It’s spring in the Midwestern United States – which means “Severe Weather” season.  Which also means “Local Television Stations Jack-up Ratings Through Alarmist Fear Mongering” season.  A storm ten counties away is “Breaking News”.  Annual segments on “Tornado Preparedness” are broadcast.  Recommended “Tornado Safety Kit” items posted online at television station websites.
If the local news channels devote this much bandwidth to an issue, then by the Glory of Idiocracy, this must be serious fucking ju-ju!
Coincidently, it’s also “daisyfae Gets Cranky With Storm Pussies” season. 
Mom was a Level Five* Storm Pussy.  With the threat of thunderstorms, we were forced to stay indoors.  She held watch at the windows, television blaring, clinging to the latest updates.  With the advent of weather radio, she monitored the static-encrusted drone of the invisible weatherman as he described ‘a line of severe thunderstorms’ a hundred miles away.
She would bemoan the fact that we didn’t have a basement for safe shelter.  Pace and wring her hands, jumping with each flash of lightning, clap of thunder or ping of a hail stone.  Massive amounts of energy spent on the endeavor of ‘worry’.  Zero energy spent doing anything useful – such as locating flashlights in case of power failure or filling a jugs with water. Since our water was supplied via electric well pump, we couldn’t even flush the toilet without electricity.   That might have been helpful.
She had no plan to respond to an actual, honest-to-fucking-god tornado**.  Listen, watch, pace, wring, bemoan.  Repeat as necessary.
Growing up with this, i acquired storm anxiety.  It stayed with me until i took my first Probability and Statistics course.  Maybe it was an example tossed out by an instructor, or just conversations with my very rational husband, but i realized it was extremely unlikely that i’d ever suffer ill effects due to weather.
In “Freakonomics”, the authors take a run at this phenomena.  Even though we are FAR more likely to die of heart disease, cancer, stroke, and auto accidents, humans are irrationally worried about “death by windstorm”.  The authors discuss our natural propensity to be less afraid of things we control.  You are more likely to die in a car than an airplane***, but we fear flying because we’re not in control. 
Fast forward a few decades.  Mom still has storm anxiety – as do all of my siblings****.  i have learned to place myself into a “mental bunker” and not respond when they start yammering about scary weather, and death from the skies. 

Unfortunately, i still haven’t learned to do this on facebook.
With the first storm of the season upon us, i saw a dozen postings regarding weather.  Not limited to just theater people, or high school friends who grew up with me, there was no single representative demographic.  Unable to restrain myself, i went to several of these threads and posted the following:

over your lifetime, the odds of dying of heart disease are 1:5, cancer 1:7, stroke 1:23, auto accident 1:100… tornado? 1:60,000

math. trust it. oh, and we probably need to rethink the bacon… damn it.

(reference here)

Not surprisingly, this was completely ignored.  What?  Facts and figures?  It seemed to be a buzzkill, as several active commentary threads shut down after i hoarked up data.
It finally occurred to me that there’s more to this baseless fear.  Being scared is fun – that’s what gets our asses on roller coasters, our butts in theaters for zombie flicks and why humans jump out of perfectly good airplanes for sport.  When you’re afraid?  You KNOW you’re alive…
Who am i to deny people the chance to feel a rush of blood coursing through their veins?  The thrill of staring down death – and surviving to fear another day?
i give up.  Back to trying to teach my fucking dog to sing…


* That is an SP-5 on the “Sucks at Math” scale.

** It was her youngest child who eventually came up with a “tornado safety plan”.  Based on the annual “Spring Tornado Preparedness” drills at my elementary school, i wrote it all down – when I was about 10 years old.  “Open windows.  Grab blankets from bedrooms.  Close doors to bedrooms and bathroom.  Shelter in hallway.”  She didn’t seem that interested in the plan – told me that what we really needed was a basement.
***  They do their math by “deaths per mile traveled over a lifetime”.  The risks are fairly even…  Smarter statistics.  That’s why they are two very rich men (i hope).
**** Florida sister has weathered several hurricanes.   Her ‘disaster preparedness’ methods are pretty solid by now.  “Go to liquor store.  Put up storm shutters.  Drink.  Repeat as necessary.”

Functional Strength: Revised Definition

My week of business travel at a swishy resort ended with a bit of a hairpin curve.  But there are lessons to be extracted from any adventure – good or bad.  i learned a few on Saturday.

My flight was scheduled for 2:00 pm, so i planned a leisurely morning at the gym, poolside brunch, then the short jaunt to the airport.  Up with the sunrise at 6:00 am, i scratched and made a cup of coffee to slurp on the balcony while listening to the crashing surf one last time…

Around 6:30, the lights flickered and went out.  i put on my workout gear and headed down the 18 flights of stairs to the fitness center.  Walking through the lobby?  Quiet chaos as the early-risers tried to check out, corner a bellman for a luggage assist or just bark at the helpless staff.

