Under the Sea

Okay, one last Grand Cayman story. At the end of yesterday’s post, I mentioned that there was a lot of snorkeling on that trip. It makes sense, of course. We were in the Caribbean, of course a lot of our activities would involve the water and seeing what was in the water with us.

I’m not a great swimmer. I can swim, and could probably swim well enough to swim out of trouble if trouble approached me slowly, but Diana Nyad, I’m not. I’m fascinated by the ocean, however, and by sea creatures.

Backstory on me and snorkeling: The first time I went to Jamaica, I was excited to go snorkeling. My friends and I got gear and marched ourselves into the water. And the ocean didn’t disappoint. I saw lots of fish — including a beautiful moment when a school of silversides swam around me. I saw sea urchins, a conch, lots of coral … After I’d been paddling around a while, I was annoyed because there was a terrible noise that was distracting me from my leisurely sea-gazing. It was a loud, rasping noise, as if Darth Vader was about to tell me he was my father. I kept looking for what could be the source of the nuisance. Finally I realized that I was the source. What I was hearing was the sound of my own panic breathing, loud and terrified, amplified by the snorkel and maybe by the water. I don’t know, but it was LOUD.

Panic breathing even though I was totally fine … and would always have been totally fine because I was snorkeling in such shallow water I could just stand up when the going got too unnerving. Seriously. The second place we snorkeled on that trip was a sand bar. I couldn’t even swim there. I just lay on the ocean floor and looked around.

Why panic breathing? Because I am fascinated by the ocean, but I’m also pretty entirely afraid of it. And when I’m fully in it, swimming around with the beings that live there, I’m out of place. I’m the alien, unable to adapt, inserting myself into someone else’s territory. The landscape is foreign, the atmosphere is inhospitable — I can’t breathe there unless I have special equipment — and no one speaks my language.

And being underwater in the ocean, I discovered, makes me feel claustrophobic. Really, really claustrophobic.

All of this adds up to panic breathing. I consciously calmed my breath and forced myself to keep going. There was so much I wanted to see. And I got to see a lot, but my snorkeling fear took hold from that first day. I snorkeled a few more times on that trip — even had a barracuda swim on his own leisurely path right in front of my nose! I kept snorkeling, but my fear didn’t abate.

So when I agreed to be a chaperone on the Grand Cayman trip, I knew there would be snorkeling on our agenda. I figured it would be like what I’d done in Jamaica, and I’d make it work. I also figured that, with two other adults sharing the chaperone duties, there would be times when I could opt out of being in the water. And then the other chaperones announced that they had no intention of swimming because they couldn’t swim and were terrified of the water. So I would have to do all the snorkeling. All. And keep a brave face on while doing it so the kids who were nervous would feel better about giving it a try.

Our first outing, we got on a boat, and motored out further from shore than I’d ever snorkeled before. Our captain and guide announced that the spot he was taking us to would be great for seeing lots of things … and would be between 75 and 80 feet deep. And, while the kids were oohing and aahing at the thought of such deep water, I was repeatedly confirming for myself that no, in fact I wouldn’t be able to just stand up if I was freaking out. I’m tall, but I am woefully human-sized, so no toes on in the sand and head above the waves options there.

We put on our gear when we reached the designated spot, and our guide and his crew began helping the kids into the water. I descended the ladder and pushed off from the boat and, before I even put my face in the water, I could feel my panic breathing start. Under the guise of monitoring the kids, I treaded water and did some deep breathing exercises to calm myself. I finally got my breath back to something that could pass for normal, and went under.

And I saw lots of fabulousness, including rainbow parrotfish, who I fell in love with instantly, and gorgeous, enormous sea fan coral (gorgonia ventalina), which is one of my favorite corals. I also saw how far the floor was below me, and I had to fight back the panic breathing again. And I saw a stingray … and I decided to swim back to the boat … which at first I couldn’t find but located before a full panic attack could erupt.

I don’t remember how many snorkeling outings we had during that week. At least five, including one day when we snorkeled at two different venues. Vidalys, one of the older girls who had held my hand across the aisle on the plane because she was terrified of flying, told me she was excited to get better at snorkeling because she could see how much I loved it. I almost laughed. Then I realized that a) my “Whistle a Happy Tune” approach to being a snorkeling chaperone had worked for both Vidalys and for me because b) I was loving the snorkeling. I was loving seeing all those rainbow parrotfish and seeing corals and seeing all the other underwater-world things there were to see. And by the last couple of excursions, I no longer had to calm myself because the panic breathing had stopped clawing at my throat.

