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Preface: I am reposting this entry despite the fact that the move described in part led to my divorce and entirely caused or at least fueled a depression followed by a streak of mania like lightening.

I am moving to Florida; Sanibel, Florida, to be exact, an island just west of Fort Meyers. Robert Rauschenberg and (how’s this for contrast) Dan Brown live on the adjacent island of Captiva. Several other known writers live there, too, like Barbara Kingsolver. Luckily, it’s not the home of Dave Barry. “Count your blessings,” they say. One.

My wife and I really can’t afford this move. It’s a crapshoot and the odds are loaded. If I had any marital power, I might have put the kibosh on it, but as a writer, I have no power in marriage, either.

I’m moving from the known location of hell — Flint, Michigan — and I wonder if my metaphoric angels will leave with my not-so-metaphoric devils. Perhaps chiggers will relieve me of that burden. Besides, I’m not at all convinced I’m possessed of even metaphoric angels. Let them fly — buzz off. I’m neither George Bailey nor Fyodor Dostoevsky.

On the other hand, I do worry I’ll begin writing mysteries of local color, guaranteed to sell a respectable number of copies to residents wanting to read about the places they regularly visit, as if those places only exist when written about, broadcast or filmed. The new definition of “art” seems to be: “To confirm the existence of readers or reassure them someone else’s life is worse.”

I believe the purpose of art is to change perceptions and to reinvigorate the senses. To show something in a different way, even to show what that something “sees.” To remind us we’re bored precisely because we only see what we’re used to seeing and how limited that viewpoint can be. To open our eyes and everything else.

Give me Christian Hawkey and take away every memoirist in the book…store. Give me what is of this earth and keep the conveniently-half-answered mysteries, even if Christian Hawkey is…a Christian. I’ve an open mind.

Everything is of use, everything…you’re a collagist or you’re nothing. There’s nothing you can do that hasn’t been done, so why do it again? There are no original singularities, but there are new combinations, always new combinations. Ask any locksmith. Or pair of lovers. So do it again.

Of course, major publishers aren’t interested in combinations; they’re interested in repetitions. Show me a current bestselling novel and, with a few exceptions, I’ll show you a book that’s been written better before. And by repetitions, I don’t mean interesting repetitions; I mean repeating in the manner of a cocaine addict: “It worked once and, despite all evidence to the contrary, I will repeat the experience again and again, hoping for the same result.” Hence, the rehab memoir.

I’m not saying I don’t repeat myself; in the words of Robert Fripp, “I repeat myself when I repeat myself.”  I always hope only to enlarge a pinprick of a vision.  ABE: Always Be Enlarging. That statement, by the way, should increase site-wide hits from blog spammers.

Maybe I’m merely “stressed,” a useless word now that leaving the house and seeing lowered flags everywhere, every day of the week, should alert anyone it’s time to be stressed all the time: Have Paxil, will travel. Stress, anxiety, depression, all of it, no longer signify neuroses. If anything, they signify the lack of it. It’s as though we’re constantly approaching a yellow light, uncertain how close it is to turning red.

So here I go, heading for earthquakes disguised as hurricanes. In that deceiving land, I’ll live near collagists and repeaters of conspiracy theories. There are rumblings. In destruction lies what will be, something not so much new as refashioned into something else.

Not New Orleans but New New Orleans.


SACRAMENTO, CA-

There was a time when my little sister, Kati, and I were practically inseparable.

Kati loved coming to my house because she got all of the attention. There weren’t seven other kids battling for love and affection. Just her and me.

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Kati spent holidays at my house. I made here green eggs and green milk for St. Patrick’s Day. Donald and I would make Easter egg hunts just for her. She had her own Christmas stocking hanging up at our house.

It wasn’t that my parents didn’t want Kati around. Kati just didn’t want to be around them. My family’s house was always in turmoil. My parents were always fighting. The kids were constantly battling against each other. And Kati, being the smallest, was often lost in the fray.

There were more than a few times when Kati asked if Donald and I would adopt her, but I always declined. I told her she wouldn’t have as much fun with us if we were her real parents because I’d make her do her homework and go to bed early.

No, it was much better this way. I got to be the fun big sister who dressed up like a ballerina with her (sorry no pictures). I stayed up late making her ice cream sundaes and reading her Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (I wouldn’t let her watch the movie until after we’d read the book).

