Spreading the Love

Thursday, June 30, 2005
I'm a little late in posting this. But better late than never, right?

I never knew Roger Nelson, but I reap the benefits of his work every time I jump. He did extraordinary things for the sport of skydiving, he was an inspiration to everyone around him, and he relished life.

Roger -- also known as Freak Brother #2 -- died in a skydiving accident on June 16, 2003.

On this page there's a link to an amazing memorial jump, made on the one-year anniversary of his death (called 2004 FB Memorial Jump). As the formation breaks apart at the end of the jump, his two children are left holding hands together in the sky.

The "Tribute to FB #2" on that site is also very beautiful. You can really see what a vibrant person Roger was.

Now, more than two years after his death, I remember Roger Nelson along with everyone else who admired him. And I still feel the love of this man I never met.

The New Sensation

Wednesday, June 29, 2005
The most notable jump of last weekend was with my buddy Carly.

I call her Beef Curtain. She calls me Ax Wound. We're great friends, and we get into all kinds of trouble.

Together we have invented a style of skydiving called Skyhumping (patent pending), which is sure to be the new sensation.

Here's how to do it:

1. Lock knees together.
2. Grip each other's shoulders tightly.
3. Roll out the door of the plane.
4. Jackhammer away.

It's really quite a sight. The thrusting action causes our bodies to roll wildly through the sky, like wooden barrels over Niagra Falls.

We've started initiating other people into the Skyhumper club by jumping with them and awarding them with Skyhumper numbers. Soon, I'm convinced, we will have thousands of members. But so far we're only up to number four, because we haven't been that motivated.

On Sunday, our friend Mary became our fourth member. And that meant -- you guessed it -- three-way, girl-on-girl-on-girl Skyhumping.*

I wish I knew how to post video on here, because really, no words can do justice.

It was a mess. Crazy gyrations. Body parts all over the sky. Rolling, bumping, grinding.

I'm pretty sure that for the people watching from the ground, the mass humpage might have even eclipsed the sun.

After the Skyhumping stack broke apart, all three of us did a little freestyle skydiving. Freestyle is a really difficult discipline of skydiving, where you point your toes and stretch out and contort your body into all kinds of shapes that weren't meant to happen at 150 mph, all while wearing tight lycra suits and Keds.

Even though it's terribly hard to do, freestyle is kind of like synchronized swimming -- considered to be the homosexual kind of skydiving.

I'm not good at freestyle. Any time I move one leg out and one back to attempt the splits, the wind knocks me on my back and sends me spinning all over the place. However, I AM very good at standing straight up and moving my feet really fast, so it looks like I'm doing the "Maniac" dance from Flashdance during freefall. So that's what I did for the remainder of our jump.

I just need some legwarmers, and I'll be set.

* FYI: Skyhumping is performed fully clothed.

Newsweek Day! Newsweek Day!

Tuesday, June 28, 2005
There's something you should know about me. I'm a total geek for good journalism. A great exmaple is every Tuesday when I hop to the mailbox and proclaim, "It's Newsweek Day! It's Newsweek Day!" (Think Navin Johnson in The Jerk when he happily shouts, "The new phonebooks are here!")

Today I grabbed the mail on the way to lunch with my boyfriend. I was so psyched about a new Newsweek, I made him drive so I could read instead.

I'm flipping through, flipping through ...

And then I stopped and said, "That's me!"

I'm in Newsweek this week. Page 16. The cover story is something about identity theft, though that has nothing to do with me.

I won a photo contest sponsored by the magazine and Canon. The theme was "Let Loose Your Inner Rebel," and you had to send in a photo of yourself doing something rebellious.

I sent a skydiving picture.

Because I was the grand prize winner, I'll be getting a new Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT camera, which is so cool I can't even find the words.

Best of all, this issue of Newsweek also contains a great little profile of me that doesn't make me sound like a total wacko, adrenaline junkie. It's really a lovely piece of writing. And it's especially cool because I have such passion for the magazine anyway.

Plus, I hope all my ex-boyfriends see me looking like a total badass. 'Cuz I am.

I'm so giddy this very instant.

Go, Maggie, Go!

Originally uploaded by Maggiejumps.

How come everything I do lately requires a waiver? Horseback riding, rock climbing, skydiving, and now this.

