Instinct is a funny, crazy thing. I had a friend who was about ready to strangle me for a minute on a hike in the Cascades many years ago when we crested a small ridge and I came to a slow but certain halt.
“Wait,” I said.
“What?” he asked, looking around.
“I saw something.”
“I don’t know yet.”
He blinked and started to say something, but I held up a finger.
It took me a good 15 or 20 seconds to suss it out, carefully examining everything in front of us. As it happened, what I saw was a bear about 50 yards ahead, upwind, in light scrub cover. Some reptilian part of my brain that wasn’t fully connected to my consciousness managed to send up a flare to get my constantly wandering attention and saved us the trouble of careening headlong into her. Of course, I’m pretty sure she would’ve skedaddled long before we actually got too close, but with bears it’s a good idea to be cautious.
Similarly, we all know when something isn’t quite right with our bikes – even if we can’t articulate what that might be. Something feels “off.” Pay heed, friends: Your gut is trying to tell you something, and with two tiny rubber contact patches keeping you upright at speed, it warrants listening to that niggling feeling. Such an occasion arose today on our Saturday group ride.
It’s December 2nd, my first December in San Diego, and I am absolutely basking in the glory of not having to winterize my bikes. For those of you baffled by what that might mean, “winterizing” is the act of draining the fuel (or stabilizing it,) hooking the bike up to a battery tender, and (ideally) getting the tires up off the ground. There, the bike will remain inert for the next four to six months while the weather plays cruel tricks on those unfortunate enough to reside in chillier climes.
I know, right? Madness.
During those dark, somber months, Northern riders are afflicted with PMS – Parked Motorcycle Syndrome. We.. rather, they… watch YouTube videos, “Long Way Round,” and whine. A lot.
But I digress. Here in glorious San Diego, the sun continues to bathe us in warmth and delight, and temperatures make even the southern routes not only bearable but sublime. Today was just such a day.
Most of the group took off after The Chairs to help a club member move, but those of us unhelpful slackers who carried on blasted down Wynola and Sunrise Highway, then stopped for lunch at an ice cream shack nearby. There, we ran into new club member “My Bike Blew Over at Borrego” Eric and had a nice, relaxed meal. I promise I did not kick his bike over, you jerks.
Post-lunch, Scott D. led us through some of the most gorgeous sweepers and hills I’ve thus far seen (every new road is a favorite for me) at what I assume was, for him, an incredibly relaxed pace, because the only way I could have a chance in hell of keeping up with Scott is if I shackled him to a Road King.
Towing a trailer.
With one eye covered.
At any rate, I did not even look at my speedo, and just focused on keeping lines and so forth. On Lyon Valley Road, not too far past the little shop where we often stop for breaks, there’s a pretty sharp left-hand corner. As I slowed a bit, thinking about the upcoming lean/roll-on, my reptilian self said, “oh, shit.” Taken aback and totally uncertain what had caught my eye, I rolled off and gently applied some brakes. My back tire immediately began fishtailing, and, while my memory might be playing tricks on me, it seemed like the front got a little squirrely, too. [expletive]
Welp, time’s up – It was either turn or go through the guard rail, so I gingerly eased the bike through the turn, everything feeling loose and horrible the whole time. While it was assuredly only about a half-second for which I was at risk of launching myself over the cliff, I must have said “don’t look at it don’t look at it don’t look at it look where you want to go look where you want to go” a thousand times in three nanoseconds, which stretched into an eternity.
For those however many split-seconds, the bike was fishtailing like a son of a bitch, something she Does Not Do, Ever. The FZ1 is a solid bike, and she loves fast curves. The Pilot Road 4’s have served me incredibly well, and continue to do so: Something was definitely Not Right. Experimenting with gentle braking while my cohorts vanished in the distance, I realized there was something most definitely amiss – hell if I knew what.
There was a small amount of loose gravel in the center of the lane, but the two sides seemed free of any debris. The behavior exhibited itself regardless of the gravel. Slowing, way, way down for the right-hander ahead, I damn near bit the dust again as the rear end tried to wash out beneath me. “WHAT THE EFF,” I yelled into my helmet, heart in my throat, resisting the overpowering urge to stiffen up and clench the grips. The next left-hander was worse. I envisioned myself hurtling over the edge to my demise, and thought for a moment that would actually be a pretty cool way to go – provided I was guaranteed a swift death at the bottom, and not some tormented, vegetative state: I’m not afraid of death, but mercy, save me from Lingering.
I had to stop to see if I’d gotten a flat or worse. A pullout presented itself, and, fortunately, it was “just” a nasty streak of something wildly slippery coating both tires – maybe oil, maybe diesel, maybe ATF, who knows, but the end result was the same: Bad Shit was present. I hoped my colleagues wouldn’t be so worried as to turn around and come back for me, even though it had only been a few minutes – I’m a fairly new member to the club, and hadn’t ridden with this particular set of dudes terribly often.
Wiping off what I could with the cuff of my glove, I got back on and rode, very sedately, for a time, trying to wear off whatever crud was trying to ruin my day. After a couple of miles, I began leaning slightly more and more with every turn, until finally everything seemed more or less back together. Not perfect, not the rock-solid normal, but “ok.”
Then, I rode like hell to catch up, still taking it pretty easy in the curves. Thankfully, that amazing four-cylinder puts out enough power to make up time in the straights, and the group had likely slowed a bit; maybe five or seven miles down the road, there they were.
Some of you might know that awful feeling following such an event – every tiny dip or bump or change in surface texture makes me wonder if something else is going wrong with the bike. It turns into this cascading vortex of doubt that steals my focus and pretty much kills the joy of the ride. Fortunately, we were winding up and it was mostly in-town roads and freeway for the rest of the way home.
Once safely parked in the underground structure (man, do I miss having a proper garage!) I checked everything over and found the substance had worn almost entirely away – a few dark spots on the far edges of the rubber were the only evidence (ok, those, and my elevated blood pressure.)
We’re creatures with 4280 million years of evolution behind us – instincts and reflexes we aren’t even aware of are all there, serving their functions. Our eyes blink before we feel the mote of dust brush past our eyelashes; our brains and bodies are processing a metric honkload of information every single moment, and we only fully experience a fraction of it all. The rest usually slips past unnoticed and unannounced, but I tell you what – when that primal portion tries to tell us something, boy howdy, we need to pay attention.
While nine times out of ten it might be a false alarm (Google “cats afraid of cucumbers video” for examples – https://youtu.be/pXv44YL_Gio?t=14s ) that other time might be something truly dire. Whether my subconscious recognized an almost-invisible oil patch or some other tiny detail my consciousness had overlooked, that added moment of caution before I would have actually hit the turn at speed probably saved me. Phew. I’ll have to save my need for plummeting headlong toward the ground for my next skydive.
Whether it was the heightened emotion from all of that or whether it was something else, about 15 minutes later I found myself breaking one of my cardinal rules: Never give a cage driver the finger. EVER. There are two reasons for this:
I try to be a good motorcycle ambassador as much as I can be. Flipping people off serves no purpose and just makes me look like an asshole. Better to let the other asshole do whatever assholey thing he was doing and ignore him.
I never know who the first person to arrive at the scene of my accident is going to be. Do I want it to be someone I just flipped off? Nope.
Regardless, a green Kia driver wouldn’t let us pass him, so we passed one by one on a reasonably safe stretch of double-yellow. As Dave rode by, the driver stuck his hand out the window and invited him to go eff himself, then held that invitation aloft for me. As I passed, before I even realized what I was doing, my own left hand lifted up and offered the same salute in kind. BAD RIDER!! BAD!!!
I should have just left him and his flipped bird hanging impotently in the breeze, but no – my dander and my hackles were already up. Shit. Note to self: Stop it.
Tomorrow is the BMW Owners of San Diego holiday party, so no morning ride for me. This is probably just as well; I need to put myself in the penalty box for a minute for that lapse of poise. While I am not much of a Holiday Person, I do sometimes enjoy getting gussied up and hanging out with my friends; I’m very much looking forward to it!
Some days we never want to end, others cannot expire soon enough. This past weekend held a little of both, though the good certainly outweighed the bad and the ugly.
As one might surmise from the title, this is going to be a long one, folks, and we’re going to cover a lot of ground (badly, and without much in the way of Organization, might I add.)
Let’s start with the bees, because they’re important, they’re dying all around us, and three of them had important cameos this week. Wait, lies – Let’s start with this weekend’s plans, because they factor into everything.
On Tuesday, I decided to tag along on a group motorcycle camping trip to the Salton Sea from Friday through Sunday. I’d not done motorcycle camping since 1996, and what better way to get back into the swing of things than with a gaggle of other like-minded folks?
Ok, now the bees.
That morning, I had found a very sickly looking bee on my patio furniture. I see dozens of dead bees around my apartment complex, which is always a sad thing. I have to assume there is some kind of pesticide they’re using which is killing them off in tragic droves, one by one, dozen by dozen. I find them lying on the sidewalk every day. I don’t know what sort of bees they are, or whether they are solitary, but I do know we need every last one of them that’s left on this Earth.
“To understand many things you must reach out of your own condition.” ~Mary Oliver
Thus, when I saw the wee girl on my chaise lounge, I didn’t have much hope of her being alive. I gently blew across her wings, and she reared up into a groggy but distinctly defensive position: Middle legs and stinger raised, wings outstretched, facing this new unknown threat. Immediately after assuming this posture, she lost balance and tumbled onto her side. Oh, dear. Poison? Cold? I have no idea how to distinguish a poisoned bee from one that is simply too cold. I watched her for a few seconds as her legs clumsily churned in slow motion, trying to get her upright.
