Monday, March 19, 2007

Scuba Diving: channeling your inner Funky Chicken

Patty here…

My dad never treated me like a fragile princess. Around our house it was, “The lawn needs mowin’. Have at it.” So I grew up thinking if he had confidence that I could cut the grass with a push mower and a ten-year-old’s determination, then by god I could do anything. Maybe that’s why I did a lot of risky things in my youth (Didn’t we all?). I’d tell you about them but I don't want to scare you.

I eventually grew up (sort of) and moved to California where I met a guy who asked me to take scuba diving lessons with him. I said sure. There was only one hitch to the plan. I’m afraid of the water. See, here’s the deal…you can’t breathe under water and I know this. Did I share my fears with my guy? Nope. I figured I'd have air tanks. How hard could it be?

We signed up for the class. So far so good. Then I read the fine print. I couldn’t take the course without demonstrating water proficiencies—like swimming. Hitch number two: I can’t swim. It’s not that I don’t know how to swim. I’ve taken lessons. But me moving through water is not swimming. It’s more like a wet version of the Funky Chicken.

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. The pool was teaming with eager students thrashing around like dolphins in a squid-feeding frenzy. The instructors couldn’t distinguish my one Funky Chicken lap from the ten required laps completed by dozens of other students. I passed the test by default.

Then came the diving test. The idea of it was laughable. They actually expected me to swim to the bottom of the deep end of the pool to fetch a ten-pound weight. I calculated the depth. It was over my head. Plus, I’d have to open my eyes under water, which meant that I could see that it was over my head. No way was I going to do that, not even for my guy. So, as foreign as it was to me, I attempted a fragile-princess smile and turned my hands upward toward the heavens in an earnest plea.

“I’m very buoyant in the water,” I said, “so I can’t do that exercise.”

Obviously my performance failed to impress, because a moment later the instructor dropped a ten-pound weight into my open hands, and I shot to the bottom of the pool like a torpedo.

It gets worse. Are you ready?

In order to become a certified PADI diver you have to eventually leave the relative safety of the swimming pool and go into the ocean. It was February and Los Angeles had been rocked by winter storms so fierce that one had washed away the Santa Monica pier.

Our first beach dive took place on a stormy day at Redondo Beach. Our mission—should we choose to accept it—was to swim out to a buoy and back without our tanks. If we survived that, we were to make a second foray with our tanks, submerging at the buoy and performing some exercises.

The surf was around six feet. I was wearing only a wet suit, mask, snorkel, and swim fins each as large as the USS Kitty Hawk. I stood on the shore watching the waves pound the sand with a force that made me question if the relationship with my guy was going to last till summer.

I made it out to the buoy the first time, but the surge was so strong I had to hold on to the chain or be swept away. Then I Funky Chickened back to shore. I was tired. Some of my fellow students had lost masks and fins in the raging water. Some had refused to go. Those people obviously didn’t have a father who made them cut the grass with a push mower.

The second time out I donned full scuba gear, including a tank and twenty pounds of weights around my waist. I could hardly walk, but I made it over the surf and out to the buoy. I submerged, but the water was so murky with churning sand I couldn’t see anything. I completed the required exercises as best I could. By then, I was exhausted. When I surfaced I heard a man screaming for help. Hearing the cry of a person who thinks he’s drowning is an experience I never want to have again. Nobody but our scuba class was in the water. I began quiet reflection. WHAT WAS I FREAKIN’ DOING OUT HERE?

I had no idea where my guy was. I hadn’t seen him on either of the dives. I spotted one of my instructors and Funky Chickened up to him. I tried the fragile-princess ploy one last time.

“I’m really tired,” I said over the roaring wind. “I’m not sure I can make it back to shore.”

“Deal with it!” he shouted. “Can’t you see there are people out here who need help!”

I was on my own. Just like mowing the lawn. So I activated those two aircraft carriers on my feet, and used every ounce of strength I had left in my body. The sea finally pushed me onto shore about a mile down the coast. But my fight wasn't over yet. When I reached the beach, I struggled against the scuba gear to keep the surf from pounding me into the sand. Each time I tried to get up, the waves beat me down again. I finally made it upright with all of my equipment intact. Only four out of twenty students completed both dives that day. My guy and I were two of them.

I keep reminding myself of the lesson I learned from that experience. One might say it's a Naked Metaphor About Literature and Life. If I want to get from here to there whether it's back to shore, finishing the book I'm working on, or doing what it takes to build a writing career, I have to marshall all of my strength and push through my fears. What say you?


Congratulations to our Pauly!!! His novel The Deep Blue Alibi was just nominated for a "Thriller" Award for Best Paperback Original. The winners will be announced at Thrillerfest, July 12-15, 2007, in New York City. Of course, we already know who the real winner is. To see all of the nominees, click here.


7 If you know anybody who might enjoy reading this post, you can e-mail it to them by clicking on the envelope icon below 8


  1. You've got the True Grit, girl, whether it's scuba diving or writing. I know that. I'm going to have to show mine someplace else than the water. Can't scuba -- it's that gag reflex thing.

    Great pictures too, Patty!

  2. Thanks go to Groupie for the cat pictures. And Louise, you've already displayed your True Grit. You conquered the dancing raisins!

  3. I hope that you don't mind if I draw some encouragement from this, Patty. Right now I feel like I'm in the middle of the exercises--and just realized that I've forgotten my gear!

