This is how I shower & also, SHARKS!
Cold water Coltrane and how to make money with art. Plus a continuation of the open ocean swimming saga that you have all been waiting for and a cool new music project that I am collaborating on.
The following is the next installment describing this intense experience I had recently during an open ocean swim. In case you missed it, you can find the beginning of the story here.
My heart starts racing again and my breathing becomes even more erratic than before. What on Earth was bumping me below the surface of the water? It really hurt. Reminded me of being hit really hard in my leg with a baseball when I was younger - this sharp stinging pain. My leg was numb. I couldn’t feel my leg? I suddenly had an ominous thought… was I, bleeding? I look around the water, a panic attack creeping into the realms of the possible - nothing, I feel my leg whilst treading water, trying to find a wound, a cut, anything. Gauging the surrounding water, i see green and blue, no red. I try to look out firther, I see nothing, only horizon and shoreline off in the distant. I’m so far out? My trained biologist brain kicks in, okay if this was a dolphin, would just be playing with me. Same goes for an orca. Does it? If this was a shark it would also not be unusual behaviour. They have been observed bumping other animals to test their responsiveness, as in; would this animal put up a fight? Orcas are known to play with other animals, most notably stingrays and seals. Throwing them about on the surface of the water. But they also eat these animals? My brain goes back into panic mode; if it was an orca, it might try to pull me under water on its next dive? They have been known for this ‘playful’ behaviour too, observed both in captivity as well as in the wild. Hmmm.
I start secretly wishing it were a shark. The water here was pretty deep, if an orca would grab me and pull me under for a few minutes I would drown. I can hold my breath for about 2 minutes and a bit whilst swimming but in this panicked state? Nah, game over.
If a shark bit me, it would leave me alone after. Shark’s brains are incredibly adept at gauging fat content and calculating how much energy they get out of a particular prey hunt, compared to the energy they put in. If a shark bites a human, it will touch bone pretty quickly, that’s why it will let you go - you’re simply not worth the energy it takes to kill you. More energy spent than earned - bone is not nutritious, at least not for a human’s digestive tract. Contrary to popular myth, sharks also really don’t care much for human blood, they do not “go into a feeding frenzy” when they sense blood. Recent studies have proven quite the opposite, leading biologists to hypothesise that microorganisms and increased adrenaline in our blood when in the ocean and just “attacked” could actually put a shark off wanting to eat us, over and above the fact we wouldn’t be a very energy efficient meal - our blood registers signals of danger and disgust in a shark’s brain. It could actually get sick from us.
On top of the chemotactic response, adrenaline also has a very distinct electrical fingerprint and the Ampullae of Lorenzini that sits just on top of a shark’s brain can sense electrical outputs like a Geiger counter detects radioactivity. 500 million years of evolution will produce an animal of this calibre. Please let it be a shark. Not an orca. While all of these thoughts are going through my brain, calming me down, I start to take notice of my surrounding more closely. Stay rational, stay rational. Woah! What was that? No, not a bump this time, more a subtle brush of skin on skin, along my left calf. Gosh that was weird. I feel dizzy and start praying to Tangaroa, the god of the ocean:
tiaki mai i ahau, maku ano koe e tiaki
if you look after me, then I will look after you
I start recalling all the work I did to get shark finning banned in our country. The countless hours petitioning the government, ghost writing articles for the New Zealand Herald and organising activists like my friend the Hawai’ian conservationist Ocean Ramsey to come to our shores to speak with our parliament. Surely they can sense this? And if they can’t, Tangaroa will know.
Mango. Shark. I try talking to Tangaroa’s son Punga, the ancestor of all sharks.
“You know me. I am on your side. I am you. Please, listen!”
Then my emotions swing to grief, I start apologising for all the seafood I ever ate. All the fish, the octopods, the shrimp, the crabs, the squid, the oysters, the mussels, everything.. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Meanwhile I realise I have been swimming quite quickly.
One stroke, one breath. Two strokes, one breath. The island is maybe 200m away now and I can see the bottom of the ocean now. I calm a bit, stop swimming and dive down to inspect the surroundings, I get about half way to the bottom and do a full 360 loop around. What was that? It looked like a miniature squiggly submarine. There it was again, off in the distance about 30m away. Is it a seal? It’s too big to be kekeno. Then I remember a news report from about a month ago talking about a leopard seal, endemic to Antarctica, found on the beach in Tahunanui. I start getting rattled again. Leopard seals are far more likely to bite me than any shark, and they’re teeth are sharper. Keep swimming, you’re almost there..
Tune in next week for the rest of this story. Apologies all around for the delay (especially to my niece Saga, living on the other side of the globe in Berlin, who’s patiently waited for this installment for over a month - big hugs Saga - I promise you only have to wait ONE more week for the epic conclusion!!)