I can’t stand to see animals suffer; it causes me anguish in a deep, sensitive, delicate area. My first instinct was that she was dying, and that I should end her suffering. That’s such a final solution, though – I wanted to give her the chance to survive. Hoping she was cold and that I could warm her up, I placed my index finger alongside her body so the heat would radiate out to her. She immediately perked up and began scrabbling toward me – not in an aggressive manner, but in a keenly interested one: Her antennae and front legs reached forward ambitiously, her abdomen and stinger remained relaxed.
As quickly as she could, she climbed up onto my finger, legs frequently missing their steps and wobbling with every one, but she got there and then she sat quite still – only her antennae moved, daintily touching my skin, perhaps trying to figure out what I was, whether I was food, or just a heat source.
“This is quite an exercise in trust for us both, isn’t it?” I murmured.
I waited. After perhaps two minutes, her movements became more regular and coordinated, and after a minute more, she adroitly took to the sky where I hope she will live out a normal, healthy bee life. Thursday, the spectacle repeated itself as I found a similarly beleagured bee clinging to the wall near my elevator. She took much longer to come around, but eventually she, too, flew off into the sun. I videod that one, which is probably only of interest to me (and maybe Steven and Leslie:)
I hope this is amongst the right things to do, and isn’t causing them harm or more stress that will lead to terrible things. Thinking back to both of these times makes me feel happy: Altruism serves the self, too.
Flash-forward to Saturday night around a campfire burning in a large metal pit. A pale, half-inch-long spider ran in circles for over an hour along the rim of the pit, sometimes stopping to inquisitively check out its surroundings, but mostly just running around the rim fairly quickly. For awhile, no one else seemed to notice it, then Chuck pointed it out. We wondered why the circles – if it was too hot, why didn’t it simply hop off the edge into the cool darkness? Around and around and around, sometimes at what seemed like its top speed. Others began to notice it and watched.
I was worried someone was going to knock it into the flames – people are so often mindlessly cruel to tiny beings, particularly when we find them distasteful – but as far as I know, nobody did. I watched them watching it, trying to figure out what everyone, arachnid and human, was thinking. Naturally, I’ll never know. At some point, I looked for it, and it was gone – I hope off into the night to hunt some bugs, and not into the flames to briefly wither and then die. I was heartened, though, that at least for a half hour or 45 minutes, the humans elected to let it live. This brings us to:
Part Two: Compassion
We are strong when we show the smallest of beings compassion. Humans, lacking any real predators (though I do hold out hope for the bacteria and viruses to rein us in, perhaps soon,) might think we have little to lose or to gain by stepping on a spider or by putting it outside, unharmed. I posit we have everything to gain through compassion. The simple act of choosing kindness over cruelty or even over neglect actually changes our brain chemistry and our bodies. For the better. You can read a summary of one such study right here: Compassion Meditation. Scientific article here: Compassion Training Alters Altruism and Neural Responses to Suffering
Beyond quantifiable results, though, lie the more immediate, personal, less tangible ones: We feel good when we do good. Some might feel a sort of smug satisfaction when squishing an insect, but is it really a good feeling? Perhaps for some. If you’re someone who likes the idea of Power and Control, what greater satisfaction is there than to have the ability to decide whether something lives or dies? In the grand scheme of things, one spider, one bee, is meaningless to most of us – but it’s pretty fucking important to the spider and to the bee.
Let’s flip this around for those amongst us who aren’t of a mindset to live and let live. Let’s think for a moment about wild dolphins – these are powerful, intelligent animals, capable of quickly, easily, and efficiently killing humans in the water. Seldom does anything ever go wrong when people dive with them, though. Sure, there is the odd, misguided attempt at coupling, or a “rogue” habituated dolphin getting cranky, but most dolphin “attacks” get no worse than this – spoilers, no actual attack occurs, just enjoy:
They could kill us, but they choose not to. There’s a lot of power in that. Wild-animal-related human fatalities typically happen under circumstances that are usually the fault of either that particular person (getting selfies with wildlife, trying to pet or feed wildlife, provoking wildlife, et cetera,) or of People in General (areas where wildlife is often fed, encroaching onto territories, et cetera.)
Predators other than humans don’t tend to attack without cause – the stakes are too high, even for the apex predators (wolves, sharks, bears, et al.) They forever live in a PVP, very permadeath world (non-gamers, click the links to learn the lingo.)
All of us have the physical ability to intentionally harm or kill lesser beings should we so choose. There have been (thankfully rare) times in my past when I was needlessly cruel that to this day cause me the greatest shame I have ever felt. I don’t know why I did the things I did, and I wish more than anything I could go back and not do them. Instead, I have to live with those memories as a reminder of what I was capable of when my worst self took over and beg the forgiveness of a vast universe.
That Ian Malcolm quote, though: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” We all know how that ended up, don’t we: Velociraptors. Right? Right. The next time you see a spider or an ant that is not especially in your way, choose to let it live and see how that sits with you. I hope it takes, not only to benefit those critters who might otherwise be harmed, but also to benefit you, yourself – walk into the warm light, man; it’s really nice here. For all of us. I promise you won’t be any less of a badass by being kind – in fact, your level of badassitude will increase immensely because you could choose pain or death, and you instead chose kindness and life. That? That is the ultimate in strength.
I have digressed, per usual. My point: Be compassionate, because you can afford to be. It costs nothing to extend kindness, and I suspect that even the most calloused, blackened heart can be warmed through its practice.
Let’s get off this particular soapbox and move on: Part Three: Motorcycles (coming soon…)
The ends of our lives is often not an easy subject for us to discuss. It is, in many ways, taboo to give off even a whiff of being at peace with no longer being alive. We are supposed to cling to life – anything less is unforgivable.
Friends, I am here today to tell you that I am not afraid of dying. If I were to die Right Now, even if I were aware of what was coming, I would be at peace. I have no attachment to this life, no fear of things not done. I would feel pain for those people who care about me who would be saddened by my passing, but nothing more – even with this amazing new life unfolding before me, it would be ok.
Whether it was being killed in a motorcycle crash or an airline disaster or a heart attack or a shooting – In those final seconds (should I be conscious for them) I will be mentally ok. Curious, maybe nervous, but not afraid.
Why am I saying this? Because, when our friends and loved ones are ripped from us, it is traumatic and horrible for those of us left behind. Even if we know the person is “no longer suffering,” it is difficult not having them here anymore. We miss them. We love them. We try to figure out how to go on without them. We think of something we want to tell them, and can’t. It can be horrible to be left behind.
If we were not present for their passing, and we so often are not, we wonder if they suffered, if they were afraid, if they wished for something, if they had any last words, what their thoughts were. The not knowing is devastating.
I am telling you now: I will have no fear, no personal regrets of magnitude if I cannot carry on.
What I am afraid of, however, is lingering. I am not someone who wishes to be kept alive if my quality of life will be very small. Brain damage? Let me go, man. Paralyzed for life? Same – let me go into that good night.
If there is a solid chance I will come out of a coma, sure, give me a shot – otherwise, if the outlook is grim? Please find a way to make peace with it and let me go.
I understand most people want to stay alive, many at all costs – they have things they want to do, they have responsibilities or children or bucket lists. Are there things I want to do before I die? Sure! But should I die before doing those things, it won’t matter – I will no longer be here to want them.
Rather, I will have moved onto the great mystery – I’ll either know what comes next, or I will cease to exist, and I am very excited about the former, while being completely ok with the latter.
I was until this second certain I had written the following paragraph here or on Facebook, but apparently not. At the risk of repeating myself, I’ll share something that formed and shaped my view on death at a young age:
I first heard that song in 1984 at age 14, and I was so moved by it, so struck by the idea that we don’t have to only be sad or afraid of death, but keenly curious and interested, that it never left me.
Like so many of us, I’m very curious as to what comes after. I am not so much afraid (other than a very small, niggling, irrational concern that Hell might actually be a thing, and I might actually be sent there for not believing in the Christian God) as anticipating. While there are times when death sounds quite peaceful and relaxing, I’m not actively seeking its release. However, I’ve had a few dreams over the years which have been exceptionally vivid and felt 100% real at the time.
There were some that involved being stabbed and bleeding out or falling from an enormous height, but the one that left the deepest impression was this: Walking in a freezing winterscape, I fell into a swiftly-moving river that had ice on the banks and would soon kill me if not by drowning then by hypothermia.
As I was swept along in the current, watching the scenery go by, I had a crystal clear thought: “This is the last thing I am ever going to experience. I really need to pay attention to what’s going on right now, every thought, every feeling, every sight and sound.” It wasn’t a scary thought – just a powerful one. I realized I was about to die and I was ok with it. It was emotional in a sense, but nothing bad, nothing negative.
Many times in dreams, I know I’m dreaming – I’ve had other, lesser dreams that involved something that was going to kill me (falling, usually) but I knew it wasn’t real and therefore didn’t have the same thoughts.
It was intense and peaceful at the same time.
Mostly, I just hope people won’t worry about what went undone in my life: I’ve been so fortunate to have experienced a great many things, I’ve met exceptional people throughout my life, and I have squandered a ton of time. I could have done so much more, but I chose not to. It’s all ok. Promise.