One other thing I remember about my years hanging out with Kati was her birthdays.

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Our family has never been big on birthdays. My mom always said if she let one of us have a birthday party then all of us would want a birthday party. And in my house that amounted to a birthday party almost every month, sometimes twice in one month.

It just wasn’t happening.

But Kati always got a special birthday when I was around. For her third birthday I invited all of my friends out to dinner as though it was my own birthday. We just went to some little diner and I didn’t expect it to be too big of a deal.

But it was. Everybody brought her gifts and balloons and cards. And the waitress brought here a huge sundae with sparklers. And everybody sang Happy Birthday to her.

I don’t know if she even remembers that now. It was quite a long time ago.

The last birthday I got to spend with her was her ninth birthday (the one pictured above).

I had returned from France just three days prior. But I had promised Kati I’d make her birthday special. I got my other sister, Jess, in on the plan. We decorated my apartment. Set up a karaoke machine and invited both Kati’s and my friends over to celebrate. It wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped, but I think Kati still had fun.

About a year later my family moved to Idaho, taking Kati with them. Every year after I’ve told Kati I’ll come visit her for her birthday, but I’ve never been able to make it. I’ve missed three of her birthdays now.

Kati and I had grown apart a bit anyway. I’d been gone in France for eight months and I think she felt a bit abandoned. Also, I stopped having her over as often because my parents blamed me for Kati’s not being baptized.

In the Mormon religion children don’t get baptized until they’re eight years old, ostensibly because they want people to make their own decision as to whether they believe and want to be a member of the church.

As you’ll soon see, this isn’t actually the case.

Kati had put hers off for the first year, saying she wanted to wait until I got home from France. It was a good strategy for her. She got to deflect the attention to me. My dad called me up in Paris and said, “Kati isn’t getting baptized because of you.”

That’s what he said.

He asked me to talk to her, to plead with her to get baptized before she turned nine. I told him it wasn’t that big of a deal and he could schedule it for the month I returned.

I thought Kati really did want to get baptized. I thought she just wanted to wait until I was there for it.

But several months later Kati still wasn’t baptized.


I thought it was just my parents being irresponsible as usual. After all, I wasn’t baptized until I was almost nine too. Not because I didn’t want to, but because my parents just never bothered to schedule it and send out the invitations.

So why were my parents so concerned this time?

Well, it turns out that Kati flat out told them no. She said she wasn’t getting baptized.

Now the pressure was on.

One Sunday evening I went to raid my parents pantry for groceries. When I arrived I was surprised to find my dad and Kati in the living room with two missionaries while the rest of the family seemed to be hiding out in the kitchen.

“What’s Kati doing in there with the missionaries?” I asked.

“They’re trying to make her get baptized.” my brother told me.

“What do you mean? Of course she’s going to get baptized,” I said.

“No, she won’t,” my brother said. “They come here nearly every week and every week she tells them no.”

“Seriously?”

“Yep.”

At this point I went searching for my mom, who was hiding out like everyone else.

She told me the missionaries came twice a month, but Kati wasn’t budging.

People, this is a nine-year-old kid. Children do not tell adults no. They do what everyone else does. And in our family and our circle of friends, everyone else gets baptized.

After this I was intrigued by my sister and her strength to stand up for what she, in this case, doesn’t believe.

Of course, although my heart was swelling with pride, I didn’t tell her that. It would for sure be my fault if I encouraged her on this path.

Moving on…

Today Kati is 12 years old. She’s made it more than four years without getting baptized, even after my parents moved her to Utah last summer.

The missionaries continued to come while they lived in Idaho.

And Kati continued to tell them no.

Every so often, when I called my mother, and trying to not sound eager, I would inquire about Kati and the missionaries.

Exasperated, my mom would say, “The missionaries still come on Sundays. Your dad won’t tell them to leave her alone.”

This week though two of my sisters came to visit and I found out that my mom finally put her foot down.

The story as relayed to me by my sister:

The bishop of their new ward came to my parents with Kati’s church records.

“There seems to be a problem with your daughter’s records,” he said.

“No, there’s no problem,” my mom said.

“Well, it says here that she’s not baptized yet,” he persists.

“Yes. That’s not a mistake,” my mom says.

“Oh, well…”

“No. That’s the way she wants it and that’s the way it’s going to stay. If you send even one missionary to our house I’m going to leave the church for good. I will not allow any of my children to step foot in this church again. Got it?”

