Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Alcatraz


I woke early and moved around the dark house in a state of semi-consciousness. After gathering gear and doing my best to stomach a few bites of peanut butter toast, I gave Phil a sleepy kiss goodbye and slipped out into the quiet morning.  

It was dark (although Phil would argue it was astronomical dawn at that point) and the breeze had me worried.  I drove to my friend Marisa’s house and climbed into her car-- throwing my wetsuit into the backseat.  Only one bag of gear this morning. No bikes, no running shoes, no helmets to forget, just a wetsuit and goggles.  

We chatted nervously on the drive to San Francisco, assuring each other it would be fine and channeling all our clairvoyant gifts towards the predicting of waves and weather in the Bay over the next few hours.  We made the drive in record time. The city was empty.  The combination of the Memorial Day Holiday and the early hour left San Francisco void of people, and animals, and cars. Hustle and Bustle does not exist before 6 am (8 am on holidays). The stillness of the city left me with a feeling of privilege and importance as we hit all the green lights down Bay Street.  Like the President, only with a wetsuit.  

Chrissy Field is a San Franciscan’s pride and joy.  Like a parent with their favorite child they try to be egalitarian.  They offer up their praise and love for all the different beauties the city has to offer, but you can tell by the glint in their eye and the pace of their words, that Chrissy Fields holds a special place in their heart.  Describing it as a field is only half-correct.  It’s also a beach.  Sitting at the base of the Golden Gate Chrissy Field is surrounded by architectural brilliance.  The Palace of Fine Arts, The Golden Gate Bridge, the multi-million dollar homes of the Presidio--lined up neatly in a row.  It is a gem.  And Alcatraz was in the distance.  Like a rough around the edges neighbor waving at you through their window,  Alcatraz was looming.

This was our destination.  It was here that we parked the car and left our towels that we prayed to see again.  We checked in, suited up, and boarded a bus for Pier 3. The bus was fancy and warm but the ferry was fancier and warmer.  We were divided by age and the 350 or so swimmers all fit comfortably on the main deck.  The boat even came with a bartender who only served water, understandably.  We found a spot and stretched, also checking to make sure we had goggles and ear plugs and a cap-- all essential.  I ran into a woman from Scotland I’d met earlier in the week while swimming in the Bay.  Her name was Jamma and this was her second to last day in the states after a 6 week holiday touring the U.S.   This was the grand finale to her vacation.  To prepare for the race she swam in Loch’s and Lakes and the Bay was a change for her.  (I later found her after the race, happy we both made it--what a great end).  The past few swims in the bay with my wetsuit left me with cuts on my neck from my wetsuit so I was extra liberal in my application of Glide.  By the time the boat left the pier the nerves were mostly gone. I just wanted to get in and get going.  

The ride to Alcatraz (or very near it) was about a half-hour plus another 15 minutes or so of waiting while the support boats got in position.  The organizer of the event gave us some last minute tips, warning us that the water was a bit choppy and would get extra rough about 10 minutes into the swim, but would then settle down a bit.  He then offered a prayer and we lined up to jump ship and start our swim.  The prayer helped keep me calm before the swim and knowing that the waves were going to be rougher then I hoped helped keep me calm during it.  

When I signed up for this race, I had anticipated that the cold water would be one of the biggest challenges.  Not so.  The wetsuit kept me toasty enough and as I jumped into the Bay my concentration was on swimming out from the boat quickly and readying myself for the choppy water.  I didn’t even notice the cold.  

The current is too strong to start the swim from Alcatraz proper so we had to jump from a boat near the island.  It was fun to see all these crazy people with pink and green heads jump in and start churning water.  Like a school of fish.  

As soon as I popped up from my jump I started my swim.  It was only a few minutes into it when the waves really started to pick up.  It’s hard to know for sure, but from my perspective the swells looked to be about 3 ft high.  It made spotting a bit trickier as I had to wait until I was at the top of a swell before I lifted my head to look.  I got plenty of faces and mouths full of water, but didn’t get nauseous or dizzy, thankfully.  I swam and swam and didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere.  I think that’s one of the trickiest things about open water swimming.  It’s so deceptive.  Pool swimming you know exactly where you are and how far you’ve gone.  In the ocean it seems like you’re staying in one spot when in actuality you moving right along.  At one point I decided to take short rest and looked around to see where I was.  Although the shore looked to be forever away still, the boat I’d jumped off was quite a ways behind me.  I was encouraged and knowing that I was getting somewhere kept me going.  When I was focused and let myself just swim I did fine.  It was when I decided to take a break or noticed others deciding to stop that it began to mess with my mind.  I knew I was safe.  There were lots of kayaks and boats looking out for us, watching for those struggling.  But sometimes the what-if thoughts would start to creep in and messed with my head.  What if they don’t see me? What if I’m not strong enough?  All things that effected my stroke and slowed me down, initially.  The night before the swim I had a friend who had done this race before text me and wish me luck.  I told her how nervous I was and my friend said that when she swam she tried to focus on the wonder of God’s creation.  To look at the waves and sea as a gift rather than a challenge.  To enjoy the struggle.  I did this, and it worked.  I just kept swimming--like that Dory fish says. 