It wasn’t until Wonder Woman came out that I fully understood how deeply I had been missing legitimate female badass characters on that scale and of that quality. We’ve all been aware of the very few roles that have heretofore fallen into that category because most of the scripts with those types of women also had men that did one of a few things:
1.) Bailed them out when they got in over their heads;
2.) Resented their power and were assholes about it;
3.) Betrayed them and caused them to question everything, ultimately finding the real meaning of love with another man;
4.) Et cetera.
In terms of the writing for the women characters themselves, the badass women were often bitches, hardasses, man-haters, childless, incapable of love, commitment, or relationships, or were just utterly cliche. There were precious, precious few otherwise “normal,” functioning human beings.
Years and years ago, I wrote a blog post about my favorite female characters in media. It begins by saying, “I may not be remembering correctly, but when I was growing up, I don’t recall many totally independent, strong female role models in television.” I want to reach back in time to my thirty-year-old self and pinch her cheeks. “Oh sweetheart,” I would say, “you’re remembering just fine.”
What brings this to mind is watching “Continuum” on Netflix. I’m only a few episodes in, but right from the first minutes of the show, I was struck by the complete normalcy of the lead character’s life outside of her badassedness. She is happily married with a child. Her husband just grins when she beats up a punk on the train and doesn’t try to stop her or back her up in any way – he knows she’s got this and he loves her for it. He just grins and lets her do her thing.
There are other shows now which have similarities: “Game of Thrones,” “Once Upon A Time,” and so forth, and they make me super, super happy. Farther back, “Buffy” did a pretty good job, too. Xena? Ehhh, not so much, really. “Firefly,” definitely.
This gives not only women something to reinforce what being a strong woman can mean, but it also helps men who might not understand that accepting and embracing a woman’s skill and strength is possible – it doesn’t have to be threatening. Some men of course just know this, but as a society, we do not – men and women alike, generally, don’t understand what’s possible because we have been told these stories since birth.
The media has done its damage to both genders, and part of what it’s done to men is to train them to be misogynistic in many ways, both large and small. Much like how racism is so ingrained in this culture, some of us with the best intentions and mindsets might have these things we feel or think and believe to be true that are only figments of what we’ve been told about race. It’s work to overcome, and such important work at that.
I think it probably takes a lot of mindfulness to be a good man in this world when it comes to women. Everything screams at them to behave in these certain masculine ways to their detriment and to women’s. They’re taught to believe that what I guess I think of as the “frat boy mentality” is the way things should be. Women are taught to believe this, too (myself definitely included,) and that steals away from us. Speaking from a heteronormative perspective here, we’re taught an entirely skewed meaning of sex: It’s the male’s job to convince us to “let them” have sex with us, and it’s our job to deny that unless it’s some kind of reward. We’re taught that denying sex to our partners for any reason will lead to smoldering resentment that will force him into the arms of another woman. “Isn’t it easier to just give in than to worry?”
Louis CK, for all his flaws, is one of my favorite comedians; I think he’s one of the most genuinely funny people alive today. I love watching his shows. In my most favorite of his shows, “Live at the Beacon Theater,” he does a bit on Pussy. You can see it in full here, with an introduction about how hormones make men stupid. The Pussy Bit begins at about 1:45 in. That’s the mentality. About four minutes in, he offers some redeeming thoughts about women having just as much sex drive.
This Saturday morning, I attended the breakfast before our BMW club’s group ride. Typically, breakfast is from 8am until about 9am, and then we ride. Today, things were not wrapping up on time. I found myself wanting to say, “You guys are worse than a bunch of women, let’s GOOOOOOOO,” and realized “… wow. That old saying actually has some important shit behind it that I never really thought about.”
In years past, I thought could utter that phrase “without harm” because I’m a woman – typically the only one present – and it should be funny and perhaps shame the men a bit into action. It must be obvious I don’t really believe all women have this problem, I know better, right?
Wow. There’s so much wrong with that, and I never saw the full scope of it until that day.
First, there’s the obvious dig at women in general because we (I first wrote, “they”) can’t contain their talking to get anything done. Next, there’s a woman saying it, reinforcing that notion. Last big one, it’s implying that men should feel ashamed to be compared to women. How the fucking hell was I so obtuse as to miss these points? Crossed that off my list of go-to phrases.
At the midpoint of the ride, there were four of us left in the group. Two of the men took off their helmets and immediately began combing their hair. Before I could think, “Look at you two, doing up your hair. Worse than women!” spewed out of my mouth and flopped onto the pavement like a dead animal. Everyone had a chuckle, but inside I was filled with shame.
Oh my fucking hells.
I know I’ve said these things countless times in the past; it’s an old habit. Old, stupid, wrongheaded habit (as habits often are.) I had made some similar comment in a group forum probably 20 years ago and another female member said, “wow, internalized misogyny much?” I scoffed, offended. This bitch doesn’t know me, she has no idea. I am, quite clearly, certainly far too self-aware to even entertain the idea of buying into that sort of misogyny. I’m being ironic, I convinced myself. This was before the term “ironic” was obliterated by millennials, mind you, and actually meant “ironic.”
Clearly, this must stop. I can soooooo easily see nuances of racism, but sexism is apparently an enormous blind spot for me – because a large part of me bought into it part and parcel. Some incorrect beliefs about myself, sure, but a huge number of absolutely 100% wrong notions about the entire swath of the female sex.
At my going-away party back in August, I was showing people how to play AudioShield in VR and likened it being like Wonder Woman fending off blows. I asked one of my favorite male friends, “do you want to feel like Wonder Woman,” in a mostly-joking kind of way, with overtones of sarcasm. Without missing a beat, he said, “Hell yes, I do!” and jumped in. Because Nathan is awesome and he knows it would be super fucking cool to be Wonder Woman. [EDIT: After reading this, my longtime friend Alex sent me the following fantastic link: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/halloween-gender-non-conforming-kids_us_59f7712ce4b09b5c25682078?ncid=inblnkushpmg00000009 ]
There are so damned many blind spots, so many nooks and crannies that have been saturated with bullshit for so long, they don’t even recognize it anymore. In March of 2016, I underwent The Great Girly Transformation of eDar: I spontaneously fell in love with clothes and shoes and make-up for no reason I could think of.
This sent me into a tailspinner of an identity crisis, man – a whole bunch of Who I Was had heretofore been tied up in jeans, t-shirts, and engineer boots. Motorcycles. Guns. Cars. Planes. You know – Guy Shit. <sigh>
Part of me wonders if it’s because I’m a large person, and I perhaps subconsciously gave up on ever being the “perfect” vision of femininity, so I violently and completely rejected all the trappings of it. Maybe I saw the roles and stereotypes and couldn’t figure out how to reconcile those with who I was and wanted to be, and wasn’t bright enough to realize I could blaze my own feminine path. I dunno.
Recently, the universe has, through various means, dictated I now have two pink riding jackets. I’ve come to accept them, despite being wildly uncomfortable at first. I have violently hated pink for most of my life because it is girly. Far too girly for a non-girly girl such as myself, right? I wanted nothing to do with it. (“Internalized misogyny much?”)
Indeed, I’ve started actually embracing these pink jackets, and even bought matching pink gloves the other day because fuck yeah I can wear pink and still be a badass. I don’t have to try to disguise myself as Not A Girl – that’s silliness and insanity.
Yesterday, riding home from the club’s Sunday morning excursion, I stopped at a light near my home. I looked to my left and saw a little girl’s face pressed up against the car window, eyes wide, mouth literally agape. She was quite young – maybe six or seven, and she rolled down the window, but didn’t say anything; she just stared, eyebrows up as high as they would go. I grinned and waved at her. She giggled and waved back before hiding under the window. Her very young dad grinned, too.
This happens from time to time – young kids noticing a girl on a motorcycle and just going bonkers with surprise (usually followed by delight.) If I can inspire a few kidlets to shed stereotypes and be awesome? I’m very, very happy with that idea.
When I first starting creating website content for myself circa 1994 (before “blogging” was a word,) my main objective, my mission, was to connect with people and to put myself out there – warts and all – in the hopes of helping other people feel “ok.” Life is not television-show neat. Life is messy and complicated and human beings even more so. Some of my friends at the time objected, thought I was going too far, “showing my ass in public,” as it were, and they were in some cases absolutely right: There is such a thing as TMI sometimes. By and large, though? No regrets. I’ve met some of my closest friends from writing things on the internet.
With the advent of Mommy Blogs, that 1950’s Perfect Housewife mentality began making a resurgence, but a funny thing happened ten or so years after Mommy Blogging became a super lucrative venture: The mommy bloggers who wrote about imperfection, rather than having everything together, started to take off even more than those who portrayed their lives as neat and tidy. People who put their struggles and failures up got more traffic, and more loyal return traffic, than many of their “perfect” competitors. I have no hard data to back this up, mind you – I have over 10 years in the web hosting industry, and my source is purely anecdotal experience.
So, fellow humans, don’t hide, don’t buy into the shame, don’t isolate yourselves out of fear or anxiety. Connect and support and love and indulge and communicate with each other, warts and all. Steal the stigma away from those powerful talismans (mental illness, “embarrassing” health issues, feeling scared or small or like an imposter,) and talk to someone about them. If you don’t have someone in your life you feel won’t judge you, seek the anonymity of the internet (mind the trolls, obviously, but there really are Actual Safe Spaces for just about everything and everyone out there – moderated, supportive places.)
