I is so woke. I admit I have monkey-privilege. That’s the inborn advantage in brachiating that my fellow simians are just so unaware of. Even those who can’t climb a ladder, or were kept in a cage without a climbing frame. Because PRIVILEGE. And I can hang upside down and peel a banana with my feet. Other advantages being born a monkey is that to be smarter than your average monkey (a situation most humans deceive themselves into believing they are) is relatively easy. You just have to learn not to throw poo at the audience, and get them to throw peanuts at you instead – or at the very least to tell the difference between the kind of audience who will throw peanuts, and the kind who won’t. This ain’t bad advice for writers, entertainers, musicians. I was going to say politicians but we’re really not sure if they’re life as we know it, even if they’re often invertebrate.
Next time you see a celeb or actor flinging insults at a set of people they don’t like… but from whom they derive income – you know where they fit on that scale…
I had one of those ‘am I going to live through this?’ experiences on the weekend, which tends to make me more profound… ok, profoundly boring…. (sigh) ok, more ridiculous than usual. Blame it on anoxia (which makes the biologically unlikely assumption that I have a brain, so I’ll take that, as the flattery that it is.)
I was down at 30 feet, next to my dive-buddy, who was roughly waist deep in a narrow crack between the rocks, wrestling a roughly 10 pound spiny lobster. We try to watch each other in these situations because they are potentially dangerous. He’d just handed me his torch, and the catch-bag tumbled down onto him. We had a current running – strong on top, still there at the bottom. So I put down my spear (A hand-spear I carry in case of a good fish coming along) grabbed the bag with my other hand and pulled it up the slope – and had my air STOP.
As Zelazny said in LORD OF LIGHT – ‘none sing hymns to breath,’ said Yama, ‘but oh to be without it.’ Not one of anyone’s happy moments. It’s not one of those times when you have a philosophical muse on the meaning of life, or deep session of angst – no matter how often these are inserted into prose in these scenes by authors. I suppose – having dealt with a couple of drowning people whose panic would have killed them if I hadn’t been there – some people would panic. And die, unless exceptionally lucky.
This particular time I didn’t panic (not making any guarantees about future times, but as I’m still alive and as I keep getting into fairly dangerous situations I can say I haven’t been that quick to panic in the past. Too dumb, I suppose.) I sucked at the reg again, and looked at my dive buddy – a stream of happy bubbles coming from the hole he was down. Now, I’ve been exactly where he was – both hands on big bug – and I know from prior experience that it’s like when the hero is matched with is deadly foe in that fantasy duel – and his side-kick yells at him. Well, in the duel, if he hears it at all, it’ll probably get him killed. Most likely, he won’t hear. Likewise in this situation… I still grabbed his fins and yanked, because the bug might put holes in him, but only getting stuck and losing his air will kill him. Still, I knew that his response was going to be slow, and the best thing I could do was start taking appropriate emergency ascent action. He could follow and let me buddy breathe if he got there fast enough.
All of this took less time than it took to read it. I wear two weight-belts for just this reason (rather than one) I dropped one fingers finding the quick release. This means instead of shooting upward (especially fast at the end) you have time to do the right things. This also means the fear lasts longer, you just don’t rupture your lungs as easily. You just have a better chance of drowning – filling your lungs with water.
You have to do the right things… in spite of knowing you can’t breathe, that you’re in dire shite, and you don’t have a lot of time (MUCH more time than you’d like – if you get the distinction) You have to make decisions. You can’t agonize about those, you can’t think twice. If you get them wrong, you have to try and deal with that.
So: I’m diving on hookah (air pumped via an oil-filtered special compressor – do not try this with a garage compressor) on a 150 foot hose with a second-stage regulator. The hose is secured by passing it under the weight-belt or belts (remember this it is important. If I was writing this as a piece of fiction I’d have slipped 3 mentions of it in – in a casual not-making-a-point-of-it fashion. In my case typically making a joke about how awkward it was. The reader notices and remembers because it was amusing, without realizing they’re being primed. It supplies you with air, and attaches you to the boat.) If you’re putting this in a book, it doesn’t come into the action scene. If you have to explain it, do it well before the action scene. Occasionally hoses kink (they aren’t supposed to but it happens). Now usually that means air flow is severely restricted, but still there. Some air, even if you have to suck like hell for it on the way up, is better than none. If you swim upwards and towards the compressor, it can ease the kink, and upwards reduces pressure… I’ve had this happen before (we bought thicker hoses after that) and that worked then, so I did the same now, swimming hard up and towards, exhaling, sucking – not getting air.
Notice the sequence there. Exhale, suck. Remember when the air cut out… I would only know AFTER exhaling. What I am exhaling is the residual air in my lungs – air that is expanding as I go up.
Air that will rupture my lungs if I don’t.
Trust me on this: this is one of the hardest, longest lasting (or it seems that way) pieces of self-discipline possible. Every instinct says hold your breath. Every instinct is dead 100% wrong, but you try controlling the bastard. If you hold your breath, you will rupture you lungs and die. Standard training often goes drop your weight-belt and scream all the way up. That’s fine, but it is a very rapid ascent (particularly the last bit) and not very well controlled. Rapid is needed sometimes but it is… fraught. This is controlled – just not easy. Frightening as hell.
IF you could control those base instincts well enough not send neurotransmitters sizzling around to push your heart rate up, thrash glycogen into glucose, chew oxygen, It’d be less hard. Some people may be that cool. I am not one of them. Exhaling on the way up was hard enough.
