When I Learn To Swim, Will The Water Change?

In a mythical future things would be better. Isn’t this what we all think about? One day, some day, maybe next time it will turn out right, turn out better, or turn out differently.

We wish we were satisfied while we realize there would be no progress without that struggle.

We feel guilty for our dissatisfaction since so many have it worse, and it could always be worse.

We strive for something better while we grasp and fumble on the details of how one actually accomplishes such a thing. How can I make things better? Can I? If it could be done, if it were so easy, wouldn’t life already be that way?

I can make ripples as an individual, but won’t the water just return to it’s still surface? Even if we all make splashing waves, the water stays the same.

Still, I have to believe we were put here to do more than just tread water.

When I learn to swim, will the water change?

If I start to drown, will someone save me?

Ochopika and Woot Shirt Design

Ochopika is someone I went to art school with who has recently decided to take up shirt design in the form of Woot derbies. Here are ten of my favorite submissions. I personally enjoy these very much.

If you’d like some context, click on the images to view the derby page. There you can see Ochopika’s explanation, other people’s comments, how many votes it got, and what the theme of the derby was.

So keep an eye out for her on Shirt Woot and vote for her designs!

I Almost Died This Past Weekend (How Was Yours?)

This past weekend I took a trip up to Maine to go rafting on the Penobscott River at Canada Falls.

I was slightly nervous, which is natural when you do something completely new and different. I’d never rafted before, but I was with all people who’d been rafting before, some of them pretty experienced (one of the guests actually a guide himself). I’d said to one of my friends jokingly, “You won’t let me die, right?” and he retorted, also joking, “Of course not. I might throw you in, but you won’t die.”

The first trip down was fun and perfect. I didn’t fall out. We had a few fall-ins, but they were brief little splashes, barely out of the boat and accompanied by laughs. Really, it was more just one guy falling out over and over, earning himself the title of “Butter Butt”. We jokingly named the rapids, “Smiley faces 1-4”, “Frowny-face”, “Frowny-face With a Tear”, “Pinball”, etc. The guide told stories and jokingly talked shit about the other raft and guide.

“There was this one woman who was like, no joke, three-hundred pounds. I told her strait to her face, because I was serious, if she fell in with what she weighed she’d probably die. I expected to balk, but she said with a big laugh and smile, ‘Oh, no, that’s fine.’ She was a sweet lady. She didn’t die.”

“There was this one guy who informed me at the start of the trip in a deep, firm voice that he ‘was not to going to get wet’ and it was my responsibility to see this through. I don’t know why he didn’t like to get wet or how he thought I was going to stop this from happening on a whitewater rafting trip. It actually went okay for most of the trip. Then we got to a place I figured he might get wet and warned him that sometimes rafts flip on this part. I had not flipped all season, so guess what happened? After flipping I came up under the raft and stayed there for a moment thinking how much I didn’t want to face this guy. Once I got my resolve back, I popped out looked for him, and pulled him up onto the raft, figuring if I got him on the raft first, maybe I didn’t have to kiss my whole tip goodbye. I asked him “Ya all right? Ya all right?” and he responded, “That. Was. Not. What. I. Wanted,” and that was the last time we spoke.”

We laughed and smiled like idiots the whole way down.

We put in, had a snack, and drove back to the landing to go again.

“Some guests will believe anything. One time after snack people asked if they should put their wetsuits on. I replied in a serious voice, “Oh, yeah. The water drops like thirty to forty degrees in under an hour this time of day.” I told them it was because of these underground springs in the river and they ate it up. By the time they were ready to suit up I decided I should probably tell them the truth and not let them die of heat stroke.”

The run was going well until we hit a rapid wrong. I knew we hit it wrong not because of the look, feel, angle of approach, etc. I could tell by the sudden amount of ‘oh-shit’ was in the voice of the guide as he yelled out commands. I held on, was jerked on way, another, and then fell victim to the sudden vertical nature of the raft. I knew I was going in, and even though I didn’t want to, I was okay with that. Next thing I knew I was under the water upside-down and my right foot was caught on something. I pulled once and nothing.

I knew no one could see or help me.

I pulled a second time.