And the missionaries have stopped coming.


UPDATE, November 2009: I just learned, via Facebook, that Kati is getting baptized. Apparently all the church had to do was give her some space.

In St. Petersburg, Russia, four gypsies stop me on a footbridge that spans a stone-walled canal. They shout in Russian and lift me up. I think maybe I’m going into the canal, which would be bad, but then Stephen Elliott lunges into them, demanding they put me down. After they run away with my wallet Steve makes sure I get home safely, and he also stays up with me until I calm down.

 It’s been just over two years since I posed naked with 2,753 other people on the edge of Cleveland, Ohio.

It’s been just over two years since I stood shivering in the middle of a park behind the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame where I pulled my T-shirt over my head and dropped my pants and boxer briefs for a couple of hours.

All very legal.

All very much for art.

All said and done and plastered all over the news at the time.

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To properly tell this story, I must first make a few confessions:

A man in the the early afternoon of his life (approximately 1:00 to 1:30 pm) hops a plane to the Northwestern corner of his host country, the one he sometimes calls home, and dials a number, speaks a popular foreign language, writes down an address, says thank you, until soon, ends the call, looks at the clock on this cellular phone, opens a map and directs himself toward a hotel.

On his back is a rucksask, which he calls a “blid” because the top part of it has what looks like a big lid that extends higher than his head. He also refers to people like him, the rucksackers, as blids because they walk around with big lids higher than their heads. Blids are walking/living advertisements for people who are overloaded, semi-bewildered and wayworn. They are “not from here” and today, he is one of them. Attached to his chest is a smaller backpack of the same brand (harnessed backwards) that holds his writing device, research for something he is writing, a copy of the first draft of that something that was written, his digital music player, a camera and various cables with which to connect them all to his writing device.

The temperature is 34 degrees, according to a woman he overheard complaining about the heat. He’s been in his host country so long that he doesn’t quite know what that is in his pre-programmed Fahrenheit gauge, but he knows that it is, in fact, hot. Damn hot, or insupportably hot – as the woman had said – the insupportably hottest damn day of the year. If he had to guess, he would say about 95 degrees and with the humidity factor, over 100. He walks around for a 10 minutes and wipes his forehead over 20 times with his palm, a bead of sweat readily forms at the bottom of his chin seconds after he wipes it away. His new black shirt holds a newer shade of darkness, a dampened black, where he is sweating without pause.

At the hotel, he disentangles himself from his blid burden, wipes his forehead with his palm and asks how much a room costs. Thirty-one euros, the cute girl behind the desk says smiling, plus tax. He pauses, looks around the two-star hotel lobby and weighs the possibility of exiting and looking for something cheaper of the same quality of slightly more expensive but of higher quality. Behind the girl behind the desk is a mirror and he sees himself in it, the sweat a relentless rain with which he uses his palms like intermittent wipers to keep it from falling into his eyes and impairing his vision.

I’ll take it, he says.

The room is spartan: there’s a bed big enough to entomb one person, a window, a small desk with a chair and very small TV dangling off the wall in the corner. He is exhausted. He takes off all his clothes and considers a shower but only after he’s lying in bed, at which time he closes his eyes and quickly drifts off to a siesta – or as most Brits call it (and make a point of this whenever they are around this particular foreigner), a kip.

The alarm on his cell phone brings him back to consciousness an hour and half later. He rubs his head and eyes and looks at the time on his cell phone. He is running late for his appointment to see a room in an apartment. He can shower in one minute or skip the shower and just towel down and deodorize heavily. Outside his hotel window, the evening twilight is blanketing and the heat is dropping. He stands up,
staggers for a second at the window, grabs his camera and snaps a photo.

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Its a rugged, post-industrial town. Most of the roofs need replacing from the heavy rain and are stained accordingly, he thinks, but if they replaced them, it might not have such an industrial appeal. And who wants to live in an ancient land that’s been refurbished, renovated and redone to look like a retro-ancient one?

Not I, he says and jumps in the shower for one full minute before drying, tossing his clothes on, putting the smaller rucksack on his back and whishing himself out the door and down into the street toward his appointment.

Rua León looked semi-close to his hotel on the map, but maps are always deceptive, even if you take into account the conversion factor in the legend. And this town is full of hills, putting you in a perpetual state of incline or decline. His destination is a definite incline, all the way up, he can see it, and while the small rucksack on his back weighs 1/10th of the colossal blid he had on earlier, this little one still packs a little punch and the incline looks never-ending.

