swimming

Swimming With Sharks

Call me morbid, call me disturbed; just don’t call me during Shark Week. That’s right I said it—out loud. Shark Week begins now. What of it? I enjoy watching shark TV, shark movies, and I even have a pencil that has a bobble-headed shark on the end of it. It’s a guilty pleasure. I have a penchant for seeing giant sharks eat whole tunas in one bite. I like to see the close calls of divers who are dumb enough to antagonize the big beasts on their home turf without a cage.

I also like to be scared. I wonder if that’s where this affinity for the human chomping killers comes from… maybe.

Hemingway said something I recall as shark week approaches:

“There isn’t any symbolism. The sea is the sea. The old man is an old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The sharks are all sharks no better and no worse. All the symbolism that people say is shit. What goes beyond is what you see beyond when you know.”

OK I was a little confused at the last part too, but not so much when I think about it. Shortened for today’s generational attention span (about the length of a Tweet) the translation may be as simple as: It is what it is. This is one reason of a zillion why I love writers of Hemingway’s time. They just didn’t give a shit what people thought. Like Honey Badger…but smarter and with smoking jackets, ascots and alcohol; lots of alcohol.

Honestly I think Hemingway was on to something. The sea is just the sea—not the world, or society, or whatever else we think way too hard about. Could this be accurate? If so, we may not have been in college for all those hours of analyzing literature and writing research papers on people like him. But what fun would that have been? It’s the thinking and talking about it that makes it even better…or is it?

Shark week makes me happy because it is simply something silly to look forward to. It’s like picking pumpkins or lighting fireworks. There really isn’t a purpose beyond the aesthetics. But we like it just the same.

Sure, there is tradition in such things and there is warm cider with cinnamon sticks as we gut the giant squashes on newspaper atop our tables. There are Heinekens and sparklers in our hands as we watch M80s explode in the middle of the street and hear a little bit less for a few hours. We revel in the routine of it all. Well, for me that’s what this week is about. Relaxing with gory footage is kind of like eating chocolate. It satisfies a craving that comes from someplace within the brain and does not harm anyone. Not that I feel the need to justify my appreciation of the Great White’s jaw power or anything. Ahem…

Anyway, there are so many references to sharks in life that I keep visiting random memories as I look at the upcoming shows and films that I will peruse this week. Jaws was a staple of my childhood. Though it came out the year before I did, I was subjected to the toothy villain at a very early age. My dad was a horror movie fiend—guess I inherited that trait. As Jaws 2 made its way to theaters I was two. I don’t recall seeing it in theaters but I know my dad went to watch it on a Saturday as I was likely babysat by my Gramma Helen and allowed to watch whatever I wanted on our black and white nine inch Zenith in the kitchen as she crocheted plant stand covers beside me. Pirogis simmered on the stove and we had some serious conversations about life.

When Jaws 3-D was released I distinctly recall getting my 3-D glasses (one blue lens and one red) along with my golden crown at Burger King. I was seven and I was SO excited to see the film. Of course we had rented the first two from Best Video and watched them on a ginormous contraption that was like a Beta VHS machine that was loaded by putting the tape in the top and pressing it down. I could never forget the ugly chunk of loud mechanical stature. It was brown and looked like wood paneling—as was most of what the 80s added to our TV room. It would be at least a couple more years till we got the slick silver VCR we thought was absolutely mint. That one even had a tracking knob!

When the shark opened up its giant maw and reached for the theater’s audience it was awesome and I remember squealing with delight in the Lane Theater while sipping a cherry Slush Puppy and chewing Gummy Bears. My dad liked the movie too. I think we saw it more than once. I know we rented all three every couple months. My first sleepover party boasted scary movies galore. I’m pretty sure at least the first Jaws made it past my mother’s overbearing censoring eye. My dad had my back when it came to creature features. I think I get why I like shark week now…

In addition to all the fond childhood memories, I can’t help but think about the implications of sharks in everyday life. When I went to work in publishing I recall an amazing author talking to me about how she got started in the business, and she looked right through me with wild eyes and declared:

“Just remember you are always swimming with sharks. Don’t. Trust.  Anyone. They will bite you in the ass.”

I won’t divulge her name because she’s famous, and would not likely remember who I was if I tried to get permission to quote her. But I will say that she is not scared of heights. Anyway, that was one of the best pieces of publishing advice I ever got.

She was so right it was scary.

From the first time someone stole a manuscript off my desk and proceeded to buy it, to the Senior Editor at another imprint who pilfered names from my Rolodex, to the mink-clad veep who impaled my ballet flatted foot with her stiletto … sharkity shark sharks everywhere. Thanks to that little tip I always expected it. Thanks to my dad introducing me to blood and guts right from the start of things, catty office women were downright laughable. Thanks to Hemingway, I learned to make a good martini, say what I really thought and learn to see things for what they are: It is what it is.

So you see, there is a point to Shark Week. It relates to real life in many ways. It lets me escape from the daily grind. It also stirs up those creative parts that lie dormant while visiting MLA workshops and museums, grading blog assignments and teaching writing with the five senses. I love what I do. I do what I love. But I also love a good horror story to break up the monotony.

I’ll leave it to Woody Allen to contribute a parting thought:

“A relationship, I think, is like a shark, you know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.”

See? Shark Week is just like life. Watch where you swim and you won’t get bit.

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