Having, as usually, strayed quite far from my original point, I’ll leave you with this: If anyone would be inclined to talk to me about anything at all, my ears and my heart are always open. I have made so very many bad decisions in my life, I’ve done so many things I regret and am ashamed of, I don’t judge. I can’t – I know what it’s like to be imperfect – it’s my every waking moment. If I seem like I have stuff together, that is an illusion: The Swan Defense – Serene on the surface, paddling like fucking crazy below. You can talk to me if you want. Anytime. <3
In about an hour, I’ll be heading up to La Jolla Cove for a leopard shark snorkeling tour which was rescheduled from Saturday due to poor visibility. These sharks are entirely harmless unless provoked, so I’m not even a little bit nervous about them. What I am nervous about, as one might surmise from two posts ago, are Other Sharks, most notably Great Whites.
Thankfully (and very deliberately,) I will be in a group – I don’t know how many will be in it, but I won’t be alone – which reassures me. Safety in numbers, and so on.
In addition to The Shark Issue, I also want to make sure I have basic snorkeling instruction before I go leaping into unknown waters alone: Reading things on the internet can only get one so far. I’m very keen on more snorkeling but have so much to learn. While La Jolla is the hotspot around here for this activity, it is also home to caves and currents and swell and surge and sometimes enormous surf.
There are many huge rocks on the shore into which the surf could gleefully pound a soft mammalian body. This guy below was diving off the rocks into the surf and didn’t get pummeled, but he sure did make me nervous. Look at the action of the water around him:
I’d like to learn where is safer and where to absolutely avoid (other than the caves – nofuckingway am I going into a damn cave in the ocean. Nope! That’s reeeeeeally way up on my List of Things Which Terrify Me. I watched some videos yesterday of people snorkeling, kayaking, and just swimming in the caves up there, and it made me insanely uneasy – who knows what could be in there? What if a crazy tide/swell/surge comes up? What if I brush up against some horribly poisonous/sharp/spiky cave creature thing? <shudder> All the Nope. For now, at least, and probably for considerable time in the future.
And we’re back! Shark-wise, the tour was a little light (we saw only 5 or 6, and briefly,) but I learned a lot about La Jolla and about snorkeling in general. Benji, our tour guide, met me at Kellogg Park which is right next to the beach. He explained the other two members of the group were running a bit late, so we stood around and talked for awhile. I had brought all of my own gear, so he said, “You’ve obviously got a lot of experience, right?” Ha! I told him it was my first time other than 20 minutes in Mission Bay. and that I’d love all the advice he can give me.
He’s been diving here for about 13 years, and in all that time he has apparently never seen any dangerous sharks at all. Phew. He used to have a huge fear of Great Whites, too, but that has faded over time.
Our companions arrived about 20 minutes late, and Benji said he would extend our time in the water to compensate – very nice guy. They were a very sweet, absolutely beautiful Muslim couple, and the woman had not thought about how to keep her headscarf on in the water. We eventually got things sorted, though, and off into the water we went.
I couldn’t get my wetsuit zipped up for some reason, so I asked Benji to help just as a wave knocked me off-balance in my flippers and down I went. “Pride goeth before a fall, eh?” he chuckled.
As we were wading in, a medium-sized leopard shark cruised slowly by. Strangely, it’s much easier to see them from above the water than below – they appear to be really dark from above the waterline, and not nearly as dark below.
The other woman was having a terrible time with her fins, so Benji and I spent a lot of time on our own while we waited for the other two to catch up or do their own things. Benji was great at spotting wildlife, and asked “Did you see that huge sea bass?” “Did you see that big spiny lobster?” “Did you see that $THING?” and my answer was almost uniformly “…no…”
Turns out the mask I bought isn’t great – it fogs up very quickly and just doesn’t seem to have great optics. Benji switched with me, and from there on out it was a much better, clearer experience.
Visibility didn’t seem fantastic to me, but he said it was actually really good for the area. I think it was disappointing because when I think of snorkeling, I think of the videos I’ve seen of crystal-clear tropical waters, rather than this silty stuff.
As I practiced diving down, I realized my chubby body coupled with a neoprene suit is actually an excellent floatation device – I can’t stay down at all without continuously kicking, and those big leg muscles, of course, burn a lot of oxygen. When I get into better shape, that will be less of a problem for several reasons, but for now, I’ll probably pick up some weights to help keep me down. And a better damn mask. >.<
Right now, sitting still, I can hold my breath for just over a minute before I start getting uncomfortable – that’s not a very long time, and when I’m moving I’m sure it will be cut about in half. I’ve been watching some freediving YouTube videos and am starting to do some breath hold exercises.
My main goal with this tour was learning basic snorkel/ocean safety tidbits – the wildlife was just a nice extra bonus. I did manage to see Garibaldi fish, some kind of small, sandy-colored ray (probably a Round Ray, maybe a Thornback,) sea bass, opal eyes, and other things I didn’t recognize. Benji said there were a bunch of vermillion fish right by me he couldn’t believe I missed. I also didn’t see a small seal that was apparently cruising nearby. Cursed. I will be going back and I will see these things!
There were enough people on the water to make me feel fairly safe from predators, and the passing thought of dangerous sharks only popped into my head a couple of times. Had I been alone, I’m certain it would have been more paralyzing.
This was the only shark I managed to capture on video. She was almost as long as I was, and was a bit skittish. Still, it was a neat experience, and I’ll definitely go back soon to try my luck again.
[I started writing this post quite some time ago and never finished.]
It has been one week and three days since I first arrived in San Diego.
Those of you following along on Facebook know the journey has not been without its trials, but on the whole… I am so happy.
To catch the non-FB’ers up:
I had a very nice going-away party the Saturday prior to departure, and greatly enjoyed the company of my friends who were able to come. I was especially touched by people I hadn’t seen in some time who went out of their way. There was a lot of booze:
What people didn’t drink was given away. I took only one photo, and wish I’d taken more, but enjoying the moment was more important:
The movers arrived three days early, with three days’ advance notice of that fact. I figured what the heck – the earlier they picked up my stuff, the better the chances they’d get there sooner rather than later. Right? Ha. Read on.
Within ten minutes of their arrival the guy in charge of loading the truck hit me up for some weed. That raised an eyebrow, but ok. I had contracted through Colonial Van Lines, but they sub-contracted me out to Allied. Ok, fine. They loaded me up, and gave me a revised estimate of twice the weight I’d thought. I was unconvinced – yes, there were things I hadn’t weighed, but twice the amount? Seems unlikely.
They had taken the weight right before the pickup, and were supposed to drive immediately to the nearest scale to get a fresh weight, thereby giving the total weight of my belongings. This did not happen. More on that later.
I left my tiny house empty:
The day before I left, I got in touch with the still-absent motorcycle hauler to see why he hadn’t picked up the bike yet. He was going to be delayed, and hadn’t thought to let me know. I let him know I was unhappy in fairly diplomatic terms, and he outright canceled on me. FUCK. I found another hauler that night, but now my step-mom has to deal with them when they arrive for the loading up.
The drive out was quite lovely. It was great to spend time with my dad – I hadn’t spent that many hours with him since I left for college in 1988. He is truly a warm, wonderful, outgoing, and loving person, and I’m proud he’s my dad.
Whether it was leaving the oppression of Michigan, the weariness from the road, or some other factor, I started falling asleep early and waking up with the sun. At first, it was 530am, now it’s between 6 – 7am — without an alarm. You guys – that’s not me. I don’t simply “wake up in the morning” like a normal person. Only once have I slept until the alarm went off at 7, and holy wow did I feel like I’d wasted the day. If I’m not in bed by 11pm, oh shit – I’m up past my bedtime.
We drove about 700 miles per day, a very comfortable pace, and had some unexpectedly wonderful encounters along the way, including a period-correct, stupendously wonderful hotel on Route 66, complete with vintage magazines, and (fresh) Moon Pies in the rooms:
The astonishingly good-looking, and astonishingly kind young man at the front desk recommended a restaurant just a few blocks down for dinner. It, too, was remarkable. Just the right amount of kitsch, amazingly food, huge drinks, good prices, even better service. The waiter earned a 50% tip.
Breakfast across the street matched the impressiveness of the night before on all levels – kitsch, service, food, prices.
Should I ever pass through Tucumcari, New Mexico again, I will revisit each of these places.
We saw beautiful clouds and scenery once West of the Mississippi, some of which I tried to catch at 75 mph when I wasn’t driving:
We passed through a perfect parting between rain storms:
We spent a lot of time like this in various construction zones near cities – Tulsa, in this case:
The Mighty Maxima had nary a free inch of room inside the cabin or in the trunk. We squeezed water bottles into every available nook and cranny, leaving only room to see out the rear-view mirror:
As we neared what was to become home, the scenery became more dramatic:
Yuma was literally on fire as we passed through, but no photos of that.
We passed through a section of the country I can only describe as “god’s cat’s litterbox:” Giant mounds of huge rocks and gravel:
And then, suddenly… we were here. Nancy, the wonderful leasing agent, was on vacation, so Dan the Imposter showed me around my new home. The view is better than I could have hoped:
Even the walk from the elevator to my door is lovely:
The courtyard is very pretty, and its centerpiece, an enormous fountain, is relaxing and beautiful:
There is, however, a train stop literally right outside my bedroom window:
While this makes accessing the public transit system incredibly convenient, there is a near-constant stream of electric trolleys going by 24 hours a day. Before departing the station, the driver must signal his or her intentions by beeping an electronic horn. Some of them are quite polite and brief; others, however, must be having bad days, because they can lay on the horn for several seconds.