That isn’t going anywhere.

So this is how it ends.

I wasn’t scared, just a little sad. I’m not done yet. I have a lot left to do, a lot left unfinished. I’m not quite ready.

This isn’t to say I gave up, I kept tugging, but abandoned the idea of getting the water-shoe free at some point. Somehow I eventually slipped my foot out of that shoe entirely.

I was free, but no where near in the clear. I stared going downstream fast and I was still under the water. I knew I needed to lean back, let my life jacket take me up but as the rocks came by, I felt like I wasn’t going up at all, just forward.

I don’t know how I was able to hold my breath so well. I don’t even go under water and swim without pinching my nose.

Finally I broke the surface and gulped air- but I couldn’t much. I needed to cough out all the water so I made myself slow down. Years of meditation breathing helped, but I was told later that I still looked like I was in full freak-out mode. The raft I’d fallen out of was nowhere in sight, but I heard yelling, turned around, and the current was taking me right into a paddle being held out from the other raft. I grabbed it and no less than three sets of hands pulled me into the center of the raft.

I sat there and breathed. I was surprised to be there. I was thankful to be there. I was trying hard not to hyperventilate. I soon realized I needed to still treat this like a rafting trip and hold the fuck on.

At some point I realized my Boy was there. He had been in the other raft, but it’s hard to stay in vertical things.

We stopped at a bank and waited for our raft. I was asked how I was doing. I was asked if I was okay. I honestly had no idea. I wasn’t dying anymore. That was huge. Then I realized my ankle that had been caught was probably sprained, though I admit it was registering as pretty insignificant, inexact, and far away. I was alive, after all, and did what just happened really happen? My whole leg hurt, but the exacts of a lot of details were coming through at their own snails pace. I realized my helmet was gone only when it was pointed out to me and I was given another. My hat was gone. My paddle was gone.

Someone handed me my shoe. How the hell did they find my water shoe? The insert for my high arches was even still in there.

I tried hard not to show any hard feelings to it as I put it back on.

Now, this isn’t like the movies or TV. A helicopter doesn’t come in and take you away even after you or someone else realizes you’re hurt and freaked. You continue down the river.

The Boy and I went back into our own raft. Two of us had no paddles. We had a few more higher class rapids to go, one notable big one. I was trying not to shake or cry or introvert completely inward away from my surroundings.

The same friend who’d jokingly talked about throwing me in now looked at me with the extreme worried “I’m so fucking sorry” look and comforted me.

I don’t know why this happens with boyfriends, but like moth to a flame, The Boy punctuated his concern and comforting with pats to the knee of the leg that was hurt. That’s when I started to realize the knee was worse off than the ankle.

So I went in and out of calm. Everyone was joking and smiling and getting a bit of a smile back on my own face.

Then we hit another rapid the wrong way. I was pushed into the raft and lost my grip on the rope, but hell if I was getting thrown in again (which I think I said aloud). I grabbed the rope again and get back to where I should be, at the edge with my paddle.

The guide was gone. The guest who was also a guide was gone. We pulled in one more person who fell, and there we were, four of us with paddles, two without, no guides for advice, and no steering (the guides steer at the back). The guides were far away, off to the side towards the opposite bank, when they come up. To add to matters, we were going the wrong way very, very quickly.

A few of us yelled ‘all back’ and were going all back to slow down best we could. ‘Throw in Friend’ meanwhile turned us sideways pushing on a rock by the shore, jamming us on a rock so we couldn’t move. We were far from the guides, but we were somewhere they could get to that wasn’t going to move. Also, a guide from the other raft (also had an additional guide on their’s) came and joined us via the shore. He calmed us down, praised us, and waited for the guides to make their way to us, which they did through the water. With our guide, I’m sure it was the experience that got him to our raft, our guest guide was much newer, but still got to us as skillfully.

They got as close as they could. We were still in the rapid, falls left to go. We were actually wedged in one. They were on a big rock we’d pass by once we were free. This was as close as they could get without being people in barrels going over the falls (without the barrels).