Have you ever experienced a shuffle synchronicity in your everyday life?
Well, Dave has. He has these synchronicities all the time.
So, I have started a cool, new collaboration with the fantastic writer Dave Cowen. Dave is based in LA and has created this genius newsletter called Shuffle Synchronicities. Here he goes about describing his life and thoughts (in often very comical yet deeply insightful and touching ways,) through the lens of his randomly set Spotify playlist. Capturing the often not so hidden synchronicity between the music playing and what is happening around him.
In the past Dave has written for The New Yorker magazine and several of his books have featured in The New York Times. You should check out his recent The Biden-Harris Haggadah: Thank G-d! - just the Amazon description alone will crack you up. I recently purchased it for my Kindle and it has had me laughing in stitches; part Michael Chabon, part John Kennedy Toole, Cowen really has a knack for capturing the comically absurd in politics and culture; then laying these out with his brazen wit and hilarious worldview. It is simply brilliant.
Incidentally, Dave also holds a world record for the longest sentence ever written. Now that is an incredible achievement by any measure!
The other day he asked if I would like to contribute to his newsletter slash memoir - completely humbled, of course, I dove right in!
Here was my first attempt.
Hope you like it. And please subscribe to Dave, it really is worth it, not only do his stories entertain you immensely, you will also learn new music along the way.
A win win, win!
Of cold showers, Guantanamo Bay and Bahamas
I have been listening to music in the shower ever since I was a teenager. Now I’m in my 40s and I still do. Today was week 37 since the induction of my daily morning cold shower routine. I hit a personal best.
I managed to withstand the ice water, throughout all of John Coltrane’s 1963 classic “After The Rain”.
That’s a whopping 4 minutes and 10 seconds of external brain freeze to deal with:
Coltrane was not only an incredibly gifted horns player, he was also a wordsmith. Once asked with how he comes up with his songs, he told a reporter:
“I start in the middle of a sentence and move both directions at once.”
I might not be doing this whole shuffle context much favour as this song did not appear randomly on my playlist.
No, it was a deliberate choice.
For whatever reason, Jazz is the easiest genre of music to withstand torture to. There was that time about 15 years ago when I was visiting my folks and my dad and I in an act of empathy, ensconced behind the TV watching CNN footage of suspected Al Qaeda detainees being lined up and escorted to their cells in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, when we both challenged each other to see how horrible waterboarding was. The following morning I took a tea towel into the shower, bent backwards as far as I could and lent my head to 45 degree angle, letting the water trickle over the tea towel until it was soaked. I lasted 50 seconds until I felt like I was drowning and coughing up water. Chick Corea’s “Light as a Feather” was playing.
Not sure why jazz makes tough things more bearable, but I guess it has something to do with its randomness. The drum, piano, horns etc.. all out of sync yet in sync magically, simultaneously. Beckoning chaos and imperfection at every note. Jazz embodies the second law of thermodynamics musically. Everything, yes everything, in the known universe tends toward entropy and chaos. Even if we pretend it doesn’t and do our utmost as civilised humans trying to prevent chaos and decay - proving the opposite of the second law.
All things fall apart eventually.
The traveling naturalist, philosopher and poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, once wrote:
“Music is liquid architecture; architecture is frozen music.”
A sentiment which I adore and wholeheartedly agree with but back to my cold shower saga. Why on Earth would you do that? Last year I decided to change a couple of things about myself, the biggest was quitting a 25 year chain smoking habit, I found that changing routines up, helped and especially ones that made me live outside my comfort zone. And there is nothing more uncomfortable than to roll out of bed and be immersed in Antarctic sea temperature water. Well, bear with me. The Antarctic sea reference isn’t figurative, it is literal. I live in the South Island of New Zealand, about a 6 day sail from the northernmost point of Antarctica. Our weather patterns are influenced by winds that come directly from Antarctica. And the water in my shower is bore water, which means it comes directly from the ground water, which in turn comes from the nearby river and rain from the sky. We are still in winter here in New Zealand, so the mornings are cold and the water is freezing. Not literally, but as cold as it gets before water turns to ice.
And I manage to submerge myself for the entirety of Coltrane’s “After it Rains”? Amazing! Something strange happens to your brain when you cold shower every day for a year. Not only do your senses become more acute, your perspective on reality shifts and you become acutely aware of the simulation that we are all living in. I incidentally also quit alcohol, coffee and weed within the same time frame - cos they were all inextricably linked to my smoking habit. So if I was gonna be serious, I had to quit them all, especially coffee as that sucker is the linchpin to all habits. Its bitterness makes cigarettes actually taste better, it wakes you up when you’re stoned and it gets you going in the morning after a hangover. Coffee is the culprit.