I’m still not Diana Nyad, nor will I ever be. I am, however, making some undersea plans. I have a gift I want to give myself when I hit my 60s, and it involves some serious undersea activity. Just thinking about it calls up the old panic, but Grand Cayman taught me the cure for that: I just have to keep diving in.


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Enjoy the Silence

Most of the traveling I’ve done has been solo travel. When I was young and would quit whatever job I had so that I could travel for as long as I wanted (or until the money ran out), I would spend long stretches of time in silence. Sometimes I would miss casual conversation, the easy talking that could be done with someone who spoke my language, with someone who spoke my language as their first language.

I am thinking about those extended periods of not talking because the shelter-in-place order I now live under creates something like that for me when I’m not working. During my work-at-home days, I have meetings and meetings and meetings. I have anything but silence. Come the weekend, however, I have to conjure up some activity if I want to speak — a phone call, a zoom date.

At the same time, it’s hardly true that I’m silent in my downtime these days. I’m a talker, and there always seems to be some chatter of one kind or another around here. I talk to myself. I talk to my cats. I am that crazy spinster lady you’ve heard tell about. I talk. 

On a call with a friend this morning, she mentioned how hard the silence has been for her. Like me, she lives alone. Unlike me, she has been working at home for a couple of weeks now, and the quiet is getting to her.

And so I thought about my travel experience and the enforced silence of having neither a companion nor enough language to make real conversation easy. And that silence went on sometimes, went on for one week, for two weeks, of me really not speaking at all. And it was hard sometimes, but it was also okay. I was writing in my journal, I was having an adventure. Silence wasn’t a weight I was carrying.

And we have tools now that I didn’t have when I was traveling. We have the ability to be in contact no matter how physically isolated we are. We’re just at the beginning of sheltering in place. Now’s the time to figure out how not to be driven crazy by things like not talking. We have a much longer period of aloneness ahead.


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13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
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Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Still Processing …

Plans are taking shape for offering our programming online. I spent pretty much this whole day in meetings with our program directors, answering questions, encouraging brainstorming, trying to reassure them that they won’t be left in the lurch.

I’m exhausted.

I’m also, for the first time, worried. It’s not that I didn’t take this virus seriously before today. I most certainly took it seriously. It’s not that I didn’t acknowledge that I am in the group of people at risk for having a bad time with this virus if I get sick. I acknowledged that. So what’s different?

Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve actually had to make plans for working from home, had to wrestle with the concrete facts of the degree to which I’ll self-isolate, had to cross the line from “here’s what *people* should do,” to “here’s what *I* have to do.”

I’m also sad. Preemptively sad. I’m sad thinking about not getting to see my really excellent team every day until the fog lifts on this terrible time. I’m sad thinking about all of the people that will be negatively impacted by this virus. I’m sad thinking about all the ways we as a country could have responded more quickly and helpfully so that fewer people would be in jeopardy. I’m sad thinking about the fact that my trip to visit my family last month will be the last time I’ll visit for the foreseeable future.

I wasn’t thinking about any of these things yesterday. I wasn’t worried yesterday. I wasn’t thinking about the fact that, if I  were to wind up in the worst-case version of this illness, I would likely not be a candidate for the limited supply of life-saving acute care equipment because of my age and size and pre-existing health conditions.

Wow, talk about things that aren’t helping my mood. I mean, damn.

Yes, and.

And it’s also true that I ate a delicious Jona Gold apple today. It’s also true that I saw my team rally and come up with great ideas today. It’s also true that I had great text exchanges with my best-beloved niece and nephew. It’s also true that I started my day with a text from my best-beloved sister. It’s also true that my hair looked great today. It’s also true that the day turned from grey, foggy, and rainy to clear-blue sunny when I wasn’t looking. It’s also true that I made a connection with one of my neighbors. It’s also true that I won every game of online Scrabble I played. And it’s also true that I saw my first star of the night before the sun had fully set.

So, yeah. All of that. All of that. I’m worried. I’m prepping to start doing 60% of my work from home. And I’m determined to be fine, to keep myself as safe and healthy as I can … and to remember that practicing gratitude always makes me feel better.


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
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Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Pandemic A-Go-Go

You know, or something.

