On Doing The Thing You Think You Cannot Do

I guess I never really told you that much about scuba diving, did I? And yes, I know I’m supposed to capitalize SCUBA---it’s actually an acronym for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus; did you know that? Because if you ever decide to get certified, IT’S ON THE TEST, YOU’RE WELCOME—but I hope you'll bear with me if I decide not to. As you can see, I already make far too much use of the Caps Lock button.

Anyway, scuba diving---which you will remember I did in the Bahamas last month, but not before devoting a whole weekend to learning the skillz in a freezing pool in downtown San Francisco---was truly one of the most frightening and amazing (and frighteningly amazing) things I’ve ever done in my life, right up there with hiking the Great Wall of China two years ago.

After we’d finished that hike---four and a half hours in the most insane conditions you can think of: 95 degrees, humid as the devil’s armpit, uphill most of the way, in increasingly uncomfortable shoes---I felt pretty much like the most bad-ass badass in the world. I don’t often have those I AM WOMAN, HEAR ME ROAR moments, but at the end of that grueling trek from the Jinshaling section of the wall to the section known as Simatai---a trek, which, by the way, involved not only a rope bridge, but also several portions where you had to CRAWL UPHILL ON YOUR HANDS AND KNEES---I truly felt like I could conquer the world. I felt like I had conquered the world.

And then I pretty much didn’t feel like that again for two years. Yeah, I kicked some butt on the elliptical machine a few times, and there was that one time I drove from my apartment to Trader Joe’s BY MYSELF---have we talked about my increasingly debilitating fear of driving? It’s getting worse and worse---but for the most part, my adrenaline stayed wherever adrenaline stays when it’s not rocketing about your body in excitement, high five-ing you and slapping you on the back like an overly-Jagermeiesterd frat boy.

And then came scuba diving. You may remember that I was nervous before my classes in the pool. But then those classes turned out to be surprisingly unscary and, in fact, went quite a long way towards getting rid of some of the fears I had about, ooh, I don’t know, NOT DROWNING. NOT DYING. BREATHING FORTY FEET UNDER WATER.

Funny thing is, you can watch as many videos as you like to prepare yourself, but until you’ve actually strapped all the gear on, sunk to the bottom of the pool, and taken that massive leap of faith that when you inhale your body and your oxygen cylinder will both know exactly what to do, you can’t really calm those nerves. But then you breathe in, you breathe out, you breathe in, you breathe out, and then…..hey, it’s happening, you’re doing it. And it isn't that scary at all.

Being out in the open water, of course, conjures up a whole new set of neuroses. But you do it, you just do it, and then somewhere along the line you stop thinking about doing it, and forty minutes later when it’s time to come up to the surface, it almost feels like an affront. But at the top again, on dry land (or dry boat), you’re awe-struck and proud. The rush is unbelievable: you understand why people scale mountains and jump out of planes. You just did it: this amazing, wonderful, otherworldly, wholly unnatural thing. You did it and you didn’t die! Hooray for you!

While we were traveling in Vietnam and Thailand almost two years ago to this month, Sean was forever suggesting that we try scuba diving. And I was forever rebuffing him. Not bothered, I said, when what I really meant was too scared. And so poor Sean tucked his dream away and forgot about it, and then a few months ago I came home from work with the news that I’d been offered a trip to the Bahamas to scuba dive---full disclosure: I actually put the “cooking” and “relaxing” trips down as my top two preferences, but fate works in funny ways like that---and Sean, grimacing, tried to hide his jealousy. Except he hid it really badly—particularly when I arrived back from the trip a fully-fledged diving enthusiast---and so in the end, I said “you know what? There’s nothing stopping you from taking a class yourself.”

And so for the last two weeks, Sean has been shivering in the same outdoor swimming pool I shivered in, learning the same dive skills---you should hear our scintillating conversations about mask-clearing techniques over the dinner table---and of course taking the same written test at the end. (Irritatingly, he scored 100 percent. I scored 90. I’ve half a mind to ask for a re-count.)