20 minutes later he arrives at Rua León, 12. He looks around the area; adjacent to the flat is a walking area that looks like it was one a street for cars but was turned into a sizable thoroughfare for shopping and café loitering.

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Across the street from his flat are two bars and next to it is another; on the other side of the flat is a
gym and he thinks that these could come in handy if decides to take up karate, thai-chi…

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or drinking.

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Two people arrive and literally say “Hello” as if to impress them with their English. The local says his name and they shake hands. The foreigner asks him to repeat it and without hesitation the woman answers for him, Suso, as in Jesucristo – it’s a diminutive, she says, and then releases her name: Maria. Suso is a brittle man in his fifties with nearly translucent skin, blue eyes and shaved white hair. He speaks with
an  operatic intonation and subtle hesitation that almost makes it seem like he doesn’t speak the same tongue as the foreigner. Maria is a whiz at the language, is slightly overweight, in her late forties and has several severely discolored teeth, the rest of which appear only mildly discolored.

All three enter in the front door into the vestibule. There’s no elevator, Maria says, and its on the second floor. They make their way up and Suso stops in front of the door and points to the light above the door saying its automatic. He fumbles with the key in the lock and turns and looks up at the light. You see,
he says, you don’t have to touch anything, it automatically knows you are there, as if to reiterate the high-tech function of the front door light. The foreigner nods his head.

They walk in and immediately he is gripped by a stale odor. Here’s your room, Suso says motioning him into the room, and your desk which I put in here yesterday. In front of the desk is a small chair, suitable for a child in a playroom. This isn’t the right chair Maria, Suso says, get the other one, which she does and
hands him quickly. Suso pushes down the chair while engaging some lever underneath it and explains how customizable it is. He gets down on one knee and says, look here, this lever right here allows you to move it up and down with no problems. The foreigner nods his head again, thinking about the motion-sensor light
and this man’s preoccupation with these accessories that seem to make life so much easier—or more accurately, the flat so modern. Without them, he would most certainly be roughing it.The room
is even more spartan than the hotel. There’s a lazy chair in the corner with no cushion to sit on
and a wobbly closet door which disengages into his hands when he tries to move it.

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Oops, Suso says, this is nothing, I’ll fix this
tomorrow.

Maria stands at the threshold of the door, lights a cigarette and puts her hand outside the room, as if the smoke might bother the foreigner. He doesn’t see it at first but intuits it, feels that it
is there. Upon her next dragging of the cigarette and putting it outside the door, he looks and confirms it – she has a dark patch of hair under her armpit.
Contrary to many European stereotypes, he realizes that this is the first woman he’s seen in this country—besides lesbians and the occasional hardcore hippy—that doesn’t shave her armpits. He is unbothered by this because he should (hopefully) never have to see her in any capacity that will force him to think of this any further.

They show him the rest of the flat. It consists of a kitchen with the most basic of utensils,

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the washing machine out on the dust-filled terrace, the bathroom that has no curtain, not even bars with which to hang one if he would want to, a very small neglected living area

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and two other bedrooms, the last of which is David’s, who they tell him is the only one living here at the moment and is rarely at home. When he is, they say, he isn’t very social. That’s OK, the foreigner says, it won’t bother me.

So you’re a writer—huh?, Maria asks while covering the beds with a sheet.

He says yes well I’m working on someth—Maria cuts him off, I’m reading Neetzch, do you know
who he is? You mean the German philosopher?, the foreigner replies, I’ve read some of his stuff. Be careful, Maria warns, I’m reading the one he wrote just before he went crazy, at which point she looks to Suso and he guesses –you mean the one with that crazy name – Zarthstru? No, not that one, Maria shakes her head, the one about good and bad and there’s another book that comes published with it. I’ve read some of his stuff, the foreigner repeats. Maria tells him to be careful, that he shouldn’t go crazy trying to write something
like this Neetzch character. Well I’m not a philosopher, the foreigner adds, and Maria shakes her head again and says that all writers are philosophers and subject to same whims and weaknesses. I’ll be careful, the foreigner smiles, thinking about he never would have pegged Maria to be a Nietzsche fan.