I’m not really trying to be flip about what’s happening with this virus. I’m just … at a loss for what all to say. My state’s governor announced today that the education programs I oversee are all ceasing in-person services for the rest of the semester. We have a week to come up with a contingency plan before online programming is set to begin.

We need more than a week.

I think the decision to go online is a good one. I think it’s the right decision. It just isn’t that easy for programs like mine, and certainly isn’t anything like easy for the people we serve.

We’re rallying. I mean, of course we are. How not? Our students are everything, and we need to make sure they are supported through this strange time. And also, this is what we do, right? We figure shit out and make plans and carry on. It’s what we’re all doing everywhere, right? Because our lives have to go on, and our communities have to come through this, and so we do what we have to do.

And then I stopped at my grocery store on the way home. I wanted some fancy cheese and some French bread and some fruit. In and out. Easy, right? How did it not occur to me that — between the WHO announcement and the governor shutting schools down all over the state — people would be panic-shopping and losing their minds all through the aisles?

I am silly this way. Entirely.

I can’t really be this oblivious, and yet … I wasn’t prepared. Wasn’t prepared for the serious soul-searching in the produce aisle, a couple debating whether they should risk fresh fruits and vegetables because someone who handled the food might have been “A CARRIER.” Wasn’t prepared for the woman taking every case of bottled water on the shelves and setting her small child atop the pile in her cart to keep other shoppers from trying to swipe a case. Wasn’t prepared for the man who tried to convince people to let him cut the (very long) check out line by giving us dramatic stage-coughs and saying, “I got the asthma! I can’t be around all these people! Let me get home!”

I wasn’t prepared.

I’m home now. I got my snacks. I’ve sent a zillion emails to staff to get our planning under way. I’ve emailed my family so they won’t worry about me, all alone up here in the sickly north.

So, here we go, friends. Here we go.

Sending love and well wishes to you and yours and hoping we all come through this intact, stronger for our struggles, and ready for the next challenge!


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
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Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Sing a song of … safety?

I am managing not to freak out about COVID 19 … yet. Today, my governor declared a state of emergency, but I haven’t done any stockpiling, and I won’t. Mostly this is true because I am supremely bad at disaster prep. When I was in Jamaica ahead of a Category 4 hurricane aimed right at the part of the island where I was staying, I didn’t even think about doing any shopping until someone on the street asked me if I had what I needed. I went to the store then … and purchased not much of anything: a candle, a bottle of water, a few snacks, some rice and saltfish, a bottle of wine. That was it.

But I’m also not stockpiling because I don’t think it’s necessary — maybe not at all, but certainly not just yet. (Fingers crossed that the cosmos doesn’t decide to show me just how wrong I am to believe that.) I have a regular grocery delivery coming on Monday, and that should be fine.

I have, however, begun paying more attention to handwashing, to the time I spend scrubbing my hands. I couldn’t bear to sing “happy birthday” every time I washed my hands, though. Fortunately, the internet provides. There are several lists circulating that offer up other things you can sing that will carry you through 20 seconds of washing. That won me over. While there were plenty of songs on the lists that I don’t know or know well enough to sing all the way through the designated section, the moment I saw the refrain to Prince’s “Raspberry Beret,” I knew I’d found my timer.

You could, of course, sing anything. And tonight I started thinking of other bits of songs to use for when I want I sing about something other than “the kind you find in a secondhand store.” A few options:

  • “Amie,” Pure Prairie League — final refrain or just the “falling in and out of love” part
  • “Sweet Baby James,” James Taylor — refrain
  • “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” Rodgers and Hart — the opening verse that most people don’t sing, or the “he’s a fool and don’t I know it,” part
  • “Don’t Mess Around with Jim,” Jim Croce — the verse, my particular choice would be the one when Slim comes on the scene
  • “Desafinado” or “Off-Key,” Antonio Carlos Jobim — any of the verses, in Portuguese or English
  • “Águas de Março,” Antonio Carlos Jobim — first verse

Okay, I’ll stop. My point is that it’s easy to sing for 20 seconds. It’s easy to sing a whole lot longer, and if washing our hands while we do it will help keep us and our loved ones and people around us safe, it’s time to queue up the tunes and get to singing!

Let us all sing,
it’s good for almost anything.
It’s good for musty, dusty throats
to let out gusty, lusty notes.
It’s good for people, frogs, and goats
to open up and sing!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5I3pN_9XAY

 


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot