Writewritewrite (and edit)

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Doing a large amount of writing is both the most exciting and the most boring thing imaginable.

Right now it is a slow time for the commercial production I do, which means I’m taking the opportunity to work on some longer-format projects that I have been meaning to do for a while, and occasionally deep-cleaning a closet just for the sake of variety. Because writing, as I’ve said, is not always exciting stuff. I love the research, the excuse to read and reference and take notes for hours – I feel like I’m in the research montage of every heist movie ever at that point – but the actual chained-to-the-desk writing part can be a bit tedious, especially if the weather’s nice and you hit a segment of writer’s block.

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Fortunately I have some fairly exciting things that I’m writing about, which I thought I’d catch everyone up on today. You can picture me surrounded by maps and charts and cups of coffee and my favorite pens and endless notebooks as you read. My cat should probably be trying to sprawl across my laptop at the same time. Life’s tough for a writer.

You could also picture me swearing under my breath as I peruse the online thesaurus for yet another synonym for “amazing” and trying to re-find a tab I just closed and mopping up the coffee my cat spilled, which is probably more realistic. But it’s your mental picture so you get to choose.

So… projects!

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My biggest upcoming project is a combination webseries/podcast called The Haunted Seas, about ghost stories, legends, and hauntings involving the ocean. We’re aiming for 2 pocasts and one webisode a month right now, and I’ve just finished writing the first podcast, about the Ghost Ship of the Northumberland Strait, a fiery phantom that plies the channel between Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. We record it tomorrow, and it should be live in time for next week’s blog update. Then late next week I go to St. Simon’s Island in South Georgia to shoot our first webisode, about the haunting of the St. Simon’s Lighthouse.

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not actually the St. Simon’s Lighthouse. This is the Tybee Light in Savannah.

In between writing sessions for these, I’m working on two e-books: one is a guide to spiritual and meditation retreats in the Southeastern US, and one is a guide to Georgia golf courses. If I can find a spiritual retreat in Georgia that involved silent meditation AND golfing, I will have hit the mother lode. There’s some sort of joke to be made about the crowds at a golf tournament being practically a silent meditation anyway, but I just… can’t… find it.

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When I absolutely cannot take the desk anymore, and the cat’s spilled all the coffee, I get to go outside (assuming it’s not raining) and train for my other upcoming project, which is a 240 mile combination kayak/bicycle trip through the Florida Keys, which I’m attempting – probably solo, as none of my friends are sufficiently insane to go – in April or possibly May. Starting in Key Largo, I’ll paddle to Key West, and then ride my bike back to the starting point. I’m calling it “The Turtle Traverse”, because “There and Back Again” is already taken, and because I’m planning to make a donation to The Turtle Hospital in Marathon at the end of the trip.

So that’s it for projects! Stay tuned for updates on these and any other Constant Holiday crazy I can come up with. And don’t forget to follow me on Instagram, where I try to post at least one photo or video daily.

Now I need more coffee.

 

 

The Universal Language

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Several years ago, when I first moved to Atlanta, I had to find an apartment, one that would take not only me but the dog I then had, a 90-pound Rhodesian Ridgeback that was the very definition of a big dog. Most apartments had rules that dogs could not exceed 15 pounds, roughly the size of my dog’s left rear leg, so I had to look outside the cool neighborhoods and wound up in heavily immigrant area off Buford Highway, living in an apartment complex that was about 90% Mexican.

At the time, my Spanish was a few degrees less horrible than it is now, but wasn’t anything you would call “conversational” unless your idea of conversation involved a lot of grunting and gesturing, so I didn’t talk to my neighbors much, but I followed along with the activities of the complex, which was an almost perfect slice of Mexico carved out and dropped 500 miles north, right down to the shy woman who came door-to-door every Thursday selling homemade tamales (they were fantastic), the guy who ran a Mexican lottery out of his apartment, and the paleta man who came along selling ice creams on steamy summer afternoons. I was involved with everyone – broken spanish, grunting, gesturing – and if things went wrong and I wound up with a mango paleta instead of a strawberry one, well, at least I still had ice cream.