For the most part, this is just another aspect of the experience of living here, much like being in an apartment rather than a house. There are people everywhere all the time, but mostly I don’t hear them. The walls and floors are quite solid, and only very infrequently do I hear a neighbor, and then only briefly.
There is very little I cannot find within a mile of my apartment. There’s a Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt 3 minutes away – my green hair makes me stand out a bit, and they already recognize me. Uh-oh. YES, IT IS THE GREEN HAIR AND NOT THE FACT THAT I HAVE BEEN THERE ABOUT 5 TIMES SINCE MOVING IN, SHUT UP.
One of the first things Dad and I did was to run across the street to a furniture store to gather up a chair for him to sit in, a desk so I could work, and a nightstand to store stuff in. I had not realized the extent to which Mid-Century Modern had come back into vogue – it was either that, or 1970’s Country. I opted for the MCM look, as I don’t have any particularly strong feelings about it either way, and it might be fun in the long run.
The Flexsteel recliner is super comfortable. Turns out, the color of the chair quite nicely matches a quilt top I made years ago, and recently had finished. Dad broke it in with a nice nap:
The nightstand I bought was on clearance and, as such, could not be delivered – despite the fact they were delivering the other stuff. It would not fit in my car. Thus, I borrowed a dolly and walked it home – fortunately, it was only about a quarter of a mile.
It was on the way back home when things began to go awry with The Movers. My account manager, Alecia, called to say that, despite picking my stuff up several days early, they were going to be late. She also did not have a final weight for me, but promised a.) to have the weight by the end of the day (false) and b.) to have a final arrival date by Friday (also false.) Fine, fine – I have the essentials. I can make it work. I bought a coffee maker, though, because fuck no coffee for a week.
Thursday night, I got to introduce Dad to some of my favorite people: George, Sam, Kevin, Chuck, and Lorraine:
The new motorcycle hauler had given me a window of “before 8/14” to pick up the bike. On the 12th, I called to see how that was going to work out. It wasn’t. Delayed by a week. Great! New arrival window is “sometime before 9/10.” I’m totally not itching for my motorcycle at all, nope. Not with this perfect weather and gorgeous, perfect roads. This is fine. (fuck)
Rolling with the MCM theme, I bought some additional seating: Two counter stools, and one regular one:
I have a roommate. She is approximately the size of a Volkswagon:
So far, she stays in her corner, and I stay in mine, and it’s working out alright.
Every night, about a million crows pass overhead on their way to wherever they roost at night, which is really cool to watch. Dad stayed until Saturday morning, when I saw him off at the Surfliner train. He went up to Fullerton to visit one of my step-sisters and her kidlet, and then went on to Sacramento to visit the other.
Most mornings, it’s slightly to moderately overcast when I wake up, but it burns off by ten or eleven. Then, one day, the craziest thing happened:
Rumor has it, it has happened before. It is likely to happen again. God help us all.
And then Charlottesville happened, and everything darkened. Holy shit, how is this our world, our country, right now?
Yesterday, I spent a few hours at La Jolla Cove, which reminded me on a very primal, profound level how much I love the Pacific coast. This is where I belong – everything in me knows it, feels it. I posted this:
I had an appointment at 5pm out near La Jolla, and to hide from the rush-hour traffic on the return home, I, along with everyone else in the state of California, decided to hit to the beach.
There is no better drug, no better cure for depression or anxiety, no deeper, more peaceful feeling for me than when I am near the pounding surf of the Pacific. My soul calmed, my mind quieted, and my body relaxed. I melted. . It did’t matter there were a hundred other people around – everyone was happy, and playing in the spray, taking photos, and enjoying the overwhelming beauty. I could have fallen asleep on the sun-baked sandstone, listening to the surf, for the rest of my life.
While I’m really impressed with the camera phone on the Pixel XL, I can’t wait until my actual camera arrives. These would be well-served by running them through a quick post-processing, but it’s getting late, and my brain doesn’t want to computer anymore.
One of the things I love about life in the West is there is precious little in the way of protections against killing yourself doing something stupid, either knowingly or unknowingly. This ocean and many things in it will kill you. The rails to the edge are easily climbed over or under, though, and most people do. One slip, and into the churning waves you go, likely getting knocked unconscious by the rocks and quickly drowning. I love it. One day, that may kill me, too.
How many pictures of waves and people and sea lions can you stand? Enjoy a little bit of paradise with me.
I took over 500 photos – rest easy, I’ll just link to the album:
A few hours of bliss. Photos straight from the Pixel XL for FB, post-proc on some for Flickr later..Videos in the next album; these are just stills.
I’m not sure what language that is there at the bottom, but it’s pretty.
Those hours reaffirmed everything about this move. I plan to spend many more there.
Now that I’ve been here a week, it should feel more real. Still, when a beautiful, friendly barista over on Mission Beach asked if I was on vacation, I still reflexively said, “yes,” followed by, “wait, no – I just moved here, it just doesn’t feel real yet.”
I feel like it all could be taken away at any second for any reason. It’s a little terrifying, but I know whatever is going to happen is going to happen, and I’ll be ok regardless.
I thrive on change – almost immediately upon arrival, my creative urges came stampeding back: I want to paint, I want to quilt, I want to write. I started reading a book for the first time in about three years (no, I’m not kidding; I wish I were.) I’m learning Spanish. I’m dying to get a new camera to spend hours shooting, but that will have to wait until my finances recover, because… oh yes, we haven’t gotten back to The Movers, have we. Yes, yes.
You see, I have been jerked back and forth by these asshats for over a week now. We’ll be late. We won’t be late. Your final weight wasn’t taken until 21 hours later. Can I see the fuel receipts to make sure some of that unexpected weight isn’t diesel? No. Also, we’re going to be late again.
Long story short, I’m probably going to owe about $2,000 more than expected. So much for almost having paid off my credit cards! I will be SUPER fucked financially for awhile here. I had over $10,000 in the bank when I left Michigan. After the travel expenses, move-in check to the apartments, groceries, and basic furniture essentials, I now have $2,500, plus almost $2,500 more in credit card charges.
Movers finally called with my final weight, which is more than twice the estimate. I asked when the truck was weighed after they loaded me – 21 hours later. They were supposed to go to the nearest certified scale, and I have a difficult time believing there wasn’t one closer, because they weighed the truck shortly before it arrived at my house. . “What assurances do I have nothing else was loaded in that time?” “Well, that would be illegal.” .
I did not mention the guy who loaded me asked me if I could hook him up with some pot 10 minutes after arriving.
“I was told they would weigh the truck at the closest scale. In fact, you just told me that less than 5 minutes ago – the closest scale.”
“Technically, they have up to 24 hours to get that final weigh-in.”
Remaining balance: $3600.
I am One Unhappy eDar right now, very thoroughly researching my options.
That really is the only stress factor right now – money. There are other niggling things – I’m still sleeping on an air mattress and wake up sore every morning, and I’m working at my desk from a camp chair, so my back is just miserable all the time. I can’t vacuum. My internet is only 120Mbps at its best. On several nights, there have been some loud people near or at the trolley stop when I’m trying to go to sleep. It gets dark at 8pm. All of that is laughably minor compared to the overall exuberance – I’ll pay this tax.
Flashback to Day One in California:
We went shopping at Ralph’s, the Kroger of California. Gathered up a full cart of STUFF, proceeded to self-checkout…
Me: “Oh shit, where are the bags?”
Dad: “There are no bags.”
Dad: “They’re illegal here.”
Me: “*BAGS* are illegal?!”
Dad: “Plastic bags are, yeah.”
Me: “Oh – that’s actually kind of cool, but… I sort of need them.”
I ended up buying 6 or 8 very nice reusable ones, but My Face When.
Good on ya, CA – nicely done.
Welp. I just walked face-first through my patio screen door. A not-insignificant amount of skin scraped off the tip of my nose, and an even larger bruise to my ego, as the door is probably toast and I’ll have to get a replacement. Derp.
Met with my first truly unhinged trolley rider just now. He got on, ranting and raving about self-defense, trying to teach “the class” a thing or two about defense. Naturally, nobody was interested. I stopped reading and started paying attention to where this was going. He didn’t initially single anyone out, and no one seemed particularly upset, but the driver opened his cab door, asked him to calm down or depart.
The guy, of course, did neither, and the trolley continued on. There were some timid tourists who looked uncomfortable, but he left them mostly alone.
He moved right next to a young jock, who took umbrage at the yelling guy’s proximity, and then escalated things quite a bit. He yelled back, swore at the guy, threatened him, and finally began to shove him. The driver hollered that security was on their way at the next stop. One of the shoves just about landed the homeless guy in my lap. I sighed, and readjusted to free up my hands.
I caught the jock’s eye and said, “it’s not worth it, man. Just take a step back and breathe.” He ranted about how personal space, being tired of losers, and kept at it. “Dude, this isn’t helping, just chill. It’s not worth getting arrested over.” The three of us went back and forth a bit, then he puffed up his chest, but moved away, and got off at our next stop. The homeless guy went back to bothering the car at large. Yay, small victories.