This weekend, he’s finishing off his certification with his open-water dives down in Monterey, and I’m going along for the ride. In fact, I’m going along for more than the ride: I’m going diving Sunday morning with a whole bunch of people I don’t know, in a place where the water is so cold that you have to wear underwater GLOVES. I’ll dive with them twice---it’s called a Fun Dive, although I bet it won’t be so fun when I get TANGLED UP IN A KELP BED---and then a newly-certified Sean and I will finally take our first dive together. Which I guess could be kind of romantic, if it weren’t for the possibility of coming face-to-face with a great white shark. And wearing underwater gloves.

A lot of the time, I look at my life and I think that it turned out pretty much exactly the way I always thought it would. I decided, aged eighteen, that I’d live in San Francisco one day and here I am. I decided, aged sixteen, that I’d have that curly-haired boy on the bike one day, and now I’ve got him. But if you’d told me ten or twelve years ago that I’d be spending my weekend wearing a wetsuit and donning a weight belt and sinking to the bottom of the ocean, I’d have told you very politely that you had the wrong girl. And yet here I am doing it, and doing it without fear. Next up: skydiving! Just maybe not for a really, really long time.

Sep 19, 2008

Good Lord, Holly, go to bed! It's half-past midnight. Oops, that means I'm up too. Nevermind.

Life is probably all about overcoming one's fears. Cold water, more so than SCUBA, scares me. Someone who gets into cold water in San Francisco is brave indeed.

Sep 19, 2008

I've had quite a few moments like this myself, and lately for some reason I've been really thinking about how many of the things I planned for myself as a kid have come to fruition as an adult and that has its own adrenaline rush. Life is good.
House of Jules

Sep 19, 2008

Oh, Holly. Go skydiving. Here's my advice, though: do not go tandem, with the instructor strapped to your back. Go solo, where your parachute is hooked to the plane so it auto-opens.

The rush of jumping out of a plane is unreal, and then the floating through the sky - just floating on the wind and slowly twisting your body and your chute to look at everything around you for miles and miles and miles - well, it is as close to perfection as I've ever known.

Sep 19, 2008

Not skydiving! Hang Gliding instead! Then you can live out all my fantasies for me.

Sep 19, 2008

Growing up we spent a lot of time at the beach and my dad spent a lot of time diving and spearing fish. He and his buddy would emerge from the ocean and all of us kids would flock around, looking at all the things they caught that were stored in his net bag. So, for me, wanting to dive came naturally. I got my Junior PADI license when I was around 13, I think, and then I dove with my dad for a number of years until I "grew up", unfortunately. Where we went, gloves and a full suit were mandatory (this is south of Pismo Beach), and kelp was pretty much unavoidable. That's where a serrated knife strapped to your calf comes in handy, although I don't recall ever having to use it. What I found worked was just going with the flow of the ocean, with it's sway. The kelp looks thick and tangly on top, but underneath it grows in tall stocks that are spaced apart that you can swim inbetween. Kelp also = lots of fish and other sea life. Anyways, have fun in Monterey!

Sep 19, 2008

Holly, I am going to have to live vicariously through you because just snorkling with sea turtles was my undoing. You are an inspiration. Seriously, wind beneath my wings and all that.

Sep 19, 2008

Have an awesome time! If you see a great white, just punch him in the nose...they hate that.

Anonymous New York
Sep 19, 2008

I'm totally afraid of drowning and snorkeling, let alone scuba diving. So kudos for you for overcoming that fear. I freaked out in my high school pool when we had to put on snorkel masks and breathe through the snorkel tubes. And I could touch the pool bottom.

I would go sky diving though. My grandfather was a 101st Airborne, so I think it would be kind of cool to do what he did. Except for the part about dropping onto the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. That part - not so fun.

Glad Sean got to scuba dive, too.

