28 December 2006


Christmas is finally over. For the first time in a full month, I'm having a bit of down time, which is lovely. I think the bulk of my holiday binge eating and spending is accounted for, and now it's time to get back to consciousness, moderation, and frugality. I'm currently in the middle of the woods, miles from the nearest town. Snow is falling. Fat squirrels are feasting on cracked corn outside. The sky is gray. I haven't gone outside today. I've been drinking coffee, and snacking here and there, and catching up on long-overdue emails. I'm still in my pajamas. I may take a shower after spending a few minutes on the treadmill in the basement.

26 December 2006

repost: stats & figures, 26 December.

December 26, 2004 was a much different day than today.

Largest and deadliest earthquake in 2004.

This is the fourth largest earthquake in the world since 1900 and is the largest
since the 1964 Prince William Sound, Alaska earthquake. In total, more than
283,100 people were killed, 14,100 are still listed as missing and 1,126,900
were displaced by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 10 countries in South
Asia and East Africa. The earthquake was felt (IX) at Banda Aceh, (VIII) at
Meulaboh and (IV) at Medan, Sumatra and (III-V) in parts of Bangladesh, India,
Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

The tsunami caused more casualties than any other in recorded history and was recorded nearly world-wide on tide gauges in the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Seiches were observed in India and the United States. Subsidence and landslides
were observed in Sumatra. A mud volcano near Baratang, Andaman Islands became
active on December 28 and gas emissions were reported in Arakan, Myanmar.

I woke up late on December 26, 2004 and checked email while i waited for coffee to brew. There was a message from Big Mike, a friend I'd worked with in Thailand. Normally jovial and light-hearted, I thought nothing of the subject heading "I'm still alive". I opened and read the message, to learn it truly was to inform friends and family he'd survived intact. His message that morning was the first mention I'd heard of the tsunami.

The epicenter of the earthquake that caused the tsunami was about 80 miles from an Indonesian island where I'd spent an idyllic 5 weeks. In such a low-lying and primitive area, all was destroyed, though all the people I knew there survived. The only casualty was Bunny the dog, who washed ashore weeks later, and received a heartfelt burial by all those who loved her.
In the weeks following, I was obsessed with gathering information on the tsunami. I clipped articles, and watched news footage, and researched online, and configured web content alerts. I found myself constantly on the verge of tears, if not crying uncontrollably, while thoughts of ravaged coastline, countless missing, and nameless dead played over and over in my head.
Eventually, recognizing unhealthy behavioral patterns, I forced myself to stop reading and watching and researching. I still can't figure out why exactly I reacted as strongly as I did to the tsunami.

Maybe it's this: If you live here, December 26 is still essentially a holiday (some have to work, but for the most part, it's still laid back like a holiday). If you live somewhere like Thailand though, it's just a day, a workday like any other. The December 26 I spent in Thailand was a workday like any other. So maybe that's why: because I worked there, and I knew what December 26 would have felt like, and how it would have looked, and I knew all the mundane tasks that would have needed to be accomplished before the day really began. And so December 26, 2004 could have just as easily been the December 26 I spent there.

24 December 2006


I'm finishing my Christmas shopping today. Yes, it's 24 December. I am that person. It's actually early enough that stores aren't too insanely busy. I hope to finish early, that I might allow myself enough time for wrapping said gifts...

Happy holidays to all. Though I'm currently in MN, this picture is more relevant to my time leading up to the holiday (and gives me a bit of solace that my time in the wintry tundra, despite the mild temps and conditions, is short):

Wishing you peace & love.
xo, aa

15 December 2006

rodeo, MDT style.

Finals were completed Thursday afternoon. Somehow the classes this module proved to be much more challenging than those of the first module, as my grades will no doubt reflect. In any case, I'm glad to be done. Welding actually turned out to be really fun, and I quite enjoyed torching through steel with a really hot flame. But the guest instructor was stubborn and infuriating during the theory sessions, so I can't say I learned as much as I ought. Hydraulics was the opposite situation: I always enjoy theory sessions with Don, but the lab portion was a bit of a nightmare.

The sole purpose of the lab was to devise a contraption to perform work using hydraulic power. The group I was in didn't really gel. We had difficulty deciding on a project. When a project hypothesis was proposed, we had difficulty deciding on a design. When we'd decided on a design, there was debate over specifics, and so on, ad infinitum. Everyone in the group gets along well outside the group, it was just that, in the confines of the group project, we all just wanted to bitch-slap each other most of the time. With time running extremely short, we finally decided on the most basic of all hydraulics lab projects: the hydraulic can crusher.

Other groups were far more original. The best of these was the hydraulically-powered mechanical bull, which utilized 2 different actuators: one to shift the bull to and fro, and another to rotate. The bull was widely discussed, but who would ride the bull was even more widely discussed: the group's members were hell bent on getting Dan Vasey, MDT Program Director and Wisconsin farm boy extraordinaire, on the bull. When push came to shove, Dan obliged and rode the bull proficiently. Several others also stepped forward to ride the bull, most notably, an advanced-semester student by the name of Jacob.

The MDT program is 2 semesters in length. There are other courses a student can take to augment the MDT curriculum, but the basic certificate can be obtained at the end of the second semester. So at the end of each semester (because the program can be started in either the fall or the spring), there's always a group of students leaving. And because the program is small, and so intensive, we all get to know each other pretty well. Maybe a bit too well.

Jacob and some other advanced students took Thursday to celebrate their impending graduation. After a few hours of imbibing, they stopped back at the MDT facility, for whatever reason. They happened to arrive just at the point when we were beginning to showcase our hydraulics lab projects.

I don't know why, but Jacob was wearing the bright yellow speedo under his shorts (you must remember that this is a diving program, so half-clothed boys barely faze me anymore, so common is the sight). I don't know why it was important to ride the bull in the neon speedo. But it certainly made for a memorable last day of class.

And despite the unlikelihood of ever seeing Jacob again, I don't think I'll soon forget him.

12 December 2006

good, for nothing.

I'm so good at one thing: procrastinating. I'm procrastinating now, and hoping that by admitting it here, giving this fault of mine the credit it's due, that it might dissipate to the point of being manageable.

What's amazing about procrastinating is how many other things one can think to do instead of task at hand (in this case, studying), and how many of the things you've put off for months and months can somehow, suddenly, sound terribly enticing, urgent even. Here are some of the things I've done, or have been thinking I should do, this very day:

-Clean my car
-Wash clothes
-Browse fave shops
-Attend class at the gym
-Explore neighboring town of Carpinteria (I've been meaning to do that for so long)
-Buy fruit from cute guy at Rincon fruit stand
-Chat with downstairs neighbor
-Write blog entry
-Write emails
-Send b-day cards
-Cook stuff
This list is not inclusive: I've had far more random impulses today, I just can't remember where they are, because my mind keeps thinking about how I have these big tests tomorrow, and I keep telling myself that I'm going to start the studying in 5 more minutes, or after I do this one more thing... but I keep procrastinating.

That said, I'm going to get to the studying. Right after I run downstairs and throw a load of laundry in.

10 December 2006


Can't write now, studying...

I have finals this week. I'm a bit frazzled, but thankfully the multitude of cold germs I've been plagued by seem to have found new hosts, so I'm mostly free of illness as I commence finals week. Mostly I think I'll be ok for the tests, though one is obliged to be a bit unnerved and stressed before finals, so I feel a bit of stress at the unknowns.

I went to study tonight with friends Rob and Carlo, and after a few hours of looking over books and discussing possible exam questions, we headed downtown to the harbor for the parade of lights. Not the kind of parade your mind would immediately conjour images of, this parade takes place on the water: a goodish number of boats docked in Santa Barbara, lavished with lovely, colorful Christmas decorations of varying motifs glided past a crowd assembled on Stearn's Wharf. The same sort of spectacle took place on Friday in the harbor where I work, so all this weekend at work, between diving boats, I puttered past sail- and powerboats decked out in their finest holiday regalia.

And strangely, there in the harbor, it finally started to feel like Christmas time.

06 December 2006

pop pop, fizz fizz.