Time blends in the water.  Minutes and hours seem about the same.  The 1.5 mile swam only took me 55 minutes or so. I could have sworn it was hours since I was on that boat, but the swimming seemed like it only took minutes.  The shoreline seemed nearly unreachable, barely visible for most of the race but after a particular good stretch of swimming I looked up to spot and saw I was almost there.  This was the time to pull hard.  There is a counter current that runs along the shore line and once you get close you have to swim hard so you’re not pulled back out.  By this point I was physically fine, but mentally ready to get out, so I swam like I meant it until I reached the glorious sandy shore.  Such happiness!  It was a high like none other, truly.  I missed the landing point a bit and had to do a quick jog to cross the timing mats.  I saw my little family waiting and watching for me and saw the relief on Phil’s face that I lived (not that there was any doubt).  It was a relief to be on dry ground.  

I love the energy of a finish line.  I’ve done enough races of various sorts to know that there’s nothing quite like finishing something hard.  Time doesn’t matter, speed doesn’t matter.  After you’ve crossed that line you’re equal.  The race is over and everyone is done.  Everyone is tired and has taken their own journey, but there is camaraderie in the shared experience---whatever it may be.   The finish line is sacred, which is what made the Boston bombings especially horrific to watch.  The finish line also means rest, and usually family, and that fantastic exercise high to carry you through the day.  This swim was all that.  It was hard, mentally and physically.  It scared me silly the days leading up to it, but it turns out--I’m pretty brave.  

a gorgeous morning sunrise over the bay.  That's Alcatraz in the distance.

My partner in craziness.


The Golden Gate

It's all about the medal.

Truly happy to be alive and out of the water before the fog rolled in. 

See Alcatraz in the distance? 

It was a rough day, everybody fell asleep on the way home. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

graded

I got an A!

It was a 2 credit online class, and it hardly means more than I didn't suck it up entirely, but still, an A.  Validation is a sweet even on the smallest levels.

To celebrate, I'll share one of my short pieces I wrote for an assignment.  The prompt was to write a fictional scene where one character wants something from the other and show the reader what is wanted by developing scene, imagery, yada yada yada.   This is what I came up with:

P.S. Writing fiction is entirely new to me, so be gentle.




The Estate
The house was pristine and smelled of lilacs.  Yards of yellowed plastic hung tiredly on the furniture,  reflecting dust and fingerprints with their glassy stares.  The quadrangle mirror sat squarely on the wall where it had remained in and out of fashion (but currently in) for the last five decades.  The house was a tribute to mid-century modern design.   Bronze mirrors, a modern pink chaise lounge, the green wool low back couch (preserved in plastic), all hot vintage items that 30-somethings would pay big bucks for.  Elsie let her fingers glide over teak Eames high back lounge chairs.  The wood polished and smooth.  She lusted over the feel.

“Your mother was a brilliant designer”, she said, shifting uncomfortably in her red souled stilettos.
“Yes”, Nancy replied. Tired. “She did love her things.” she said a little more sarcastically than she intended. 
“If there’s anything I can do to help over the next few weeks, just let me know. I can sort or send over a cleaner or whatever you need.” Elsie said, as she unconsciously inventoried the house.  She caught herself and tried recover by looking down, solemnly.  It was too soon.  Elsie knew she was walking a thin line.  And, a thin line in Loubitan stilettos can be a tricky walk.  Her red shoulder length hair hung in loose curls around her face.  Perfectly, tousled like a model.  

Elsie’s hair annoyed the hell out of Nancy.  Always had.  Nancy’s hair was short, brown and frizzy.  A triple threat.  She once tried a serum recommended by a stylist that promised to “tame the mane”, but instead left her hair water resistant, like a duck, for a week and a half.  So now she left well enough alone, and still hated Elsie’s hair.  

Elsie walked delicately to the couch and sat next to Nancy. Silence fell between them as they listened to the plastic settle beneath them. 

“Was it terrible?” Elsie asked.  She knew as soon as the words left her tongue that this was the wrong thing to say but, like vomit, you can’t really stop it once it starts to flow.
“Yes.” Nancy replied with disbelief.  Who asks a question like that after a death? What did they expect the answer to be? ‘You know, I thought watching my 79 year old mother slowly suffocate to death at the hospital would be terrible, but it really wasn’t half-bad.   Once the violent convulsions stopped, it was actually quite peaceful.’ Seriously, was it terrible? What a tacky thing to ask. 

Elsie, hoping to recover, started to speak. “I’m really am sorry for your loss. I always loved coming to your house as a kid.  Your mother always made me feel like one of the family.  And your home really was so lovely.  The flow, the pattern, the furniture was all so glamourous.  Like a movie or a magazine. Your mother really did have amazing taste.  She was an inspiration to me, professionally, did you know that?.  I wish I had half her talent.” Too much.