They discuss the price, 200 euros, which includes all costs associated with the flat and room including WiFi. There is a lock on the door to his room and he asks where the key is. Suso says that he thinks there’s a key to it somewhere but if he can’t find it, it will be no problem to come over here one day and replace it.
You shouldn’t have anything to worry about here, he continues, David is barely here and this Belgian girl that’s coming will be studying Marine biology at the port, so they won’t be here very much. I know, the foreigner replies, there’s probably nothing to worry about but you never know what might happen and I want
to make sure that I have a writing device with which to write on, if not, that is to say, if it gets stolen, then
my entire purpose for being here will be for nothing. I’ll be by in a few days to replace the lock then, Suso says, finally accepting the condition with which the man will move in.

They shake hands and the foreigner heads back to his two-star hotel, wondering if the place is truly adequate for what he wants. It’s not exactly comfortable, there’s no shower curtain and no lock on the door and while I am here to write, he says aloud descending the hill into downtown, I am on vacation and damn
there are some very fine-looking women in this capital beach town and I can’t imagine writing for eight hours a day straight when I haven’t written for even thirty minutes in the past year with any consistency.

He asks himself the most fundamental of questions: what does a writer really need to write? Sure, creature comforts like small lamps, dictionaries and thesauruses, a nice lazy-boy with which to read and research in and get a quick kip in, those would be nice, he thinks. And maybe a stereo if s/he likes music to write with, a fan if its hot, some wall space with which to write words and notes on and maybe a bookshelf to hold books on for reference. These things are pleasant and probably required for many, but in essence, the only things a writer really needs is what this armpit-of-a-shared-flat has to offer: a chair to sit on and a desk to put the writing device on. All else is superfluous.

He considers the options: getting a cheaper hostel for another night or two, looking at more flats around the same price but hopefully of better quality, some that may not even have a desk in it. And this Suso character really did hook me up with that desk, he admits, it is the finest piece of furniture in the whole forgettable shack, not to mention customizable chair and motion-sensor light at the front door. Hell, It’s 200 euros—everything included—and no one gets hurt, he says, almost whistling down the wind.

The next day comes and he decides to take it. He mounts the blids on his back and chest and walks toward the main street looking for a taxi. The weather is considerably better today, probably about 21 degrees, but still begins to downpour sweat profusely with the heavy blid burden now in full bore.

He gets to the flat, meets Suso to whom he gives 200 euros and gets a set of keys and a quick handshake in return before disappearing. The foreigner immediately sweeps the entire flat and dusts everything, then takes all the possessions out of the blids and puts them in their proper place. Finally, he sets up his writing device, plugs it in and turns it on…

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and begins writing:

A man in the the early afternoon of his life (approximately 1:00 to 1:30 pm) hops a plane to the Northwestern corner of his host country, the one he sometimes calls home, and dials a number, speaks a popular foreign language, writes down an address, says thank you, until soon, ends the call, looks at the clock on this cellular phone, opens a map and directs himself toward a hotel.

 It was great to hear your voice again, Igor.

It was as if we hadn’t missed a beat, or it was as if you deleted my number and didn’t know who was calling you last Tuesday afternoon at 4:32.

I couldn’t go home yet. I’d made it this far out into the world—surely I could go a little farther.

The PR woman in charge of the Filippino press trip I was on arranged to have my stay extended, and I eagerly researched methods to get to a small island north of Cebu called Malapascua.

I chose Malapascua because my guidebook listed it as one of the few places in the world to dive with thresher sharks. The common thresher shark ranges in size from 10 to 25 feet and has a tail shaped like a scythe, with which they use to stun their prey. A pelagic species, thresher sharks generally reside at depths too dangerous for divers to reach.

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Perfect, I thought. No matter that I hadn’t been diving in years. No matter that the thought made my chest tight, my breath short.

According to my guidebook, Monad Shoal, off the coast of Malapascua, is one of the only places in the world known for daily sightings of thresher sharks. It’s here where the thresher sharks convene every morning to have a symbiotic relationship with the small wrasse fish who cleans them of bacteria, eating the dead skin from their bodies and even the insides their mouths.

My diving with sharks, a creature I was deathly afraid of, seemed the perfect antidote to the raging desperation I felt inside. I was 25 years old and my father had just died of cancer two months before, leaving me parentless and quite alone in the world.

