Tripping: Cenote Diving (part 2)

Uncategorized

Cenote DivingLet’s start this off with the facts. I’m a PADI certified rescue diver. I have 40+ dives logged, most of them in the challenging cold water of the Pacific Northwest, in a semi-dry suit. I wasn’t ever sure I wanted to dive in the first place. I hate low visibility, I hate darkness, and most of all, I hate enclosed spaces to the point where I even hate simulated caves at theme parks.

All this is true. I agreed to join my husband on two dives through the cenote named Dos Ojos, “Two Eyes,” near Tulum, Q. Roo, Mexico. This dive required a trained cave diver (who is trained to go into the completely black underwater caverns like the ones that make up the underground river system in the Yucatan). We were allowed on this journey because this wasn’t a cave dive, it was a cavern dive, the difference being that there are exits (not that they are necessarily visible) within no more than a hundred or so feet from an opening to air. Sometimes, during the dive, light from above ground would illuminate these exits. Other times, it would be just you, your buddy and leader, and your flashlight, with rocks overhead and stalactites around you. It’s unlike any experience I’ve ever had, and my first fresh water diving experience (requiring less weights in my BCD).

The first dive went pretty well, though I definitely wasn’t sold on the experience. The second dive was to the Bat Cave (and yes, there were bats on the ceiling when we popped up inside the cavern!) The dive promised to be a bit darker than the previous one, and it was. As we went through the sometimes narrow passages, following our guide, Victor, I had a moment where I heard a rumbling. Deep rumbles transmit well under water, and are at a frequency that surrounds you, with no direction to be ascertained. Victor had explained to us before going in, that in this kind of diving, especially, you get panicked? Forget about it. You’re done. You have to keep a cool head, or you’re never getting out alive. I heard that rumble, and it flashed in my brain, this cavern, it’s limestone, I’m diving in a sinkhole, it could collapse. I heard the rumble again. What is that? I imagined my final scene, trapped in a water filled cavern, unable to get out, watching my air gauge needle move closer to zero. It’s amazing how fast these thoughts can filter through your head, just seconds, maybe less.

I looked at Victor ahead of me. I remembered his words. Forget about it. You’re done. This rumbling cavern was less likely to do me in than my own mind, and Victor, our seasoned guide, swam in front of me care-free. Whatever the rumbling was, it wasn’t something he seemed worried about. As long as Victor indicates there’s no need to worry, then I’m just going to follow him. He’ll lead us to the exit. I’m just going to follow Victor.

At times I’m not convinced that I love diving. I do it as a form of mastery, because I’m compelled to do it with excellence. Then there’s the part that forces me to just really focus on yoking my mind in a way that I can’t do as well on dry land. Maybe it’s the pressure on my body, the focused breathing, the nitrogen narcosis that starts to impact my brain at 60 feet, I’m not sure. There is a parallel between the LSD trip and diving. There’s the otherworldly experience of floating, flying, being among other alien, floating and flying things, strange colors, forms, and dancing on the edge of life and death, staring into the face your strengths and weaknesses.

Walking to the edge of panic, and then consciously turning around and walking away from it, is such a powerful experience. At no point, in my dive, did I stop what I was doing, did I stop breathing, or act in a way that was dangerous to myself or those I was diving with. Victor talked a bit later about his training as a cave diver, about how he had to learn how to wrestle with that panic in order to be certified. Imagine being in a long, dark tube, your mask removed (so you can’t see), and one fin taken off, with your job being to get yourself back to the surface.

I have no interest in being a cave diver – but I have interest in that mastery over one’s psyche.

Tripping (part 1)

Uncategorized

Skull Wall

We returned from an adventurous trip to Mexico, to just days later leaving on an airplane at an excruciatingly early hour to New York for a funeral.

What brought us to Mexico in the first place was our own need to get out of town, the time period overlapping the anniversary of the loss of our son. Mourning in dramatic ways has never quite suited me, and my preference has been more towards stating the truth, acknowledging impermanence, and moving forward. After all, time doesn’t stop. Our world is full of illusions. I hope, perhaps in vain, to be free of such things.

Mexico was an opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone – which had become, over the past year, one of careful sterility. To say that my loss a year ago left me changed would be an understatement. It was transforming, in some ways that I wish I could shake. The skulls that decorate so much of the Mayan buildings at ruins like Chichen Itza are reminders of the same skulls I see in my life, the intimate knowledge that what we see, every day, is temporary. The great temples of the Yucatan, hundreds of years old, are only recognizable as such to lowly tourists as ourselves because there has been a blatant refusal to embrace the transitory nature of this reality. These places have been painstakingly restored and preserved, the significance of parts of it left to the imaginations of present scholars.

It’s a shame to go on a trip, so far out of my comfort zone (convenient bathrooms, toilet paper, common language, potable water, police not carrying sub-machine guns, middle-class mundanity free of desperation, etc.) Luckily, I brought my scuba gear and we were booked to dive in a cenote called Dos Ojos.