It started out, on Friday afternoon, as a novelty: a bit of congestion in the head, a sense of the teensiest fever. I awoke Saturday morning with enough of a head cold to preclude me from diving for the day and hence, from going to work, but not enough of one that I shouldn't enjoy my unexpected freedom just a touch. I spent some time in the drafting lab at school, ran errands, and browsed at some shops, but by mid-afternoon I was feeling pretty abysmal, and so returned home. Upon returning, and finding no cold meds in my keeping, I scurried up the street to the CVS to get some Alka Seltzer Cold & Flu, and some of that terribly flavored antiseptic spray for the scratchy throat, and then a bit further up the street to Ralph's for some soup (Ralph's is not the small neighborhood grocery it sounds, but rather a chain, formerly Safeway, somewhere between a Byerly's and a Rainbow in MN) before shuffling back home.

I spent the rest of that day and the next in bed. I happily slept through most of my Sunday. By Monday morning, I was beginning to feel a bit better, but was suffering the effects of a cold-med hangover during my early classes. It cleared off eventually, and the rest of the day was standard. The following morning I was feeling alright, but still had some congestion in my ears, and so took another day off from diving. I slept most of that day too, following the rationale (which was later echoed by my most sagest of friends, MZZ) that I wouldn't be sleeping so much if my body didn't need it. I also hoped that the added sleep would clear away any remaining cobwebs of sick that might be hiding in the furthest reaches of my sinuses.

But I heard it the other day, in the hallway, and only now can I grasp its full weight: the cough of one with whom I share the bathroom.

I can only make sense of it this way, that I actually recovered from what I had this weekend, but somehow, in the midst of the almost-recovery, I contracted cough-y sister's cough-y germs, and now I'm stricken with week's cold #2. And I'm not pleased with it. It's bad enough was sick all weekend and have sacrificed 2 days of work, and that I have to go for a whole weekend without delicious coffee in the morning, but now into the week as well. And I really must forgo the coffee because now, with the cough-y congested irritated-red-chapped-5-year-old-nose cold, the coffee actually makes my throat hurt. So now, not only am I grumpy because I'm sick, but also because I can't partake of a normal morning routine, and because I have to keep blowing my nose, and seriously, it really hurts, and because I have a scratchy throat, and because I feel like I shouldn't go to the gym at night, and because finals are coming up and because I'm still trying to figure out easy/cheap/handmade gifts to give all my beloveds.

I'm going to bed now. And hoping some other germ doesn't sneak in my window overnight.

01 December 2006

for your consideration.

For all the frustration experienced since becoming the women's auxiliary to team boy-stank, there are moments when they almost redeem themselves. The first of these occurred the very first day, at the swim eval, before I knew the evils and pitfalls of team boy-stank: during the 150-foot breath-holding exercise, I surfaced for my last breath before swimming the final length, but started coughing and sputtering, rather than inhaling to descend. Gentle giant Swedish Simon was poolside, smiling and encouraging me to keep trying, convincing me I could do it, and I did, sort of. The coughing and sputtering was a deal-breaker for that particular event, but I did actually make it to the other side. A minor miracle in my mind, considering that prior to that day, I'd never even come close to accomplishing it.

Another followed a night dive at a site called Mesa Lane, where I was forced to ditch my weights post-dive at the bottom of a staggering flight of stairs. Afterward, when I returned to retrieve them, I turned around to find one of the Joes, who'd hiked down to help me when someone'd mentioned where I'd gone (and it was awesome that he came to help- not only was I totally spooked and sketched out finding myself alone on a long stretch of beach, and sans flashlight, but I was sincerely not looking forward to navigating 200+ stairs, after a cold dive, in a wet dive skin, hefting an additional 20 pounds in awkward-to-manage dive-weight form at 1am.).

There have been other moments, intermittently, small things mostly, but generally enough to keep me from losing my mind amidst the dark haze of testosterone that permeates the MDT facility. This week, in particular, certain members of team b-s (oh, I kind of like that...) have been especially sweet:

Upon leaving for T-day break last week, Carlo and I planned to hang out that Saturday night. While at a relaxed towny-ish bar called the Press Room, discussing our mutual confusion over the objective of the game of Cricket, and watching random clips from B&W movies from the '30s, he paid for the drinks. Sweet.

On Monday, I bought a bed and frame, but had no way of transporting it to my place. I called and asked my friend Rob, who not only agreed to help, but packed everything neatly into the back of his truck, drove it from there to here, but also manhandled the mattresses up and down flights of stairs, and held things in place while I re-assembled everything. Sweet.

This morning, I decided to drive to school, as overnight temps are now in the 30s, making for cold extremities on the bike in the am. Pulling in to the parking lot, a young woman pointed out that I had a flat tire. Later in the day, I mentioned the mishap to Brendan, who offered to help switch out the tire for the spare. A few others pitched in, but Brendan did most of the work, indulging my need to contribute every so often. Sweet.
So there you have it. Proof that the stinky boys, despite being stinky and prone to topics of discussion better left to poker tables and sound-proofed garages, have their moments of seeming human-ness and normalcy. And for this reason, I love them all, just a little.

30 November 2006

run, like hell.

I promised myself I'd never do it again. I swore, up and down I'd never subject myself to it ever, ever again. I vowed the last time would be the last time. And now (you see it coming, don't you?), I've committed myself to doing it again: I've accepted a part-time position as a server/ bartender.

Santa Barbara is an expensive town to live in. That actually appears to be one of its defining characteristics, as everyone you'll ever talk to about living in Santa Barbara, at one point, will raise the point. Having worked at a full-time, 9-5 sort of job for more than a year prior to moving out here, I'd grown accustomed to having my nights and weekends free. I knew I'd have to adjust once back in school, and sacrifice some of that time, but figured I'd cross the bridge when I'd arrived at it. At the moment, I have 2 jobs: the boat-scrubbing gig, and a 5-hour per week office assistant position, and I need to work both primarily during the weekday hours, though I can squeeze in some boat time on the weekends. However, weekdays compete with school, so I'm limited to how much I can work. The current jobs are getting me closer to actually making enough money to subsist here, but I need a bit more.

I've been checking Craig's list with some regularity, and yesterday saw a posting for a server/ bartender position. The description and hours seemed appropriate, so I emailed. Within an hour someone had called back to set up an interview time. I went there tonight, and was pleased with what I saw. Santa Barbara has its share of trendy areas, which I tend to steer clear of. This place was the antithesis of trend. The place, much like the position I was there to interview for, had a feel of the Groveland Tap. When I walked in, a friendly blond was introducing the regulars to a shy brunette trainee with deep dimples. A few TV screens were scattered throughout, showing a variety of sporting events. There was a pleasant smell of frying and beer in the air.

The interview was brief, and more of a conversation than the typical question-answer format. I liked the guy, and apparently he liked me. After talking for 15 minutes, and without even filling out an application, and even knowing I'd be out of town for 2 weeks for the holidays, he offered me the job. I was hired this way with the diving service, too: just 2 people, having a conversation. No pretense, no nonsensical bureaucracy.

So obviously, I'm a bit hesitant. I'm not entirely fond of waitressing. People can be total arsewads when they're out to eat. But I do have a good feeling about it.

28 November 2006

goodbye, yellow brick road.

Today I re-join the world of the [somewhat] normal.

I have just finished assembling my new bed. I have deflated the air mattress I've called home for the past several months (literally, several. Since the beginning of August I've been sleeping on things that necessitate periodic re-inflation.). It's a delightfully versatile and useful combination of daybed and trundle bed. It can be a twin-sized bed, it can be a full-sized bed, it can be a twin-sized bed for me and a twin-sized bed for a platonic guest.


26 November 2006

to the teeth.

Happy belated Thanksgiving to all. There were so many people I had hoped to call, but having left myself only one half hour to chat before needing to leave for the dinner I'd been invited to, the list was necessarily pared down to the bare minimum of family. But thanks to those who emailed, and sent greets. You were all in my thoughts, and I was giving thanks for having each and every one of you in my life.

My weekend was blissfully uneventful. It was delightful to have a few days away from school. I did nothing out of the ordinary from Friday til today, but it's amazing what a difference it makes, psychologically, to have had that one day with nothing much to do save construct a veg dish for dinner, and meander on my bike, and lay around my place. Friday and Saturday were for work, and today was for preparing for the coming week, but Thursday was quiet, and mine alone.