However, he next fixated on a younger guy who pretty clearly had some developmental issues. He towered over the kid, tapping his hand over his head, asking him intrusive questions, and making the kid uncomfortable. The kid didn’t want to make eye contact with anyone and tried really hard to ignore the guy, who just redoubled his efforts.
Enough. I asked the ranting guy to come talk to me. He didn’t initially want to, he was more interested in harassing the kid, and pretty much told me as much flat-out. I kept at it – not with much skill, mind you, but I was determined.
“He doesn’t want to talk to you, but I do. I’ll listen.” I motioned him toward me.
“Nah, fuck that, I don’t want to talk to you, I want to know what’s going on with him.”
“Come over here and teach me about self-defense.” That got him. He switched from towering over the kid to towering over me. Hanging from the overhead railing with both hands. Those armpits, though.
“Well the first thing about self-defense is not talking to people you don’t know.” He put his face fairly close to mine, but I didn’t change my relaxed posture or expression. I was, however, glad to be wearing dark sunglasses, lest my eyes give away my unease. I nodded – “good idea.”
“NEVER FUCKING TALK TO PEOPLE YOU DON’T KNOW!!”
“I see, ok. So I’m curious what you were doing when you got on the train and started talking to everyone you didn’t know?”
<pause> “PRACTICING. But now you all know me, right? So it’s fine.”
“Ok, right on. Tell me how to…”
“You’re just a woman, you’re just a woman who don’t know nothing about shit, your whole job is just to be a woman and annoy the shit out of everyone you meet. What do you think about that?”
“I think I know a lot of people who would probably agree with you.” The guy in the next row tried and failed to hide a smile.
He carried on about the same topic, and I nodded, said “sure,” and kept asking him questions while the kid he’d been harassing moved to the other end of the car.
“You women just want to tell people how to live their lives and give your opinions and make everyone around you miserable. What do you think about *that*?!”
“I think you’ve had some bad experiences with women.”
By that point, we’d reached the next stop, and security got on the train. The security guard watched us for a moment, and then escorted the dude off the train. He had to get one parting shot in, though, so he stuck his head back through the doors, and shouted, “JUST A WOMAN!!” before vanishing.
An older gentleman seated across from the kid who’d been the target gave me a quick thanks, and that was the end of it. I have a feeling that won’t be the last time, though. Safety pin: Gotta be one. That’s a promise.
It’s been over two months since I wrote the above, and a great deal has happened since that time. The movers arrived with “most” of my stuff, but a lot was missing and even more destroyed. Still trying to get that sorted out.
Plenty of other things to talk about, too, but I’ll save that for another time.
I grew up on NOVA and Jacques Cousteau and Cosmos and other wonderful PBS documentaries, so even at a very young age, I understood shark encounters are rare; however, ever since I first saw “Jaws” at a tender elementary school age, I have been terrified and fascinated with sharks, particularly Great Whites. While I knew it couldn’t possibly be, I was still convinced there were sharks in our inland Michigan lakes, especially on overcast days. I was absolutely certain a dorsal fin would erupt from the bubbles in my bath. And, naturally, huge White sharks patrolled the house at night, mostly circling around my bed in the hopes I would dangle a limb over the edge of the mattress. Relentless shark nightmares haunted me into college, though thankfully I haven’t had one in decades. Cue tonight’s dream agenda, probably. NEVERTHELESS.
Decades of Jacques Cousteau, other documentaries, and countless books, magazines, and scientific journals educated me well about sharks and our best understanding of why they do what they do, but none of this has quite reached my primal, lizard brain, which is content to believe the following: As soon as I set foot into water above my knee, I will be attacked. It is certain. My lizard brain is a stubborn, stubbon asshole.
An irrational fear of sharks was all fine and well when living in Michigan, a place utterly bereft of not only sharks but oceans entirely. Not really a problem. I enjoyed fantasies of “someday” diving with White sharks. In a sturdy cage. No, I have not seen “47 Meters Down,” nor do I plan to until I get more comfortable in the sea. My imagination is too good at inventing horrible things and requires no further fodder.
Here, in San Diego, this fear has become a bit more pressing. Last week, I went up to La Jolla and swam in waters about up to my shoulders. Briefly. Mostly, I stuck to knee-depth shallows. When I was deeper than that, I was very acutely aware of how fragile the human body is, but forced myself to laugh off any thoughts of actually seeing, let alone being nibbled upon by, a shark.
La Jolla is home to a large colony of sea lions and another of harbor seals, so there is sufficient reason for larger Whites to prowl, I suppose. But shallow water is safe water, right? One of my favorite assholes people in the world insists otherwise:
Later, at home and quite safe in my fourth-floor, five-miles-from-the-sea-and-therefore-probably-shark-proof apartment, I did some research. Oh holy fucking shit, you guys. Big, stupid, brain-weasel-feeding mistake. Now, I knew Southern California was a Great White nursery – there are sharks here and lots of them. I assumed, however, they were a goodly ways offshore. AND THEN I SAW THIS:
One sure-fire way to turn my intestines to liquid:
Yes, they were pups and juveniles. Yes, juveniles eat fish, not mammals. But seriously – 15 fucking great white sharks at the bloody surf line. That got the ol’ nightmare juices flowing. Undeterred, I plowed ahead and found this from earlier this year:
A 16-foot great white shark feeds on scarlet, a whale that recently died off the coast of Southern California.
The litany of sightings is enormous, the list of attacks or mistaken identities vastly shorter. The odds of getting bitten, let alone killed, by a shark are infinitesimal. HOWEVER. You want to talk about High Stakes, kidlets? Should that one-off situation happen… well. Nightmare fuel.
I did find this hilarious image taken during a non-hilarious event – fortunately, the surfer was unharmed. Be honest now – if the red circle weren’t there, could you possibly find the shark in this photo?
Given the prevalence of Whites off the coast of South Africa – the big, breaching ones – I can’t imagine anyone ever surfing there. Watch the full video in the link – it’s amazing, and also quite moving as literally everyone on the water immediately came to his rescue, despite the danger to themselves.
The story which is lingering the most in mind is this, which I found just now on a page by the Shark Research Committee:
“On Wednesday, 4 December 1991, commercial urchin diver David Abernathy, age 25, was attacked by a White Shark at Shelter Cove, between Eureka and Fort Bragg in northwestern California (40°01.7’N; 124°05.0’W). Abernathy, accompanied by boat owner Joe Lara and tender Gerald Vickers, had been diving for about six hours. He was dressed in a black wetsuit, hood, boots, swim fins, mask, and weight belt. The diver was attached to a hookah airline and carried an urchin rake. Under a sunny sky, the sea surface was calm with 1-to-2-meter groundswells rolling rhythmically over the sandy ocean floor. Air and water temperatures were estimated at 15ºC and 10ºC, respectively. The water was 8 fathoms deep with visibility of 5 meters.
“Abernathy started his dive day collecting urchins off a reef at the Point Arena Buoy. Picking was consistent, but not as good as other spots in the area, so he decided to try at Black Sands Beach and work his way south. At 1500 hours, he entered the water 100 meters off Abalone Point, near the airport in Shelter Cove. Abernathy and his fellow crew members saw a “single clump of kelp” in open water and maneuvered the boat alongside. Abernathy entered the water. As he started his descent, about 4 meters below the surface, he noted the kelp stipe was attached to the top of a pinnacle that was 5 to 7 meters in width and at least 10 meters in breadth. While slowly descending to the bottom, the diver reported observing “a couple of tons of urchins on this pinnacle.” Upon reaching the bottom, he scouted the area for urchins, then slowly began his ascent. Abernathy had been in the water about six minutes.
“Upon surfacing above the pinnacle, Abernathy spat out his regulator and turned to tell his companions on board the boat to drop anchor. The diver recounted, “When I looked at the guys on the boat their eyes were huge and their mouths wide open.” Lara and Vickers watched in disbelief as a large White Shark surfaced directly behind Abernathy and charged very quickly. The shark struck the diver in the middle of his back and simultaneously bit down, pushing him 2 to 3 meters across the surface of the water.
“Abernathy recalled, “When the shark hit my back, shoving me across the surface, I was spun around. I felt my diving hose become caught in the shark’s mouth as it began pulling me across the surface. I ended up against the shark’s side and could see its gills and enormous gray body. I started thrashing wildly before realizing my legs were not in its mouth. I went limp as the shark continued to pull me across the surface by my hose. My companions later told me that the shark would look me up and down and then lunge at me, bending its head almost back to its tail. Each time it would lunge I was thrown up onto its back. I realized the boat was getting farther and farther away. I started yelling, ‘Come and get me, I’m alive,’ but they were in shock and unable to respond. During the surface struggle, the shark would, from time to time, look over toward my friends on the boat. Finally, after yelling Lara’s name, he snapped out of it and started the boat’s engine. As they headed toward me the shark dived, pulling me five to 10 feet [about 2 to 3 meters] below the surface before my hose was severed. When I surfaced I found the shark had pulled me 75 to 100 feet [about 25 to 30 meters] away from my boat. I started screaming ‘Hurry, hurry!'”
“While Lara and Vickers sped toward Abernathy, they saw the shark surface 20 to 30 meters behind him, then quickly charge. They maneuvered the boat past the diver to cut off the shark’s approach path. In response, the shark sounded and swam under the boat and past the diver. The shark then surfaced, turned and charged Abernathy again. The diver’s perspective, from the water, was no less dramatic.