Now from 30 feet down you can’t actually see the surface (at least not here at this time of year). From about 18 feet you start seeing the silver dapple of air on the other side of water. It is an amazing beautiful sight when you have no air. More beautiful than the Taj Mahal or the Angel Falls. And, while below there seemed a real possibility that you might not reach the surface, now that you can see air… it’s different.
You’re still scared. But it’s a different scared now. You’re burning Oxygen at a frantic rate (because swimming without taking a breath is still hard, and you’re rising with the buoyancy of your suit – but it would take you at least 2-3 minutes to break the surface. Second weight belt would ‘pop’ you up fast – and you know this, but you also know it is far less risky to control it. You can cope with that. You can cope with exhaling. You just can’t cope with not swimming as hard as you can. Suppressing fear only goes just so far – or at least for me. Maybe gung-ho Joe is different. Maybe the fictional fantasy hero is different too. I have to say, I doubt it.
I spat the mouthpiece as I broke the surface, breathed. Breathed again. And waved and yelled at the boat – and they saw me.
Now – It was pretty choppy up there. Even a single weight-belt made me lower in the water. And here is where I did what many a better man than me has done – made a stupid decision out of sheer relief. A stupid decision that could have killed me – more slowly than a lack of air, but just as dead, over a much longer time.
I dropped the second weight-belt. I had spat the mouthpiece.
I was no longer attached to the hose. Or the boat.
Now they still had a diver down, and an anchor down.
Given that current my landfall could have been South America. And if you have tried spotting a person in the water in strong chop… it’s not easy. Not thinking to grab the hose was incredibly stupid.
Another interesting thing for the writer, I had just been through all of this, being relatively rational for a monkey-in-distress. Noticing my mate’s air, trying to get his attention, remembering to exhale and to swim up and towards the boat, signaling I was in distress first off on the surface.
And somehow managing not to realize I still had the catch-bag and my mate’s torch in my hands?
Yes. Really. Remember this. In extremis your character may remember the important, and forget he’s carrying the vorpal sword. Dropping it would have been sensible – but could be useful later. But you need to explain this, because people expect because some of your actions are rational, all of them are.
So: I didn’t die (or this is a damn fine Ouija keyboard). The deckie and skipper did exactly the right things. The deckie pulled the anchor (so they would drift the same way as me) and skipper hauled my partner’s dive line – both of them watching me. He was already on his way up – with the bug – having come out and seen my reg floating down as he looked around for me and the catch bag. He left my spear there.
I did as much that was sensible as I could – because I knew I possibly in dire shit. I breathed as steadily and calmly as I could, and swam not towards the boat (which would be directly into the current) but towards the shore – maybe half a mile off. I was losing ground – but slowly. That slowly made it easier to keep me in sight, and pick me up. I still had the catch bag. The entire drama actually took maybe at the outside 7-10 minutes. It felt like a lot longer.
Now, in fiction of course the adventure stops there. Or rushes into the next adventure.
Of course the problem with a lot of fiction is the one that the increasing tiny subgroups of offended snowflakes whine, scream, perform and tantrum while kicking their heels on the floor about. They squall that you can’t have a book without every minority in it, and then you can’t write about it, because you aren’t a necrophilia-obsessed Asian transgendered woman, and how can you possibly understand how they think and feel and act. Now I’m not as puerile, even if I am a dumb monkey. Action, be it including disaster, life-and-death or war, is a lot more important than a Plascon color chart of skin tones and a whole alphabet soup of LGBYQWERTY varieties to fiction. And, let’s be real, very few of us have actually experienced all that we put our characters through. Even if we have we do write about what we have experienced – the memories of actual fight (or swim) tends to be blurred to the essentials. I had no idea, swimming up, that I still had the catch bag or my mate’s torch.
The thing is most our audience don’t have that experience either. Now, if we follow Snowflake logic (if you can call it that) we shouldn’t write the books, then anyone who has experienced real warfare should be demanding Snowflakes never write another book which has characters who zer cannot possibly understand how think and feel and act, because zer’s not one. We have as much right to demand Snowflake exclusion (and possibly more) than they have to demand yours: which is to say, none at all. In practice, you don’t have to read their book, and they don’t have to read yours. How many Snowflakes and hangers on are there, and- as I said at the beginning – were they ever going to throw peanuts anyway?
There’s a lot to be said for trying to do your research well, trying to get out of your headspace and into someone else’s character. There’s a lot to be said for running your book past people with the relevant experience and checking you’ve got it mostly right. But that’s about it.
For the books you may use this in, recovery time is not instantaneous. I’m older than most fantasy heroes, but your body will still be a bit stuffed for some time – once the adrenalin wears off and the inevitable dehydration (you might know it is going to happen – I do – but your stomach just can’t do large amounts of anything) sets in. And seriously, beer (the inevitable hero celebration) will make it worse. It’s a diuretic – and you don’t need that. You’ll pee. Often… and very little, as your kidneys (and liver) try and get your bloodstream back to normal. Even if you’re not injured or damaged nor have ruptured lungs, about 5-6 hours later your dehydration and low blood sugar are going to make you feel fairly faint and generally rotten. And you’ll discover injuries and aches you no recollection of acquiring.
And these details may add veracity, but if your audience don’t care, you don’t have to.