Sep 19, 2008

That's so fantastic you're able to enjoy scuba diving! I'm still in the "no thank you it doesn't interest me because I'm terrified" boat, but it gives me hope to see you get past that.

btw, I saw a friend last week that said that while on a trip to the Bahama, her lips became extremely swollen. JUST LIKE YOURS. She doesn't know why it happened, but I thought you'd like to know you're not alone.

Nothing But Bonfires
Sep 19, 2008

Ha! Yes, that does make me feel a lot better. Must be something in the water.

Sep 19, 2008

If I were you, it would be hard for me to resist making the following disclaimer upon meeting people:

"Hi. I'm Holly. I've hiked along the Great Wall of China."

Amazing. I am thoroughly impressed and even more jealous. :)

Sep 19, 2008

Scuba diving I might love; sky diving, I can't fathom. But I hope one day you do, just so we can hear your story about it.

Sep 19, 2008

I was going to say forget the serrated knife strapped to your calf, go for full-on bad-assery and just dive down with it clenched in your teeth! But lo, I forgot about the breathing apparatus being attached to your mouth and all. You know, for the breathing. So I guess that's why I'll stay here on dry land and just wave merrily while shouting: "Have fun! Be careful!"

Oh, and I once knew a couple who were MARRIED UNDERWATER. They were also fully-fledged diving enthusiasts (I guess I would argue they were also a little bit INSANE), and they even found a SCUBA-diving judge willing to perform the marriage at the bottom of Lake Michigan. It was on the local news and everything. Just food for thought for you and Sean...

Sep 19, 2008

This whole post made me want to shout hooray for you!

My biggest overcoming story was finally learning to drive. I'm pretty comfortable with it at this point but I've only been driving for 4 years instead of 13 like most people my age have been.

Also, I loved the Jinshanling to Simatai hike - though for us the weather was pretty good and not at all hot. We did the hike October 31 2005 so maybe that was part of it - we even saw some mountains, it wasn't all horribly smoggy! After it was over I felt like I'd truly accomplished something.

Speedy Canizales
Sep 19, 2008

Hooray - your first dive on your own! Are you excited?

I completed my open water dive at Catalina Island, and like Monterrey they have kelp forests underwater. It's pretty awesome seeing the wildlife dart through the kelp, and I'm sure you'll see some exciting things down there.

Just a word of advice: if your tank gets tangled up in the kelp, don't panic! Remain calm, grab the stalk, bring yourself down a few inches,and have your dive buddy untangle your tank. This may not happen to you, but it did to my husband and I had to untangle him. Despite this minor setback we had a lot of fun exploring the world below, and I hope that you do too!

sarah von
Sep 19, 2008

Holly, I am right there with on the increasingly ridiculous fear of driving. I'm looking for a new car at the moment and have actually convinced my mister to *do the actual test-driving.* What?! Because driving is scary. Driving a stranger-car is scarier.

Sep 19, 2008

Well, you are my inspiration. And while I do believe your message is never say never, I must tell you, I do not believe we shall ever meet at the bottom of the beautiful briney sea.

Sep 19, 2008

Hi! I just started reading your blog a few days ago and I just love it. You have done so many things that I plan to do (i.e. vagabonding across Asia) and I'm actually planning to get SCUBA certified so I can dive late this fall.
Don't think I'm weird or anything but when I found this today, I remembered reading that you like avocados so I believe you'll enjoy this:

Sep 20, 2008

Being out in the open water, of course, conjures up a whole new set of neuroses. But you do it, you just do it, and then somewhere along the line you stop thinking about doing it, and forty minutes later when it’s time to come up to the surface, it almost feels like an affront. But at the top again, on dry land (or dry boat), you’re awe-struck and proud. The rush is unbelievable: you understand why people scale mountains and jump out of planes.

Nothing But Bonfires
Sep 20, 2008

Uh, Robin, are you quoting me to....myself?

Sep 21, 2008

Being out in the open water, of course, conjures up a whole new set of neuroses. But you do it, you just do it, and then somewhere along the line you stop thinking about doing it, and forty minutes later when it’s time to come up to the surface, it almost feels like an affront.