I actually had a bit more than that one day off. Classes on Wednesday were manipulated to allow for more travel time for those heading out of town, and so I was finished for the day by noon, and came home directly for a nap. My evening class was cancelled, so I went to the library for movies, and spent a longer time at the gym. My Thanksgiving dinner was good, although I was surrounded by 4 couples I barely knew. I'm thankful for the invite, and everyone was very welcoming, and the food delicious, but it felt odd to spend a holiday with strangers. I was consoled by the fact that I'll be back in MN for the Christmas holidays, but the circumstances induced a bit of retrospective of Thanksgivings past, the few when I've been away. I suppose the one that's most memorable was senior year at CSB, with a boyfriend, when we drove out to Bozeman, MT. It was the beginning of this trend of snow-less MN winters, but Bozeman was white, and beautiful, with mountain ranges in every direction. The boyfriend spent his days ice climbing with friends, so I was left with the vehicle in a quaint little mountain/college town, free to explore. We gorged on Thanksgiving dinner, and passed out until the following day. I tried to take pictures of the feast we'd so proudly prepared, but all the images came back blurred, the lens steamed over. Others turned out though, one of us hiking on a beautiful white slope, amidst trees, the sunshine brilliantly reflected off the snow; another of us sitting together on a futon. This one I've kept, and treasured a bit as the years have passed. The relationship quickly disintigrated after that trip, but for those few days in Bozeman, we were happy, and we were perfect. I prefer to remember us that way.

20 November 2006

grape soda.

Usually I don't start an entry here until I have an idea of what I want to say, and a few different options for title & registration. But I don't have these tonight. I think I have had a few over the past week or so, but they've escaped into the ether, and I don't think they're coming back anytime soon. And so, what follows will most likely be a mad jumbler of thoughts, any of which may have been itself considered as its own entry topic at some point, while scrubbing the underside of some boat, but just like "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas," underwater thought patterns seem to have gills, and don't adapt well to the air-breathing environment (and so, stay in the water, just to complete that analogy.). Not unlike Sea Monkeys though, they (the underwater thought patterns) do become revived if you simply add water. In any case, the heading "grape soda." is easily explained: I love grape soda, sometimes. I loved it this weekend, and polished off a full 2-liter bottle over the course of 12 hours, tops. I'd love it again tonight (probably because I'm staring at the empty bottle in the recycling bin), but am settling on water instead. In short, grape soda is delicious, fizzy purple nectar.

My head is spinning lately (as if the above hadn't given an indication of this?). We've reached the point in the semester where we're all thinking "Oh, shit. The semester's almost over." All parties involved respond in kind: instructors pile on more work, students work madly to make up where they've slacked, and to keep up with what's still coming. The classes aren't as academically challenging this module, but the skills are new and unfamiliar. Though I'll be far from the land of true Thanksgiving celebrations, where one can happily gorge on turkey and fixings for days on end, and hide the bloated outcome under fat pants and sweaters (oh, the joy of sweater season!), I will be happy to have a few days off to relax, and read, and watch movies, and maybe drink some grape soda.

I've noticed a strange trend when I tell people about my job, and if I haven't detailed it here before, I'll do it now.

My job is to scrub the underside of boats in the harbor. I'll give you an idea of what an average day is like: I drive to the harbor with my gear, change into my wetsuit, head down to the boat I use all day, which is a small skiff (maybe 8 feet long, 4 feet wide) with a small putt-putt outboard on the back. Sean, my boss, gives me a list of boats to clean, and off I go. When I arrive at the boat, I tie off to the dock, start up the air compressor (a motor that forces compressed/ pressurized air into a tube that's connected to the regulator I breathe from), gather the necessary accoutrements, hop over the side, and glide beneath the water's surface (always at the first boat, after the gliding beneath the surface bit, there's also a brief resurface, accompanied by unsolicited yelp in response to cold water temp). The tools used to scrub boat hulls include: a suction cup with finger holds (to hold onto the boat, but also gives good leverage while scrubbing, to work against), a putty knife (to detach flowy growing things like tube worms, or errant sea grass), a wire brush for cleaning metal (propellers, mostly), and lots of scrubby pads in varying degrees of abrasiveness (abrasion? abrasivity? Words are making me cross-eyed tonight). I scrub the boat, and move on, and so on, until the end of the day, or until it gets too dark, or until I decide I've had enough, or until I get too cold or tired, or until I've begun to obsess over how huge my arms (guns) are starting to get between this and swimming, or until I can't stand to pee in my wetsuit one more time (oh, that's a lie. Peeing in my wetsuit never gets old.).

In essence, the job is not much different from diving at the aquarium though. So it's surprised me to hear a few different people comment on the job being very physical and labor-intensive, sort of a man's job. Because compared to my everyday environment at school, with the in-house crane, tool sheds, equipment rooms, welding shop, tanks and compressors and chambers and so, so much more, the job is pretty unremarkable.

10 November 2006

wipe out.

I've become slightly infatuated with surfing of late. I suppose it's an inherent risk of living in California, along the coast. Drive anywhere, at any time of day, and you're bound to see any make/ model of vehicle with a surfboard strapped on racks above, or sticking out the back. It's the subliminal messaging of the California coastline.

A week ago I realized I'd been too crazy busy, and hadn't taken any time to just hang out and enjoy my surroundings. To alleviate, on the drive down to Ventura Friday afternoon, I stopped off at one of the beaches on the PCH, took off my flipflops, and walked along the beach for a while. I make it sound very nonchalant, but actually, I was scouting for surfers during the drive, as I'd yet to see surfing, close up. The beach where I stopped initially had only one surfer, and I considered moving further down the coast, thinking I had misjudged the quality of swell at that particular spot. But soon there were more, and the waves were getting better, and I sat and watched until I was ready to get back on the road.

I'm not familiar with the Pacific, and it's been a challenge for me to get comfortable with it, let alone develop a love of it. It's cold, and harsh. The things that wash up on the shore in warmer, more tropical climates seem to introduce an area's marine environment; here, very little washes up, and so the dark water seems distant, mysterious, a bit scary. The surf can be big, and diving from shore poses a new set of cumbersome considerations. This has worried me a bit, considering that every reason I moved out here revolves around that big, scary ocean. I've taken steps to get more comfortable with it, like working in the harbor, scrubbing boat hulls, or simply exploring different beaches, familiarizing myself with the terrain. This is all helping, and slowly I'm becoming acclimatized, and slowly I'm getting more comfortable with all that's necessary for diving here, but it still feels as though something is missing.

Lately I've been thinking about my time in Thailand. Not intentionally, but memories, sensations will pop into my mind at the strangest times. When I lived there, I got on a boat every day to take people diving. I loved it. It was somewhat structured, but relaxed, and the diving was wonderful, not because we always saw amazing things, but just something about being in the water there. Between dives, we'd sometimes anchor in a bay for lunch, and even then, on the break, I'd be lying in the water, relaxed on surface, with a snorkel sticking off one side of my head. I loved it. The water was always inviting, and this is what I'm missing now. I haven't experienced that feeling here yet.

A funny thing happened though, a few days after watching the surfers on the PCH. Another day, driving, and stopping off at a beach to watch the waves. There was a feeling there, a tug of something, a connection to the water, an understanding of some sort, but all related to the waves, and surfing. So maybe learning to surf is the answer, the cure-all. In any case, it can't hurt.

Of course, there's another side to the surfing infatuation.

As regular readers may have noticed, I've come to refer to my male classmates almost exclusively as the *stinky boys. This was borne of the reality that, on any given day, in any given MDT class, one of those boys, and sometimes more, is going to smell unpleasant, whether it's the clothes he's wearing, or his lack of dental hygiene, or the gastro-intestinal response to the cheap tacos and beer he consumed the night before. But I also go to school with several guys who surf, and they are not stinky boys, neither literally (not that I've ever experienced, anyway. I'm sure they have their moments.) nor figuratively. For whatever reason, the surfers seem to be the nicest, most down to earth, normal, non socially challenged guys in the program.

I also have a crush on a surfer, and probably every other surfer I've seen in the water. There's something about the surfers I've met, a sense of ease, of relaxation, of acceptance. Maybe it's the endless time spent waiting on waves, being so into something one has no control over. I don't know what it is. But surfers have taken over the place in my heart heretofore reserved for soccer players.

And that's saying something.

07 November 2006

un souhait.

Please, oh please, let me wake up tomorrow morning to a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate in 2007.

Did you?

06 November 2006

again, and again.

For a period in my life, at a rate of once every few months, I had a recurring dream. I don't know if it fits the proper definition of a recurring dream, because I wasn't dreaming the exact same dream every time. Rather, the dream always had the same theme. It was before, during, and after the year I spent teaching English in the southernmost province of the People's Republic of China, and my residence in that country was always a major factor in the dream.