I had one interaction when I was there that has always stuck with me – I can picture it in my head to this day.  It’s a bit weird to call it an interaction, since it was just a conversation I observed while sitting on the balcony, but I became just as invested in it as the speaker –

Two men were standing out by their van, and one of them began telling the other a long, involved story. The second listened with interest, and then more interest, and started egging the first speaker on. To me, it sounded like this:

Man 1: “spanish spanish spanish spanish, si?”

Man 2: “si, si.”

Man 1: “spanish spanish spanish…. spanish spanish”

Man 2 : (amused) “heh, heh… si, claro… vaya…” (heh, I get it, go on…”)

And I suddenly realized – based on nothing but body language and the tone of their voices – hey… wait a minute...he’s telling a joke!

And I watched, fascinated, as Man 1 continued the setup, with Man 2 getting more and more amused, and right when you would expect it, Man 1 burst out with, “spanish spanish spanish…MUCHACHOS!!!!” and both of them absolutely lost it, laughing so hard they were pounding on the side of the van and there were tears streaming down their faces. And I burst out giggling as well – not because I understood the joke; to this day I have no idea what they talked about – but just from their infectious merriment and my pleasure in having followed along. I felt like I’d tapped into some deep universal commonality, but instead of some mystical, serious revelation I found…giggles.

Two friends making each other laugh.

The best type of language there is.

 

*photo above of backlit Cosmos flowers in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which has nothing at all to do with today’s story. Sorry about that. I’ll eat a tamale later, though.

 

 

 

Unexpected

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This is a sort of unexpected post, as I don’t usually go into personal depths on this blog, but hey, first time for everything, right? Above, please see my beloved Cannondale, which I ride two-three times weekly in an attempt to stay in some sort of reasonable state of fitness (you can read “reasonable” as “anything smaller than a couch”).

Last Saturday morning, my loyal steed and I were in a fairly serious accident – the details are a bit fuzzy, but it appears I swerved to miss someone/something on a crowded part of my ride, hit a curb, and was ejected over the handlebars, resulting in a face-meets-pavement impact that left unconcious and with what later turned out to be a laceration above my eye and a broken cheekbone. (And a mild concussion). I was, thank goodness, wearing a helmet, so the paramedics who swept me away did not have to put my brains back in my head before loading me into the ambulance, and I am on the road to recovery as we speak, animatedly discussing whether I should attempt to remove my own stitches to get badass points (the consensus from friends is, NO.)

So I would just like to take a moment to thank the above-mentioned paramedics, who probably saved my ass, and my friends who have rallied around to make sure my brain is back into my head as correctly as possible, and the kind fire department workers who kept my bike safe at their firehouse for five days until I was able to track it down, and… everybody, really. Including everyone who reads this blog. It makes me so happy that other people get to see my photos and enjoy them, and I wonder sometimes who gets more benefit out of that arrangement – you all, or me. Either way, thank you for being part of the fun, and I’m glad we aren’t going to be rudely interrupted just as things were getting good.

Also, at the risk of sounding like your mom, I’d like to take a moment to beg you, if you engage in a sport that has safety equipment, to wear it. Helmet, flotation device, eye protection, padded underwear – I know it’s often uncomfortable, and sometimes dorky, but I am here to tell you that it’s worth it. I bitched all the time about how sweaty my helmet made my head, but boy howdy am I glad I always wore it. Your brain, unlike your hard drive, doesn’t have a backup, so keep that sucker safe. I want to see everything you have to contribute to the world.

Okay, enough of that! Have a good weekend, everyone, and don’t fall off of anything!

Magnified

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Today we get a true fish story.

The picture above is from the lovely Marathon Key, where I stayed last fall over Labor Day so I could go kayaking and snorkeling and gorge myself on fried shrimp, not necessarily in that order. It is mainly there because the photos I have to showcase my story are so horrible that I needed a good photo to avoid damaging my self-esteem. It’s also the dock where I did most of my snorkeling, so at least it’s germane to the episode.