Our new guide told us the plan, to shove off when he said so. He yelled for the guides to then jump in the raft as it went by. It sounded like something that would only work a movie, not a real plan. I had no paddle to help, but as we went by them, I moved up and pushed The Boy up knowing when they were pulled in they’d need somewhere to go fast to get situated for the next rapid which was right there.

If they had not gotten in the raft before that, it would have been bad. Later I was told that we somehow did the exact right thing. I was the only n00b to rafting there, the others were experienced enough (or lucky enough, or both) to get us where we needed to be.

As much as an unlucky trip this sounds, in many ways we were exceedingly lucky.

Back at camp, there was no conscious decision that needed to be made: we were going to do some drinking after that adventure. We were rested from the couple hour ride, we showered, ate, and then prepared to drink.

Apparently you don’t need to buy yourself drinks when you almost die.

When this happens, people who didn’t think that they were going to die will be over-nice to you. However, some will be too completely too taken in their own adventure to pay yours mind. Apparently some people will feel damn one-upped.

You almost died? When I fell out of the raft, I could have kept going and went down that falls,” argued the guest who was also a guide. While drinking, ‘my almost death is better than your almost death’ seems like a logical discussion point.

“Dude, you’ve got training! What did I have? Instinct? I literally had resigned to dying. You said so yourself, you knew exactly what you had to do and had not to do to get out of this. Me? I said, ‘My foot is stuck, I’m fucked.’ I had no idea what to do.”

“Well, yeah you did. You get yourself uncaught!”

“Yeah, I didn’t know how. Now I know why you guys have the fancy knives on your life jackets.”

Meanwhile, our guide blamed himself for the whole thing. He brought me ice and I tried to tell him it wasn’t his fault. Apparently I was the first accident form he’d ever had to fill out in his three years if being a raft guide. He had always wanted to be a guide, hung out around this place since he was much younger, and became one as soon as he could. He had just turned twenty-one which shocked me.

“I never thought I’d have to fill one out. I always thought I wasn’t going to be one of those guides.”

I told him that’s why they were called accident forms. It was an accident. I told him I had a great time up to that point, and I really did. I’d go rafting again. I have another trip planned that hopefully the injury won’t interfere with, but it seems like it will.

“You are now a guide,” he told me several drinks later.

“Really? You know, that was my first time rafting.”

“I don’t care! Anyone that goes through that and comes through and is coming back… If you were taking the test right now, I’d sign off on it.”

Sure, I’ll be an unofficial guide. Honestly, I don’t know that I’d ever want to actually be one. That’s a lot of responsibility. It’s also a lot of trust, that those in the raft will do what you say, do it well, help each other, not freak out, and remember to do every tip you’re told. You have to be calm yourself, full of authority, and have enough of a charm and soft touch to calm people down, make them feel like a team, and lead them to lead themselves.

He was a great guide. I don’t blame him by any means.

Canada Falls is a recently opened, so the guides don’t (and can’t) know it as well as the other trips (since no one yet does). Even once they do know it well, it’s a technical, steep and aggressive part of the river. I knew that it had Class V whitewater rapids before I went. I’m hardcore, but so is that trip. I kicked ass, but only about as much as my ass was kicked.

My knee it turns out is sprained pretty badly. I have physical therapy next Wednesday and I should know more after my first appointment. The estimate given by the doctor is that I can expect to go back to Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu end of August or, more likely, the beginning of September. I was getting close to my six month mark, when your body is supposed to start to wake up to Jiu-Jitsu (as the owner of the school says). I was starting to feel that, but now there is this setback. It looks like as The Boy goes off the injury list soon, I’m joining it.

I’m not at all regretting the trip. Life is for living, friends. The living part involves calculated risks. With them you’ll get more from life, I think, and your last moments will be filled with less regrets. Carpe diem and goodnight.

Brits Eat..?

spotted dick in a can
My original thought was that I needed to come up with something in honor of Gary Gygax now that he has passed on to that campaign setting in the sky. This may still happen after I’ve finally come to accept its truth. Until then, I’ve made some startling discovery at what our friends the British apparently eat.