The dream's theme was this: I'd be having a normal day, teaching classes or simply going about the day-to-day routine of living in China, when suddenly I'd decide to leave. The decision was always impromptu, and always immediately executed: I'd never tell anyone I was leaving, I wouldn't bother to pack, I'd just find some manner of transport away from where I was, get to the airport, and get on a plane. It wouldn't be until the decision was irreversible that I would stop to think what I'd done. Sometimes I'd realize the gravity of the situation while on the plane, sometimes it wouldn't be until after I'd landed, and sometimes I'd land in strange and random cities (once it was New Orleans). But once I realized what I'd done, and that I couldn't undo it, I'd panic, and that's about when I would wake up. Now, a few years hence, the symbolism is pretty transparent: my decision to go to China was somewhat rash, I never really prepared for it, and I had made a commitment to staying for the whole year, even though, for the bulk of my time there, I'd have preferred to do exactly what I did in my dream.

This morning I was disturbed to wake up from a dream with a similar theme, albeit with a different outcome. In my dream, I came to Santa Barbara and started the diving program, but then realized I'd also signed up for classes at a school in Florida. The disturbing bit: I just got up and drove to Florida. No packing, no telling anyone I was going, just getting into my car, and going to Florida to head to school. Once there, I found my way to my classes (strangely, all pertaining to French language and culture), and even met up with my old SJU friend Noah Whiteman, a fellow student on my French study abroad program. At some point though, I realized that I didn't want to be studying French anymore, that I didn't want to be in Florida, that I wanted to be back in Santa Barbara, studying diving, and so I returned. When I awoke, a bit of the old, familiar sense of slight panic was still holding on, but there was also a sense of relief, for the end result.

Significant? More than I can say. I still question what I'm doing here. I still question how the hell this is all going to work out when it still feels as though so many major pieces of the puzzle are still hidden somewhere under the couch cushions. I'm still trying to find validation that this is the right thing for me, that I made the right decision, that this isn't all the most colossal mistake I've ever made. A friend once told me how much she doubted moving to a new city, and going to law school, how she thought that any decision worth making always, always raises significant questions/ doubt/ worry, and that this, however confusing and counter intuitive, is the feeling of having made the right decision.

I'm holding on to this, and hoping that it's true.

02 November 2006

like bowie say.

I've been having an email exchange with a friend from high school about moving, and living in new places, and adjusting, and dealing with the changes associated with it all. My mind has been in overdrive for the past few weeks, due to finals, and a visit back to MN, and beginning new classes and different jobs. Overthinking tends to get me in trouble, so I try to stay focused on tangibles, but I still meander into the potentially dangerous and generally uncharted world of pondering.

I was back in MN this past weekend for a wedding. Happily, I was able to spend good chunks of time with beloved friends and fam. I was back for 3 days, and somewhere in the middle I began gently nudging the wall of oversocialization. Ok, actually, about halfway through the wedding reception I ran straight into that wall, and had to take a few minutes away, to be quiet and not talk, and not smile, and just be away for a while. I felt better after the break, and stayed at the reception until very near to the end.

I've been away for over 2 months. I drove away from Upton Ave. on 15 August, which actually brings it closer to 3 months. I have met some really wonderful people here, and I'm really thankful to have them in my life, namely Alejandro and Dada, and Eric and Claudia. For the most part though, I'm not a terribly sociable individual, and don't spend too much time in bars or at parties, and I'm surrounded on a daily basis by the stinky boys, whose company I enjoy, but I wouldn't necessarily care to spend much time with them outside of classes or diving excursions. Most of the time, my limited social circle doesn't bother me, as I keep pretty busy, but sometimes it does, and I realize I need to be making more of an effort.

I flew into Mpls. at around 7am on Friday morning. I was wearing as many warm layers as I'd been able to scrounge together before leaving Cali. I'd left my flip-flops in my car at LAX, and had donned a pair of boots for my return. My head was covered with a hat and a hood, my fingers gloved, my neck scarved. I marveled at watching my breath come out in white puffs while waiting for the train shuttle. Once on the train, I scanned the streets and parks for the last of the fall colors, and was rewarded with a lovely, sunny morning view of the Minnehaha Falls area. I watched people get on and off the train, going off to work. At the Government Center downtown, I watched a man in a cheap blue bureaucrat's suit, complete with discount briefcase, head in to the building. For some reason, this man embodied everything, every last reason I'd left. As I watched him commence his workday, I realized how happy I am to have moved away from Minnesota. I can only explain the feeling as some combination of the cold, and his forced attire, and the lame bureaucracy I assume to be his job.

At the end of my visit, I was happy to come back to SB. Not happy to leave friends and fam and my sweet punkin niece (who followed me around all Friday afternoon and said aunty time and again throughout the weekend), but happy to get back to the routine of my daily life. What I hadn't anticipated, but probably should have, is how difficult this week has been, readjusting to my life here. A bit like going into withdrawal, really, after spending so much time with people I really know, and love, and cherish, coming back to a place where I know so few people, and don't yet really have people around who really know who/what/how I am, but instead so many casual acquaintances. There's no real emotional intimacy yet in my life here.

I know it will come though, eventually.

martini's law.

Weeks and weeks have gone by since I've been here at the blogger. Ever so busy weeks and weeks.

Last week concluded the first 8-week module (of 2 each semester) of the MDT program, which is apparently the hardest. Despite that I'd taken only 2 of the 5 offered (the others being dive and equipment classes, which I'll take next semester, upon passing the swim eval), I was stressed about the exams. My classes last module were Fundamental Practices of Diving (read dive physics/ physiology) and Rigging (recall knot-tying exercises of earlier blog). Rigging required a written final exam, and a demonstration of skills for the lab portion. For the lab final, each student was required to tie 10 knots, chosen at random from a list of 20, blindfolded; reeve a multi-part block (basically guiding a rope through a system of pulleys); and complete 3 different types of splices in natural fiber rope, and one splice in wire rope. The knots were not as difficult as I'd thought, and the rest of the final was easy. I passed with an excellent grade.

Fundamental Practices of Diving has been, by far, the most intense class I've taken. The material is dense and complicated, and requires quick and frequent manipulation of memorized information, such as using dive tables, and calculating partial pressures of breathing gases at depth. I'd studied most of the material before, for my divemaster cert., but the MDT instructor instilled a healthy fear of failing into each and every one of us, and in my case, it inspired me to keep up. The final was scary, but also a good challenge, and sort of fun in that way. I also passed this course with an excellent grade, which has allowed me to continue on to more advanced classes.

The new module began this week, with the following classes: Intro to Marine Welding, Hyperbaric Chamber Operations, and Hydraulics I. Monday was the first day of welding (and the intro class is only just welding, topside, dry), and me being the only girl, and never having held a torch in my entire life, having only the vaguest sense of what the hell I'm supposed to be doing, the instructor felt it necessary to call me up first every damn time, to demonstrate every damn thing, in front of all the stinky boys. I was a bit put out at first, but the stinky boys (who are really not so bad, most of the time) were helpful or humble, depending on their own [in]experience with welding. Of course, the obvious flashdance comparison came up in my mind, and since Jennifer Beals is gorgeous, I'll continue to allow that little fantasy (and that catchy tune... What a feeling!/Bein's believing/ I can have it all/ Now I'm dancin' for my life!/Take your passion/ and make it happen!) to run and play in my mind, as much as it wants.

Another class, Hyperbaric Chamber Operations. For whatever reason, this class was one that caught my eye from the first. Quick background: when using scuba, a diver is breathing air, which consists of 21% oxygen, and 79% nitrogen (a bit of this and that also mixed in, but essentially what we breathe in the atmosphere is contained in scuba tanks to be breathed at depth). Nitrogen is an inert gas, and plays no real role in metabolic function. At the surface, it's harmless, and generally speaking, it's also harmless at depth, so long as a diver, upon ascending, allows the nitrogen to be released properly out of the system by ascending slowly, and by taking short breaks along the way (ie decompressing). If a diver ascends too quickly, the nitrogen in a diver's system can be released too quickly, forming bubbles that can increase in size as pressure on the body decreases closer to the surface, causing any number of problems, depending upon where in the system the bubble is located. As diving depth and time increases, so does the amount of nitrogen in her system, and the longer she'll need to decompress. Decompression can last for several hours.

