t enjoying it? What was the point of it all? I questioned it all deeply… and there were several reasons that kept me going through the second day.

I’d paid a lot of money for that certification dive. I didn’t have the money now, to spend getting certified in St. Croix. I’d be more of a badass, because I got my certification in some place challenging like the Pacific Northwest, instead of someplace easy – like St. Croix. I’d already done half of it (and admittedly by the instructors, the first day was the worst half) and I knew I COULD do the rest of it (I just really didn’t WANT to.) Finally – the real turning point and what pushed me into actually doing it, I’d carpooled up there. Which meant if I quit, I’d have to sit around like a loser, by myself. I couldn’t just give up and drive back to my comfy home.

When morning came, I sucked it up and brought my moldery smelling wet suit down to the shower and put it on. Amazingly – it was actually easier the second day. Not to say that it was easy – because it wasn’t. It still required frequent rest breaks between the efforts of squeezing myself into it. But I did it and I knew which order to do what and my lack of mobility afterwards, wasn’t such a shock.

I also knew that there was another prescription dive mask – so I found out who was using it and convinced him to trade me. (It didn’t leak on him, the way it had on me – so don’t feel bad.) I thought maybe this one might work better, it was one I’d tried in the pool and it’d worked pretty well. I was used to all the weight. I knew to get help tightening my belt and my fins. I knew the water would be cold, but that it wasn’t so bad if you don’t go in chilled to your core and you aren’t left sitting for an extended period.

I went in for my first dive and it almost makes me cry to think on it. It was amazing. My mask didn’t leak, at all. Everything went the way it was supposed to. Because I wasn’t constantly trying to clear my mask, I was able to pay attention to my buoyancy. I adjusted the air – so that I wasn’t dragging on the bottom at depth. I was able to SEE things – the fish with their beautiful colors, the clams with their valves sticking up, the worms with the fronds sticking out – the sea slugs, the star fish – everything was AMAZING – and it was so awesome. I even found the only octopus of the trip. It was admittedly – a small one, but *I* found it. It was hiding beneath some algae – and it was incredible… I had it crawling on my hand and watched it ink as it tried to escape. At the end of this dive, I felt reborn and as though all I’d endured was worth the trouble and pain. I felt competent.

olympic peninsulaI saw these and a lot more too!

I will say that the final dive didn’t go quite as well, because the mask started leaking again, I really don’t know why as nothing was trapped in a way that would have changed it. I guess I just didn’t have it seated right. This distraction made it hard for me to enjoy things as well and diminished my pleasure in the final dive. I had a little trouble getting down to depth – too buoyant again, briefly lost my buddy – but we found each other. It was an okay dive… but the highlight for me, and the best part of the trip was that 4th dive on the second day.  One nice thing – getting the wet suit off the second time, was a lot easier since I knew what to do, and what order to do it in.

After my final dive, I had the pleasure of knowing that as hard as it had all been, *I* had done it… I am now a certified open water scuba diver. And I’m bad ass, because I did it in the Pacific Northwest, with a wet suit in icy cold water. I really feel a strong sense of pride and accomplishment, because it was not easy. I really feel like the extra weight I carry, made this harder than it was for the average person there. It was hard, uncomfortable and often not fun at all – but I persevered, and I did it. I’m proud of me.

I am a scuba diver.