As a disclaimer, yeah, McDonalds is from over here and it’s gross. I’m sure there are other nasty things that make it out of our borders that I don’t eat, like Jello. As far as I’m concerned, none of it comes even remotely close to what I have discovered…

1. Spotted Dick: This is one I’d actually heard of. What I didn’t know is that it comes in a can. Also horrifying is that on this can it says you can microwave it. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME, because last I checked metal cans and microwaves don’t mix. I knew this, but didn’t know the extent of it until my little sister blew up the microwave trying to make Jello one day.

I have not tried spotted dick, but one of my friends has (see photographic evidence). Let’s see what she has to say on the matter:
eating spotted dick

“It’s as good as can be expected considering it’s cake from a can cooked in boiled water…”

I think that’s as good a review as we’re going to get.

2. Mr. Brain’s 4 Pork Faggots in a Rich West Country Sauce: I barely know where to begin. I am trying to figure out what about this meal is a faggot. I am searching my definitions… homosexual man? No. Bundle of sticks? Nope. Measuring those bundles of sticks? No again. Cigarette? Uh-uh. All right… I’m just going to have to assume that one of these weird meatballs is also known as a faggot.

Pork Faggots

My next question is what is so west about this sauce. The spotted dick friend tells me: “…the West Country (where my Brit ancestors originally hailed from) is a region of England.” This is good to know, but it tells me little about the sauce. Another friend who tried the ‘faggots’ recalled the experience like a horror story. She had this to say on the matter:

“I shudder to remember. This was back when I was eating meat, but no amount of creepy processed fast-food spaaaaaaaaaace meat could have prepared me for this. Pork faggots are basically these meat balls made not out of what we would typically define as “meat”, but instead is ground up pig’s liver and possibly some other organs covered in some disgusting gravy. Ugggh!”

So far, spotted dick in a can is better than microwavable Mr. Brain’s pork faggots.

Toad in the Hole
3. Toad In The Hole: So… you put sausages in “Yorkshire pudding” batter and bake ’em. Now I’m out of willing candidates to try these things, but my spotted dick friend did have this to say:

“Oh, SHIT, Toad in the Hole? That looks terrible. TERRIBLE.”

Brits need to stop taking their sausages and putting them in everything! …


…we’ve already mentioned spotted dick, so I’m sure that couldn’t have sounded much worse.

Also on the subject of Brits and sausage…

4. Black Pudding: It’s sausage made with congealed blood. Brits like sausage apparently, and need variations.

5. Brawn apparently is a sausage form of head cheese. This has nothing to do with cheese, but everything to do with a head of a calf, pig, or sheep. It also can contain meat from the feet or heart. It’s even eaten cold. At least then we won’t smell it if someone reheats it. Thank heavens for small favors. I am not posting a picture as I’m afraid to try and find one.

Alright. This is about as much on the subject I can look into right now. If any Brits are out there reading this, we could use some insight into your cuisine. I for one, don’t get it. This is coming from someone who loves sushi, so I’m thinking the average American would be even more lost.

I guess my biggest questions are, do you actually eat this stuff, eat it often, and like it? …or is this just food propaganda that makes it across the borders to frighten us? I mean, there’s fish and chips, and that’s great.

Inquiring minds in the U.S. want to know!

Scenes from Childhood

Westminster Street, Worcester MA I can’t sleep. Dada. Hiss. Moon in the window. My flower undies. Rocking yellow wicker. White soft sheets. Warm. Rocking. Yawn. Creak. Rocking chair.

The whiffle ball and bat are still in the car. They are brand new. I have to practice for when I’m older and can join the major leagues. I’m not even five yet, but Mom says it’s okay to go across the street to the car and get them. Mom gives me the keys. They’re in the back seat, so I have to unlock the door in the front because there’s no keyhole in the back. I can crawl in the back real easy, which is more fun and faster than unlocking the back door. I crawl back into the driver seat and decide to put my bat and ball in the passenger seat. I’m the driver. Vroom, vroom! I turn the wheel and peer over the dashboard. The wheel doesn’t move when the car is off, but I can pretend. I can see pretty good when I sit on my knees. Suddenly I’m not pretending. The trees are moving, and I’m going down the hill. I’m in so much trouble. I’m stopped and I don’t remember crashing into the tree. I’m in the yard again but Mom’s there and she’s screaming at me.