“My mom, hated me, but loved design.  So yes our house was beautiful, but an awful place to live. But, I’m glad you liked visiting.”  Nancy pushed her glassed back up her nose in defiance.  The turmoil of the day had taken it’s toll and she had had enough of the pretty praises and regrets for her (now deceased) mother.  Nancy knew why Elsie was really here, and there was no way in hell she was going to let her at it without a fight and a hefty dose of humiliating honesty.  For once. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

and then I read this...

"This needs saying emphatically and often, because writing is one of those things--like public speaking, flying, and garden snakes--that often calls up unnecessary panic.  Such fear is both normal (a high percentage of people feel it) and irrational (statistically, the chances of disaster are pretty low).  It is true that some speakers do humiliate themselves, some planes do crash, some snakes are poisonous.  Nevertheless, people do learn to speak, fly, and garden.  And people learn to shrug at their dread and write." 

-Janet Burroway,  Imaginative Writing 

Friday, January 18, 2013

brave

To put it politely, I'm cautious.  To put it more bluntly, I'm a scaredy-cat.

Airplanes, late night drives, and now even schools bring out worst case scenario images that spend more time then they should, running through my head.   I'm almost always am able to push these not helpful thoughts away and greet the day with cautious opitimism.

My scaredy-pantsiness extends past worst-case-scenarios and into other realms as well.  It's a weakness of mine that I don't take as many risks as I should.  I'm not talking skydiving or riding my bike with out a helmet...please.  More of the I-dont-want-to-try-and-fail risks.  Putting myself out there, if you will.

One thing that's scared the diet coke out of me has been going back to school.  It had always been in the plans but moves, kids, and a decade long gap have made the prospect seem all the more daunting.  Plus, I seem to be regressing to my 18 year old self and don't even know what I want to do anymore.  In my earlier years I was a school teacher, which I enjoyed, but which I'm not so sure I want to go back to anymore.  And I didn't want to start a masters program without being sure.  See my conundrum?  So, I'm being brave, I'm dipping my toes in the sea of higher education by enrolling in a post-baccalaureat program in writing through Berkeley.  It's really one itty-bitty little step for woman, but a giant leap for me and decisions.

And to further bolster my courage I signed up for an Alcatraz Swim race.  1.5 miles in the Bay from Alcatraz to San Francisco.  Swimming I can do.  Cold, sharks, jellyfish, and currents are a little scarier of a prospect.  But I've done hard things before, so I can do scary things as well.

Here's to a year of being brave!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Thankful Day 28-30

Day 28-  The rain.

Day 29- Employment. Not necessarily for me, but I'm glad someone in our family has an income.

Day 30-  My family.  Really, everything else is just a bonus.  I'm so grateful to have a loving, functional, happy, silly family.  I love spending my time with them and love our home together.  I've highlighted each of them already so I won't get into why they're so fantastic.  I just adore them.   They're the first thing I thank God for each morning and night.  I'm so grateful to be apart of their lives.



Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Thankful- Day 27

I'm thankful for books.  I'm married to a bibliophile and seem to have birthed a few more.  The happiest place on earth for my little family is in a bookstore.  Offspring walks to and from school with her nose in a book.  The third sleeps with his.  And Numero dos hoards them under the couch.  Phil is always carrying around an enormous book about Thomas Jefferson or Catherine the Great or whatever bit of history he's into these days.  That leaves me.  I am by far the biggest reading slacker.  Right now I'm reading "Half the Sky" and find it heartbreaking and fascinating.  I'm grateful, really grateful, for books.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thankful Day 20-26


20-  I'm thankful for in-laws.  I've got a great set all around.  I'm also grateful to live close to family and that my kids have cousins to play with.  

21-  I'm thankful for food, shelter, health, and safety.   These are things that I often take for granted, but when I think about it I'm reminded how precious they really are.

22.  I'm grateful for Thanksgiving.  This year we had a cousin from my Panama side visiting.  I'd met him once as a child, but that's it.  He was in CA visiting a friend and they came to Thanksgiving dinner.  It was great to get to know him a little bit more.  Family is awesome.

23. To go along with #21 I'm grateful to live in a country where women are treated equally and that has checks in process when they aren't.  I'm reading the book Half the Sky and it's incredible to me to read about the magnitude of human trafficking and the horrors that women and children are forced to endure.  I'm grateful to have never had to endure or experience anything close to what some of these women have. 

24. I'm grateful for movies.  This break we saw two! The first, Bond, was good but unremarkable.  The second, Lincoln, was exceptional.  Highly recommend. 

25.  I'm grateful for Sunday's.  They're a nice chance to breathe.  And I'm grateful for Phil's cooking.  He's committed to being the Sunday chef and he does an excellent job.  Tonight we had vegan butternut squash soup.  It was amazing.  

26.  I'm thankful for Monday's.  It's a start of a new week--and that's always something to be grateful for.  Even if it is hard to get out of bed in the morning.