Anyway I digress. One more cool thing about the water in my shower, is that it comes from a natural source which exists about 4 kilometres from my house, called Te Waikoropupū Springs. It is the clearest water on the planet (look it up!)
I exit the shower. Eat breakfast. Sit down and back in my chair at my writing desk and let my playlist really shuffle this time.
“Fair Share” from Bahamas. Not surprised that this song comes on as it is one of my favourites of 2021, his album Sad Hunk is a masterpiece. It’s playfulness and funny lyrics reminds me a lot of Flight of the Conchords which makes it doubly great that the video to his song “Can’t Complain” actually has a photo of Jemaine Clement, one half of the genius comedic kiwi duo, in it.
The man behind Bahamas, the multi-talented Afie Jurvanen - is a 6ft4 tall Canadian comedian, husband, father, phenom on the guitar and a brilliant lyricist:
Tryna do more
With all that I'm given
Tryna do more
Than just make a livin'
Forget your rules
I'ma use my own tools
Forget your union man
And your pension plan
And your private schools
Forget just tryna survive
I'm only doing that which makes me feel alive
I made a living with my brain
Bahamas actually lists Coltrane as one of his musical influences. So there you go. Full circle.
Back at my desk and I open my laptop to start work, “Metamorphosis One” by Philip Glass comes on:
A dreamy piano piece that just sets my mind off into multiple realities, it really makes me feel alive and in the moment. Sometimes when I hear it, I wish I was still asleep, so I could dream. Why do we stop dreaming when we wake up?
A buzzing sound from my phone snaps me back into reality, Jacinda Ardern is giving another Facebook live update about the number of covid cases in New Zealand and whether or not we can advance out of our restricted movement levels yet. I shake my head, turn the phone off, gather my thoughts and begin today’s task.
Philip's piano accompanies me while I try to earn some money writing about the effects of covid and artificial intelligence on the manufacturing sector in the UK. Sounds boring? Tell me about it. But I do my best to make it interesting and palatable for a wider audience.
To make a living with my brain.
Thank the heavens for music, without which life would be a mistake.
And I wonder who said that? If you know, leave it in the comments.
Great, and now we have to pay for this?
Now that I have your attention, I need to tell you about another cool new development in my writing life. If like me you react allergically to any mention or thought of money please feel free to stop reading now. Nothing will change for you and more importantly no offense will be taken.
For those brave enough to stick around, I can proudly announce that I have now taken this Substack to the next level and have transitioned it to a paid model. Initially I started a Patreon because people were asking me how they could contribute to my writing and I felt awkward moving this Substack to a paid subscription (as mentioned previously money makes me feel awkward and self-conscious) - but as many of you have had problems registering with Patreon, I have now decided to move this newsletter into the realms of the proprietary monetary world. Like a proper adult. Because even though I enjoy writing for you immensely, it still is work of a sort and work should be rewarded.
Please click HERE or the below photo for the link to set up a monthly subscription. Only if you can afford to obviously. If you feel more comfortable with a small donation you can send me something on Paypal - my ID is email@example.com.
Much like The Guardian’s business model, rest assured you will still get the publication even if you can’t afford the subscription fee. Of course. I totally get that it is an extra monthly cost on top of all the other subscriptions you may have. And for some of you, money really is tight right now, so I will not deprive you of this newsletter, because I get it. Completely! I know what it’s like to be poor and it’s not fun, so the last thing I want to do is to make your life even more miserable by depriving you of my writing, writing that may have the potential to brighten your day even a little bit and alleviate the overt pangs of poverty. Being poor is expensive!
For those of you who on the other hand can afford to pay for it, I would be eternally grateful as it will enable me to do very cool things like get new recording software/hardware for my podcast series and also invest a little bit more money into researching investigative news stories for you.
Again, as before with Dave Cowen’s work, it’s a mutually beneficial win win, win for all.
For those of you who have become patrons on Patreon or have already pledged a monthly/annual Substack subscription, my heart and digestive tract go out to you. Thank you so much. Blessings to you. For all you future subscribers, don’t be shy!!
Arohanui and ngā mihi.
Remember sharing is caring and donating is a form of sharing. If you can’t afford to subscribe to the podcast or newsletter that is totally okay, you will always be able to access it for free. If you feel like sending me a one off Paypal donation (to firstname.lastname@example.org) then that would be awesome. Otherwise you can also become a patron on Patreon.
Thank you very much.
“It takes generosity to discover the whole through others. If you realize you are only a violin, you can open yourself up to the world by playing your role in the concert.”
The legend himself, Jacques Yves Cousteau.