(to be continued)

As I readjust to life, back from Mexico…

Uncategorized

Here’s a photo of me that was taken while cenote diving in Mexico. A cenote is a large, limestone hole in the ground (forming a network of underwater rivers, iirc) that are mostly freshwater and were (and are) sacred to the Maya. Our guide was a technical diver (cave diver), as that this is a cavern dive. Dark and challenging, it was a near transformative experience. I’m a bit claustrophobic, and have typically not liked night dives. This dive is both enclosed at places, with places blocked off from direct natural light.

Goodbye, Picasso’s Nose. And thanks, Michelle G.

Uncategorized

Around 2002-2003 I worked for Starbucks in Andersonville, Chicago. One of my shift supervisors was a woman named Michelle. It was a tough time for me, as that I was in grad school, had trouble getting my hours, and was having trouble figuring out how to be the best Starbucks employee possible. Of the people above me, Michelle was one of the finest people to work with. She was funny, straight forward, warm and also sassy when she needed to be.

Shortly after I met her, she started her third battle with breast cancer. She was in her early thirties.

My birthday, in 2002, was another less-than-stellar one (my birthdays, generally, do not go well.) I had noticed previous Starbucks employees at my store get presents from the management, and thought for sure that they so loathed me because I didn’t close the store fast enough at the end of the night, that I would be overlooked. I was not overlooked. Michelle had selected a Picasso’s Nose eyeglass holder cup. Just for me. It was so odd and so wonderful at the same time. I couldn’t imagine using it! Something about it, though, made her think of me, and I think that was right on the money.

We had months of us working together, and her trying to help me get along better at the store, all while using all of her off-days for going to chemo. She answered the phone at the store after I had been arrested for not being clever enough to not be arrested for doing nothing at the March 20, 2003 Anti-war protest. When I needed a few days off after that, she was concerned and helpful. I called up and quitted a week later, after I accepted a job at Whole Foods. It was actually hard, because of Michelle. She was a genuinely good person to work with.

I saw her again a year later, picking up some breakfast when family was in town during the holiday. She was pale, and looked like she had dropped 50 lbs (she was a larger girl when I worked with her.)

A few months later I got a call from a family member who was going through her address book. She had passed away, and I had been out of touch with her for over a year. I was in her address book, and to this day, it kind of stuns me. I felt like a nobody when I worked at that location, like I wouldn’t have been missed if I jumped ship for another job. I don’t know why I was in her address book. I get choked up just remembering that, and wondering if we could have been friends if I had been less pessimistic, and more open.

Today, as I was rushing around, frustrated, cranky, anxious – I accidentally knocked my Picasso’s Nose off of my desk. I saw it teetering on the edge, and with my hands full, was helpless to save it. Despite my best efforts, running to get the superglue, and trying to put it back together – it still has a gaping, shattered hole.

Things are just things. I’m sad about this thing because there’s not another one like it (so I’m told), and this was the one Michelle picked out for me, on that lonely birthday. Nothing is permanent, and life is fragile.

I’m definitely bummed.

Privacy and Content

Arts and Crafts, Media

Lots going on in Q-land. First off, about changes with my web presence. ironheadjane.com will continue to be my blog, and your main source for what I’m happy to share with the public. Conveniently, you can guarantee on my Twitter feeds being seen on the side bar, and you can request to follow me if you currently are on Twitter. For more social networking, I can be found on a small handful of social networking sites like LiveJournal and Facebook, but both of those are ideally limited to those I interact with professionally or socially, and contain more private aspects of my life than I’m willing to share with a broader audience. Think of it as a 21st century filter for how I choose to conduct myself in my non-electronic life. My interest is in more carefully managing my searchable content on the Internet. Privacy will NOT be managed for you, and I’m interested in taking back what control I can for the content I’m responsible for.

I have also secured quasilaur.com. Right now it redirects to ironheadjane.com, as does the email address that will be featured on my MOO cards. The plan is that once I get my past art work photographed, and some new stuff created, I’m going to make a more promotional art/whatever site that is separate from my blog. This is a long term project, so don’t hold your breath. I can’t guarantee it’s going to be happening any time soon as that I have a whole bunch of my art at my mom’s house, and that’s so darn far away I have to figure out how to get it here first. Between the cost of shipping and/or air travel, this might take awhile.

Back in Seattle

Uncategorized

I am pleased to report that I have made it back to Seattle alive and well. We spent about four days in the fantastic Bay Area. Our host lives in the Mission, so we spent a lot of time in and around there. I got to visit 826 Valencia, where Dave Egger’s tutoring empire all began. I was mopped while I was there. (Please go there to find out more about mopping. There are helpful signs to give you the story.) I got to care for an extremely drunk woman who we randomly met at a club (and found her friend, and got her into a cab home!) We ate Mission burritos, drank local beer, co-hosted a beer tasting and pizza dinner, had great times with friends (wrote saucy status updates for them), visited the Googleplex… it was quite amazing.

California is a special, weird place. It is America in all it’s America-ness. It’s got that frontier spunk and boob-job exterior. I really appreciate the multicultural aspects of San Francisco, juxtaposed to the Seattle monoculture. I am not as keen on the car necessity, however the BART may make it worth living there anyway.

The great thing about vacation is passing through that threshold into a world of infinite possibilities. It’s broadening your understanding, broadening your choices of personality and place. I still hate flying – but leaving Seattle for a long weekend has me thirsting for more.