That's me there in the IROC car at the Kentucky Speedway. These are the kind of racecars where you climb in through the window, all General Lee style.

The funniest part of the day had to be watching me get inside that damn car, because my enormous helmet got stuck in the window. So my legs and arms were dangling inside the vehicle while I kept trying to wrangle my heavy head free.

Maybe a chick driver looks all sexy during the Indy 500, but I felt like a bobblehead.

Strip City

Sunday, June 26, 2005
I should have been at my buddy's bachelor party last night. Should have because he's a friend. Should have because it sounded like fun. Should have because a bunch of skydivers were there. Should have because I didn't want to be as tired as I was and as lame as I was, going to bed early and reading.

And then I hear about the strippers -- one pocked with surgery scars, the other a chest full of bulbous implants with nipples facing completely opposite directions -- and I hear about how they got down on the hangar floor and had a gigantic orgy with multiple people and inanimate objects involved, and I'm pretty happy I stayed at home and watched "She Spies" instead.

And EEW! -- I had to pack my parachute on that carpet today.


Saturday, June 25, 2005
Last Saturday I made a sunset jump with my boyfriend and a bunch of good friends.

Sunset is my favorite time of day to jump. And we were doing a track dive, one of my favorite kinds of jumps.

During a track dive, someone (in this case, my boyfriend), leads the group across the sky. We spread out into a V, like a flock of Canada geese.

A track is a style of skydiving that gives the jumper more horizontal distance than vertical distance -- more out instead of straight down. It's used at the end of most every skydive to provide separation between jumpers, so you're not opening your parachute around a bunch of other people.

To do it, you go out the door on your belly, then move your hands down by your sides, roll your shoulders foward, point your toes and poke out your butt. Basically, you fashion your body into a wing, cupping the air beneath you. It looks like this pretty much, though this woman is tracking in more of a diving style.

On Saturday, we exited the plane near the railroad tracks, then made our way around the clouds and back to the dropzone. Acording to the pilot's GPS, we flew our bodies more than a mile during freefall.

How incredible is that?

Sometimes when I fly commercially now, I imagine what I would do if the plane cracked open and started going down. I'd want to make one heck of a last skydive, obviously, so I'm pretty sure I would track as far as possible. (And maybe aim for somebody's car.)

With my very dark sense of humor, I like thinking of the investigators pawing through the wreckage, then puzzling over why my body ended up such a distance away.

And I'm sure somewhere, some skydivers would hear about it and think, "HELL YEAH."

'I Celebrate Myself'

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Originally uploaded by Maggiejumps.

keep your face
always toward the sunshine
and the shadows
will fall behind you.

* walt whitman

Happy Anniversary!

Sometime during the beginning of 2003, my life began to unravel, seam by seam.

The Self-Important Attorney With No Soul -- previously the Man I Thought I Would Marry -- dumped me after I moved to Cincinnati. Soon after, he wed a peppy young something. And then they decided to breed.

The pain of this was stark and powerful. Almost every morning, I would open my eyes and curse the fact I was still there in my cluttered apartment, still alone, still me.

Around the same time, my mother's Alzheimer's began to worsen considerably. She was impossible to understand -- she formed a horrible stutter and began slipping into her native German. She confused me with my sister, and sometimes with my brother. And as she felt herself slipping away, she grew frustrated, angry, sad. As we carted her from specialist to specialist, receiving little to no help, she was would throw frightened tantrums like a stubborn dog at the vet.

Factor in my new job, where I was far too unsure of my abilities and often compared myself to my colleagues, and my new location, an unfamiliar and conservative city, and it's no wonder I slipped into serious depression.

I was a one-woman Bourbon Street. All vice, all parties, all night, all the time. I can't tell you the number of times I passed out on the floor of my living room, not knowing how I got there or what I had been doing the night before.

And then skydiving saved my life.

Talk to people in the sport, and you'll find a lot of them were like me -- at a similar crossroads -- when they began jumping. You'll find people recovering from divorce, some who left their jobs, some grieving a loved one, some who were never accepted elsewhere.

The diseased, broken and depressed often turn to skydiving. It's what to do where there's nothing left to do. Personally, and I suspect this is the case with a lot of us, I no longer feared dying because I was already somewhat dead.