“He recalled, “Joey [Lara] sped up and they went past me by about 15 feet [5 meters], then reversed abruptly. I thought they were trying to get closer to me until they started screaming, ‘Come on! Come on!’ When I reached the rail of the boat I was unable to pull myself on board. They started yelling, ‘It’s turning around. Hurry!’ as they ran toward me to pull me into the boat. No sooner had I been pulled aboard than a large swirl and splash erupted next to the boat.” Once on board, the three badly shaken men sat down and took stock of Abernathy. As he sat in the bow of the boat, Abernathy told his companions, “I’m whole, I’m whole, I’m whole.” Abernathy and his companions thought the White Shark was 6 to 7 meters in length. The diver’s right swim fin had several slices to its upper surface. David Abernathy was most fortunate to have escaped his White Shark attack with only shattered nerves and several bruises.”
I have been given to understand most shark “attacks” are cases of mistaken identity or are “merely” curiousity, something akin to us touching something unfamiliar to get more information about it. Of course, given our fragility and their strengthy and pointy-toothedness, that’ll cause some damage. Witness:
When dealing with something of this size, which can move so quickly and cause so much damage.. how does one prepare? One uses a cage, preferably, but it’s difficult to surf in a cage. Check this footage of Deep Blue, the largest White caught on film to date – “We realized immediately that she was very big.” Indeed, behold:
One remarkable shark researcher, Mike Rutzen, actually free-dives with Whites outside a cage, because he has learned their body language. Wow – talk about balls. I’m so awed by this man on all the levels. “Don’t try this yourself,” the video admonishes – NO PROBLEM.
I watched his full documentary about body posture and behavior and was absolutely captivated. If you’re interested in learning how he “puts sharks to sleep,” look up “tonic immobility.”
“It was a pleasant Sunday morning, 20 August 1961. David Vogensen, age 16, decided to go for a swim, accompanied by several friends. They had swum out to a sandbar about 75 meters from the beach and were returning to shore. The young swimmers crossed over a channel to a location about 6 meters from the beach near Salmon Creek, Sonoma County, California (38°20.8’N; 123°04.5’W). It was about 0930 hours and the water was cold and very clear. Vogensen was wearing dark blue swimming trunks.
“He saw the shark swim over the sandbar and parallel the beach until about 10 meters from his location. The youth observed a large dark shape, a few feet below the surface, approaching him head-on. The shark circled Vogensen twice before grasping the lower groin and upper inner thighs of both legs. It held its victim for several seconds before it began mouthing his left leg down to the ankle. The youth was unaware of any sensation of pain, only a great deal of pressure, until his foot went numb. It was then that he knew a shark had bitten him. What he did not know was the extent of his injuries. Vogensen made his way up the beach, where he collapsed, clutching his bloody trunks. From this time until hours later in the hospital, events were unclear to the young man.
“The swimmer was taken by automobile to Palm Drive Hospital in Sebastopol for emergency trauma care. Following emergency treatment, he was transferred to Hillcrest Hospital in Petaluma. Vogensen had received numerous slash wounds to his groin, with secondary lacerations to his left leg and foot. Several tendons and nerves were traumatized, requiring several hours of surgery to repair. Vogensen’s physicians expected a complete recovery without any physical limitations. The shark’s description and measurements of the wounds are indicative of a 4-meter White Shark.”
First: THIRTEEN-FOOT WHITE SHARK SIX METERS FROM THE BEACH, PEOPLE. That’s less than twenty feet from shore! FUCK! A curious shark of that size, no thank you, please. Mistaken identity or no, I would move to the middle of the damn desert and never touch water again. I would probably sponge-bathe for life.
That Abernathy attack above, though? That, to me, speaks of something else. My imagination says ANGRY KILLER SHARK AFTER PEOPLE, but that’s unlikely. Still, I have to wonder what provoked the animal to continue its attack after realizing what he had was probably not a seal, after all. Maybe because he didn’t get his teeth into Abernathy’s flesh to realize, but one would think it wouldn’t go to that much trouble for a meal unless it was absolutely desperate or irretrievably stupid.
I cannot even fathom what it was like for all parties present, let alone the incredibly lucky survivor. How does one ever swim again? Sleep? Ha!
One would think this might keep me out of the water. Fuck all that. Naturally, what I have done is to sign up for a leopard shark snorkel tour and surfing lessons. I am going to be absolutely terrified the whole time, probably, but at least I won’t be alone.
Until I learn more about The Various Ways the Pacific and Everything In It Is Going to Try to Kill Me, Perhaps Accidentally, I’m sticking to insanely safe solo activities. Mostly. The main risk is my own inexperience/ignorance. For example, in my first swim at La Jolla mentioned above, I got absolutely drilled by the first large-ish wave I encountered because I sort of forgot waves are a bit powerful. This was the sort that hammered me off my feet, into the sand, and dragged me along for what felt like an eternity (but which was actually about 5 seconds.)
The one thing I remembered as I got swept under was to remain calm – I wasn’t going anywhere but back to the beach, after all. I was fairly convinced I’d lose my prescription sunglasses given the perceived violence of the thing, but they miraculously remained on my face.
My first leopard shark tour was supposed to be this past Saturday, but was canceled due to utterly crap visibility (1-2 feet max.) I would have seen nothing. Eager, however, to get into the water and test out the new snorkeling gear, I went to the rather safe Mission Point Beach area, which is heavily-trafficked by swimmers, paddlers, and boats, and is also completely sheltered from the surf by a nice spit of land.
I donned my gear, did the stingray shuffle into waist-deep water (one generally should not just walk across the sand, lest one be stung by a very perturbed ray in our path,) and pushed off. The wetsuit was glorious – I was so warm and barely felt the water at all. The snorkel, mask, and fins all worked exceptionally well. I could make out my hands in front of my face and that was about it. In the video below, it’s pretty impossible to hear me – mostly, just photographic evidence that I’m in waters of unknown depths without the ability to see anything lurking near me. 😀
Sharks absolutely did cross my mind, but they would have so many other targets to choose from before they got to me, I felt almost safe. Quick fun fact: Did you know Sleeper Sharks may live up to 700 years? Wow.
Given the nothing to see, I swam back to shore after 15 or 20 minutes, thoroughly unbitten. Yay. Baby steps, y’all.
Thursday, I’ll reattempt the shark dive. Saturday, surfing lessons. I kind of love this local shark celebrity: http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/communities/san-diego/sd-me-leopard-shark-20170716-story.html
I know Leopard Sharks are completely harmless unless provoked – but it’s not the leopards I’ll be watching anxiously for: Hammerheads; Makos; Great Whites; Seven-gills. While it would be freaking amazing to see one of those, I don’t think I’m quiiiiiiiite ready for that yet. I’m the person who needs to touch the stove to see if it’s hot, and no amount of “no really, they won’t bother you” will placate me until one does, indeed, leave me alone (and even then, I’ll probably assume it was a fluke and that the next one will grab me.)
Fuck you, brain weasels. And, in the incredibly unlikely event of some sort of shark-related mishap occurring, I hope I have the presence of mind to at least appreciate the irony before I either die of a heart attack or am consumed.
I mentioned in a recent post how I have weird luck: Major things tend to go well, while the small things make me work for them.
Take today, for example.
I’ve been meaning to get a new passport for years, as my old one expired decades ago and was lost to the sands of time. I’m terrible about Actually Going Places to Do Things: Post Office? The worst. Get copies made? Ha. Get my photo taken? FUCK OFF.
Yesterday, however, I Successfully Adulted. I went and got the odious passport photo taken, and I actually look human in it, despite my face being all nekkers without my glasses. I celebrated by getting frozen yogurt and accidentally telling a punk asshole kid to shut the fuck up whilst doing so.
Reading over the requirements carefully, I printed out everything I needed (or so I thought.) I read the requirements several times to be sure.
Today, I started looking for my birth certificate, knowing I’d seen it as I’d been sorting through all the things in my office. It took literally less than two minutes to find.
It’s like I know how things tend to go for myself. It is exceptionally hot and humid here today (87 degrees with 48% humidity as I was heading out,) but when I was preparing to leave, there was not a cloud in the sky. What the hell, I’ll ride the bike – it’ll be easier to zip around on. I have these super comfortable, totally waterproof, highly-protective Sidi motorcycling boots that are probably the best motorcycling boots I’ve ever owned. They’re amazing, but also loud as fuck. They squeak. And when I say “squeak,” this is not a cute little mouse-sized squeak: This is “everyone in the whole building can hear three squeaks per step” levels of noise. There is no sneaking up on anyone in these bitches, I can tell you. They attract significant attention.
They are also hot. Like, temperature-wise, not so much sexy-wise.
I needed to get copies made, so I did a quick “OK Google: Make copies near me.” Google directed to me a spot a couple of miles away. I geared up, saddled up, and headed over. As I arrived and told the woman at the counter what I needed (two copies each of my birth certificate and driver’s license,) she chuckled a little and told me they were a commercial print shop with much larger minimum order requirements.
Fortunately, there was a Staples two blocks away. Boom, headshot. Sauntered back out into the waves of heat and moisture, got my hands into my sweaty gloves, and hopped over to the Staples. No line, woo! Did my stuff for less than a buck, and left. Started saddling up, somehow remembered I’d left my driver’s license in the copy machine before getting to the passport agency office – whew! Lucky me.
Back on the bike to find a parking spot downtown.