A hyperbaric chamber simulates pressure and, in diving, can be used in 2 different ways: first, as a method to treat illness brought about by diving, usually related to gas bubbles in the system; second, as a way to decompress out of the water, and this is common practice in commercial diving. The chambers owned by the MDT program aren't huge, each measures around 9 feet long, with a 5-foot diameter, and looks like a big metal tube, with a bunch of gauges and meters and pipes and hoses coming out of one side. When going for a *dive, the divers get in, seal the hatches, and enough air is introduced into that air-tight space to simulate the same pressure one would experience at any depth between 0 and 165 feet of sea water. A few of us went down to 30 feet last week. Today we went to 90.

A funny thing happens when a diver is at a significant depth, like 90 feet. For whatever reason, nitrogen at depth can have the effect of making a diver feel a bit tipsy, like after having a few drinks. The effect is called nitrogen narcosis, or getting narc'd, or martini's law. This has happened to me one time, and I was deep: 160 feet. I felt silly and happy and wonderful. It's really an amazingly good feeling, except that you're at depth, with impared judgement, but you don't really think of that, because it feels so damn good, and everything looks really beautiful and fascinating. Today, sitting in that cold metal chamber, we got narc'd at 90 feet. Can't say I've ever felt so good in class.

21 October 2006

back in the saddle, again.

The cheesy and overused title of this entry has a relevance to several different areas of my life at present.

1. I haven't written here for a few weeks, just as other forms of communication (email, phone calls) have suffered.

2. I'm working again, probably something that will endure, unlike the unfortunate experiment of trying to recreate my former work-hell in my new place of residence.

3. Related to the above, I'm diving again on a regular basis, in an attempt to overcome my aversion to excessive millimeters of neoprene and consequent need for ghastly loads of weight to counteract ang-as-fishing-bobber syndrome.

I'm on the flip side of my first big exam in the MDT program. Well, the first big exam following the swim eval, anyway. Monday marks the last official day of the first 8-week module of classes, the day for testing in Rigging, the day for demonstrating my blindfolded knowledge of the prescribed knots, bends, and hitches. But I'll save that ever-motivating anxiety for studying tomorrow. Yesterday was the big one: final exam for diving physics/ physiology class. This class met twice a week, for 2 hours; the text was the NOAA diving manual (which, if I haven't mentioned, is like the bible of diving. The best, most comprehensive several-hundred page diving reference one can own. I love this book.); the instructor gave much homework, and many pop quizzes and take-home tests, and had high expectations of us. The class is a building block, and unsatisfactory performance, as in all other MDT classes, hinders advancement to higher level courses.

The first time I studied the physics of diving, while studying for my divemaster cert., I didn't care for it, and passed with only the minimal understanding of its functions and applications (I also spent my days on a dive boat and my nights in seedy Thai beach bars with fellow dive bums... not the best conditions for studying.). This time around though, not only do I understand, but actually excelled in the class. This I find amazing actually, because part of doing well in this class is letting go of the idea that "I'm not good at math and/or science." Clearly I am. That said, I had no idea how much that one exam was weighing me down, and how anxious I was about taking it. Now that it's done, it seems life can resume again as before.

A few weeks ago, some friends asked me to join them for a night dive. I happily agreed, and that day went out to purchase a few night-diving accessories I'd been lacking: a dive light, a back-up dive light, and a hooded vest (not specific to night diving, but still a necessity). Wetsuits, vests, hoods, gloves, booties, etc., are made of neoprene, and is what keeps a diver warm under the water. Essentially, a wetsuit allows a thin layer of water to enter next to the skin where, because wetsuits are properly fitted as snugly as possible, the water is trapped and the body warms the layer of water, helping the body to stay warm. But, neoprene is buoyant, and a diver must compensate for this buoyancy with weight in order to descend for a dive. Adding a hooded vest increased my already-overwhelming need for weight, which I didn't quite realize until we were all in the water, my dive buddies a few feet below me, while my wetsuit defiantly floated me at the surface. I skipped the dive, and headed back to the shore to wait where total frustration kicked in. At about this point, I had a revelation I realized my training and experience, while decent, has still been pretty sheltered. I've never dealt with surf, or really poor visibility, or constant surge, or this cold, cold water that requires more gear than I've ever wanted to wear at one time. I realized I couldn't just simply assimilate.

I made a decision that I needed more experience diving in these conditions. As is often the case when light bulbs alight in one's mind, a serendipitous conversation occurred as early as the drive back home from the dive. One of my dive buds worked in the harbor, scrubbing boat hulls. I called the company the next day. My first day of training was 2 days later. So, my job is scrubbing boat hulls in the Channel Islands Harbor. I take a small boat, putter around in the marina until I find one of the boats on my cleaning list, tie off on the dock, fire up the on-deck air compressor, and I head underwater to scrub away all the marine growth and slime that accumulates in 1-2 months.

Lots of people go to the Marina on the weekends to sail, or clean their boats, or just to hang out. It happened that today, upon surfacing from beneath a boat, the owner had arrived in the time I was underwater. He asked me if I might look for a pair of glasses he'd lost over the side (not an uncommon request made of harbor divers, and usually accompanied by generous compen$ation). I descended to the bottom, no more than 10 feet. The bottom composition was a fine, gooey silt, which the slightest movement raised and suspended in the water, instantly and drastically reducing visibility. At one point, as I sat waiting for the water to clear, I looked down, hoping to see the tiniest fraction of the missing specs, and set my gaze upon one spot. Slowly, the water cleared, and for some reason, I continued looking at this particular spot. After a moment, I spotted not the glasses I was looking for, but something much more valuable. A wee octopus, camouflaged the color of the muck, was quietly and gently nestled into the muck, less than a foot away.

07 October 2006

et, voila.

Full moon tonight. Did you remember? Did you know? Did anything strange happen to you today that was strange enough, in retrospect, to be attributed to the moon in full wax? If not, here's one: I had a date tonight.

I've been thinking a lot of late about men. Understandably. In my new, shiny, California life, I'm surrounded by men. The women I know here are few: those I spend a few minutes with here and there in the locker room before/ after swimming class, acquaintances I've met through volunteering, one of the few others in the MDT program. Men, on the other hand, are abundant in classes, in the community. I seem to find myself in random situations/ conversations, more often than not, with men. It's easier, I suppose. I don't know why, it just is. And I know there are some others of you out there who would corroborate this sentiment. It's not that I don't want to form relationships and have female friends, it's just harder, more time-consuming, with more politics involved. The women friends I have now I've had for years, and have already waded through, long ago, all the emotional proving ground. It's hard, and not for the faint of heart. Of course I'm exaggerating a bit. But only a bit. But guy friendships are usually way easier (at least at the outset).

So, I'm surrounded by men most of the time. I didn't think this would bother me. I thought it would be an interesting novelty. It is an interesting novelty. But the same group of men, gathered en masse, with only one woman present, begin very quickly to forget their social graces, especially when engaged in a masculine discipline like diving. One on one, all is well, and normal conversations can be had, but gathered all together, guys can have nasty, dirty mouths/ thoughts/ actions/ ideas, and they can be very unabashedly vocal about the aforementioned (no, not all, but I will generalize, for the purpose of et, voila blog entry), and it's starting to freak me out.

That said, obviously, naturally, it would be nice to find a decent guy to date here in SB, hence tonight's full-moon date. But how does one reconcile nice-guy date, with gross, inappropriate guy-friend? If one becomes privy to the latter, how can he be ignored in the former? Because that's about all I could think about tonight, sitting across from this guy at dinner, was how easily I could see him, nestled in with the rest of the guys, making tasteless jokes, emitting questionable smells, only able to discuss beer and sports...

So, how do the 2 fit together? Because I certainly never saw the guy-friend in any of my guy friends, or guy-husband/ boyfriend-of-friend friends. But does the guy-friend exist in every guy? How do men and women ever come together, if we are truly so different one from the other?

29 September 2006

night swimming.

Lobster season started today. I'm not much of a hunter, but several of my enthusiastic classmates were going diving for bugs (as they're called in local parlance), and I decided to go along, as a novelty, just to go.