The metaphors of jumping are significant: taking a big plunge, making the big leap, stepping out into the unknown. And ultimately, it's all about taking control of your life, making the decision to save yourself.

Talk to people in the sport, and you'll see skydiving fills a void. In my life, I didn't even realize the void was there until I slowly began to put up the orange cones and patch over the hole. Now I'm pretty full. I might even say overflowing.

Yesterday was my two-year anniversary of skydiving. I've made around 300 jumps in that time.

Sometimes now I swell with so much joy and contentment, I'm scared to let myself admit it. I have to choke down the gladness, force myself to accept it all. I find myself suspended under canopy in a sunset, looking over the melon-tinged horizon, and I think to myself, "This. Right now. Drink in this moment."

Sometimes it's hard for me to believe that so much sadness could have led me down the path to such a happy place.

And sometimes I don't think about that former life at all. Sometimes I just try to drink in the moment.

Dear Ol' Daddy-o

Monday, June 20, 2005
I went to my parents' house Sunday to cook breakfast for Father's Day.

Since the showers aren't on at the dropzone, where I stayed Saturday night, I was still covered in smoke and alcohol and filth from the night before. I knew my dad wouldn't want to see THAT for Father's Day, so I snuck into the house and showered upstairs before anyone woke up.

My dad found me in the kitchen in my robe and glasses with wet hair.

"Where in the hell did you come from?" he said.

Still, I think he enjoyed the shock of waking up to his youngest, safe and happy and all NOT SKYDIVING. The big stack of blueberry waffles, fruit salad and soysage didn't hurt either.

Later I helped him caulk some bricks on the house to keep "those dang yellow jackets" from building nests.

My 6'4" dad couldn't reach some spots even with a ladder. "Screw this," I said. "Where are my rock climbing shoes?"

The bricks provided some great holds as I channeled my old rock climbing team days -- minus the harness, safety ropes and belayer. I scurried up the side of the house and caulked everything easily, while my dad tried to hang onto the hem of my capri jeans.

"Go! Go! Go!" he shouted. "Ha ha, yellow jackets! Keep those dang suckers away!"

I think it was his best father's day ever.

My best part of the day happened just as I was about to leave the house for the dropzone. My mom, who has Alzheimer's, formed a clear, concise sentence and actually seemed to recognize me.

I gave her a kiss and hug as I moved for the door. She stumbled toward me -- much like a large toddler -- her arms outstretched.

"I loves you," she said.

Kung Pao Kitten

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Originally uploaded by Maggiejumps.

My weekend was jam-packed and full of excitement. And I promise, I'll write about it soon. In the meantime, enjoy my adorable kitten. He was sleeping in the crook of my arm here. Somehow the angle of the picture makes him look like the bridge of his nose is all swollen, like a mobster who has been broken a few times. But trust me, he's no mobster.


Saturday, June 18, 2005
Scene: Honda Civic, zipping down the interstate toward downtown.


ME: What the ...?


ME: OK, fine! I'll slow down and let you pass me.

(Green Ford Explorer doesn't pass. Instead he hovers in the lane next to me, a mere few inches from my car.)


ME: What? Is there danger, Lassie? Is Timmy in the well?

ME: (scanning all mirrors) I'm pretty sure I don't have a small child or domestic animal adhered to the car in any fashion ...


ME: What the FUCK? This madness has GOT to stop!


ME: Well, maybe I know him. Maybe he saw the skydiving stickers and recognized me. Maybe I jump with him. (Glancing over the the driver's window.) No. I don't know a single person who wears yellow polo shirts. And I absolutely do not know anyone with arms that look like logs of summer sausage with hair.

ME: (Still trying to recognize driver) Wait, he's waving ... and now what? What's he trying to tell me? Can't see that well. And ... um, what is he doing with his hands? Making a circle with one hand ... and ... OHMIGOD, shoving a finger from his other hand into it?

ME: (Screaming) Aaaagh! He's no skydiver! He's some other pervert! MY EYES! MY EYES!


ME: (Slowing down considerably to make the bad man go away) Great, the asshole has bumper stickers too. Lemme see ...
"I love my kids." How sweet.

Today is a Birthday, They're Smoking Cigars

Friday, June 17, 2005
I just returned from a birthday party for my friend, Mike Irvin. He turned 50 on Thursday. In honor of that, he decided to make 50 skydives in one day.