In the fitness center, the lights flickered occasionally, but i was able to get in a 30 minute session on the elliptical and 30 minutes with weights.  The hotel had back up power – the ellipticals kept working but the poor bastards trying to use the treadmills were periodically lurched onto the carpet when the power quit.  Pretty entertaining… caught myself anticipating the next power glitch just to watch them fly!

Talking with a woman on the adjacent machine i learned there had been a fire in my tower, and that she had been roused from her room by a knock at the door and a request to evacuate the building.  She was in the same tower as me, one floor up.  They must have paid more for their room.  No knock on my door… Bad time for staff to respect a ‘do not disturb’ sign.

Finished up, wandered back through the lobby – where there were now a large number of cranky people assembled.  Free breakfast pastries and orange juice were offered, as none of the restaurants or shops were open.  i snagged a bagel and headed out to the pool. 

After an hour of baking in the morning sun, i munched over potential options for getting my two suitcases down from the 18th floor – while sorting through other potential obstacles for getting to the airport on time. 

It was 10:00 am.  i needed to be checked out and headed to the airport by noon.  Hotel staff had told me that the power should be back on in an hour.  Right.  They had also assured me that i would be able to get bellmen to assist with luggage.  Sure…  “Check is in the mail”, “I’ll respect you in the morning” and “I’m from your government and I’m here to help you”.

Hoofed it up 18 flights of stairs, lit only by glow sticks.  By then, the emergency lights had shriveled.  i encountered a few souls hauling large suitcases down the stairs.  i mentioned to one woman that she might have been able to get assistance, she laughed and said “From what I’ve been told, they’ve all vaporized!”

In my room, i finished packing.  Hauled the first 50 pound suitcase full of scuba gear on a long trek down a dark stairwell.  Good times.  As i got to the ground floor, and attempted to navigate the warren of dark hallways to find the lobby, i took a wrong turn.

Popping around a corner, into a service garage area, i stumbled into a nest of bell staff.  About 15 of them, smoking cigarettes and looking guilty.  They were startled by my arrival, and seemed ready to scatter.  Smoke billowed out of their heads in relief as i turned and wheeled my bag back to the lobby. 

Checked my bag at the desk and headed back up the stairs for my final trip.  On the way up, i heard an awful racket above me.  Stepping into an alcove, i dodged a bellman ‘sledding’ two large bags down the flights of stairs – and realized i was far better off hauling my own gear.  Grabbed my second suitcase, attached a glow stick to the front for better visibility and headed down again.

Other than initial failure to locate my rental car company*, and the masses of “cruise-nozzles” in the airport, the rest of the trip was uneventful. 

Managed the entire morning without panic, or assistance.  Had i not been doing 30 minutes of interval training 6 days a week, and lifting weights since January, i might not have had the strength and stamina to pull this off.  There’s still a long way to go, but this body shall not rot. 

Functional strength** – being able to do whatever is needed, whenever it needs doing.  By yourself.

* If you are ever completely unable to locate your rental car return venue?  My favorite trick – learned while trying to get to an off-off-terminal rental car shack in East LA at 10:00 PM on a Friday night.  Drive through the airport “arrivals” lanes.  Find the right rental car shuttle.  Tail them aggressively – they always go home… Has saved me far too many times.

** Earlier this year, i wrote of my approach to fitness:  Functional Strength.  i have a much better idea of what that means now…

Overcoming the Dinosaur Brain

The workshop ended at noon, and after another hour lazing by the Atlantic, i wandered into the poolside restaurant for a late lunch.  Ordered a Mediterranean tapas plate, glass of pinot grigot and settled in with my book at a table with an ocean view.

Slow, late lunch crowd.  Other than an older couple at the bar and a chatty pair of women across the restaurant, the place was virtually deserted.  Sitting alone in a restaurant doesn’t bother me much, so i returned to my book.

They wandered in, looking a little lost.  Him?  Late 20’s, dark, frothy hair, smart-boy glasses and a chin that was inexplicably recessed and strong, with a cleft covered in 24 hours worth of stubble.  Just a shade short of handsome, he looked pretty average. 

Her?  Natural blond, porcelain complexion and a perpetual scowl on her face.  Fine features, high cheekbones – she’d be almost beautiful, except for the slight ‘pan-face’ structure.