Lobster season here runs from October through March, with the first weekend being reserved for recreational fishers. The basic regulations, courtesy of the CA Dept. of Fish & Game:

Recreational harvesters need a valid sport shing license with an ocean enhancement stamp, and may use hoop nets or bare (gloved) hands when skin or scuba diving for lobster. No appliance, such as a sh spear or a short hooked pole, may be used to snag the animals from deep crevices or caves. The daily bag limit for sport shing is seven lobsters, reduced from 10 in 1971. Commercial and recreational lobster shermen are restricted to a minimum size limit of 3 1/4 inches carapace length.*
To be quite honest, the idea of catching something with the express purpose of ending its life for my own casual culinary enjoyment doesn't appeal to me. Of course, I'm not veggie, so my reasoning is a bit skewed, because I often eat things already killed for me. But I've never liked watching fish die, and always feel a bit guilty eating fishies, etc., because I'm a diver, and I often see them in their natural habitat. So the dive was intended as a diversion, not to be in any way productive.

My enthusiastic classmates, some of whom have been anticipating this day for many weeks and months, couldn't wait for the first day of the season to go diving, but instead wanted to be in the water at the very first minute of the season (lobster is a nocturnal species: they socialize, hunt, frollick primarily at night). We were at the dive site by 11:30pm.

This was my second dive out here. The water is a bit cold, there are largish waves to contend with getting into and out of the water, and said waves produce surge underwater (which results in a persistant back-and-forth churning motion, somewhat troublesome when one is essentially floating weightless, in kelp). Add a dive site 250 steps below where we parked (this dive was also off the Mesa), plus night, and I've got a healthy respect (read: minor fear) for this dive. The respect is warranted, but the fear is really overkill, as I'm a strong and competent diver, diving with others of similar experience, so there's really no question of whether or not I'll be diving (despite the moments of indecision on the beach, watching 4-5 ft. waves, at a minimum, breaking just off shore).

After a decent surface swim, we arrive at a buoy, and excite the bioluminescence for a while, until everyone converges, and then we descend. My dive bud is Carlo (given name Giancarlo, a good Italian name), a surfer from LA, and one of the most patient and chill people I know. Underwater, we meander a bit, not really seeing anything at first. Visibility is ok, but not great, and at our shallow depth, the surge is really moving us around. After maybe 15 minutes, I see a lobster. I momentarily extinguish my dive light, to give me a moment to think, but without scaring the wee bugger off. I turn the light back on, and reach in, but he's surprisingly fast, and jets away before I get a good hold on him. Repeat this same scenario about 5 more times, and you get the gyst of my dive. What surprised me though, was that after reaching in for that first one, I really wanted to take at least one bug, a kind of fever. I wanted it bad.

But it wasn't meant to be. The dive ended a few thousand psi later, we surfaced, and, with the help of Carlo's knowledgeable suggestions, made it safely through the surf, back to shore, and somehow, back up those 250 steps.
*The overall health of the species looks to be in good condition, according to Blue Ocean Institute (the same group that publishes those handy little wallet-sized educational miniguides with info on which species are still abundant/ ok to enjoy, and which are overfished/ should be avoided. Download the guide from the site's homepage- link is at upper right.).

25 September 2006


Best weekend ever, and by far the busiest since I've been here.

Friday: After classes, I meandered off to work, where I found I wasn't needed for the day. So instead, I hopped on my bike to explore. Upon my return home, I stumbled upon a care package from Aunt Ann, full of goodies. Excellent timing.

Saturday: Earlier in the week, I'd been invited to volunteer for a nonprofit just getting underway, the Channel Islands Marine & Wildlife Institute. Eventually, the organization will rehabilitate injured marine mammals (and has already worked with and released a few injured sea lions), but the facility still needs a goodish amount of preparation, so the day was spent taping, painting, power-washing, cleaning, with an excellent bbq midday. It was good to have a day of honest work, to meet some great new people, to learn more about the organization.

Sunday: In appreciation for volunteering, Eric invited a few of us out on the Condor Express, for whale-watching in the Channel. Even though the Vikes were playing the Bears, I decided to take him up on the offer. Our first wildlife encounter was in the harbor, a docile Harbor Seal. Not too far out of the harbor, we ran into a few large groups of sea lions feeding, frolicking, and flipping on the waves; beyond that, multiple pods of dolphins. And then... our first whales.

To be quite honest, I hadn't anticipated seeing anything. And truly, it would have been enough for me to be on the boat, on the water, on such a beautiful sunny day as Sunday was. I was happy to ride the swell, facing into the wind, under a clear blue sky... But we saw whales, and multiple whales, and multiple whales of 2 different species.

The first we saw were Minke whales, wee little things in the scheme of things. They kept at a distance, and we watched them surfacing every now and then, flashing a little tail fluke in our direction, until finally they left their last *footprint on the water's surface, and were gone.

As we got back underway, more whales were spotted on the horizon. We headed off in that direction, and were greeted by one-two-three humpback whales. Humpback whales. Can you imagine that I live in a place where humpback whales can be found mere miles offshore? Can you imagine that?

Three. Humpback. Whales. At 11am on a Sunday.

I digress. Basically, the captain brought the boat near the whales, and maneuvered around a bit, but mainly just stayed in one spot, and the whales just hung out near, around, under and right damn next to! the boat. We stayed for about a half hour on the way out, and for another half hour on the way back in, when we spotted 2 of the same Humpback. Whales. Amazing. (and very lucky, apparently. Sunday was not a typical whale-watching day.)

A sampling of what we saw:

Sea Lion in mid-water flip.

Common Dolphins at the bow.

Wee Minke Whale.

Humpback head.

Alternate view, Humpback head.

Humpback tail fluke, directly off the bow.

How a Humpback waves goodbye.

22 September 2006

ebb, and flow.

I'm feeling better now, much better and more positive than I was at the week's outset. Thanks to all who called and commented. Connecting with you really helped raise my wee sad spirits.

A few good things this week:

I started a job at a small gallery on State St., about 3 blocks from my apartment. My responsibilities there are very similar to what I was doing at the museum in Mpls., so it's easy and a bit mindless. I'm still keeping my options open, but the owners are a nice middle-aged couple, the pay is decent, it's close to home, and they're willing to work around my class schedule.

I completed my first diving physics take-home exam this week. I spent several hours working on the assignment, mathematics and formulas and equations never having been my strong suit. The work paid off though: the test results were returned this morning and my score was 98%. Sweet.

I met some of the advanced semester MDT students this week, including one (of 2, or 3) of the female students, Julie. One of my instructors, Geoff, after seeing that I'd met Julie, asked me into his office for a chat. He suggested I keep talking to Julie, and meet the other women in the program. Geoff is prone to bluntness, and soon revealed his real motive for pulling me aside. He wanted to know what my plan is, what I want to do in the business, why I'm in the program. He talked about the handful of women who've gone through the program; how women typically turn toward the research end of the commercial dive spectrum, where the pay's not so good, and the opportunities are few; about how few women he saw working in the industry in his many years on rigs; how any woman who does this kind of work is still very much a pioneer. His words weren't intended to discourage, they were meant to inform. I know what he's saying is true, I know what I'll do when I leave here isn't the same as half my young male classmates will do, I know we're all here for different reasons. I've thought about everything he said at least once before, and I still find it a curious, and welcome circumstance that life's adventures have led me here.

Commercial diving is, at its core, diving, and so it attracts divers. It's easy to romanticize what we're here to do, but our instructors like to remind us, lest we forget, that diving in this business is a means of transport, and at the very core of this work, we are laborers just like any other. So the chat with Geoff was good because it opened an avenue of investigation, and introduced a mentor/ advisor to help navigate.

19 September 2006


I think this must be it. This must be as frustrated and disheartened as I can get. I'm totally in breakdown mode. There's no more novelty, I'm broke, and sad, and would give just about anything to get a hug from someone I really know, to kiss my little niece, or even to get a callback from you despondant punks who can't be bothered. Things just feel very bad at the moment, and I can't rationalize it away. I'm nervous about classes and paying rent at the end of the month, and something's gone haywire with my loan check. I went to the gym to get some reprieve from the stream of doomsday thoughts, but they came right back as soon as I walked back out of the place.

Ok, that's all. I just needed to vent a little. I heart you all, even when you don't call me back. But seriously, do call if you have a few minutes. I need a little love right now.

15 September 2006

and finally, the below.

Finally went diving today. I guess it's been close to 2 months since I've been underwater, since the last time I dove the aquarium, and I don't even know when that was. It occurs to me I could look back at my August entries and find out, if I really need to know. But, I'm splitting hairs, and it really doesn't matter all that much.