That's so awesome, I'm still trying to wrap my head around it.

I don't know if non-skydivers understand just what an enormous and expensive undertaking this was. There was this tiny Cessna that flew up and down, up and down, up and down all day, only stopping for periodic fueling. There were two pilots, who took turns flying every couple hours, taking the same boring spiral up to 2,200 feet, then back down. There were packers, who had to do their job accuarately and FAST. There were volunteers from my home dropzone, who assisted the media, made videos of the jumps and provided friendly faces in the plane. And finally, there was this man -- fresh into his 50th year of life -- who loved skydiving so much, it was all he wanted to do on his special day.

What an excellent birthday.

I wasn't able to see Mike jump. I was at work all day, feeling the worst kind of ache -- the kind where I look over the top of my cubicle, peer out the window and see a bright, blue sky and cartoon clouds worthy of The Simpsons. And then I realize almost everyone I know is out skydiving, and I am overcome with a whole host of emotions. Depressed, enraged, indignant. Maybe a little weepy.

However, as soon as I was off the clock (9 p.m.) I sped down the 40 miles to Mike's house, where he and his wife were throwing a big bash for friends, family and skydivers, who are a little bit of both.

I somehow managed to find the place, located down a labyrinth of wild country roads and situated in a thick tangle of trees. We spent hours drinking, eating and setting off a multitude of fireworks.

When I left, the party showed no sign of stopping. It might very well go for days. In fact, that's likely.

I have to work early this morning, and I'll have to snort coffee grounds for fuel. But it was worth it, because I got to personally congratulate my buddy Mike -- a guy cooler than most people half his age.

Happy birthday, you crazy jumper.

(Also a big kiss goes to anyone who got the Sugarcubes reference in the title.)

Ambling Through Sky

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Originally uploaded by Maggiejumps.

and that’s why i have to go back
to so many places in the future,
there to find myself
and constantly examine myself
with no witness but the moon
and then whistle with joy,
ambling over rocks and clods of earth,
with no task but to live,
with no family but the road.
—pablo neruda

(poem ganked from Sabrina Ward Harrison's gorgeous website.)

Orange Popsicles and Lemonade

Wednesday, June 15, 2005
When I was seven years old, I wrote a letter to my future self. The letter was basically a bunch of predictions for myself and my life's path, as well as a bunch of questions for Future Maggie -- like, "Do you live in a castle?"

It could only be opened after my 17th birthday. I know this, because on the envelope I wrote: DO NOT!!! OPEN!!! untiL U are 17! Extremely CONfedental!! TOP SECRET!!!!!!!

Andrea at Superhero Designs wants to do something similar this summer. She asks readers to write an essay about the future, called "What I did during the summer of 2005 that made me a better, smarter, happier person" and mail it to her. In September, she will mail them back.

"Be sure to list the thing you think you cannot have. That's where the juice is," she says.

The address is: Andrea Scher, P.O. Box 401174, SF, CA 94140-1174.

This is one of the lovliest things I've ever heard, and every single person I know should take advantage of this. I've long realized that making lists and writing things down on paper turns a floaty idea into something more substantial and concrete -- and thus, something more likely to happen.

It didn't work for me when I was 17. I am most certainly NOT Billy Joel's wife -- though I think he married some other 17-year-old. I never became a princess. And I didn't become the world's first president/veterinarian/artist. At least, not by the time I was 17. There's still hope.

But this theory did work for me a couple years ago when I turned 26 and made a list of things to accomplish that year. That included:

1. Travel more.
2. Find a new job.
3. Clean the apartment.
4. Risk death -- SKYDIVE!!
5. Make some new friends.
6. Move somewhere. Anywhere.
7. Buy a VW.

Honestly, I started using a new journal and completely forgot about the list until almost a year later. And then, as eerie and strange and wonderful as it is, I accomplished almost every single one of my goals without even trying. I didn't get the VW, though.