Snorkeling! I first went snorkeling in Puerto Rico a few years ago and fell utterly, obsessively in love with it, enraptured to the point of resenting the need to re-surface to breathe and avoid shriveling like a prune, like when you stay in the bathtub too long when you’re a little kid. If you are not a snorkeler or a diver – and really, why are you not? – I can only describe it as the closest you will ever come to another planet. My first skin dive showed me a neon-blue-and-yellow eel, a lobster, and a foreshadowing of never vacationing far from the ocean again. I instantly “got” why people who scuba dive never want to do anything else, ever, ever. Dave Barry had it right – once you go under and see what’s going on, you suddenly feel like you’ve spent your life at the circus, but sitting outside, staring at the tent.

This trip I was stoked (do people still say stoked? I am so out of it) to go diving on some of the offshore reefs in the Keys. Due to scheduling and weather I only managed to get out once, to John Pennekamp State Park, where they take you out five(!) miles to a reef that comes to within a few feet of the surface. It was incredible, but the ocean was so rough – I’d never been out that far – that my primary memory of the whole day was desperately trying to stay afloat. I suddenly, vividly, terrifyingly understood how people drown.

The rest of the trip I stayed in the MUCH calmer waters right off my apartment – the dock above. It was the equivalent of a kiddy pool after the reef, but my jangled nerves were okay with that. And it held an AMAZING variety of fish, even in 4-5 feet of water, which was as deep as I felt comfortable going, since I’d spent the previous week clocking 40 hours of “Shark Week” watching. Not the best idea. 

I saw – in no particular order – mangrove snappers, a pufferfish, a trunkfish, and a bunch of other lovelies that looked like they’d escaped from the aquarium of your dreams. There was a – flock? herd? of parrotfish, easily the most exotic thing I’d ever seen, that I watched, entranced, for what seemed like hours; they bumbled about the dock, content and clueless and nibbling little bits of everything in sight. If no one has called the parrotfish the cows of the ocean, allow me to do so now.

There were also a zillion tiny baby barracuda, each as long as my pinkie finger and perfectly camouflaged to hide in the sun-dappled sea grass. 

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And then… there was Mom.

Mom to all those adorably tiny babies lurked around the dock, queen of all she surveyed. The first day I ran into her (or him; I really have no idea) I turned my head and was startled to see her hanging in the water a couple of feet from my head, looking as surprised to see me as I was to see her. With the classic underslung jaw bristling with teeth and a sleek, missile shaped body, Mom looked like three feet of very painful trouble. 

My mind raced thru all the info I’ve heard about barracuda, checking off my safety points – no jewelry, good, underwater camera with shiny bits, bad – somehow completely forgetting that I was in all of four feet of water and could have simply stood up and walked away if things got weird – and frantically reminding myself that wildlife underwater always looks bigger than it is, because of the water’s magnifying effect. Twenty percent, I told myself. Of course, that left me staring at the pointy end of two and a half feet of fish, but…

Mom decided she’d had enough and swam off. Whew.

Over the next four days, we came to an uneasy detante. Once or twice a day ( I snorkel a lot, okay?) I would see her come looming out of the green water, regarding me with a curious, but not aggressive, eye. I gave her a wide berth. Nobody needed to lose a finger. We could share. My final morning I even got the nerve to drift a bit closer to her, admiring her long, powerful body hanging in the water.

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(I warned you that these photos were hideous.)

That afternoon, I wandered down and sat on the stone jetty, saying goodbye to the Keys – I was on my way home that evening – and hoping to get a glimpse of my friends the parrotfish in the crystal water. One of them actually did nose up towards the jetty, saying farewell in its bumbly, nibbly way. I was thrilled. And then… Mom arrived. 

It was the first time I had seen her from above the water, able to really see her in perspective without the disorienting, misty effect the water creates. I could see what a perfectly designed predator she was –  she was magnificent, all power and speed with beautiful deep stripes crossing her back, breaking up the silver pattern of her scales and periodically rendering her invisible. 

She was also all of  14 inches long.

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Can you even see her?

I had spent the last four days in terror (l can admit it now) of a fish only marginally larger than the goldfish in my pond. If by some chance she had taken it into her fishy head to bite me, I doubt she’d have taken much more than the nibbly parrotfish would. I probably lost more blood scraping against the dock she was obviously using for protection from the larger, scarier predators in open water. 

Something stirred in the water, and she streaked off, a flash of silver.