Now I say I have crap lucky on the little things, but I also realize I often make poor choices. No, no – hear me out: While this assuredly comes as a complete shock to anyone who’s ever spent more than 10 minutes with me, it’s actually true. The only parking spot I could find wasn’t exactly… legal. It was an end cap spot that was huuuuge, but already occupied by a car. There was easily another car’s length of space behind it, however, so in I went, mumbling a silent prayer to the parking gods to be merciful.
Lansing’s parking enforcement officers are, shall we say, “vigilant.” They cruise around like contented sharks, waiting for an opportune moment to strike. In the past, if I blinked too slowly before inserting a coin, a ticket appeared on my windshield, and the only trace of the officer was a fading puff of a breeze. I had seen one drive past just as I was getting ready to park, so I had a few minutes. Surely, I could get in and out before anyone noticed.
Everyone in these buildings could hear me coming from a block away.
I walked the block and to the City Clerk’s office, announcing my squeaky presence to the entire State Capital grounds. The squeaks literally echoed off the buildings as I approached the door. Once inside, I was confronted with a security checkpoint, which I had not expected. I let everyone behind me go ahead, as I had 1000 things plus motorcycle gear to be inspected. The checkpoint ladies were very friendly and gave me little grief about the small whirlwind of chaos that whirled in with me.
Noticing me looking at the building directory, one asked where I was going, and directed me to the ninth floor. Yay, elevators! Squeak (echo squeak, echo squeak) and so on across the lobby.
I had worked up a bit of a sweat with the biking jacket, helmet, and gloves, and with the walking around in heavy boots. I could feel my face all shiny as I lumbered out of the elevator and let my boots announce my presence in the City Clerk’s office. A very kind woman came around and started to help me, offhandedly asking “you’ve got your cashier’s check or money order, right?” as she looked through my paperwork.
“A what? No, it says right here I can use credit cards…”
“Sorry, not here, you can’t. We have to staple the method of payment to the application, and I don’t suppose you want your card stapled?”
SON OF A BITCH.
I had been so thorough, and even over-prepared by bringing multiple copies of everything. Alright, ok. There was a bank a few blocks away. Off I went, nearly careening into a woman as she came off the elevator, who laughed good-naturedly. Super cute lesbian, too. Alas, no time for flirting (like I know how to do that with girls, anyhow, amirite.)
Squawked my way back to the bike (which was, mercifully, ticket-free,) rode a few blocks down to the bank, grabbed cash out of the ATM, and went inside to get my cashier’s check.
Aaaand that’s a big negative, there, Rubber Ducky: My account at this particular credit union was closed yearrrrrs ago, and they won’t do anything for non-members. Of course. She referred me to the liquor store at the corner. I checked Google again, and discovered my bank had opened a branch right downtown. Score!
Putting my gloves on was becoming increasingly difficult the sweatier I got: My fingers fought every millimeter of leather as I wrestled them into my gloves. My face was no longer “shiny;” it was dripping.
Rode five blocks to the bank, found a parking meter right out front with 16 minutes left – which was a good thing, because I had zero change on my person. The bank got me all squared away, and I had a decision to make: Walk the two blocks back to the City Clerk’s office and hope that the remaining 10 minutes would cover me (ha, not bloody likely,) or try to find a better, paid-for spot.
I opted for the latter, but found none. There was, thankfully, an open space right in front of the building, but it had no time on it. I scrounged through my tankbag for change – nope! As I was disembarking, the parking dude slowly cruised by me, eyes alert, dorsal fin upright.
If I hurried, maybe, juuuuust maybe, I’d be able to get back before he could complete his circuit!
Dashing (imagine how much louder these boots are whilst “dashing”) back into the lobby, much better prepared for the metal detector and wanding this time, I walked into the City Clerk’s office for the second time.
The City Clerk was there this time, and we chit-chatted about motorcycles, heat, and passports. One of his staff finally meandered back to her desk, and we began the incredibly slow process. There were more hitches: I only had one cashier’s check for the full amount, when I should have had two. This resulted in overpaying the US Government by $25. I gave zero fucks – they can have it. “Oh no, they’ll send it back to you – they just get a little cranky about it.”
Great – that shouldn’t delay things at all, right? Sure.
When all was said and done, I successfully applied for the damn thing. I hastily went back outside to see what parking fine awaited me, and not three steps out the door… it began to rain. WHAT?! Sure. Fine. Great! Maybe it’ll break the humidity, and maybe I’ll get home before the skies open.
[NOTE: I ran out of gumption to write at that point, and let this sit for over a month.]
I was only slightly damp by the time I reached home, and, happily, my passport arrived last week. It was followed the very next day by a $25.00 check from the US Treasury (no hostile note included,) and the day after that with the returned copy of my official birth certificate. Amazing!
Amusingly, I just checked the mail before I hit “Publish” on this post, and received the following. Today.
When I was ages 18 through 21, my second home was The Nectarine Ballroom in Ann Arbor. I worked there for about a year, but mostly, I was wildly devoted to Industrial Nights on Monday.
Those people, that place… it was my life, and in some ways, I let it absolutely ruin my life and what it could have been. It was the Nec that moved me to decide to break up with Jon, the love of my life, a decision I would soon and eternally regret after that fateful, stupid night. I often uselessly wonder how my life would be different had I just … not done that one stupid, impulsive thing. Such ponderings are pointless, of course, and only lead to frustrations and sadness. The Nec was wonderful, and horrible, and all-consuming, and I was its minion.
The Nec exerted a powerful pull, and the focal point for Mondays was John, the DJ. That guy spun the best tunes, and exposed me to bands that still rank as all-time favorites to this day. I spent many, many hours flailing around on that dance floor, looking up at the DJ booth, wondering what was coming next. My crush on John knew no bounds, man – all the lust and admiration an angsty younster could muster was laser-focused on him as he picked our musical fare for the night. I was just another random girl in the crowd, of course.
It was the Nec which destroyed a significant portion of my hearing, and which is responsible for the constant tinnitus I’ve had since age 19. The main factor was an astonishingly loud concert by Ministry – it was so loud, I couldn’t actually discern any music; it was just fucking noise. Al, the lead singer, was super drunk, didn’t give a fuck, and it was horrible. Did I leave? NOPE. Of course not. This was Ministry, a legend, one of my favorites, and they were right there in touching distance. I saw Patty Smith and other notables while there, as well. Ah, Nectarine – you were my jam.
It’s been more than 20 years since I was last at the Nec, which is now significantly smaller and has been renamed “Necto.” This past Monday night, John (aka DJ Cyberpunk, no less) made a return to Factory Monday (what Industrial Night is now called,) and played two sets: I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.
A chance to relive some of my long-lost youth? Hells yes, of course.
As I walked in the door and up the stairs, I was assaulted with both the familiar feel of the place as well as the new aspects. It was cleaner, better-maintained, and actually decorated. The kids working there looked much like the kids of my time. John’s first set had already begun, and we said our hellos after an eternity since we last saw each other. It wasn’t long before he played a tune from those old days, and I headed down to the dance floor, the only person out there.
In those earlier years, I would have rather died than be the only person dancing in a public place. My friends and I would either wait for other people to start, or we’d wait for “the right song.” Silliness. Life is short, dance like crazy whenever you want.
As I started dancing (badly, as I always do,) my brain took me vividly back in time. I remembered how, whenever unknown people came into “our” bar, we scrutinized them closely. I remembered specifically one older couple, probably in their 40’s, who came one night and danced to absolutely everything, no matter who was on the floor or what the tune was. They just had a great time, and gave no fucks about what anyone else thought of them. They were wearing normal adult-type clothing, whilst the rest of us were skulking around in our goth/industrial garb. I admired them a bit then, and I understand them much better now.
As the crowd started trickling in last week, it was so much fun seeing what the costumes of the current day were. I was surprised to see a lot of furries there, and there were also fire spinners with their glowing batons, people in masks, people dressed up as rogues, people wearing classic/vintage stuff from our day. We geezers reminisced, drank to absent friends, and danced. I danced far, far too much – It’s now 5 days later, and my blisters still haven’t fully healed, though my sore, aching muscles have mostly recovered. I discovered I still sweat a lot when I dance.
But holy shit, it was so much fun, you guys.
There were only a very few familiar faces: John, Steve, and Chris. I don’t know Chris, didn’t even actually know his name until Steve told me, but I surely recognized the way he danced from Back Then. Some things in this universe are constants.
The trio below were probably superhigh on something, but they were having a great time. The small girl called the moves, which alternated between Tai Chi and Randomness. I wish I could have gotten more footage of them, but my phone’s battery died mid-video here:
I hope there’s a dance club in San Diego I’ll like – life is too short not to dance, and I’d forgotten that. John lives in LA, just a train ride North from San Diego. I would absolutely make that trek to get in on this regularly.
This past year has been absolutely amazing in terms of waking up as a human, coming out of a decades-long depression, and other good things. The people around me are largely responsible for this shift, for which I am eternally grateful. How am I repaying them? By moving just about as far away from them as I can, while still staying in the U.S.
But an eDar’s gotta do what an eDar’s gotta do, and to preserve my sanity and joie de vivre, this must happen. Last Monday was a wonderfully good time, as well as a reminder of things that could have been. I never could have predicted where I’d end up more than 20 years hence – I would have hoped for better, but decisions have consequences. Regrouping at this late date is better than never regrouping at all.