This summer, my list will have a lot of skydiving goals, among other things to make my life richer and more succulent. It'll probably look a little like this:

1. Jump from a balloon.
2. BASE jump
3. Get skydiving sponsorship from someone. Anyone.
4. Receive coaching from highly skilled skydivers.
5. Finish my skydiving book proposal.
6. Write more for skydiving publications.
7. Learn a language.
8. Get really good on the ukulele.
9. Live most of my moments outside (aside from working in my cubicle.)
10. Have the biggest Maggie Gras ever! (My birthday is July 29. I celebrate it for a week. Save the date.)
11. All those balls of yarn, sheets of felt, boxes of beads, string, paint, canvas, clay? Actually make crafts out of them.
12. Teach Kung Pao Kitten to walk on a leash.
13. Actually complete a journal for once, not just dabble in the blank book of the moment.
14. Be more of a wild woman. Every. Single. Day.
15. Get a VW.

And then a few secrets I can't confess just yet.

Go write your own powerful, juicy letter to yourself. Right. Now.

We'll talk again in September and see what kind of magic happened.

Is That a Bunion in the Oven?

Sunday, June 12, 2005
Today was one of those days where I felt invisible.

And for good reason.

While shopping, several vendors and store clerks never even glanced my way. It wasn't even the snobbery that Julia Roberts encountered on Rodeo Drive in Pretty Woman. I just plain didn't exist.

Twice after that, I approached automatic doors. They didn't open.

Since it's nowhere near Y2K, I'm guessing that all the world's automatic doors didn't break at once -- though wouldn't that be hilarious if they did? So I jumped around for a bit, doing the dance where I take a few steps back, run at the door again, jump to the side, take two steps back, scrape my feet along the floor, clog back and forth. Still, nothing. Both times the doors held me hostage until somebody else walked up.

Later, I used an automatic toilet. As I left the seat, the thing refused to flush. My ass didn't even register.

That's when it occured to me: HOLY CRAP, I'M INVISIBLE.

It was one part general surrealism, like "Maybe my whole life was a dream and I was never here at all." The other half of me instantly turned into a 10-year-old boy. "Let's go wreck some shit."

Just as I was really starting to get used to my new personae as InvisiGirl, the chink in my armor was revealed.

When in the ghetto, InvsiGirl transforms into Far-Too-Visible Girl.

I was only in the city today as a fluke. A tropical storm pushed bad weather this way. It wasn't worth the gas and the long drive to go all the way there with such a slight chance of jumping. So I stayed in the city all day by myself, while Boyfriend left town in case there were skydiving students for him to teach.

I used the opportunity to check out all the exciting things I usually miss when I'm skydiving.

That included a trek to the downtown farmer's market, which is truly wonderful. Unfortunately, the market is located in the middle of an extremely poor, drug-ridden area, which can be sketchy at times. A lot of people refuse to go there -- but I'm familiar with the place, and I never feel like I'm going to be shot or anything.

What I can't get over is how extroverted the panhandlers are.

It makes sense. You can't be successful in that line of work without being a certain kind of go-getter. Plus, when you're pissing on the sidewalk and wearing tin-foil hats, a lot of social mores are tossed out the window.

Today I was schlip-schlip-schlipping to my car in my flip-flops, a five-pound New York Times in one hand, bags of produce and baguettes in the other, somehow simultaneously digging my car keys out of my bottomless purse, when yet another panhandler approached me.

He was the eighth one of the day.

I have this new policy that I don't hand over anything unless the person entertains me somehow. Not in any "Dance, monkey! Dance!" kind of way. But I feel better about giving money if the person wins me over by being creative, interesting, personable. The guy who slumps in the same door frame every day around the corner from my building? No more. But the guy who quotes Shakespeare to me at Fifth and Vine? Cash money, baby.

I always feel really bad for the person and try to let them down easy. Still, it's hard for me to lie and say I have no money when my hands are full of STUFF. I used to offer food, until some guy winged a banana back at me and hit me square in the spine. Hard.

The man today took a slightly different tactic. He penetrated my InvisiGirl force field and got all up in my grill, shoving a cardboard box in my face.

HIM: Hey, you want some shoes?

ME: No thanks.

HIM: What, you don't wear shoes?

ME: (apologetic) Well, I do wear shoes. But I don't need any today. Thanks.

HIM: You want to go somewhere else and pay a lot of money?

ME: No. But I don't need any today. Thank you.

HIM: (following me) What size do you wear? I bet I have some pretty things.

ME: You don't have my size. I have big feet. Huge. TENS!