On the morning that I was due to return to Los Angeles, I instead waved goodbye to my fellow journalists and watched as they clambered into the air-conditioned van for their ride to the airport. Then I climbed into the backseat of a taxi and asked the driver to take me to the local bus station.

Getting to Malapascua was no easy feat. The journey began with an eight-hour bus ride through the jungle up to the very tip of Cebu where I would then have to find a boat willing to take me out to the island.

I sat by myself in the old un-airconditioned school bus and stared out the window at the passing trees and densely tangled vines. The bus, like most Filipino transport, was decorated with an outrageous assortment of fringe and beads and wildly painted colors. American classic rock blasted from little speakers strategically placed throughout the interior, ensuring that no one could hear anything but ABBA’s finest.

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The other passengers on the bus turned around frequently to stare at me and whenever we stopped, people along the side of the road would grab their companions and point up at me: this wide-eyed white girl traveling alone. I didn’t mind their stares, my lips curving into a slight smile in return. I had a week under my belt of this kind of treatment. I was beginning to get used to it.

I also just didn’t care anymore. At some point during this trip—perhaps walking through the Chinese cemetery in Manila at dusk—I had decided to just give myself up to the world. I had nothing, absolutely nothing, to lose.

And seemingly the world responded in kind. For the rest of my trip I was handed off from person to person. Everyone seemed interested in the young American woman traveling alone. The taxi driver, the bus driver, the young ticket-taker boys all inquired after my journey. Where are you going? Who are you going with? You’re alone? Where are your companions? Where is your husband?

I answered their questions honestly, admitting that I was very much alone and transparently clueless about what I was getting myself into. Each of them took it upon themselves to hand me off to the next. The taxi driver made sure I got onto the correct bus. The young ticket boys on the bus walked me out to the docks at the end of the island. The boat driver assured me that he would see me to his aunt’s resort (a series of ramshackle huts on the beach). And each of them, true to their word, made sure I reached my next destination.

I’ll never forget sitting perched on the edge of that rickety catamaran on my way to Malapascua. I’d been the last passenger on the bus when we reached the end of Cebu and the young ticket boy escorted me over to the docks. Hey, this girl wants to go to Malapascua, he called out to several men lounging around the makeshift port.

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And soon I found myself scudding along the clear blue ocean, my face lifted to the sun, all signs of land disappearing from view as I went farther and farther out into the ocean.

No matter how sad I was, no matter how wrenchingly lonely I felt, no matter how bottomless my pain seemed, there never disappeared a part of me absolutely determined to live my life. I closed my eyes to the warm ocean breeze and I knew this about myself.

Malapascua was incredibly small, maybe one mile by two. The electricity shut off every night at 10 p.m. and the running water only ran twice a day. The entire time I was there I only encountered three other tourists: two American Peace Corps workers and their traveling friend. After I checked into one of the huts on the beach I walked over to the dive place and introduced myself to the dive master, a friendly British guy named Duncan.

I got certified as a diver when I was fourteen. Both of my parents were divers, my mother the more serious of them, and we went every year on our annual trips to Grand Cayman. My mother and I were always dive buddies, checking each other’s gear and swimming alongside each other. She loved to point out anemones and eels, which she’d find hidden in secret little crevasses among the coral. We’d nod at each other, our eyes wide in our masks, mouths smiling around our regulators.

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But I hadn’t been diving in years. I didn’t know where my certification was, didn’t know if I even remembered how to read the gauges or adjust my buoyancy level. I didn’t care, though, and I told all of this to Duncan. He assured me that it would all come back easily, that it was a simple dive, and handed me a form on which he jokingly suggested I sign my life away.

I scribbled out my signature as he explained that we would dive Monad Shoal early the next morning. The dive was 80 feet, he described, and we would simply descend and kneel on the sandy bottom to watch the sharks as they went through their morning routine. I looked around the dive hut at the pictures on the wall, those enormous grey fish, their tails almost as long as their bodies. I nodded at Duncan, told him I’d see him in the morning.

I spent the rest of the day exploring the island. I wandered through the tiny village and out into the mangroves, walking from one end of the island to the other, clouds floating across the sky before me and the ocean stretching out for unknowable miles. I thought about my parents and my life and what they would want for me and what I wanted for myself. And I knew that I was doing it, whatever it was.

