Friday, June 24, 2011


During the aforementioned writing workshop I had the opportunity to practice being part of a group, instead of isolating myself and constantly comparing myself to the other writers in the room.  I can't say that I did this perfectly but I tried to be aware and to breathe out and bring myself back when it did happen.  This was a lesson in the acceptance of my limitations as well as my gifts without shame.

The last exercise of the day asked each of us to recount a conversation that changed our lives or our perspective on the world. We were instructed to write into the conversation as opposed to simply reporting it.  In a nutshell we were instructed to show not tell.  Ummm, didn't quite follow that particular instruction.  Oops. 

Here though is what I wrote......

Monterey Bay Aquarium in California is the only venue in the United States that keep mola, mola, also known as sunfish, in captivity.  Sunfish are the largest bony fish in the world capable of growing to lengths of 14 feet and weighing up to 5000 lbs.  When I visited the aquarium in 2007 and saw a sunfish for the first time, I cried.  And not just a few drops that could be surreptitiously wiped away but wracking "hey everyone look at me" sobs.  Snot flew out of my nose,  my face blotchy and distorted.  The only saving grace was that the Outer Bay tank is cavernous and not well lit.

The color of the viewing room where I broke down is a fluorescent, shimmery, neon blue that enveloped and held me like a security blanket.  I'd never seen California before, never been west of Ohio.  I certainly had never been immersed in so much natural beauty.  Blue is what I remember.  Who knew there were so many glorious shades of blue?  If I had access to a thesaurus (I don't) I could tell you in crisp, fresh language about all of the nuances and hues.  Suffice it to say that there were as many shades of blue as an Eskimo has words for snow. Greeny blue from the algae that floated and danced on the water's surface splashing up on the craggy ocean rocks.  Corn sky blue, velvety blue and  violet blues that melted into grays and foam.  Sparkly, shiny, lustrous, rich and dark bouncing off of the metal tank surfaces.  Midnight blue, blueberry blue, azure, aqua, turquoise and cerulean, an overwhelming collage, this bouquet of blues.

I cried when I saw the sunfish swim past the glass in front of me.  Sunfish are clumsy swimmers and must be kept in circular tanks because if kept in a square tank they will brush and bump the corners rubbing themselves raw.  The sunfish's great bulk moved me, its enormous body hearkening back to a prehistoric time.  It too, depending on the angle, might look a dull shade of blue but was mostly gray, pitted concrete, large chunks of flesh hacked out of its sides from hooks, anchors and the attacks of other fish.  Sunfish because of their size are often trapped in the dragnets of trawlers.

Though enormous, they are gentle creatures and survive on a diet of kelp and jellyfish.  It takes a huge amount  of jellyfish to keep a sunfish healthy and active enabling it to swim awkwardly and cruelly in circles, in my mind dreaming of but not able to reach the open sea.

Vertically flat and shaped like a 50 cent piece, a tumor like tail and fins growing out of its top and bottom rather than sides, an Elephant man,  freakish and alone.

Sunshine and Happiness was shaken by my outburst.  "What? What is it?"
Not speaking I pointed in the direction of the tank.
"I don't know what's wrong.  I don't understand," she said.  Not sure what she was looking for she followed my finger, eyes darting back and forth from me to the tank and back.  The mola, mola lumbered by.
"It's scarred," I said,"  just as she realized what I was pointing toward.
"The sunfish?"
I nodded.

Children ran up to the tank chasing the turtles, the angelfish, the sharks.  The sunfish slowly passed again.  I could feel the heaviness, the weight it carried, not even the tuna compared in size.  My insides balled up witnessing how a living thing could take up so much space yet manage to remain invisible to most of the patrons.  I sensed loneliness, gentleness and despite the size of the tank, claustrophobia.  In a burst of energy a little one ran up and shouted, "Mom, Mom, come look at the ugly fish."  I winced.

S&H walked to the tank sensing what was evident.   I felt a kinship, a connection to this fish as odd as that might seem.  As I stood there, the huge, gentle mola, mola,  eternally hungry and homely as a stick swam by and I saw myself reflected in the aquarium glass.

S&H looked over at me concerned.

"It's beautiful," I said.