  4. Gosh darn it, Patty. You are buoyant.

  5. Way to go, Patty!! You'm a girl after my own heart. I can move like a porpoise in the water, but have a hard time doing the Aussie Crawl (over arm, dip head in water, bring head up and try and see where you're going - and keep a straight line). It's the head in the water thing - irritates my eyes no end, even with goggles on. I didn't even have the endurance to do eight 50meter laps. Yet I could play waterpolo in school. Weird, ain't it? :-D

    Oh, and speaking of the lesser of two fears: I joined the Airforce with a huge, and mean HUGE, fear of authority. My fears of being anchored in the back of beyond and never realising my dreams was the other fear. Getting out and doing something about it, won. :-D


  6. Jeff, please draw away. Sometime you can make it without gear. One of my favorite sayings is from Kobi Yamada: "Sometimes you just have to take the leap, and build your wings on the way down."

    Mims, I'm still afloat to a large degree because of your wisdom.

  7. Marianne, can you teach me how to swim like Flipper? And your fear of authority is a good thing. I loved your phrase "My fears of being anchored in the back of beyond and never realising my dreams..." Just beautiful.

  8. Remarkable! Aside from mowing the lawn, your parents must have read you "The Little Engine that Could" quite often. When do they tap you for "Survivor"?
    On another note, Paul Levine (or his clone) is alive and well, or was Saturday, when he made a cameo appearance at the "Brunch and Bullets" luncheon, where 'a good time was had by all.' I was highly disappointed, however, when the Silver Bullet Awards were presented--not one "Hi-yo, Silver" or "Get-um up, Scout" echoed through the hall, and no appearance by the masked hombre! Talk about a letdown.


  9. Groupie, it must have been a Paul clone. Rumor has it he's still missing.

    Perhaps next year at the Silver Bullet Awards you'll add another job to your resume...

  10. The Kodi Yamada quote says it all. Nice to have one's beliefs made into words. :-D

    Flipper? I loved that show when I was little. I do love dolphins, and love to paint them as a result. :-D

    I loved playing with words when I was in high school. I was quite the poet...however, I haven't done much in the last 20 years or so.

    "The Little Engine That Could" That's me! I love that book. Might explain why I still collect kiddies picture books and odd young adult novels. Currently reading Justin Richards 'The Invisible Detective' series. What brilliant books!! Can't get enough of them. Luckily he writes a lot of other stuff too. :-D

    Oi!! Isn't there a rumour that Anne Coulter took out a contract on our Paulie?


    PS: Oh, what the heck:

    'Haunting strains of magic
    weave mystery in the night,
    Like the silvered strands of cobweb
    In the early morning light.

    Grey shadows from the past
    dance 'neath a ghostly moon,
    Where a tune is reminiscent
    of a softly murmured croon.'

  11. Love that Little Engine That Could story......perhaps it knew the "secret" long before the book came out.
    on a darker note, here's someone who had a bad hair day, and someone who's engine just couldn't anymore:
    LONDON (March 19) - A first-class passenger on a flight from New Delhi to London awoke to find the corpse of a woman who had died in the economy cabin being placed in a seat next to him, British Airways said Monday.

  12. Marianee, you wrote that poem in high school? I'm humbled. Is there no end to your talents? And Paul abducted by alien Coulters? Hmmm. No wonder we got so many hits this week from the Right coast.

    Anon, that news story has both a "Ha!" and a "EEEUUU!" thing going for it. Thanks for sharing (I think).

  13. What a great post, Patty...I've always believed that going forward in spite of your fear is the best definition of courage. Here's one of my favorite quotes on the topic:

    "Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear. Except a creature be part coward it is not a compliment to say it is brave." ~Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar, 1894

  14. What a great quote, Rae! I've written it in my little favorite-quotes book.

    Here's another I like by Author Unknown: "Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checked by failure...than to rank among those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much...because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

  15. Patty,
    Someone told me recently, after I was worried i had been too tough on one of my kids, that no one ever came back and thanked a parent who had been too easy and hadn't expected anything from their child.

    Jim B

  16. Jim, I really admire how you deal with your kids. You're teaching them to be self-reliant great human beings. Congrats! Great writer, great dad.

  17. Patty, wonderful post, and I love the pictures too! Marianne, that is a beautiful poem, and I'm with Patty in wonderment that you wrote it in high school, no less. Jim, I think Planet Parent is aligned with the House of Suckbag, at the moment. At least according to one of my kids...

    Rae, that's some fine Twain. And Louise, last I hear you were not supposed to SWALLOW the regulator thing while diving.

  18. In a dramatic shift in policy, the United States Navy is looking for a few good babes for the SEALs.

    After reading the account of your initial SCUBA training, we are convinced you have the right stuff (as well as the "write stuff" HA!) to make it as a female SEAL. We think you'd be excellent at affixing underwater mines to enemy ships and free-diving to 80 feet in frigid waters.

    Report at once to Coronado for hypothermia training.

    Commander Harmon Rabb, Jr.

  19. "Planet Parent is aligned with the House of Suckbag..." Only Our Cornelia could come up with that line. It's poetry. You and Marianne.

    To Commander Harmon Rabb, Jr.: Navy Seal Smiley reporting for duty, SIR. Shaving my head, Demi Moore style, SIR. Um...did you say affixing underwear mines or underwater mines to enemy ships (or was that slips?) Please clarify, SIR.