The next morning I showed up at Duncan’s dive hut at 5:30 a.m. It was still dark out, but just as Duncan had said, the roosters woke me on time. We set about loading up the boat with gear—we would be the only divers, although there was a young Filipino boy who would remain on board the boat while we went down. Monad Shoal was a good half hour out into the wide, open ocean. I could only faintly see land in the distance once we finally reached the buoy that marked our dive spot.

My anxiety mounted as we assembled the gear. I hadn’t been diving in years. I’d hardly ever gone without my mother and never without a large group of people. Dawn was barely beginning to break and the ocean was dark and choppy. I tried to imagine the sharks eighty feet below us. Duncan said there were usually around thirty of them. My heart was pounding as I dropped backwards over the edge of the boat in my mask and fins, my B.C. and regulator.

As soon as we began to descend into the water, my hands tight around the anchor rope, my heart began to pound even harder. My chest was grew tight. I was terrified. Visibility was poor; I could hardly see five feet below me and I could not tamp the rising sense of panic thinking about the school of sharks pooled below us.


I shook my head at Duncan, cut my finger across my neck to call it off; I couldn’t do it.

He was kind about it, pouring me a cup of coffee from a little thermos and wrapping a towel around my shoulders, but sitting on the bow of the boat as we skimmed across the water on our way back to Malapascua, I felt foolish. Tears slipped down my cheeks.

What was it I was so desperately trying to prove to myself?

I’ve told this story a hundred times and it never ceases to be anti-climatic. But the truth is that I didn’t have to dive with those sharks in order to know that I was living my life. The moral of the story is that old adage: it’s not about the destination, it’s what gets you there. It’s the journey itself that matters. I didn’t need to swim with sharks to prove that I could handle the deaths of my parents.

I returned to the Malapascua that morning with Duncan, thanked him one last time, and ran off to meet my new friend Melanie, a Malapascua native and sole bartender at the one of the island’s two bars—the floating one. Melanie and I spent the day snorkeling off the southern tip of the island, pointing to the brightly colored parrot fish and carefully concealed eels.

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Heading back to Cebu a few days later, my back stuck to the pleather seat of that old school bus, Boston blasting through the tinny speakers, I knew I’d found what I’d gone looking for and I was grateful that I didn’t have to dive with sharks to find it.



Dad: Your mother wanted me to talk to you about something.

(Insert silence)

Rich: What?

Dad: How do I say this? When two people…when a man and woman are in love and–

Rich: Is this about sex?

Dad: How do you know about sex?

Rich: School.

Dad: What did you hear about it?

Rich: Nothing.

Dad: Do you know how it works?

Rich: N’uh uh.

Dad: Would you like me to explain?

Rich: I guess so.

Dad: Well when a man and woman want to be intimate and–

Rich: What does intimate mean?

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Dad: When a man and woman love each other.

Rich: Do you and mom love each other?

Dad: Yes.

Rich: You don’t act like it sometimes.

(Insert silence)

Dad: Your mother and I love each other very much.

Rich: Did you and mom love each other when you made me?

Dad: I think we’re getting a little off the point here. Let’s talk about sex. Alright?

Rich: Alright.

Dad: When a man and woman want to make a baby they have what is called sex. Do you understand?

Rich: I think so.

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Dad: Would you like me to explain how sex works?

(Insert silence)

Rich: I guess so. Alright.

Dad: Think of it like this. It’s a little like sticking a broomstick into a mousehole and–

Rich: I once saw that on Tom and Jerry. Tom was sticking this broomstick into Jerry’s mousehole and–


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Dad: That’s not what I mean.

Rich: Really?

Dad: Really.

Rich: Good. Cause that was pretty scary.

(Insert silence)

Rich: So what do you mean?

Dad: A man has something between his legs called a penis, which looks a little like a broomstick and he’ll stick that…son, what are you doing?

Rich: Looking to see if mine looks like a broomstick.

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Dad: Son, get your damn hands out of your pants and let me finish here.

(Insert silence)

Dad: Stop crying.

(Insert longer, more awkward silence, followed by soft choking sobs)

Dad: Stop crying, son. It’s alright. Just let me finish. Alright?

Rich: A-a-a-alright.

Dad: Anyway, the man sticks his thing that looks like a broomstick into something between a woman’s legs that looks like a mousehole and–

Rich: That’s gross.

Dad: Well it’s not gross when a man and woman and woman love each other.

Rich: Do you and mom love each other?

Dad: Wait, I haven’t finished telling you about sex yet.