Over the weekend, my husband and I went to Lake Phoenix, a “scuba park” in Virginia about an hour’s drive south of Richmond. The lake bed is an old quarry filled with crystal-clear, algae-free water, and there are interesting things submerged at the bottom for divers to explore, such as a school bus and a helicopter.
Not that I scuba dive. As a person who has had two lung surgeries and who harbors a healthy fear of deep water and the things that dwell within it, scuba diving is not for me. But Paul loves it.
Unfortunately, he didn’t have anyone to dive with, and scuba diving is one of those activities where you kinda need a buddy. The plan was that he, me, and my mom would drive down to Lake Phoenix on Sunday morning. Hopefully, Paul would find a buddy once we got there, and if not he’d just swim with me and my mom.
As we drove down the pothole-ridden road towards the lake, an anxious feeling began to blossom in my stomach just thinking about how terrifying scuba diving must be. If I were the one about to go diving, I’d be sick with fear by this point.
“Are you nervous?” I asked Paul.
“I’m excited about diving,” he said. “I’m nervous I might not find someone to go with.”
Luckily for him, when we pulled up, the dive shop was crowded, and right away Paul found a guy named Trevor who said, “yeah, sure, you can come with us. We’re going right now.”
Then began a frantic thirty minutes of Paul trying to buy his tank and assemble his gear as fast as he could. I watched him securing his tank to his scuba pack and felt the butterflies in my stomach multiply. By the time we had lugged all his equipment down to the lake’s edge, Trevor and crew were already in the water, ready to go.
“I’m coming!” Paul shouted to them, struggling into his wet suit. It was about a million degrees in the direct sun as I helped Paul into his hood and boots and watched his face turn the color of a ripe tomato. I was worried. I was worried they were going to leave without him, but even worse, I was worried that in his haste, he would forget something important that would compromise his safety underwater.
Paul pulled the zipper to his boot and the zipper popped off. “Oops,” he said. “Oh well.” He strapped on his air tanks, and I handed him his weights which he stuffed into pockets on his scuba pack. The sun was beating down on us, and my heart was racing. I felt slightly dizzy. Suddenly, I was seeing white spots, and my mom said the color drained from my lips. I knew if I didn’t get out of the sun and lay down immediately, I was going to faint right there on the shore of Lake Phoenix.
“I gotta go,” I mumbled, shoving Paul’s flippers at him. I hobbled up the hill towards a shaded wooden bench and lay down. I didn’t even see my husband’s decent into the deep.
So, obviously, I’m not cut out for scuba diving. But after I recovered from my swoon, my mom and I went swimming in the clear, cool water, and that was really nice. An hour later, Paul came back to the surface, and as we ate lunch he told us about his adventures at fifty feet below.
One of the things Paul says he loves about scuba diving is that, underwater, you can move in all three dimensions. Instead of on land where we can only move on the axis of forward-and-back and the axis of left-and-right, underwater you can also move on the axis of up-and-down. It might not sound like a big deal, but Paul says adding this new dimension to your choice of directions can be both mind-blowing and exciting.
After lunch, Paul went for a second dive. My mom and I read in the shade and then took another swim. When Paul came back up, we all swam together then headed back to Richmond for dinner. Despite my near-faint, it was a lovely day.
In other news, I’ve started working on a new book. Right now I’m writing to get to know the characters and explore the story possibilities. The stuff I’m writing now might not even make it into the final draft, and furthermore, the story might morph to something totally different from what I think it is right now. I’m still brainstorming, basically. I’m trying to figure out in which direction to go.
Normally this stage frustrates me because I feel like I’m not making progress. I want to start writing the actual chapters and feel like I’m getting somewhere, but I’m learning to embrace the exploration stage where, instead of moving forward in a straight line towards a finish, I’m fanning out in different directions from the starting idea, testing to see what works best.
This stage is really important, because often our first idea is not our best or most original idea. (In fact, often our first idea is something we’ve actually seen or read somewhere else.) Instead of just going with the first thing that pops into my head and running with it, I want to explore all the different directions I might go and then pick the best one.
As much as scuba diving terrifies me, I think there might be a link here. As I write, aren’t I diving down into my subconscious? Looking for submerged treasures?
And I wonder, is there some other direction I could take this story that I haven’t even considered? An up-down dimension, perhaps — something nearly impossible normally but possible in the realm of a fictional story? It’s interesting to think about. I doubt I’ll ever scuba dive in real life, but as I explore the possibilities for my story, I want to move in all three dimensions. I want to be unafraid to go deep and see what I can find.