My dive buds today were 2 fellow MDT students, others who, coincidentally, also skated the edge of passing the swim eval, and ended up in non-diving MDT classes, and open swim three days a week this semester. Our site was Thousand Steps, off the Mesa. As you might imagine, the Mesa (–noun: a land formation, less extensive than a plateau, having steep walls and a relatively flat top and common in arid and semiarid parts of the southwestern U.S. and Mexico) is an elevated portion of the city, populated by some very beautiful, and other quite average, homes, situated on streets sloping, and twisting. Three sides of the Mesa lead down to other parts of the town, the last abuts the ocean, high up, on cliffs. The thousand steps (actually only 140, as verified today by Dave) lead down to the beach, which at high tide is scant. The bed of kelp we explored lies just off shore.

For the past few years, the bulk of my diving has been at the aquarium. My last day at work there, I calculated my cumulative bottom time at 2,500 minutes, or something like 41 hours I'd spent underwater there alone. Bottom time at the aquarium doesn't really constitute a dive, which, by definition must be to a certain depth, with minimum requirements for the amount of air consumed, and perhaps other idiosyncracies put forth by unnamed worldwide dive organizations. The tanks at the aquarium, at their deepest, are 14 feet. There's no current, or tide, or surge to consider when diving at the aquarium; visibility never drops below 35 feet; salinity is constant; gear is supplied, on-site and neatly configured.

It's slightly different in the ocean.

To attend the MDT program, I needed some new gear. What I used in Thailand is still in great condition, but is for use in much warmer waters. I needed a thicker wetsuit and a new BCD (buoyancy compensation device, or the vest that keeps a diver afloat at the surface and allows her to attain neutral buoyancy @ depth), at the minimum. Scuba can instill a voracious appetite in a diver, and there are always more contraptions and contrivances promising to make future dives better, creating ample opportunity for the diver to succumb, but mostly I stuck to the basics. I did add in a few non-essentials to make life a bit easier (of greatest and most beloved note, a nylon dive skin, which shaves about 15 minutes off shimmying into a wetsuit. I'll never, never be without this item, ever, ever again.).

Diving at the aquarium, being as easy and routine as it was, required no real thought. I arrived, shimmed limbs and torso into the wetsuit, threw on the other, pre-assembled gear, and hopped into the tank. Considering my ocean dive today, the first in this new gear, had me running to old dive manuals, calculating weight requirements, and mentally assessing the state of a regulator unused since last February.

The dive itself was amazing. I can still get nervous before a dive, mostly when I haven't been in the water for a while, when in new locations, or when conditions are more adverse than I'm familiar or comfortable with. The weather was lovely today, but the waves were a bit high, and breaking close to shore. At the surface, we swam out to the kelp bed, and descended. There was just a touch of the old panic in me, as the visibility looked to be shit, and the water was cold, but we descended and once at the bottom, the panic was gone, and I was happy to be underwater. The gear performed marvelously, and needs a few adjustments, but overall appears to have been a very solid investment. Being so close to shore, the surge was slightly nauseating at times, but also fun to ride back and forth. At one point, when I'd stopped to look around for my fellow divers, I looked off the reef and saw someone familiar, jettisoning itself off and away, a shovelnose guitarfish, similar to inhabitants of Shark Cove at the aquarium.

11 September 2006

nine eleven.

I woke up this morning sort of half realizing it was 9/11, but not really attaching any significance to the date, despite the efforts of news commentators, journalists, radio personalities to the opposite. After all, what isn't compared to 9/11 these days? Everything we do, everything we hear seems somehow related to that date, our world post-9/11 this, and homeland security that, and so for me, the plot to draw attention to the 5th anniversary of 9/11 seemed contrived, fabricated, forced.

And so, this morning, when I tuned into the LA NPR station to get a dose of humanity before heading off to 7am Rigging class, and heard more about 9/11, it didn't affect me much. I listened to talk of 9/11 health issues, and 9/11 remembrances, and all related matter, but continued on my merry morning way, unencumbered by any kind of emotion.

At some point, Linda Wertheimer chimed in about the morning's memorial activities. It was just after 6am here, which means it was just after 9am on the east coast, the point of origin for Linda's weekday gospel. For some reason, something she said, something seemingly innocuous finally broke through to my heart, and evoked a response. She simply stated that, that morning in New York, by the time I was just rolling out of bed on the west coast here in sunny, carefree SoCal, NYC had already observed 2 moments of silence: one at the time the first plane hit the first tower, and another at the moment the second plane hit the other tower. I don't know why it struck me then, I don't even remember the details of what she said, even though I wanted to. I don't know why it didn't strike me until then. For whatever reason, hearing that small bit of information took me back to that day immediately, to all the emotions associated with that day and the days following, to all the new-found fears, to all the questions, to the desire to watch, again and again, the unbelievable images of the towers being hit, of the hopeless jumping to their deaths from the highest reaches of those crumbling buildings, to listening to the phone messages of those on doomed flights, dialing home to say "I love you" a last time, to the morbid curiosity to see a world so very different and horrific than anything I could ever imagine. Linda's words took me back to that very morning, one I remember very clearly.

Separating the event from the propaganda it seems to have become, 9/11 really is a defining moment in our lives. Everything now is pre- or post-9/11 because our world has become so very, very different. It's not about a president, it's not about a terrorist cell, it's not about a bungled war. It's about a moment in time that has shaped who we are as a nation, who we are as individuals, for better or for worse. I think it must be akin to the assassination of JFK: I remember that morning vividly, the same way your neighbor might remember first hearing about that grassy knoll. I'm sure you remember too, where you were, the images that haunted you most, when you first realized how it would change the world we live in.

08 September 2006

take 2.

The gym that I joined has a slogan on its printed materials: "There comes a time in life when you no longer put up with cheap furniture, cheap wine, and cheap health clubs. Are you there yet?" Well, apparently I'm one-third of the way there, having joined the club. I'm far from being the rest of the way there, considering my home furnishings, and that I still do my best to observe the credo put forth while studying in France, with regard to wine (the best possible, for the fewest francs possible, back when francs were still France's monetary unit.).

The gym is actually not that expensive, a scant $10 more per month than the YWCA I belonged to in Mpls. For that extra $10, I get towel service, a gym that is easier to walk to than to drive, individual televisions connected to the elipticals, headphone plug-ins and television remote controls at all workout machines, a ladies-only area (which is way better than trying to squeeze in between the lovely meathead manly-men), a decent array of classes, a bathroom/ locker room loaded up with every necessity, friendly staff, and bright, airy spaces. It is a luxury, but one I won't compromise. Plus, I've decided I'll catch up on my television veiwing there: football games, news programs, Access Hollywood, all the programs really worth watching.

The rest of my second week of classes was good. In Drafting we'll apparently be drawing things. I suppose I knew this in some vague recess of my mind, but it didn't register. Or I didn't want it to register, drawing of any sort never having been one of my talents. We drew a building this week. First we sketched it, and then we transferred it to another sheet of paper using guides and straight edges and title boxes and lettering. It was the longest 3.5-hour night school class of my life. Using guides and straight edges is very precise, and very, very tedious. I think my building turned out alright though, and the next time it will probably be easier.

Swimming is also progressing really nicely. The class I was initially enrolled in, Swimming for Conditioning, wasn't really what I was looking for. Fortunately the Intermediate Swimming class meets at the same time, so last week I switched over. The class name is misleading, it's more of a technique class, using the Total Immersion System, which is a bit strange and cultish, but reasonably so: it's very effective. Basically we start with drills that focus on different bits of the stroke (freestyle, in this case), and then eventually work them all together, with the goal of never, ever repeating any of the old offenses. The class, for me, is perfect. The technique is cool, and really stresses being streamlined and graceful in the water, and it feels lovely to be gliding along that way. It's also good to be in the water a few times a week. I do miss that, not being in the diving classes, and no longer working at the aquarium.

I'm still looking for work, now to maintain sanity as well as gain an income. I have way. too. much. time on my hands. It's really not so good. I am accomplishing quite a bit, but endless days and nights of free time, with weekends to boot... I need to be more occupied and busy than I am at present. So send me good, positive find-an-awesome-job kinda vibes, because the search continues!

06 September 2006

details, details.

Finally back to classes today, and I couldn't be happier. Back to 7am diving physics, 10am swimming, and drafting night school. I have tomorrow off again, but now I have some new homework, more things to think about, ideas to mull over, more classes to prepare for. I'm glad to be busy again, glad the preliminaries of the first week are over, and that we can dive in, well, as much as a scant 3-day weekly schedule can be considered *diving in.

