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.