Meatloaf had five kittens. Then she had another four later. They seem kind of dirty to me and I think they need a bath. I asked the fishies if I could use their water. They don’t mind. There is a little light at the top of the tank so I can see the kitties swimming around. They’re having fun meowing and swimming around. Mom comes in and she’s mad. She’s drying the kitties and she won’t let me pet them, even though I asked. I said please.

You can run all the way from the kitchen, into the living room, into mom and dad’s room, and jump onto the bed. You can’t do it when mom’s sleeping during the day. You can’t do it when dad’s sleeping at night. But, when mom goes to work, then we can play roll ’em! Dada rolls and we fall down if we don’t jump over him. He also has the recking-ball lemon-squeezer. It’s really just his cast and his leg. He’ll squeeze us if he can catch us, but he never catches me. I’m too fast.

When you are watching television and you turn it off or change the channel, why isn’t it the same thing you were watching when you turn it back on? Why can you do that with the movies as Grouchy Grandma’s house?

Chris said that if I pick up all his baseball cards for him, then I get to keep them. He really doesn’t want to clean his room. So, I pick up every single card, even the ones under his bed which smells like pee. After I’m done, he laughs at me and takes the box of cards. I put my hands on my hips and tell him that he’d better give me them or I’ll call the police on him. He laughs. Dada walks into the doorway. He tells Chris to give me the cards. He tells Chris not to make deals he can’t keep. Don’t be an Indian-giver.

It’s in the middle of the night and I’m creeping out of my bedroom and into the kitchen. Dada is in the living room next door, so I can see a little. I crawl onto a chair and then the kitchen table. There’s almost a whole stick of butter in the dish. Midnight snack. I make it back to my bed undetected.

When Dada helps me change clothes, he tells me to lift up my arms so he can take my shirt off. Sometimes he doesn’t do it all the way and the shirt is stuck on my head. He tells me I have a nice hat.

We live in a triple decker which means there are people living upstairs. One of the people is boy older than me. He’s as old as my brother, but he’s not like my brother. He hates my brother and together we make fun of him. Sometimes though he plays with my brother instead and they make fun of me. They can both say the alphabet faster than me. They say that means that they’re smarter.

I’m playing pretty ponies and little people when my brother opens the door and farts. He closes the door and runs away laughing.

Every once in a great while my dad smokes a cigar. I don’t like the smell, especially when it gets in my room, but it’s funny when he puts it in the plastic Halloween pumpkin’s mouth. The pumpkin looks funny smoking.

On one side of the triple-decker there is a bank-in. It’s steep, with trees, but then gets flat again at the bottom. We’re not supposed to play there, but we do. We even have a fort. Chris doesn’t play fair, though. Chris only has fun if I’m not having any. He’s laughing in the bank-in. I’m at the top. I’m going to go tell mom and dad, but they won’t do anything. If I scare him so we won’t laugh at me again. I find a rock I can barely lift. I throw it next to him, down the bank-in. It’s heavy, but the slope helps. It hits his head. He falls down. He screams. I stand at the top of the bank-in. I just watch him scream. My parents come and take him, yell at me. No one believes that I didn’t mean to hit him.

We have a stone wall in the back running along the apartment. It is between the side of the yard where the swing set is and the side of the yard with the bank-in. The wall has a bit of ground at the top of it, then a fence that separates us from another apartment. Sometimes we climb up and sit there. Is being off the wall when you are on the wall and jump off? The jumping doesn’t last very long and it’s not very high up. I don’t get it.

Mom says that we are human beans. God is not a human bean, though. He is just a bean. I don’t think that makes sense. I think he’s kind of like a cloud that looks like the face of a man, the man in the moon. What do we have to do with beans? What kind of beans?

When Chris is mean to me I tell him I’m going to call the police on him. Sometimes he believes me and stops being mean. He doesn’t believe me this time, so I pick up the phone to call the police. I put it to my ear and a man’s voice says, “This is the police.” I scream and put down the phone. Dad comes in laughing. It was him on the other phone. I didn’t know you could do that.