HIM: (holding up orthopedic shoes) LOOOOOK! I've got this beauty-ful pair of Dr. Scholl's in your size.

ME: (gagging at ugliest shoes ever) Listen, I don't want any Dr. Scholl's.

HIM: (indignant) What? You too good for Dr. Scholl? You think you're too good for him? HE A DOCTOR!

Whatever. InvisiGirl would kick that doctor's ass any day.

Misty's Big Jump!

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Originally uploaded by Maggiejumps.

Don't you love how vibrant everything looks in the sky?

That's my friend Misty doing a tandem with her boyfriend, Jim, in celebration of her 500th jump. My boyfriend is the one jumping off the wheel, close to the propeller. I'm climbing out the door, and next to me is my good buddy, Anthony. The photo was shot by Wes McCauley.

Plane crash

Much love to the folks at AerOhio, which had a skydiving plane crash last weekend. Two pilots were injured on landing.

I've never jumped at AerOhio, but I've met some of the people involved the operation of the dropzone. They have a reputation for being very safe, dependable and friendly, and they have rigorous standards for their aircraft. It's the kind of facility where I would want a family member to jump -- they're THAT reliable.

This just goes to show that shit happens sometimes. I'm just sorry it happened to them.

Also, peace and best wishes to the injured pilots.

Learnin' to fly

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

jump, originally uploaded by Maggiejumps.

This is a photo of my friend, Anthony, and I when we were learning to go headdown. (Sounds dirty, but isn't.) It was taken last fall by the fabulous Ryan Kramer, aerial photographer extraordinaire. Ryan was leaning out of the plane, which you can kinda see on the bottom left side of the photo. And that ginormous X below us is the airport.

Touch of Grey

Sunday, June 05, 2005
I had a bad week.

I spent much of it caring for my mother, who has Alzheimer's Disease. It was brutally exhausting, mentally and physically. She's at a point where she's completely helpless and needs me the same way I once needed her. I had to spend every minute of the day with her, forcing food into her mouth, bringing water to her lips, wiping her in the restroom.

The experience lowered me into a Breakfast at Tiffany's-esque bout of the mean reds. So Friday after work, I shrugged off a number of social engagements, all of which promised to be fun parties with fun people at fun places.

Instead I actively set out to comfort myself. I stayed at home and had mashed potatoes, ice cream and white wine while I watched Six Feet Under on DVD.

Saturday was all blue skies and lazy breezes, a perfect day for skydiving. However I was so blue myself, I couldn't move. I spent hours looking at my cat and drowning myself in Ani DiFranco, The Smiths and Joy Division.

How Soon is Now -- The Smiths:
You shut your mouth,
How can you say
I go about things the wrong way?
I am human and I need to be loved
Just like everybody else does.

I didn't drag myself out to the dropzone until sunset. Party time.

I drank cheap champagne from a bottle swaddled in a brown paper bag, and I sat in the door of the hangar, watching night drape the sky. My boyfriend gave me a purple stuffed bear, which he won out of a vending machine with a big claw hand -- one of those machines where nobody ever wins anything. And then I was fed with a zillion hugs.

I woke up today as sun slithered through the hangar's cracks. I was refreshed, ready, whole.

And then I made the first jump of the day.

I don't think there's anything else that could ever heal me like skydiving. No doctor, no psychiatrist, no church, no guru, no nothing. There's something about staring down at the world that really puts the world into perspective.

I wish I had the tech know-how to post online the video of my first jump today, because there are no words to describe the look on my face. It's just pure, unabashed, raw joy. It's the joy of $10 in a forgotten pocket; it's a pink cupcake from a friend at school; it's a frosty mug of Purplesaurus Rex Kool-Aid on a sweaty day.

When I skydive, I'm everything light and happy and juicy. I'm filled to the brim with exuberence. I'm Icarus before the fall.

Best of all, when I skydive, I leave my luggage of stress and sadness stored away where it belongs -- on the ground.

I drove home tonight after a full day of skydiving, singing a different tune. Literally. I blasted music from my adorable pink iPod, zipped around country roads and sang as loud as I could. Sunny Grateful Dead, curse-heavy Peaches and the lovely, decadently happy Nina Simone.

