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!