Attractive enough couple that i’d watch their amateur porn videos for free, but probably wouldn’t pay for it…

Seating themselves at a table near mine, they snuggled over the menu and placed an order with the barkeep.  Having chatted up this barkeep previously about varieties of Puerto Rican rum, he stopped by to bring me a fresh glass of wine for free.  Nice buzz developing…

One of five restaurants in an extensive resort hotel complex, the service hasn’t been particularly swift.  i returned to my book.  Out of the corner of my eye, i noticed that she had sprawled out on the long bench seat, resting her head in his lap.

He draped his right arm over her neck, reaching back with his hand, gently stroked her blond hair.  Cradling her head in his lap, he picked up his book in his left hand – a 3 inch thick Tom Clancy brick* – and began to read.  He continued to stroke her hair in an absent minded manner. 

Like a lightning bolt from a clear blue sky, there it was.  An alien thought appeared in my brain – so striking in its abnormality that it flashed brightly, demanding my attention like a high definition billboard.

“i want my head cradled like that.”

What?  Where the fuck did that come from?  Me?  Her Royal Highness, The Ice Queen?  She Who Doesn’t Cuddle?  Ms. Independent “Boy Toy Collector”?

i was startled enough to almost drop my book.  Yep.  That very thought appeared in my head.  Couldn’t deny it.  Trying to get my head back in my book, that pesky little thought nugget wouldn’t let go…

At the moment, i have no interest in being half of a couple.  i like flying solo, have sufficient companionship to keep me entertained – and non-cranky.  Life really is good.  But, despite rumors, and my own violent protestations, i have to admit it:  i am, in fact, a human animal.

Biology is a powerful motherfucking force.  We are driven to couple – despite the fact that my eggs are on the verge of becoming dust particles, the limbic system still says “MATE, MATE, MATE”. 

Thankfully, the bartender delivered a plate of olives, hard cheeses, bread, prosciutto and tomatoes – along with another glass of wine.  Dinosaur brain is no match for copious amounts of alcohol…

* Had to look it up.  Executive Orders.  1376 pages, 1.2 pounds, dimensions: 6.9 x 4.3 x 2 inches.  Not quite 3 inches thick, but close enough…

A billion tinkerbelles

There are three “bioluminescence bays” in Puerto Rico – unique in that the glittery plankton are visible year round.  Last night, the nerd herd at this workshop made the trek to Fajardo, on the northeast end of the island.

Since the workshop is focused on bio-inspired and bio-derived electronics and optics, naturally the final speaker of the morning session was an international expert on natural bioluminescence in water critters.

Gathering in the hotel lobby around 4pm, wearing water sandals and swim gear, clutching boxed dinners to be eaten on the transport vans, we looked like a troupe of over-grown school children headed out on a field trip.  About an hour in the shuttle from San Juan to Fajardo, further east.

We suited up in life jackets, and got a 15 minute kayaking instruction session from Miguel, our guide.  Interesting that the kayak lesson was one third of the time we devoted to the lecture from the marine biologist.  We’re geeks, not athletes. 

Heading out at dusk, we crossed the marina in double kayaks, and entered a narrow channel encrusted with mangroves.  Being dorks, we naturally did a bit of horsing around en route.  Cries of “ramming speed”, bad pirate impersonations and the occasional “But Captain, I’m giving her all I’ve got…” floated down the column of nerd-kayakers.

We reached La Laguna Grande, just at sunset.  We pulled our kayaks close (into a floating mycellium…. Did i mention?  We’re nerds!) while Miguel explained the phenomena of the bay.  Billions of dinoflagellates (plankton) live in the waters, and are fed by B12 from the tannin released by the mangroves.  When you poke them?  They glow.

Darkness arrived, and Miguel instructed us to reach deeply into the water.  Yowza!  It was as though we had super powers!  A trail of glowing neon-blue water around our hands.  Digging the paddles down deep, making swirls and twirls, we scattered across the lagoon to play with the tinker-creatures.

The return trip was fabulous!  Going against a gentle current, it was enough of a paddle to work up a little sweat.  Pitch black in spots, we’d stop to let an incoming kayak troupe pass, grabbing mangrove branches.  The only thing you can really see is the glow in the water as your paddle moves the critters, and the tiny red glow stick on the kayak in front of you…

Poking the roots with a hand or a paddle yielded individual sparkles.  Grabbing a handful of the water in the pitch black night, you could see flashes and pops as the annoyed and disrupted micro-organisms did their glowing best to defend themselves against big, goofy invaders!

Mesmerizing…. i was in geek heaven!  And yet again, on the sleepy return to the hotel, i found myself thinking “damn.  i have a really good job…”

image found here – and was the closest to what i saw last night.  It’s very difficult to photograph the blue glow – and many photos online seem to be enhanced.  My guess is this one was done with a slow shutter speed…