Feeling Good -- Nina Simone:
Birds flyin' high, you know how I feel;
Sun in the sky, you know how I feel;
Breeze driftin' on by, you know how I feel;
It's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life for me,
And I'm feelin' good.

We Don't Need No Water

Saturday, June 04, 2005
"No! You're the devil! The devil! The devil!" -- J screamed as her boyfriend tried to pull her into the fire.

The fire was of Seussian quality. The foundation was formed from logs that glowed orange inside a white and crumbled shell. The rest of the fire was a tall and delicate tower that defied gravity. A sofa balanced on its side. Chairs with ripped padding and oil cloth teetered on top. Then there was an old wooden school desk, the metal frame slowly bending. All stacked with long sheets of styrofoam. Amber beer bottles. Hay. Paper. Fabric.

This kind of destruction is typical of skydivers. Everything is burnable, drinkable or smokable.

It was a chilly night and there was a mess of us around the fire. Music blared from someone's car stereo. An endless supply of beer -- Miller Lite, Coors Light, Bud Light, Bud -- flowed from coolers. A few people transformed into fire dancers, leaping back and forth across the flames. I was too close to the blaze, and one half of me would burn while the other half froze, so I had to keep spinning, spinning, spinning.

I love nights like this at the farmhouse.

The sky is neon with stars. And there's not a worry in the world. Someone always scounges up pizza. Someone always has a case of beer. Someone always has extra clothes, matches, pillows, contact solution. We make do.

I feel safe at the farmhouse. No matter what we throw, drive over, wreck or set on fire, the police never intervene. We're as loud, giddy, messy and crazy as we want. And best of all, nobody outside of this Indiana farmland ever knows what we do.

It's our secret playland.

There's also a certain comfort that comes with being in a pack of skydivers. Tragedy can't single an individual out when we're all being so overwhelmingly stupid. We hump fate to protect each other.

At the party, I sing "Pass the Dutchie" at the top of my lungs. I smash my beer bottle into the fire as flames lick my hands. I dance a little reggae jig into the night.

Nobody even cares.

Dances With Birds

The most pedestrian thing in English can seem significantly more sincere when said by a foreigner.

Case in point: A bunch of guys from France came to the dropzone to do tandems. Afterward they all filled out the first-time student survey.

The guy who was with my boyfriend wrote this:

Q. What did you think of your instructor?

A. Gentle being. Peaceful dude on top of clouds.

That's one of the most spectacular things ever said about him.

Too Happy to Die

Wednesday, June 01, 2005
As I sit here, my shade-grown rainforest coffee is steaming in a mug as large as Minnesota. My favorite New Order just started playing on my favorite internet radio station. And my cat is somersaulting through the living room, zealously ripping and clawing at a sheet of gold giftwrap.

It's all so normal, so good. Hard to believe I almost killed myself this weekend.

Cliffs Notes version: I was on a special jump for my friend's 500th jump. Her boyfriend, a very experienced skydiving instructor, took her on a tandem. A bunch of us were supposed to go out with them and build a circle around the couple. In building this formation during freefall, I accidentally flew into the drogue , a small parachute used to stabilize and slow tandem jumpers. The situation wasn't even close to as bad as it could have been, but it could have been deadly.

Had I gotten too tangled in the drogue, my friends would have had no choice but to cut away their main canopy and use the reserve. The main would have enveloped me -- skydivers wryly call it "giftwrapping" -- and I likely would have died in that parachute.

It's understandable. The choice is to have three people dead or just one. I would have been sacrified.

I know exactly what I did wrong in my flying, and I apologized about 100 times to the couple for ever putting them in danger.

And again, I'm struck by how difficult skydiving is. It's like this amazingly choreographed dance, where you have to fly forcefully, but controlled; fast, but cautious; precise, but fluid. It's beautiful and exhilarating and wonderful -- and so easy to fuck up.

On top of all that, I've hit this plateau where I don't feel like I'm improving at all. Some aspects of flying just aren't coming naturally to me. It's really hard, and I'm so frustrated.

Some of the other jumpers call what I'm going though the 300-jump slump.

My friend Scotty said I should do some solos -- take some time to remember what I love about skydiving, take some time to play. He said things will get better soon if I keep at it. He said one day it'll just click.

Let's hope that happens before I do something stupid again.