I hit a wall last week. I think, and the idea has been corroborated by my friend David, that at some point during a transition like this, you just do hit a wall. Everything can still be great and amazing, looking forward to each new day, but. Everything feels a bit off, you're not really sure about the new surroundings, questioning, doubting, worrying about the pieces that haven't yet fallen into place after an entire week and a half... and then maybe things start to go wrong. I was having all the feelings last week, and then, during the 15 minutes I'd stopped in at the MDT building at day's end Friday, someone snagged my bike seat and seat post. That gets a big goddammit. Actually, I took it in stride when it happened. I knew better than not to lock down every removable piece of the machinery every time I walked away from it, but it was Friday, I was lazy, I didn't bother. So, I took on some of the responsibility, sucked it up, and walked around until I found a bike shop to replace the missing parts.

It was a rapid descent from there, nothing really wrong, per se, just that all the excitement and novelty of the planning and the journey and the settling in is all over, and now I get back to figuring out the day-to-day, which is not so fun or glamorous or scintillating or unnerving as all the rest has been. Now it's back to normal life, albeit in a most amazing locale. Sunday I reached my limit, and was feeling low, low down. I made a few phone calls, and hauled my ass to the beach to read. Instead of resisting the leisure, I forced myself to embrace it, while it's here, because certainly, soon enough, I'll have gotten myself involved in many too many things, and life will be insane. So I took a book to the beach, and laid there, and listened to the waves, and watched people frolicking, and soon felt much better.

It's funny though, when I lived in Minneapolis, I felt like everything was such a challenge, the daily and weekly tasks such a burden, so hard to fit everything in, friends, family, jobs. Here though, it's different. I don't mind having to run to Santa Cruz market to get food, and I don't mind that I have to go more frequently because my storage and refrigeration space is so small. I don't mind doing laundry, or tidying up, don't mind cooking or vacuuming. I'm not sure what the difference is, if it's because I'm not nearly as busy, or because I'm happy, or because I'm unemployed and don't have to go to hateful workplace anymore, but life seems much less of a burden here, now. My life is much simpler, I feel more focused, more balanced, less neurotic. As though I don't need to surround myself with so much because I have a pretty good idea of what I want, of what's ahead. Maybe it's the sunshine, or being so near the sea, or maybe it's just having chosen the unknown, rather than settling for the familiar.

03 September 2006


A holiday weekend doesn't have the same meaning when one is unemployed, really. I'm actually finding the timing of this particular holiday weekend a bit unfortunate. Here we've only just begun classes, and already have a day off! I'd much rather be in class on Monday, occupied, getting more assignments to occupy more time.

If you're not picking up on it, the bulk of my time is unstructured at the moment, a bit uncomfortably so. My time here has been amazing so far, and I love the area. I love riding my bike, I love meandering, I'm beginning to love just sitting at the beach. The problem is that there's a bit of an imbalance. I have so much down time, it's beginning to drive me a bit cuckoo. I've been unemployed now for a month. My in-class time for this past week was a good beginning, but I'm ready to throw myself into this, and I can't yet. Due to the holiday weekend, we have 3 days off, and then I also have Tuesday off, and now I also have Thursdays off for the next 8 weeks, due to the re-scheduling of the Hydraulics class/ lab combo. I don't know how to deal with this, actually. I'm really not good at unstructured time. I mean, I could be productive and spend more time working out, or more time writing, or reading, or getting out and meeting people somehow, and I was really trying to do that for the first week, but now, it just feels like it's all unstructured time, and there's no balance, and I don't really know what to do with myself anymore.

Ok. Deep breath. I am trying to appreciate what I have at the moment. If I think about all I've accomplished in the past month, it's pretty astonishing. And before that, I'd been working 2 jobs for more than a year. So I should really just enjoy this downtime, really relish it because it's been a busy summer, and it's been a busy year. It's just hard to appreciate something when you have so much of it!

28 August 2006

the bitter end.

First day of classes yesterday. 7am, Rigging and Marlinespike Seamanship. In case you don't know (because I certainly didn't yesterday morning), rigging is, per my notes, the art and practice of moving stuff using mechanical advantage, while marlinespike seamanship is tying knots, apparently. I'm pretty sure this was not the exact wording used in the instructor's presentation, but it gives a general idea. Other classes yesterday were Swimming for Conditioning (Yes! P.E. classes again!), and Rigging Lab. It being the first day, Swimming was pretty easy- no getting in the water, just getting generally familiarized with the pool, the instructor, expectations, syllabus. During the Rigging Lab in the afternoon, we tied knots, bends and hitches. The class runs for 3 hours. We tied knots, bends and hitches for 3 hours (truly! we did.). A sampling:

Hitches: Clove/ Constrictor/ Half/ Trucker
Knots: Overhand/ Square/ Figure 8/ Figure 8 on a bight/ Bowline/ Bowline on a bight/ Buoy
Bends: Sheet/ Riggers

It may not sound so difficult to tie knots for 3 hours, but it is. Knots, bends and hitches can be very confusing, indeed. Our homework for next time is to tie a monkey's fist:

which is a bit messy, but so satisfying to look at when complete.

Today, Tuesday, I have no classes, but tomorrow begins Fundamental Practices of Diving (Modular study of diving physics, physiology, dive planning and safety; stresses the importance of environmental and equipment-related situations. Computations utilizing various decompression profiles emphasized.), more Swimming (this time, getting into the pool), and Drafting (Fundamental concepts of technical drawing. Topics include lettering, use of instruments, mathematics for drafting, multiviews, dimensioning, assemblies, sections, pictorials, perspectives, graphs and charts.). Thursday's classes are Hydraulics (Study of industrial fluid power mechanics with a practical laboratory component as related to marine equipment. Emphasis placed upon schematic design, interpretation and the role of hydraulic equipment and control systems as applied to subsea work systems, tools and work class remotely-operated vehicles.) and Hydraulics Lab.

The beauty of all of this is that I haven't a clue about any of it! It's a world of new and fascinating information, skill sets, points of reference.

I continued to acquaint myself with SBA over the weekend: Saturday, visited the harbor and Maritime Museum, attended a lovely barbeque and actually had real conversations with nice people, live and in person (as opposed to over the phone).

Sunday, drove to the nearest Target (in Ventura, 30 miles south) for a few more organizational aids, and walked along the beach at the Channel Islands National Park (not the actual islands, the part of the park that's in Ventura).

On the way home, I took a leisurely route along the coast, and stopped for a minute to chat with big bro. When I returned to my car, I spotted something in my driver's side mirror that was at first puzzling, and then a bit funny, and reminiscent of my time in Cannes, where it is, apparently, every person's right to urinate (ahem), etc. wherever one wants.

*title credit: The bitter end refers to the extreme end of a line, and a line is the term used for rope which has been cut from a box, spool, etc.

25 August 2006

forgotten tomatoes.

I had another *discover Santa Barbara excursion today, this time by bike. It has been good to wander around in my car for the past couple days, because I'm not always great with directions, and can easily get lost, especially in a place where the landmarks don't go in straight lines, like one might expect. Note the freeway, and its meandering course. Note also the orientation of the streets, how they're a bit cockeyed? The streets actually run north-south, for the most part, but every map skews it like this. Not sure why, but it makes life difficult for one so directionally challenged comme moi.

In any case though, today was the day I got the bike out and hit the streets. First went to the library to get a library card, and acquaint myself with the place. Then, on to the Old Mission. If you're not familiar with the history of Santa Barbara and the missions of California, as in all things, wikipedia can enlighten. I got there late afternoon, right around 5, so it was closed, but I was able to walk around, and take a few pics.

After the uphill trek to the Mission, I coasted all the way down State St., all the way to the beach. It being Friday, everyone was out, heading to restaurants, shopping, strolling. I walked out to the end of Stearns Wharf and bought some saltwater taffy and toffee peanuts to quell my sweet tooth. The Tall Ship Pilgrim sailed into port, and was welcomed by the explosion of a canon, manned by a gentleman in period costume and goatee.

Now a leisurely evening at home, reading my books from the library. Tomorrow, to mark the occasion of my first week in SB, I'll visit the Maritime Museum, and maybe step aboard the Pilgrim for a minute. I've also been invited to a BBQ, so maybe I'll also meet some new friends ;)

*title credits: while getting my bike out from behind the garage, I spied something red peeking out from beneath the mad brambles of wild plants. This unruly patch of green appears be tomato plants gone wild and forgtotten, or some very, very convincing assimilation thereof.